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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Fleetwood endorses elite status at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Jan 22, 2018 1:30 PM
 
If there were any lingering doubts regarding the long-term durability of Tommy Fleetwood’s ascent to the elite-band of world golf over the past 18 months, they have surely now been expunged. Just a year after shooting a 5-under closing-round 67 in order to stave-off the challenge of world No.1, Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, he produced a Sunday total of 65 – including an inward half of 30 – in order to retain his crown by four shots away from the resurgent four-time major champion, Rory McIlroy. This was a vintage display from Fleetwood; all fairway-splitting drives, penetrating iron-play, and laser-accurate putting. A 6-under opening round 66 immediately put him in control of the tournament and totals of 67 and 68 across Friday and Saturday ensured he started the final-round level with Ross Fischer at the top of the leaderboard, a single shot clear of the ominously positioned McIlroy. What a performance!Fleetwood birdies 18 to come home in 30 shots and lead by two. pic.twitter.com/FpJxXgMOT6— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 21, 2018 Perhaps the most impressive feature of Fleetwood’s performance, however, was the clutch temperament he demonstrated on the inward stretch. After all, the 26-year-old, who claimed the European Tour Order of Merit award last November, trailed Fischer by two by the time the final-pairing reached the turn. It was at this point that his game ignited; he produced a sequence of five birdies in seven holes from the 10th in order to blow both Fischer and McIlroy out of the water and holed-out from 25ft and 35ft respectively at the 15th and 16th greens. Fischer needed an eagle on the last to force a play‑off; he closed with a par. “I feel a lot more emotional than last year,” the champion reflected. “I don’t know why. I just really wanted to win this one. I had the year of my life last year. It’s a weird feeling coming to defend a trophy because it’s yours and you don’t want to give it away. Keeping hold of it for another year is very nice.” Fleetwood has now won three times at elite-level European Tour events over the past 12 months; he is poised to enter into the top-10 of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career and is already all but assured of making a Ryder Cup debut at Le Golf National in Paris in October. The manner in which the Englishman’s progress atrophied in the second-half of 2017 led some commentators to speculate that his early victories in Abu Dhabi and Pairs perhaps constituted a flash-in-the-pan. However, the clutch nature of his victory last weekend provides conclusive evidence that the Southport-native is set to remain a force at the highest level of the sport for some time. Expect to see Fleetwood contend at the majors over the coming 12 months. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McDowell’s Struggles Deepen In Abu Dhabi
Jan 21, 2018 7:47 AM
 
The first 54-holes of the European Tour’s 2018 season-opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship has provided Irish golf with a welcome shot in the arm. Rory McIlroy, returning after two months side-lined with a rib-injury, carded eight birdies en route to a 7-under third-round 65 and will consequently tee-off on Sunday just a single stroke back from joint leaders, Thomas Pieters and Ross Fischer. The four-time major winner’s blistering comeback has gone a long way towards allaying fears that his trophyless 2017 campaign presaged a long-term period of decline. But for all that McIlroy’s performance in Abu Dhabi has inspired hope in his elite-level future, quite the opposite is true of his countryman, Graeme McDowell. 290 yard carry over a bunker? No problem for @McIlroyRory pic.twitter.com/k1J86I2COo — The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 20, 2018 The last three years of the Northern Irishman’s career has been a tale of consistent decline. McDowell finished the 2014 season having claimed six European Tour titles in a four year stretch; he won a third consecutive Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and was nestled in between Hideki Matsuyama and Phil Mickelson at 15th in the world rankings, four spots higher than current world No.1, Dustin Johnson. Since then, he has won only once against a second-tier field at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba during the 2015/16 wrap-around period, and his close friend and countryman, 2016 European captain Darren Clarke, overlooked him for Ryder Cup selection at Hazeltine for the first time in eight years. Indeed, McDowell missed more than twice as many cuts (13) as he made top-10s (5) in 2016; he carded eight MCs to just one top-10 in 2017, and followed-up a 2-under opening round in Abu Dhabi with a 2-over Friday scorecard to ensure that his first start of the new year ended in yet another missed-cut. Unsurprisingly, the Portrush-native’s ranking has declined precipitously from the career-high of 4th he achieved after claiming his maiden major championship title at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach. Indeed, he arrived in the Middle East positioned 189th in the world and, on current form, one struggles to envisage the 38-year-old mounting any sort of sustained recovery. Ultimately, it is difficult not to feel as though golf has started to pass McDowell by. The Irishman was never a particularly long hitter and as driving distances and course lengths continue to grow, the gap separating him from players of the calibre of McIlroy and Johnson looks set only to expand. The onus is always on the players to adapt to constantly evolving competitive conditions; McDowell’s failure to do so is presently reaping profound consequences. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Fischer poised to disrupt star shootout at HSBC Championship
