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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Displacing Spieth At Birkdale Will Be A Formidable Challenge
Jul 23, 2017 7:33 AM
 
Watching Jordan Spieth’s second-shot into the 18th at Royal Birkdale narrowly slip past a deep greenside bunker before settling on the collar of fairway lining the putting surface, twenty-feet from the hole, it was difficult to avoid feeling we may come to reflect on that lucky bounce as a decisive moment in the 147th edition of The Open Championship. After all, where Spieth holed-out for his fifth birdie en route to signing for a flawless, bogey-free 65, his playing-partner and closest challenger, Matt Kuchar, missed a far easier 8-footer for birdie in order to slip three shots back from the 11-under leader going into Sunday. But for Spieth’s fortunate skip over the greenside bunker, the 18th hole could easily have catalysed a two or three shot swing in Kuchar’s favour. As events it turned out, however, the world No.3 starts the final round in a position of real strength and although players of the calibre of Brooks Koepka (-5); Hideki Matsuyama (-4); Dustin Johnson (-3) and Henrik Stenson (-3) remain in with a mathematical chance of claiming the Claret Jug, it is extremely difficult to envisage Spieth allowing his lead to slip. The reasons for this are twofold. In the first instance, there has been nothing in the nature of Spieth’s play during the first 54-holes of this tournament that suggests he is likely to allow his level to drop during the final round. Despite having hit just 19 of 42 fairways through his first 54-holes, the Texan has landed 37 greens in regulation (68.5%) and has averaged just 25 putts per round. Equally remarkably, he has carded 13 birdies and an eagle to just four bogeys. Jordan Spieth after his last 6 rounds:LeaderLeaderLeaderWinner LeaderLeader pic.twitter.com/1n0UHYsl5E— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 21, 2017 Simply put, this is the best golf Spieth has played since his breakout season back in 2015 and there is not a hint of the ball-striking rustiness that punctuated his ultimately traumatic 2016 Masters campaign. The second reason why Spieth’s position appears so unassailable derives from the fact that he is an extremely confident frontrunner. He has led a tournament after each of the past seven rounds he has played; he has converted two of his previous four 54-hole leads at majors; he has never failed to convert a multiple-shot lead going into the final round of a major; and he has led after 14 major championship rounds since the beginning of 2013. Indeed, Spieth has closed eight of his last nine 54-hole tournament leads – it will take something exceptional to displace him on Sunday. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Branden Grace shoots lowest-ever men’s major round of 62 at the Open
Jul 22, 2017 11:19 AM
 
When Branden Grace claimed his maiden PGA Tour victory at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Club last year, it seemed only a matter of time until he made a breakthrough at major championship-level. The Pretoria-native had thrust himself into the mainstream golfing consciousness courtesy of T4 and 3rd place finishes at the U.S. Open and the U.S. PGA Championship back in 2015, and his victory at Harbour Town marked the occasion of his eleventh professional title in nine seasons on Tour. Indeed, Grace opened 2016 by defending the flagship European Tour event, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, in January and climbed as high as No.14 in the Official World Golf Rankings as a consequence. However, Grace’s progress stalled in the 12 months that followed his PGA Tour breakthrough and a run of just two top-10 finishes through his first 15 starts of the 2017 season caused his ranking to drop as low as 35th ahead of The Open. What a privilege to watch history in the making. Brandon Grace shot a 62 in the third round of The Open. Proud moment for SA golf. pic.twitter.com/ZMI8Pamu5A— Jason Goodall (@Jason_M_G) 22 July 2017 The South African started solidly at Birkdale, posting three birdies en route to a level-par opening round of 70; however, his hopes of contending for the Claret Jug were badly damaged as a consequence of the draw on Saturday. Sent out in the worst of the weather (high winds gusting at up to 40mph and intermittent spells of driving rain), he could only a manage a single birdie en route to a 4-over 74, squeezing into the weekend by a single shot away from the 5-over cut mark. 