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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Shane Lowry retains Abu Dhabi Championship lead after second-round 70
Jan 17, 2019 1:44 PM
 
Shane Lowry was not much talked about in the lead-up to this week’s European Tour season-opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Winless at all levels of the professional game since claiming his maiden PGA Tour title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational four-years ago, the Irishman missed more than three times as many cuts (7) as he registered top-10s through 28 starts across all Tours in 2018 and finished the year ranked outside of the world’s top-70 for the first time in over five seasons. Thus although Lowry came close to ending a three-and-a-half-year trophy drought at the Andalucía Masters last October, finishing a stroke behind champion, Sergio Garcia; he appeared a long way off recapturing the form that propelled him into the world’s top-20 as little as three-years ago. Six weeks, however, is a long-time in golf, and in his first appearance since tying for 30th at the DP World Tour Championship in his final start of 2018, Lowry looks to have recovered a semblance of his old rhythm. The 31-year-old shot 10 birdies and didn't record a single birdie en route to a 10-under opening-round in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, equalling the course-record set by Henrik Stenson in 2006. Shane Lowry bounces back from poor start to keep lead in Abu Dhabi https://t.co/wZJml4vPDu via @IrishTimesSport— Irish Times Sport (@IrishTimesSport) January 17, 2019 That score moved the Offaly-native into a surprise, 3-stroke overnight lead away from an esteemed chasing-pack fronted by Louis Oosthuizen, Richard Sterne, Pablo Larrazabal and Mike Lorenzo-Vera, all of whom signed for 65s. "I said it to my caddie coming down the last: 'A birdie here would be the best score I've ever shot'", Lowry reflected in a post-round interview with the European Tour's official website. "I left the putt short but I felt like I hit a decent putt, it was just a bit more into the grain than I felt, and yeah, obviously I'm very chuffed." The question on the lips of golf-watchers across the world on Thursday morning, of course, was ‘can Lowry sustain this?’ After so long out of the winner’s circle, there was fair reason to doubt the Irishman’s sticking power. He provided a fair rebuttal of such concerns en route to a 2-under 70 in tougher second-round conditions; while such manifested a substantial scoring-increase on his Wednesday-morning total, he retains a single-stroke advantage away from Oosthuizen and Sterne going into the weekend. England's Lee Westwood is two behind in fourth place after a bogey-free 68. Ian Poulter shares fifth on nine under in a group including fellow Englishman, Tom Lewis and Scot, Scott Jamieson. "I knew today was going to be a bit of a weird day after hitting such a low score yesterday," Lowry told Sky Sports after his 70. "Some of the shots I hit early on were horrendous so I'm happy with the way I recovered." The Irishman may be hard pressed to retain his advantage through to Sunday evening. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
2019 Desert Classic Betting Tips
Jan 16, 2019 1:38 PM
 
Following swiftly from a compelling fortnight in Hawaii, the PGA Tour heads to The Stadium Course in La Quinta, California for the 60th edition of the Desert Classic this week, formerly the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here follows our top-three bets for the week. Outright winner: John Rahm (8/1) Not the most visionary or innovative tip, I accept, but it is difficult to construct a persuasive case against backing Rahm to win this one. La Quinta, of course, was the site of the first of Rahm’s three victories last season (he subsequently triumphed at the Spanish Open on the European Tour and at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December), and he arrives in California off the back of an impressive T11-T22-T4-1-T8 run through his last five starts, including at the Sentry Tournament of Champions two-weeks ago. Indeed, Rahm, winner of the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2017, is one of the most accomplished desert golfers in the world game and it is striking that, subsequent to carding a stunning, 10-under opening-round 62, he hardly even approached his best level in the process of winning at The Stadium Course 12-months ago. Of course, the Spaniard’s closest competitor is likely to be second-favourite, Justin Rose (9/1). The greenside bunkers on the @Desert_Classic Stadium Course ranked as the 2nd