Jan 20, 2018 1:06 PM
 
As the last of the third-round scorecards filtered into the clubhouse at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Saturday evening, you could almost hear the European Tour’s marketing men starting to salivate. Leading the Old Continent’s 2018 curtain raiser after 54-holes is the prodigious young Belgian talent, Thomas Pieters. The big-hitting 25-year-old carded five birdies en route to a second consecutive bogey-free round of 67 to get to 17-under for the tournament and will tee-off on Sunday with a single shot lead away from the returning four-time major champion and former world No.1, Rory McIlroy, who shot a 7-under 65. Pieters and McIlroy partnered each other to two wins from two at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine and the Belgian, who finished the tournament as the Old Continent’s top-scorer, has been widely tipped to emerge as McIlroy’s long-term successor as the foremost professional on the European Tour. The pair’s all-glamour Sunday shootout thus came imbued with a compelling, intergenerational sub-narrative; what more could the tournament’s advertisers have asked for? "Welcome back Rory!"McIlroy eagles the 18th to finish at 9 under par pic.twitter.com/1QKT60ykZy— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 19, 2018 "I putted really well and hit the ball very well”, McIlroy told Sky Sports Golf. “So all in all, it was another great round and another really good confidence builder -- not just for this week but for the rest of the season, as well." “I've had a lot of close calls here, I think about six top threes or something like that. I've never won my first start back out. I was close last year in South Africa, Stormy [Graeme Storm] beat me in a playoff. I'm excited to get back on the horse and give myself another chance tomorrow." But then, late on Sunday afternoon, a fly emerged in the ointment as Ross Fischer, hardly a player even the most sympathetic commentator could characterise as a ‘compelling personality’, followed up a four-under front-nine with a stunning, three-under back-nine to equal McIlroy’s 65 and tie Pieters atop the leaderboard. Unfortunately for the European Tour’s marketing team, no doubt all hoping for a young, attractive, big-name winner, Fischer looks well capable of upsetting both Pieters and McIlroy on Sunday. For although the 37-year-old is winless since claiming his fifth European Tour title at the Tshwane Open back in March 2014, he twice finished as a runner-up to Tyrrell Hatton in October (at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Italian Open) and possesses a rapidly improving track-record at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, having gone T35-T19-T9 in his last three starts at this event. Indeed, Fischer rose more than 30-places up the world rankings in 2017 after posting an impressive record of eight top-10s, including four top-threes, through 25 starts on all Tours; if he can replicate his third-round scoring when the pressure ramps-up on Sunday, he may well end his trophy drought in spectacular fashion. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Pieters Seizes Advantage as McIlroy Surges at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Jan 19, 2018 12:51 PM
 
In light of his return from a two-month injury absence, it is entirely understandable that Rory McIlroy’s 6-under second round 66 is dominating the Friday-evening headlines at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. The four-time major winner did not drop a single shot on his way to carding four birdies and an 18th-hole eagle at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, a venue where he has registered four second-place finishes, two thirds and a fifth in his last eight starts. "I felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine and it was sort of difficult to convert them," McIlroy said. "But I stayed patient and feel like I got what I deserved on the last for staying so patient and it was nice to finish with a three, leapfrog a few guys and get myself into contention for the weekend.” Thomas Pieters shoots superb 65 to lead in Abu Dhabi https://t.co/9b2Ztmzpop— The Independent (@Independent) January 19, 2018 But as impressive as McIlroy’s performance undoubtedly was, he will start the weekend three-shots shy of the halfway lead; furthermore, his 6-under total did not even constitute the lowest round of the day: both of those honours belong to a player little talked about in the lead-up to the event (though tipped for a top-10 finish here), Thomas Pieters. The Belgian has struggled since bursting into the international