11 shots off Jordan Spieth’s 7-under lead heading into the closing 36-holes of the tournament, Grace could have been forgiven for allowing his focus to drop on Saturday – instead, he produced one of the greatest rounds in recent Open Championship history. Beginning with a birdie on the par-4 first, Grace took full advantage of the benign weather conditions by carding four further birdies up to the turn in order to complete the front-nine in just 29 strokes. Four straight pars on the inward stretch looked to have halted the 29-year-old’s momentum; however, he holed from 35 feet on the 14th and 16th and two-putted the par-five 17th to reach eight under par for the day. With history on the line – no player had ever carded 62 in a major before – Grace’s approach to the last ran just off the back of the green, but he held his nerve and calmly two putted from distance for a record-breaking par. “It was a special round from the start,” Grace told Sky Sports. “I played really solid from pin to green.” “My caddie, Zack [Rasego], said I was in the history books,” Grace said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about.” “It [not knowing] makes it more special,” he added. “I think as soon as you get something in the back of your mind that you are going to do something special, you get a little nervous.” Grace’s 8-under 62 has propelled him from a tie for 45th on Friday evening to within three shots of Spieth’s half-way total. The chase is on. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Caddie’s choice words help Rory McIlroy to rally after nightmare Open start
Jul 21, 2017 12:01 PM
 
Rory McIlroy is a lot of different things to a lot of different golf fans ­– overrated, a genius, an underachiever, the best thing since Tiger, flaky, frustrating ­­– however, the 28-year-old could never be accused of being boring. Indeed, a large part of the reason why so many pundits struggled to swallow the whole ‘Rory as heir to Tiger’ narrative after 2014 derived from the fact that his playing style is almost antithetical to that of Woods. While both players clearly possess exceptional physical and technical gifts, Tiger’s game was built around the principal of strategic control. The emphatic nature of Woods’ two stroke victory away from Chris Di Marco at the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool typified that dynamic. Tiger led the tournament from Friday evening (he trailed the lead by a shot on Thursday) and resisted hitting even a single driver off of the tee. When Rory wins big golf tournaments, the narrative is seldom so straightforward; indeed, the Irishman’s capacity to respond positively in the face of adversity and to rely on that wonderfully fluid, natural swing to play his way out of trouble is arguably his greatest strength. Rory McIlroy before #TheOpen: "I feel like it’s all coming together."Six holes later... Bogey Par Bogey Bogey Bogey Bogey pic.twitter.com/qSRSe0c9AZ— bet365 (@bet365) July 20, 2017 Fans witnessed both the best and the worst of Rory McIlroy during the first round of the Open at Royal Birkdale on Thursday. Wayward off the tee, uncertain around the greens, by the time he got off the 6th he was 5-over par, 10 shots off Jordan Spieth’s lead, and his chances of winning the Claret Jug looked dead already. He skittered a chip off of the green on the par-4 1st hole en route to an opening bogey-5, and while a regulation par on the 2nd provided a visibly shaken McIlroy a brief moment of respite, his day was set to get a whole lot worse. At the 3rd, McIlroy took three putts to covert for a second bogey-5. At the 4th he had to splash out of a bunker and then missed a 10ft putt on the left. The 5th was another three-putt, the second of them a particularly egregious miss. And then, after zig-zagging his way around the 6th fairway, his par putt caught the back lip and rolled right back out again. At this point it already seemed as though the four-time major champion was poised to miss a third consecutive cut for the first time in his professional career – the player himself admitted as much: “I was thinking, geez, here we go,” McIlroy said. “Those thoughts ran through my mind.” By this point the crowd were not cheering him on so much as trying to offer him consolation. It was ultimately McIlroy’s caddie, JP Fitzgerald, who intervened to spark his revival. After the bogey on the 6th, Fitzgerald snapped at his player, “You’re Rory McIlroy, what the fuck are you doing?” Rory grumpily mumbled ‘whatever’ in response; however, he conceded after the round that his caddie’s sardonic intervention was of great significance: “It definitely helped. It kept me positive. He just sort of reminded me who I was and what I was capable of. And gave me a few positive thoughts.” McIlroy consolidated with three consecutive pars up to the turn and, on the back-nine, he was a player transformed, shooting a bogey-free, 4-under 32 into the clubhouse for a 1-over total. A 2-under second round 69 in tough conditions means that the world No.4 will start the weekend still very much in the hunt for a fifth major title. A victory would be the ultimate testament to McIlroy’s mental strength. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Justin Rose Will Go back To The Future At Royal Birkdale
Jul 20, 2017 11:18 AM
 
As starts to professional golfing careers go, they don’t tend to get much worse than that of Justin Rose. After turning pro in time for the start of the 1998 European Tour season, the 17-year-old missed each of his first 21 consecutive cut-marks and, by his own admission, gave serious consideration to the prospect of abandoning any attempt to focus on golf as a vocation. Of course, 15 years later, Rose became the first English U.S. Open champion since Tony Jacklin in 1970, climbing as high as No.3 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Last summer, he became the first Olympic Gold Medallist for golf in more than a century. Unsurprisingly, Rose’s ignominious start in the professional game has become a parable for struggling young golfers the world over. But as attractive as the rags-to-riches narrative commonly imposed on Rose’s career may be, it is frequently overlooked that he was an amateur golfer of exceptional ability and announced his arrival on the world stage in a manner not dissimilar to Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm. Remarkably, Rose’s best Open Championship finish came on the occasion of his major debut as a 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale back in 1998. The teenager shot two exceptional rounds in the 60s, and famously chipped in for birdie on his 72nd hole, en route to a signing for a 2-over tournament total of 282. See you tomorrow.... #Team @TheOpen #TheOpen pic.twitter.com/n5cnYv3NNZ — Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) July 19, 2017 That score was good enough to tie with Jim Furyk, Jesper Parnevik and Raymond Russell for fourth, just a stroke back from Tiger Woods in outright third. Mark O’Meara ultimately took the title in a play-off against Brian Watts after the pair tied for the 72-hole lead at even-par. "It surprises me that is still the best finish," Rose reflected in a press-conference ahead of his return to Birkdale for the 146th Open Championship on Thursday. "The freedom I had that week, the confidence I had in my short game, the innocence in which I played the game, I think, is kind of still a model." Rose trades as most bookmakers’ 18/1, fifth-favourite to claim the Claret Jug this week; there is a lot to recommend backing him at such a price. After all, in 12-starts since the beginning of the season, the 36-year-old has posted two runners-up and a further three top-10 finishes while missing just a single cut (at the US Open at Erin Hills last month), and he came within a whisker of defeating Sergio Garcia in a play-off at The Masters in April. Indeed, Rose has finished top-10 in five of his last 10 major championship starts, and if he hits top form at Birkdale, it will take a performance of the calibre of Henrik Stenson at Troon last year to deny him the Claret Jug. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Liberated Garcia Returns To Birkdale With New Confidence
Jul 19, 2017 4:56 AM
 
When Padraig Harrington squandered a single-stroke lead by twice hitting into the Barry Burn en route to a double-bogey 6 on his 72nd hole at the 136th Open Championship at Carnoustie, the stage seemed set for Sergio Garcia to make a long overdue breakthrough at major championship level. A regulation par would have been sufficient for the Spaniard to take the title, but despite avoiding the Burn off the tee, he pulled his second shot into a greenside bunker, splashed out to eight feet and then watched in agony as an 8-foot par-putt for the title lipped-out, condemning him to a play-off. The pair had tied on the seven under par total of 277, Harrington having come from six back with a 67 and Garcia, three clear of the field at the start of the Sunday, managing only a 73. Reprieved, Harrington immediately went two strokes ahead in the play-off