hardest on TOUR last season. This is probably why ... #TOURVault pic.twitter.com/1VsrWLGEsF— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 16, 2019 The Englishman won twice and carded six further top-threes in the process of acceding to the world No.1 spot in 2018; he further possesses a remarkably distinguished track-record when it comes to contending and winning on desert courses. It cannot be overlooked, however, that the 38-year-old has not struck a competitive shot since blowing his Indonesian Masters title defence in December; furthermore, Thursday will mark his first appearance at La Quinta in nine-years. My money is on Rahm to go lower. Top-10: Charles Howell III (25/1) The 39-year-old ended an 11-year PGA Tour trophy drought in a play-off at the RSM Classic in November and travels to California off the back of T14 and T8 finishes in Hawaii. Howell looks well-placed to make an impact at The Stadium Course, a venue where he has posted three consecutive top-20s. Top-25: Bill Haas (80/1) Bill Hass has not been enjoying a great time of late. He missed 11 cuts to just two top-10s in 2018 and has consequently slumped outside of the world’s top-200. The 36-year-old, however, is a two-time winner at La Quinta and specialises in desert golf. He may well contend, continuing the form that earned him consecutive top-15s at the Safeway Open and Sanderson Farms Open in the autumn. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Leishman maintains impressive run of form in Hawaii
Jan 15, 2019 1:29 PM
 
It was largely overlooked amidst all the hype that followed Matt Kuchar’s return to the PGA Tour winner’s circle; however, Marc Leishman showed no sign of allowing his rich vein of form to dissipate at the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Maui last week. The Australian finished 2018 on a high by claiming his fourth PGA Tour title by five-shots away from Bronson Burgoon, Emiliano Grillo and Chesson Hadley at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in October; he went on to round-out the year with a narrow, runners-up finish to countryman, Cameron Smith at the Australian PGA Championship in Sydney. Leishman could consequently have been forgiven for taking his foot off the pedal over Christmas and needing a little time to get back up to speed in the New Year; the strong nature of 34-year-old’s performances in Hawaii over the past two-weeks, however, suggests he is set to make a real impact in the early months of 2019. Leishman began the year with an enormously impressive T4 finish at the exclusive winners-only Sentry Tournament of Champions event at Kapalua, shooting first and third round totals of 68 to match Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson for 277 strokes through 72-holes. Where things stand at the Sony Open:1. Andrew Putnam (-17)2. Matt Kuchar (-16)3. Marc Leishman (-15)T4. Chez Reavie (-14)T4. Charles Howell III (-14)Full leader board: https://t.co/Ohxbxuznh8 pic.twitter.com/guTGAta3z7— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) January 14, 2019 He achieved a comparable level of performance at the Sony Open in Maui last week, signing for four rounds under 70, including a Sunday total of 64, to finish as part of a four-way tie for third, five strokes shy of Kuchar’s winning total. Significantly, Leishman ranked 18th for strokes gained off the tee; 8th for strokes gained tee-to-green; 16th for strokes gained approaching the green; 20th for strokes gained around the green and 3rd for strokes gained putting. Such is reflective of a remarkably well-rounded 72-hole display and it is principally this level of consistency that has installed Leishman, presently 16th in the world, as a regular on the fringes of the world’s top-10 over the past two seasons. Remarkably, Leishman began the 2017 campaign ranked outside of the world’s top-50 having never previously ascended beyond No.46. Indeed, it took him seven seasons as a professional to claim his maiden PGA Tour title at the 2012 Travelers Championship by a stroke away from Charley Hoffman and Bubba Watson and another five years passed before he won his second such accolade at the Arnold Palmer Invitational back in March 2017. He swiftly consolidated his triumph at Bay Hill by claiming PGA Tour title No.3 as a wire-to-wire leader at the BMW Championship at Conway Farms in early September and finished 2017 as the highest-ranked Australian golfer in the world. The Victoria-native broadly succeeded in maintaining that level in 2018 and, with a T5-T2-T53-T6 record through his last four Open Championship starts, he looks dangerously poised to make an impact at major championship level over the coming 10-months. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Kuchar lays down marker for 2019 at Sony Open