golfing consciousness at the 2016 Ryder Cup. He won three times on the European Tour across 2015 and 2016 in order to earn a wild-card selection for Darren Clarke’s vanquished squad and departed Hazeltine as one of the few positives European fans could salvage from the scrappage of a chastening defeat. Pieters consequently began 2017 feted as the rising force of European golf, and although he achieved some impressive results – he finished outright second to world No.1, Dustin Johnson, at Riviera in February and managed to tie for fourth on the occasion of his Augusta debut at the Masters in April, for instance – he missed seven cuts in 23 starts across all Tours and arrived in the United Arab Emirates winless in over a year. This form caused the Geel-native to slump down as far as No.40 in the world rankings and many commentators consequently framed 2018 as a ‘make-or-break’ season for the 25-year-old. The early evidence suggests Pieters is set to rally: he began his first start of 2018 with a 5-under 67 and went two better on Friday, signing for a bogey-free 7-under 65 and a single stroke lead away from Spain's Jorge Campillo going into the weekend. Pieters outshone McIlroy at Hazeltine two years ago; he is well capable of repeating such a feat this weekend. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy Hits Ground Running at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Jan 18, 2018 2:04 PM
 
"I'd love to win again,'' Rory McIlroy told reporters on Wednesday ahead of his first competitive round in over two months at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. "I don't think there's any better feeling than winning a golf tournament. But I don't feel like that's far away. I've practiced and played. Obviously not competitively in a proper tournament, but I've shot some really good scores over the past few weeks. It's different doing that to being out here on Thursday and really having a card in your hand.'' If there was an understandable element of trepidation detectable in the Irishman’s pre-tournament utterances, the highly promising nature of his opening round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club this afternoon will have done much to salve any lingering nervousness heading into the weekend. Tommy Fleetwood found 18 out of 18 Greens in Regulation today. He's now found 84 of the last 90 Greens in Regulation here @ADGolfClub pic.twitter.com/EUAXSvlddm — The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 18, 2018 Starting from the 10th, McIlroy opened his much-anticipated competitive return with 11 straight pars and could have been forgiven for growing frustrated under pressure after three-putting for par on the par-five 18th. A successful 12-foot birdie-putt on the par-4 3rd-hole, however, did much to alleviate any simmering angst, and consecutive tap-in birdies on the par-3 16th and par-4 17th ensured that the four-time major winner reached the clubhouse clutching a bogey-free, 3-under scorecard marked 69. He will consequently tee-off on Friday within three-shots of the overnight lead established by his playing partner, defending champion and 2017 Race to Dubai winner, Tommy Fleetwood. "I was excited to get going," McIlroy told Sky Sports. "The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I'm nearly the most prepared for a season that I've ever been, but it was nice to get back out there and it was a great pairing to start off with. "Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coat-tails for most of the round, so really pleased; bogey-free 69 I can't really complain.” Fleetwood was, indeed, impressive on his return to Abu Dhabi. Like McIlroy, the world No.18 avoided dropping a single shot on Thursday and landed 18 out of 18 Greens in Regulation en route to a 6-under 66, a record which means that he has now landed 84 of his last 90 GIR at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Fleetwood was joined at the top of the leaderboard late in the day by Tanihara, with Ross Fisher, Thomas Pieters, Sam Brazel, Fabrizio Zanotti and Bernd Wiesberger all on five under. One player who failed to live-up to opening round expectations was pre-tournament favourite, Dustin Johnson. The world No.1 mixed four birdies with four bogeys in an inconsistent display and will start the weekend six-shots off the lead. But before anyone tries to write DJ off, it is worth noting that he recovered from a level-par opening round to finish within a shot of Fleetwood’s winning total at this event 12 months ago: expect him to rally. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Golf Betting Tips
Jan 17, 2018 1:32 PM
 