and ultimately claimed the title by three. "To tell you the truth, I don't feel like I did anything wrong," Garcia said as he reflected on his 13th top-10 major championship finish in eight years, and his fourth top-3. "I really didn't miss a shot in the play-off. I hit unbelievable putts. They just didn't go in. "Every time I get in this position, I never have any room for error. I should write a book on how not to miss a shot and not win a play-off." Few could have foreseen the world No.5 taking another decade, and another 10 top-10 finishes, to claim his maiden major at The Masters in a play-off against Justin Rose in April. But now that Garcia is unburdened of the title, ‘Best Practicing Golfer Without A Major’, he seems well-placed to return to the scene of perhaps his bitterest disappointment with a genuine sense of confidence. "Everyone knows how much I love #TheOpen."@TheSergioGarcia is ready to go. pic.twitter.com/jThuvgRLhl — The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 19, 2017 Garcia trades level with his countryman, Jon Rahm, as bet365’s joint third-favourite for The Open at 16/1. There is a huge amount to recommend investing in him at this price. The 37-year-old has won twice, and finished runner-up once, in 12 starts since the beginning of the season (he triumphed first at the Dubai Desert Classic in February) and can lay persuasive claim to being the best links golfer in the Open Championship field, despite having never won a Claret Jug. After all, in 23 previous Open starts, Garcia has posted a sensational record of 10 top-10 finishes, including four top-5s and two runners-up placings. If Garcia hits top-form this week, it will take something exceptional to stop him. For where before the Masters, the Spaniard would have returned to Birkdale still haunted by the memories of 2007, he can now travel to Scotland confident in his ability to win on the biggest stage under immense pressure. What a difference a decade makes. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Can Rickie Get Over The Line At Birkdale?
Jul 18, 2017 11:02 AM
 
When Rickie Fowler shot a bogey-free, 2-under through the final six holes of his third-round at the 81st Masters at Augusta in April in order to move to within a stroke of the joint 54-hole leaders, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia at 5-under for the tournament, many commentators tipped the 28-year-old to make his long overdue major championship breakthrough on the Sunday. Instead, the only leaderboard Fowler scaled-up during the final round was that of the ‘Best Practicing Golfers Never To Have Won A Major’. The Californian played the back-nine in 4-over-par on the Sunday, bogeying 17 and 18 en route to signing for a 76 and a sloppy T-11 finish, 10 strokes back from the winner. It was a fitting way to cap a dumpster-fire of a closing final round. Opportunity came knocking again for Rickie at the US Open at Erin Hills last month. The world No.10 stormed into the Thursday night lead courtesy of a record-equalling 7-under-par opening round 65, and while his scoring declined over the Friday and Saturday, he began the final round within two shots of the surprise 54-hole leader, Brian Harman. But again, Fowler was unable to capitalise upon the strength of his third-round position. He carded three bogeys en route to a deeply underwhelming level-par final round of 72, ceding five shots to the eventual champion, Brooks Koepka, in the process of finishing in a tie for 5th. Response to this pattern has taken on two main forms. When you know it's good @RickieFowler pic.twitter.com/Zq7gLc0oo9— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) 14 July 2017 To some, Fowler’s 54-hole capitulations correspond to a long-term trend of weakness under pressure. The Californian famously became the first player in the history of golf to top-5 at all four majors in a single season without winning one in 2014. At the time, of course, those results were judged a demonstration of enormous potential; however, a run of one top-5 in 10 subsequent major starts has led many to reappraise Fowler’s 2014 accomplishment as a worrying indication of mental fragility. His capitulation at the 2016 Phoenix Open and the exceptionally sloppy final round he posted en route to winning the Honda Classic in March lent weight to such a perspective. To many commentators the first six months of the 2017 campaign have confirmed that Fowler is set to succeed Garcia as the most pathetic figure in golf: the best practicing player yet to win a major