Jan 14, 2019 1:59 PM
Tags: News   pga tour   Matt Kuchar   Sony Open   Andrew Putnam  
 
Three months is a long time in golf. After all, it was only back in September that Matt Kuchar missed-out on qualification for the Tour Championship for the first time since 2009, following an indifferent run of five missed-cuts to just four top-10s through 24 starts across all Tours. Winless since claiming his seventh PGA Tour title at the 2014 RBC Heritage Open, many commentators took the 40-year-old’s indifferent 2018 campaign as evidence of the onset of an irrevocable process of late-career decline. Put simply, Kuchar’s time competing at the elite-level of the professional sport appeared to be coming to a natural end. Then came a surprise single-stroke victory away from New Zealand’s Danny Lee at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico in November. A solid tied-19th finish at the winners-only Sentry Tournament of Champions event at Kapalua followed before Kuchar sealed his second victory in four starts by four shots from Andrew Putnam at the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Maui on Sunday. KUUUCHHH! Matt Kuchar (-22) is your 2019 Sony Open CHAMPION!63-63-66-66 = -22This is Kuchar’s 2nd win in just 3 starts on the PGA Tour.Join us NOW on Golf Central to recap the final round. pic.twitter.com/OgzSbS2JXq— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) January 14, 2019 The Floridian took a two-stroke lead into the final-round, having signed for an impressive 63-66-66 sequence through his opening 54-holes in Hawaii; however, a woeful start indicated the pressure of leading would prove too much for the veteran to bear. After having carded just a single bogey through his opening three-rounds, Kuchar found himself two-over through five-holes on Sunday and was staring into the face of an ignominious final-round capitulation. A timely birdie on the par-5 ninth-hole, however, proved transformative and he rallied with an impressive burst of five birdies on the back-nine, including on the par-5 eighteenth to sign for a third consecutive 66, and a four-shot victory from Putnam. Notably, Kuchar finished the week ranked seventh for strokes gained off the tee, seventh for strokes gained approaching the green, third for strokes gained putting and third for strokes gained tee-to-green. Such attests to a stunningly well-rounded performance. "I was pretty frustrated," Kuchar said when reflecting on an indifferent 2018 campaign in light of his triumph on Sunday. "I think the frustrating thing was I felt like I was doing some good things and just not seeing results. That sometimes is hard to take, when you think you're on the right course and the right path and not seeing results. Nice to see it turn around." Back up to No.22 in the Official World Golf Rankings (he sat 40th as recently as October), Kuchar is well-placed to push back towards the top-10 in 2019. The game is richer for the veteran’s enduring success. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Scott slumps to missed-cut in 2019 debut at Sony Open
Jan 13, 2019 8:00 AM
Tags: News   Adam Scott   pga tour   Sony Open  
 
As any attentive golf watcher will be aware, Adam Scott has not been enjoying the most productive period of his career over the past two-years. Winless since claiming PGA Tour titles Nos. 12 and 13 in consecutive starts in the spring of 2016, the Aussie has registered just a single top-three finish in over 40 professional appearances over the past two seasons and he slumped outside of the world’s top-70 as little as three months ago. Nevertheless, as this blog argued in December, there was reason to retain faith in Scott’s capacity to revitalise a flagging career in 2019. After all, an exceptional T3 finish at the US PGA Championship at Bellerive last August forced him into the FedEx Cup play-offs and he went on to tie for fifth at the Northern Trust Open before rounding out the year with a T10-T18 run at the CJ Cup and the WGC-HSBC Champions. These results ultimately enabled Scott to climb back inside of the world’s top-50, providing him with a platform on which to build in 2019. Can you imagine someone putting to win the Masters with the flagstick in?Adam Scott says he would.https://t.co/EfTNPkuKeb— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) January 10, 2019 Indeed, the 38-year-old struck a remarkably upbeat tone when speaking to the media in advance of making his 2019 debut at the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Maui this week. He spoke of how he harboured no regrets regarding his decision to skip the Australian Open and Australian PGA late last year in favour of an 11-week break with family in his native Queensland, stressing how the time off had aided in physical and psychological recovery. He told Rex Hoggard of the Golf Channel that he is considering skipping all four of 2019’s World Golf Championship events in order to better prepare for the majors, and confided in Golf Monthly that he intends to avail fully of recent rule changes by keeping the flag-stick in the hole on every putt, even if he is faced with ‘a six footer to win a major.’ Put simply, Scott arrived in Maui this week possessed of the aura of a man who had gotten his mojo back. Appearances, however, can be deceptive, and the opening 36-holes of Scott’s 2019 season provided fans with a chastening reminder that the former Masters champion remains someway off recapturing the level that propelled him to the world No.1 spot as recently as 2014. He carded five bogeys en route to a 2-over opening-round 72 on Thursday; on Friday, meantime, he posted back-to-back double-bogeys on the par-4 14th and 15th holes as well as a double-bogey on the par-4 second in the process of signing for a 75. It may be some time before we see Scott return to the winner’s circle. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Kuchar maintains resurgence at Sony Open
Jan 12, 2019 9:26 AM
Tags: News   Jordan Spieth   Matt Kuchar   Sony Open  
 
Ever heard the expression, ‘once bitten, twice shy’? Well, Matt Kuchar certainly has. The 40-year-old needed to wait 1,667 days and 116 starts between claiming his seventh PGA Tour title at the RBC Heritage Open in 2014 and winning his eighth such accolade at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico last November. The exceptional nature of his opening 36-holes at the Sony Open in Maui this week suggests he is determined to prevent such a lengthy trophy drought from recurring. Kuchar arrived at Waialae Country Club off the back of a solid T19 finish on the occasion of his first start of the New Year at the exclusive winners-only Sentry Tournament of Champions event at Kapalua last week, and hit the ground running with a 7-under opening round 63 that positioned him within two-strokes of the surprise overnight leader, Canadian rookie Adam Svensson. He replicated the same score on Friday to move to 14 under through 36-holes, matching the lowest 36-hole score of his PGA Tour career. He also had a 126 in Las Vegas in 2008. Through two rounds in paradise, it seems like Matt Kuchar doesn't have much competition. Off the course, however, is a very different story: https://t.co/lhvhxGXkja pic.twitter.com/h8VoFzg9wL — Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) January 12, 2019 Kuchar will consequently begin the weekend one shot clear of Andrew Putnam (65) and four clear of Stewart Cink (62) and Chez Reavie (65). “Just two great days. To shoot 7-under back to back is unexpected, but certainly awfully excited,” Kuchar said. “I want to say last year I probably ground harder than I've done in the past. Close to Ryder Cup I was on the outside of a couple things and felt like I hadn't been used to being in that situation. “So now being in good shape it's certainly a nice place to be. Freed up? I'm not sure. I still kind of attack the game the same way.” Kuchar ran off four birdies in five holes to start his second round; he birdied the par-5 9th-and eagled the par-5 18th, and only carded one bogey on the challenging par-4 15th hole. Indeed, Kuchar leads the tournament in strokes-gained total at the halfway point, and ranks second, eighth and thirteenth for strokes-gained putting, tee-to-green and approaching the green. Such provides the veteran with a solid platform on which to build towards a second victory in the space of three months over the weekend. Kuchar’s title hopes will undoubtedly benefit for the absence of Jordan Spieth. Despite carding an impressive second-round 66, the three-time major winner missed the cut by one shot. Needing to birdie the last four holes to qualify for the weekend, Spieth ran off two birdies, missed a 10-foot birdie putt and then narrowly missed chipping in for eagle. "I loved the fight," Spieth said. "I feel like I was trying to win the tournament trying to make the cut, which is not something I want to get used to." He returns in two weeks at Torrey Pines. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Spieth struggles on 2019 return at Sony Open
Jan 11, 2019 7:56 AM
Tags: News   pga tour   Jordan Spieth   Sony Open  
 