The European Tour 2017/18 season proper begins with the thirteenth-staging of the HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates this week. Here follows our top-three tips to earn you some extra cash over the next four days. Outright winner: Rory McIlroy (8/1) It will come as little surprise to attentive golf fans to learn that Dustin Johnson trades as most bookmakers’ heavy, 11/2 favourite to win this week. The world No.1 arrives in the Middle East fresh off the back of an emphatic, eight-stroke victory away from Jon Rahm at the Sentry Tournament of Champions a fortnight ago, and if he plays like he did there or like he did last spring, when he produced form figures reading 3-1-1-1-2 before he fell down the stairs at Augusta, it is difficult to conceive of any player halting him. It should further be noted that DJ recovered from a disappointing level-par, open-round 72 by shooting 68-64-68 through the weekend en route to a T2 finish at this event 12 months ago; a faster start this time out might render him uncatchable. And yet, even allowing for this impressive form and pedigree, odds of 11/2 against a field as strong as that which DJ will face in Abu Dhabi seem too short; 8/1 on Rory McIlroy represents better value for money. After all, the 28-year-old possesses a sensational record in the Middle East, a region in which he is chasing an 11th successive top-10 finish. He's won four times in Dubai itself, twice in the DP World Tour Championship and twice over at the Omega Dubai Desert, and has finished as a runner-up on a further three occasions. Were it not for the fact that the Irishman is returning from a patchy 2017 season and a two month injury lay-off, he would be trading at half the price you can peg him at now and, given that he just last week slipped outside of the top-10 for the first time in seven seasons, he will not be wanting for motivation. Back Rory to lay down a marker for 2018 with a big victory this week. Top-10 finisher: Paul Casey (10/3) Paul Casey has been a paradigm of consistency since taking-up full-time membership on the PGA Tour while hovering around the fringes of the top-100 back in 2015. In three full seasons in the US, he carded four top-threes and a further 20 top-10s, missing just nine cuts, and recovered to the world’s top-15. Thursday will mark the occasion of his first start back on the European Tour since re-joining it in the late summer, and while he remains winless since the 2014 KLM Open, there is strong reason to back the 41-year-old for a top-10 this week. After all, he won this event in 2007 and 2009 and a third victory would effectively guarantee him a Ryder Cup starting berth. Outsider: Thomas Pieters (33/1) Pieters is due a victory and, like Casey, could really firm up his Ryder Cup hopes by claiming the title at Abu Dhabi. He hasn’t won since August 2016 but did have two top-5s in WGCs in 2017 and a T4th at the Masters. Despite missing the cut here last year he was 2nd in 2016. Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy targeting return to form in Abu Dhabi
Jan 16, 2018 2:55 AM
 
Every golfer begins a season with their own individual set of targets for the campaign ahead. For some, the principle aim is merely retaining their Tour card, for others its climbing into a new bracket in the world rankings, improving upon one’s putting-statistics, or even winning major championships. All such aims are incredibly personal and crafted in such a way to reflect a golfer’s standing in the world game. There is not, in other words, any objective measure for what constitutes a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ campaign for any golfer on the PGA or European Tours. Such pre-season expectations will have been set in stark relief for Rory McIlroy as he arrived in the United Arab Emirates for the European Tour season-opening HSBC Championship this week. Cool view up high in Dubai pic.twitter.com/8rki2XFam7 — Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) January 13, 2018 After all, the Abu Dhabi Golf Club was the venue where his 2017 campaign began to unravel 12 months ago; a rib-injury sustained at the South African Open the previous fortnight forced him to withdraw, profoundly destabilising the subsequent course of his season. For although a record of five top-10s and two runners-up placings is nothing to be sniffed at, he ended 2017 ranked outside of the top-10 for the first time in seven years following a third consecutive season without winning a major. In addition to being left in the dust by Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, the rise of young stars such as Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka served to set the Irishman’s slump in even sharper relief. It is clear, therefore, that the pressure is very much on Rory to produce a ‘big’ 2018 and the fact that he has elected to make his first start since tying for 63rd at the Alfred Dunhill Links on 8 October in Abu Dhabi suggests he is confident of reclaiming his status as the foremost golfer of the post-Tiger Woods era. After all, this week’s event features no fewer than nine players from the top-20 on the official world rankings, including world No.1 Dustin Johnson, fresh off the back of an emphatic six shot victory away from Jon Rahm and an elite-level field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions a fortnight ago. Indeed, McIlroy has mapped out a heavy early-season campaign that will see him play eight times prior to the US Masters at Augusta: his schedule sees him play the Gulf Swing, taking in Abu Dhabi and next week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, before heading stateside to play the AT&T Pebble Beach pro-am, the Genesis Open, the Honda Classic, the Valspar championship, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Championship. In addition to signalling a powerful statement of intent in his own fitness, McIlroy’s aggressive scheduling strategy speaks to his determination to arrive at Augusta for his fourth attempt at securing a career-slam in peak form. The HSBC Championship will thus reveal much about how the 28-year-old is positioned to add a long overdue fifth major title to his name in 2018. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Patton Kizzire wins Sony Open in dramatic play-off