title. And yet, the manner of Fowler’s response to his disappointment at Erin Hills was not indicative of player struggling under the weight of expectation and regret in the manner of Garcia after the 2012 Masters. There was no self-doubt, no frustration, no loathing – just a composed assuredness that the win was getting closer. As ESPN Golf’s Jason Sobel reflected: When he walked off Erin Hills after the final round last month, another golden opportunity gone awry, there was a quiet confidence around him, one which suggested he knows something we don't. He then said all the right things: He was pleased with his play that week; if he keeps knocking on the door, he'll win one; he can't let that pressure bother him too much. That's the kind of attitude that gets rewarded. The fact is that, like Garcia, Fowler is too good a golfer not to win a major, and as long as he keeps playing himself into contention in the manner that he has done during the first two majors of 2017, he will eventually get over the line. The hugely impressive nature of Fowler’s 2015 Scottish Open triumph suggests that he could be set to do so far more quickly than Sergio, too; after all, this week’s Open venue, Royal Birkdale, bares a great many similarities to Gullane Golf Club. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Surveying The Spanish Threat At Birkdale
Jul 17, 2017 11:07 AM
 
Reflecting upon the first six months of the 2017 season, it is perhaps unsurprising that two Spaniards – Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm ­– trade as short as short as 16/1 to win this week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Only world No.1 Dustin Johnson (12/1); world No.3 Jordan Spieth (14/1) and four-time major champion, Rory McIlroy (14/1) are priced shorter. After all, it was only back in April that Garcia ended two decades of unprecedented pain at major championship level by claiming The Masters title in a dramatic play-off against Ryder Cup teammate and close friend, Justin Rose. The 37-year-old has now won twice, and finished runner-up once, in 12 starts since the beginning of the season (first at the Dubai Desert Classic in February) and can lay persuasive claim to being the best links golfer in the field at Birkdale, despite having never won a Claret Jug. In 23 previous Open starts, Garcia has posted a sensational record of 10 top-10 finishes, including four top-5s and two runners-up placings. Furthermore, the Spaniard played himself to within a 10-foot par-putt of winning the Claret Jug when the Open was last held at Birkdale back in 2007, but ultimately wound-up losing the tournament to Padraig Harrington in a play-off. Rahm, meantime, has electrified world golf since announcing his graduation to the professional game with an exceptional tied for third-place finish on the occasion of his PGA Tour debut at the Quicken Loans National last June. On first playoff hole, Rafa Cabrera Bello wins @AAMScottishOpen, securing his first title in 5 ½ years: https://t.co/me55Y0QmZs pic.twitter.com/mdd3zpJ0H3— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) July 16, 2017 In 17 starts as since the beginning of the season, the 22-year-old has already won on both the US PGA (the Phoenix Open in February) and European Tours (the Irish Open two weeks ago), posting two runners-up placings and five further top-10 finishes. This form has propelled Rahm up as high as No.7 in the Official World Golf Rankings, one place ahead of the defending Open champion, Henrik Stenson, and to within touching-distance of Garcia in 5th. But as impressive as Rahm and Garcia’s credentials may be, it is arguable that the best Spanish bet for The Open trades as long as 55/1 – Rafa Cabrera-Bello. The 33-year-old posted a course-record-breaking 8-under final round of 64 in order to force himself into a play-off against the English world number 405, Callum Shinkwin, at the Scottish Open at the Dundonald Links in Ayrshire on Sunday, and birdied the 18th in order to take the title at the first time of asking. Cabrera-Bello, who made his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine last autumn, has now posted 10 top-10s, a further four top-3s and a tournament victory through the course of his last 46 professional starts and has consequently ascended to a new best ranking of 17th in the world. All three of Spain’s top golfers have to be considered serious contenders at Birkdale and all represent value as each-way bets. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Can Stenson Contend At Birkdale?