Speaking to the press ahead of his first PGA Tour appearance of 2019 at the Sony Open in Maui this week, Jordan Spieth struck a conspicuously cautious tone. The 25-year-old endured a deeply underwhelming 2018 campaign. In addition to having failed to win a single PGA Tour title for the first time since 2014, he finished the campaign with his lowest earnings in six full seasons as a pro and missed as many cuts (5) as he registered top-10s across 24 starts on all Tours worldwide. To put this figure into context, he top-10ed 13-times in 2017, 11-times in 2016 and 18-times in 2015. Inevitably, this form has exerted a profound, deleterious impact on the Texan’s competitive standing, and in addition to having failed to qualify for the Fed-Ex Cup-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in September, he slumped outside the world’s top-15 for the first time since cracking that elite-band in 2013. During an eventful first round, Jordan Spieth got a good taste of the new rules. Safe to say he's got an opinion on a few of them: https://t.co/uy4RA0xmXC pic.twitter.com/poeIiEKhaW— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) January 11, 2019 Ignominiously ineligible for last week’s winners-only event at Kapalua, Spieth consequently arrived at Waialae Country Club for his maiden start of the year ranked No.17 in the world, and he remains devoid of a top-10 since tying for 9th at The Open Championship at Carnoustie in July. To put things mildly, the three-time major champion has a point to prove in 2019; however, he was keen to dampen expectations ahead of his season debut. “I like this golf course, you can kind of think your way around and as far as attitude goes just keep it light, recognise that it’s the first tournament of the year,” Spieth observed. “I’m trying to get a feel for tournament golf. I haven’t played a lot of rounds over the last couple of months. I’m working on some things, it’s progressing, and just got to come out with a lot of trust here but most importantly keep the light mood, keep the expectations lower to start.” Followers of Spieth would have done well to heed the former world No.1’s advice as he laboured to an indifferent 3-over 73 (featuring just a single birdie) that leaves him 12-shots shy of Canadian rookie, Adam Svensson’s surprise lead and in real danger of missing the cut. The Texan had to wait until his 16th hole, the par-3 seventh, for his first birdie of the year, and that was all he made. 18-months have passed since Spieth last entered a PGA Tour winner’s circle at The Open at Birkdale in July 2017; on the evidence of Thursday’s display, it may be some time before we see him in such a position again. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Captain Harrington salves Ryder Cup anxiety regarding McIlroy
Jan 10, 2019 1:08 PM
 
There are a great many reasons why European golf fans might have rejoiced at news that three-time major winner, Padraig Harrington has been appointed Ryder Cup captain for the 2020 event at Whistling Straits. After all, the 47-year-old has long been regarded as possessing one of the most astute analytical minds in world sport and with nine Ryder Cups to his name in the capacity of player and vice-captain, one would be hard pressed to identify a more richly experienced candidate. Harrington’s presence on the side-lines consequently has the potential to provide Europe with a decisive strategic advantage on a links-style course that many commentators believe is more suited to a European style of play. In this context it is significant that the Irishman stressed he would not have taken the job if the event was slated for a course similar to Hazeltine, where the U.S won 17-11 in 2016. But for all Harrington’s appointment has the potential to improve the strategic preparedness of the European squad, many fans feel his most important contribution will be to regain the loyalties of the old continent’s talisman, Rory McIlroy. Another disappointing final round for McIlroy https://t.co/4yM2NlxqRR pic.twitter.com/Ox7u1Il35Y— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 7, 2019 To say that McIlroy’s relationship with the European Tour has grown strained in recent times would be a massive understatement. Speaking at a press-conference ahead of the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last November, the 29-year-old announced that his playing schedule will focus on the U.S. PGA Tour in 2019, and he refused to confirm whether he will contest the minimum four events required to retain European Tour membership. Inevitably, perhaps, McIlroy’s decision provoked a great deal of panic, disappointment and indignation in the European golfing media. Former Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley, for