Jan 15, 2018 2:52 AM
Tags: Sony Open   Patton Kizzire   James Hahn   News  
 
Patton Kizzire was not much talked about in the lead-up to this week’s Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. After all, a full decade had passed since the Montgomery-native turned professional back in 2008. And although he impressed in winning twice at Webb.com Tour level in 2015, he seemed increasingly likely to be remembered as one of the PGA Tour’s many journeyman professionals – an athlete who is technically competent but unable to excel. A surprise, single-shot victory away from Rickie Fowler in the final round of the OHL Classic at Mayakoba last November, of course, hinted at the potential of a changing dynamic in Kizzire’s career. For not only did he outscore the world’s seventh highest-ranking professional in a pressure-filled, head-to-head environment, he did so while playing 36-holes in a single day after 48 hours of heavy thunderstorms along the Yucatan Peninsula severely disrupted the tournament schedule. On the sixth playoff hole @PKizzire claims his second of the season at the @SonyOpenHawaii!#QuickHits pic.twitter.com/B7IkI7UUfU— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 15, 2018 However, Kizzire still finished 2017 positioned outside the top-100 of the Official World Golf Rankings having missed three-times as many cuts (12) as he had made top-10s over the course of the calendar year. The significance of his PGA Tour breakthrough at Mayakoba thus remained very much open to question. The clutch-nature of Kizzire’s play-off victory against James Hahn at the Sony Open on Sunday, however, has surely settled any doubts regarding the question of whether the Alabama-native is undergoing a belated, mid-career Renaissance: it took him a total of 63 PGA Tour starts to get his first victory; he required just three to earn a second. It would be trite to characterise this an emphatic, richly deserved victory for the 31-year-old. While he impressed in carding consecutive 6-under rounds of 64 across Friday and Saturday in order to draw to within a shot of Tom Hoge’s surprise, 54-hole lead, his scoring was broadly in keeping with the average of a weak field on a vulnerable course. Indeed, Kizzire leaned on 15 pars in his first 18 holes to get into the playoff (that included an eagle, a birdie and a bogey, too) and needed to rely on Hahn (who won both his PGA TOUR events in playoffs at Riviera and Quail Hollow) missing 10 and 6-foot birdie putts on the par-5 18th to stay alive during the extra-holes. It was ultimately Hahn’s missing an 8-foot birdie-putt on par-3 17th that handed Kizzire the title after he completed the six play-off holes in a cumulative score of 2-under. Hardly vintage golf, it got the job done. Sunday’s victory has propelled Kizzire more than 50-places up the OWGR to a new career-high of No.54 and ensured him an extended exemption at the highest level of the sport. "It wasn't pretty," he reflected. "I'll take it any way I can get it." Who can argue with that sentiment? [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Players to watch in 2018: Austin Cook
Jan 14, 2018 1:11 PM
Tags: RSM Classic   Austin Cook   pga tour  
 
Winter is a lean time for us, golf fans. That cavernous, barren spell that stretches from the FedEx Cup-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in late November to the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February can at times seem unending. For although high-profile wrap-around events such as last week’s Tournament of Champions at Kapalua provide us with a glimpse of the elite-level action golfing die-hards so crave, deep-down we are all aware that the PGA Tour does not get going in any serious way until the spring. But although the wrap-around period might fail to set the pulses of the highest-ranking pros racing, it does provide a significant opportunity for mid-to-lower tier golfers and emerging young pretenders to generate some serious cash and make significant strides up the Official World Golf Rankings. Austin Cook has embodied that dynamic over the past three months; indeed, the extent of the 26-year-old’s progression has been such that the 19th Hole rates him as one of five ‘sleepers’ to watch out for over the coming campaign. Last man in.