Jul 16, 2017 2:40 PM
 
When Henrik Stenson shook-off 18 years of unwanted history by claiming his maiden major championship title at The Open at Royal Troon last July, the spectacular nature of the victory was such that he seemed a sure-fire bet to retire from golf as a multi-major winner. The triumph has already gone down as one of the greatest final rounds in the 145 year history of the Open Championship; a two man, 18-hole shootout of a calibre sufficient to rival that of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus a few miles down the Ayrshire coast at Turnberry 39 years earlier. Stenson became only the second golfer to finish 20 under par in a major championship, tying Jason Day's record from the 2015 PGA Championship. That even a final round 65 from one of the greatest golfers of the modern-era was insufficient to deny the Swede is a testament to the exceptional nature of his display, and it is notable that runner-up, Phil Mickelson’s final score of 17-under would have been sufficient to win all but four of the 145 Open Championships since 1871. Remarkably, third-place J.B. Holmes wound-up a full 11 strokes back from Mickelson. Stenson finished 2016 strongly, posting runner-up placings at the Rio Olympics and the WGC -HSBC Champions event en route to claiming the European Player of the Year award. Indeed, he finished the season ranked fourth in the world and won the won the Race to Dubai title for a second time. Henrik Stenson heads to Birkdale proud of making Open history at Troon. By @mrewanmurray https://t.co/7iFgNbRBbq pic.twitter.com/2IEHINkeiw— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) July 15, 2017 In 2017, however, the Swede has struggled to hit the heights that many commentators envisaged in the aftermath of his exceptional victory at Troon. While a record of two top-3s and three top-10s through 12 starts is nothing to be sniffed at (he finished outright second to Masters champion, Sergio Garcia, at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February), it is notable that Stenson missed the cut at both the Masters and the US Open and is just one weekend absence short of tying the five MCs he posted through the whole of the 2016 campaign. The 41-year-old thus arrives at Birkdale having slipped behind players of the calibre of Hideki Matsuyama, Sergio Garcia and the wildly out-of-form Jason Day down to seventh in the world rankings, and the newly-crowned Irish Open champion, Jon Rahm, is breathing-down the veteran’s neck. Speaking to the Guardian’s Ewan Murray, Stenson conceded that he allowed his focus to dip in the aftermath of Troon. “I’ve got a fourth baby,” he reflected. “It’s pride, it’s history – the Claret Jug is such an iconic, perfect trophy. It’s imprinted in your mind. I’m Claret Jug brainwashed. “There have been some drinks with French heritage in that jug and some Sprite and cola for the kids. It’s been jet-skiing and if I defend my title and win again, I’ll take the Claret Jug sky-diving.” Such celebration, of course, is perfectly understandable; however, time is not a luxury that Stenson has at his disposal. At 41, the Gothenburg-native can only realistically expect to continue competing at the top-level for another three seasons. That’s 12 more majors after next week’s Open and the PGA Championship. He must rediscover his best form, and fast. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Should the USGA Implement US Open Gender Pay-Parity?
Jul 14, 2017 1:48 AM
 
The 72nd edition of the US Women’s Open got underway at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey yesterday, and while the attention of the world’s media is presently focused Shanshan Feng, who seized the first-round lead courtesy of a sensational bogey-free 66 (-6), many of the players entered into the tournament preoccupied with far larger issues concerned with gender equality and socio-economics. An anonymous player poll conducted by ESPN last week found that, of the 49 LPGA Tour professional surveyed, 35 percent said the pay gap between the LPGA Tour and the PGA Tour is the biggest issue facing the women's game. The issue has been thrown into sharp relief by the advent of the US Open this week, not least owing to the fact that the event is being hosted at a Trump-owned golf course, someone who has a history of treating women with contempt. Both the men’s and women’s US Opens are administered by the same organization, the United States Golf Association (USGA), an body that cites its promotion of gender equality as a critical means through which it ‘advances the game’ of golf internationally. But where the prize-fund for last month’s men’s US Open was the highest in the competition’s history at $12m, with the winner Brooks Koepka taking home $2.16m, the woman’s purse is set at $5m. This inequity mitigated the bizarre circumstance whereby the third-place finisher at the men’s US Open made only $5,000 less than 2016 women’s US Open champion, Brittany Lang, who won $810,000 for the week. Of course, those who argue against parity can point to the basics of free market economics in defence of the status-quo: the men’s US Open generates far more sponsorship and broadcast revenue than the women’s equivalent, therefore, the male competitors should make more than their female counterparts. Why LPGA stars stayed silent this week at Womens US Open: my latest for @SBNation https://t.co/NmIGMQe9CH— Anya Alvarez (@MajorLeagueAnya) July 13, 2017 Clearly, it is difficult to contest such logic; however, it is arguable that the women’s US Open would be capable of generating far more revenue were the LPGA Tour conferred with even a fraction of the media coverage devoted to the men’s game, and it cannot be overlooked that, in tennis, men and women are already paid the same at majors (and larger tournaments such as Indian Wells and the Miami Open) despite the fact that the ATP Tour also generates more revenue than the WTA Tour. Ultimately, this comes down to a question of morality for the USGA, an organization in possession of a 12-year broadcast deal with Fox Sports worth an estimated $1.1bn. Players like Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson will work just as hard to win in New Jersey this week as Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy did at Erin Hills a month ago. They should not be paid less because of their gender. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Lexi Thompson Inspired By Mother’s Cancer Fight At US Open
Jul 13, 2017 10:05 AM
 
When Lexi Thompson took a three shot lead into the final six holes of the first women’s major of the year at the ANA Inspiration tournament in Rancho Mirage, California, in April, the stage seemed set for the 22-year-old to endorse her status as the most talented female American golfer of her generation by claiming her second major championship title in a three-year space. Such an outcome would have been an enormous boon for the sport. In Lexi, the LPGA Tour possesses a charming, young, media-friendly Florida-native with model-looks and exceptional physical and technical gifts on the golf-course. Put simply, the world No.3 can lay claim to all of the attributes required to establish herself as the figurehead of women’s golf. Then, of course, Thompson was informed on the 13th tee-box that she was being hit with a four-stroke penalty for misplacing a ball by a matter of millimetres before a 1-foot putt on the 17th green in the third round on Saturday. The situation was rendered even more bizarre owing to the fact that the infringement was reported, not by any tournament official, but by an anonymous member of the public watching at home. The episode was clearly damaging to the LPGA Tour, the sport of golf and, of course, to Lexi herself; however, she did mark the ball incorrectly and in a discipline as fastidious as professional golf, the rules are the rules and they apply the same to everyone. Nevertheless, it is a testament to Lexi’s mental strength that she claimed her eighth LPGA Tour title courtesy of a 5-shot victory away from In Gee Chun at the Kingsmill Championship in May on the occasion of just her second start after the ANA Inspiration, and she arrives in New Jersey for the U.S. Women’s Open this week having gone T17-W-T65-T2-T2-T7 in her last six starts. A MOTHER'S INSPIRATION.@Lexi Thompson’s mom, Judy, battles cancer and fuels daughter’s fire: https://t.co/4WIZruPp7h pic.twitter.com/NiMwsBPTwB— Golfweek (@golfweek) July 12, 2017 “I came home, had a half day off and I was more determined than ever to be better and to win my next tournament,” Thompson said when asked to reflect upon the chaos of the final round of the ANA. “I would be lying if I said it didn’t affect me personally…It’s unfortunate what happened but I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how strong and determined as a player I am. It’s unfortunate but it has made me stronger.” Strong is an understatement, and Thompson’s achievement in recovering from her early season trauma is made all the more remarkable when one accounts for the fact that it has been accomplished against the backdrop of her mother, Judy, 59, being diagnosed with uterine cancer. Judy will walk alongside her daughter for the first nine-holes of the US Open on Thursday, and the strength of character that Lexi has shown since her disappointment at the ANA suggests that she may well succeed in transforming the emotional energy generated by such an experience into a title-winning performance. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy Must Rediscover Form At Scottish Open
Jul 12, 2017 11:16 AM
 
Rory McIlroy may still count as a relatively tender youth in golf years; however, the 28-year-old has been around long enough to know that confident rhetoric can only do so much to obscure a lack of results. The four-time major winner delivered a characteristically bullish press-conference ahead of the Scottish Open at Dundonald links this week (a course located within five miles of Royal Troon, site of the 2016 Open Championship), stressing to the assembled media how close he feels to rediscovering his top-level. But underlying all of his most grandiose declarations was a recognition that 2017 has fallen far short of expectations. “It’s close,” McIlroy reflected. “It’s hard to sit up here and stand in front of a camera every single time and say to you guys: ‘It’s close,’ because I sound a bit like a broken record after a few weeks. But really, it’s not far