@austincookgolf is enjoying the view @Sentry_TOC. pic.twitter.com/KDAf76OAZM— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 2, 2018 Not much was expected of Cook at the beginning of 2017. While the Little Rock-native had drawn plenty of plaudits as an amateur – he was a two-time Southeastern Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and earned all-America honours when he finished 10th individually at the 2011 NCAA Championship in his sophomore year – he initially struggled to translate his precocious collegiate form on to the Webb.com Tour after turning professional back in 2014. He went winless through his first two seasons on the pro-ranks, and while he came within $425 of earning a PGA Tour playing card at the 2016 Webb.com Tour Finals, he ultimately needed to rely on Monday-qualifying to feature at the highest-level of the sport. Indeed, by 2016, he’d already made 16 starts in PGA Tour events, 10 of those coming via Monday-qualifying, (where it usually takes a score in the low-to-mid 60s to advance), a path of progression strikingly evocative of five-time winner, Ryder Cup stud and former top-10 player in the world—Patrick Reed. Clearly the experience of regularly competing under such straightened competitive conditions stood to Cook, for when it came time to defend a three stroke, 54-hole lead away from veterans Brian Gay, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner and Brian Harman at the RSM Classic at Sea Island in late November. Instead of playing defensively and allowing a more experienced chasing-pack to set the pace, he attacked and carded three birdies in his last four holes to seal a four-shot victory over J.J. Spaun. "It was definitely exciting -- real brutal with the wind," Cook said. "I got off to a slow start, but I was able to keep my head level and know there was a lot of golf to be played. With the wind and those conditions, a lot could happen." In addition to rising more than 150 places up the Official World Golf Rankings overnight, that victory ensured Cook a major championship debut at the Masters in April. Expect to see the world No.128 contend regularly over the coming 12 months, finishing the year inside of the top-50. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Brian Harman seizes 36-hole lead at Sony Open
Jan 13, 2018 4:43 AM
 
Brian Harman was not much talked about in the lead-up to the Sony Open at Waialae Golf Course in Honolulu this week. A prodigiously talented amateur player out of the University of Georgia, Harman claimed the 2003 US Junior Amateur title and played on the winning 2005 and 2009 Walker Cup and 2007 Palmer Cup teams. After turning professional in 2010, however, he struggled to transfer his exceptional youth record on to the senior ranks. While Harman impressed in claiming a maiden professional title at the Manor Classic on the EGolf Tour back in 2010, he managed just five top-10s in more than 70 PGA Tour starts after earning his elite-level playing card via Q-School in 2011. Indeed, the Georgia-native advanced past the 36-hole stage in just two of his first seven major championship starts. A single stroke victory away from the double major champion, Zach Johnson, at the John Deere Classic back in July, 2014, however, proved transformative. In addition to propelling Harman deep inside of the world’s top-100, that triumph rendered the 30-year-old a regular at the majors and made sure of his playing card for the foreseeable future. "... I played a Titleist the rest of the day, and ended up deciding to switch to it. I won the next week with it, first weekend in play." Equipment, UGA and advice for amateurs with @harmanbrian: https://t.co/LSWAZxloVM pic.twitter.com/tTkLXDOgdz — Titleist (@Titleist) January 4, 2018 A combination of injuries and a loss of form caused Harman’s progress to atrophy across 2015 and 2016; however, he hit back with a vengeance in 2017. He claimed his second PGA Tour title by a single shot away from world No.1, Dustin Johnson and world No.18 Pat Perez at the Wells Fargo Classic in May; he finished in a tie for second at the US Open at Erin Hills in June and rounded out the year with a further eight top-10 finishes. That form propelled Harman to a new, career-high ranking of 23rd in the Official World Golf Rankings and the impressive nature of his performances through the Hawaii Swing suggests that he is well capable of transferring such form into the 2018 campaign. The Georgian posted three rounds in the 60s en route to a third-place finish at the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua last week, and a sensational, 7-under second round of 63 has ensured that he will take a 3-stroke lead into the weekend at the Sony Open, seven shots clear of Justin Thomas and 10 away from Jordan Spieth. Closely tailed by an imposing, five-man group composed of Chris Kirk (67), Zach Johnson (67), John Peterson (64), Tom Hoge (65) and PGA Tour rookie Talor Gooch, it is clear Harman has a lot of work left to do if he is to begin 2018 by claiming his third PGA Tour title. However, the extent of his improvement over the past 12 months suggests that he is well place to consolidate his advantage across the weekend. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
EurAsia Cup provides Paul Dunne with Ryder Cup audition
Jan 12, 2018 6:44 AM
Tags: Thomas Bjorn   News   Paul Dunne   EurAsia Cup  
 