away. “I’m positive about it. I’m excited about my game. I feel like I’m doing a lot of good things. It’s just putting it all together, not just for one day but for four days; and not just for four days, to do it week in and week out.” Taking on the green from 435 yards?! McIlroy at the #AAMSO three years ago. pic.twitter.com/oodBnx7wTt — The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 12, 2017 McIlroy arrives in Scotland off the back of having missed his fourth cut in five years at the Irish Open at Portstewart last week; he has slipped below Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth down to 4th in the Official World Golf Rankings; and has carded just a single top-10 finish (a T7 at The Masters) in his last six starts, missing two weekends. Much of this inconsistency is attributable to a rib injury sustained en route to a play-off defeat in his first start of the season at the South African Open. He was side-lined for the guts of two months after Ekurhuleni, add-in an equipment change and a wedding and it is little wonder the Irishman invokes the adjective “transitional” to describe the first six months of the season. It bears restating, therefore, that it was only last autumn McIlroy outscored elite-level fields at the Deutsche Bank Championship and Tour Championship en route to winning the prestigious FedEx Cup. Furthermore, the player’s omens are healthy looking ahead to the final two majors of the season. After his last Scottish Open appearance, in 2014, he won the Open at Royal Liverpool. The US PGA Championship, meantime, is being held at Quail Hollow, where McIlroy has excelled in the past. Still, if McIlroy is going to salvage anything from the second-half of the 2017 campaign, it is imperative that his putting improves. In five starts since the WGC Match Play, his Putting Average has been 1.86, 1.75, 1.81, 1.83 and 1.84. That's not going to win tournaments at any level. Major number five remains a long way away. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Xander Schauffele Demonstrates Potential With Greenbrier Classic Victory
Jul 11, 2017 10:56 AM
 
On Saturday this blog focused on the remarkable achievement of world No.410, Sebastian Munoz, in leading the Greenbrier Classic through each of the first three rounds. After all, the Colombian is winless above Webb.com Tour-level and had missed six cuts through the course of his first 12 starts of the 2017 season. To outscore players of the calibre of Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson and Tony Finau across 54-holes was a stunning achievement. Of course, we closed with the caveat that Sunday would provide the real test of Munoz’s credentials; the chances of a player with such little PGA Tour experience closing out a two-stroke 54-hole lead were always slim and, in the end, the pressure told. A 2-over closing round denied the 24-year-old his dream breakthrough, and while a new, career-high rank of 268 in the world is a testament to a profitable week, it is conceivable Munoz will never get a better chance of winning on the PGA Tour. But as regrettable as the Colombian’s capitulation was (he had not scored higher than 68 through the first 54-holes), golf romantics could at least take solace in the identity of the man who capitalised on his failure, Xander Schauffele. For if Munoz was a massive underdog upon arriving at White Sulphur Springs Golf Course in West Virginia, Schauffele was, at the very least, a rank outsider. Congratulations @XSchauffele! pic.twitter.com/dmX7pbEOze— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 9, 2017 Ranked 159th in the world, Schauffele had never won at PGA Tour level. Indeed, his only previous professional title came at the 2015 Northern California Open and he had missed six times as many cuts as he had made top-10s through the course of his first 14 starts of the 2017 campaign. Pitched against an array of major champions, Ryder Cup veterans and top-50 regulars, there was little reason to suspect that the 23-year-old had any meaningful chance of contending. Sure, he stood out in finishing T5 on the occasion of his major championship debut at the US Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin last month; however, there was no amateur or professional precedent for that achievement. As impressive as Schauffele’s 10-under US Open total was, therefore, it had to be regarded as a flash-in-the-pan ­– he simply needed to back it up with another strong performance at PGA Tour level in order for it to be taken seriously. That is precisely what happened on Sunday. Schauffele started the final round within three shots of Munoz having signed for an impressive 4-under 66 on Saturday, and he looked poised to enter into a play-off against Robert Streb after birdying the par-4 16th in order to get to 13-under for the tournament. However, he hit an exceptional pitching-wedge to within 5-feet of the hole on the par-3 18th and converted the birdie putt to take the tournament in regulation play. The victory has propelled Schauffele up to 82nd in the world and the evidence of the past month suggests he is set to rise higher. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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