Okay, let’s cut right to the chase. You know and I know that the real European Tour season ended with Jon Rahm’s single shot victory away from Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November and that the 2018 campaign does not truly begin until the Old Continent’s golfing elite descend on Abu Dhabi Golf Club for the HSBC Championship at the end of the month. But although the autumn/winter wrap-around period might fail to set the pulses of fans or the highest-ranking pros racing, it does provide a significant opportunity for mid-to-lower tier golfers to generate some serious cash and make significant strides up the Official World Golf Rankings. See, for instance, the example of the new world No.18, Pat Perez, on the PGA Tour. There's more than one way to make a birdie!#TeamEurope #EurAsiaCup pic.twitter.com/CI7jtBG1HM— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 12, 2018 One European Tour pro seeking to make the most of the shop-window provided by this quieter period on the golfing calendar is Paul Dunne who makes his professional debut at representative-level as part of Thomas Bjorn’s EurAsia Cup team at Glenmarie G&CC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this week. The 25-year-old, who rose to international prominence when he took a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round of the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews, enjoyed a breakout season on the European Tour last term. In addition to claiming his maiden professional title by 3-shots away from Rory McIlroy at the British Masters at the beginning of October, he was beaten in a play-off against Eduardo Molinari at the Trophee Hasan II in April and carded a further three top-10 finishes. That form catapulted the Irishman to a career-high ranking of 75th in the Official World Golf Rankings and secured a 16th place finish on the Race to Dubai with a total prize money of €1,697,468. His status as one of the fastest improving players in European golf was endorsed when he was selected to represent the Old Continent in Kuala Lumper this week. For although the event is a long way from the fervour that will surround September’s Ryder Cup clash with the USA in Paris, Paul McGinley is among the past European captains who point to the EurAsia Cup as providing invaluable experience for both the captain and the players. Dunne is currently well-placed in the Ryder Cup standings at seventh in the European points list and sixth in the world points list; however, his only previous matchplay experience is at amateur level – which included being part of the 2015 Walker Cup-winning team – and much can change in the 10 months before the 42nd edition of Ryder Cup tees-off in Paris. The Asia Cup thus presents a golden opportunity for Dunne to make a lasting impression in Bjorn’s mind. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Players to watch in 2018: Tony Finau
Jan 11, 2018 2:29 PM
Tags: News   Tony Finau,   pga tour  
 
A reader could be forgiven for experiencing some sense of déjà vu on this one. Tony Finau has, after all, been a staple of these ‘Players To Look Out For’ lists ever since pushing to the fringe of the world’s top-100 after claiming his maiden professional title on the Webb.com Tour at the Stonebrae Classic back in August 2014. Blessed with exceptional distance off the tee (just last year, he cracked a monster, 374-yard drive at the Safeway Open and ranked fourth for driving distance on the PGA Tour) and solid iron-play (he ranks third in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green; sixth in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green; and 20th in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green), the Utah-native possesses most all of the raw materials required to thrive at the highest-level of the sport. If he can improve his putting performances (currently 154th in Strokes Gained: Putting), then we could really see some low numbers. Golf Love: Tony Finau @tonyfinaugolf pic.twitter.com/aeyzMhKQ2o— Golfing World (@GolfingWorld) December 24, 2017 Finau claimed his maiden PGA Tour title at the Puerto Rico Open in a play-off against Steve Marino in March 2016. Consolidating the 28-year-old’s tentative position inside of the world’s top-100, that victory was widely judged to presage a big second-half of the season. However, the Puerto Rico Open ultimately transpired to be Finau’s last top-10 in 29 starts that year; damningly, he missed ten-times as many cuts and ended the campaign 88th in the world, one spot lower than on 31 December 2015. So, the Puerto Rico Open can perhaps be viewed as something of a false dawn. But despite not winning in 2017, the quality and consistency of Finau’s performances over the past twelve months has thoroughly vindicated the hype that accompanied the player’s initial break into the top-100. In 28 starts in 2017, Finau carded nine top-10s to just three missed-cuts, including a T3 finish at the Valero Texas Open and a second-place finish at The Safeway Open. He further carded more rounds in the 60s (50) than any other player on the PGA Tour over the past year and demonstrated an impressive clutch game by carding a final-round 64 at the BMW Championship (T7), ensuring he would move on to the season-ending TOUR Championship at East Lake (T7). Indeed, Finau finished 19th in the FedExCup; such form clearly demonstrates that, if The Big Break graduate can add a little more consistency and control to his game over 72-holes, he is extremely strongly placed to develop into a consistent winner at the elite-level of the sport. Remarkably Finau has not managed a single top-10 finish at major championship level since tying for tenth at the PGA Championship three years ago; indeed, he has just seven such starts on his CV. Now that he is ranked inside of the world’s top-50, expect Finau to make a dent at the majors in 2018 and to finish the season inside of the world’s top-20. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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