instance, declared the move ‘extraordinary’ and ‘difficult to understand’; others pondered whether the switch might result in the Northern Irishman being exiled permanently from the European Ryder Cup setup. Such antagonism flared-up again last week when the world No.8 referred to the European Tour as a ‘stepping stone’ for younger players to earn playing privileges in America. Harrington’s appointment has done a great deal to assuage such fears of a rift between the European Tour and the old continent’s most decorated practicing professional. The two players are known to enjoy a close friendship and, speaking to the press on Tuesday, Harrington was immediately able to confirm that his countryman will be available for selection in 2020. "I can only look at his actions. That man loves the Ryder Cup. He's become a leader in the team room," said Harrington. "He gives so much to the Ryder Cup; the Ryder Cup gives so much back to Rory that he can't get anywhere else. "He gets the glory, the opportunity to be loved on the golf course. He gets the exuberance, the crowd. You don't get that day in, day out. You don't get that regularly. His actions are all about the Ryder Cup. "He will be 100 per cent behind and in that Ryder Cup team, there's no doubt about it. You just have to know the man behind the scenes." With a fully fit and motivated McIlroy anchoring a side guided by the tactical insights of Harrington, Europe have reason to feel optimistic regarding their chances of retaining the trophy they claimed in such spectacular circumstances in Paris in September. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Padraig Harrington: Europe name Irishman as 2020 Ryder Cup captain
Jan 9, 2019 1:28 PM
 
From the moment Padraig Harrington ended a 10-year major championship trophy drought for Europe at the 2007 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, it was always likely he would one day captain the old continent at a Ryder Cup. When he added two further major titles in the process of rising to No.3 in the world the following year, it became an inevitably. This is without even mentioning the Dubliner’s stellar record of having represented Great Britain & Ireland at three Walkers Cups and two St Andrews Trophies between 1991 and 1995, before contesting six consecutive Ryder Cups between 1999 and 2010, accruing a respectable total of 10.5 points from 25 matches. Harrington also served as a vice captain at each of the past three Ryder Cups, contributing to victories at Gleneagles in 2014 and Le Golf National in 2018 and a loss at Hazeltine in 2016. Put simply, the 47-year-old has been one of the most influential golfers of the post-war period; it came as little surprise, therefore, when he was confirmed as European captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, as the old continent bid to retain the title they claimed in such emphatic fashion in Paris in September. Bring on 2020.... https://t.co/vtmkmlrkLd— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) January 8, 2019 "I've won three majors in my career but taking the Ryder Cup captaincy is a different level," Harrington said. "I want to find an edge to get the players to perform to best of their abilities and hopefully get a win. "I'm really conscious that I have to find the edge and add to it. It's going to take a great deal of my time over the next two years to do it." It is difficult to contest the logic underpinning this appointment. As one of the most prominent European golfers of all-time, Harrington commands a significant profile among US sports fans and possesses an intimate familiarity with Whistling Straits, having contested three PGA Championships on the Wisconsin course. Indeed, the venue was a decisive factor in persuading Harrington to take on the captaincy in 2020. As has been extensively reported since Europe regained the Ryder Cup in Paris in the autumn, home advantage is becoming an increasingly significant factor in representative golf. Since 1983, when the U.S. won the last of its record 13 consecutive Ryder Cups, the host country has won roughly 70 percent of the time; indeed, the USA haven’t won a road Ryder Cup since 1993 at the Belfry (that is five consecutive home victories for the European side), while Europe have only won four times in their past 15 trips to America. Whistling Straits, however, has a links-style look with the holes bordering Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee, and Harrington stressed he would not have taken the job if the event was slated for a course similar to Hazeltine, where the U.S won 17-11 in 2016. "I know it's tough to win in the States,'' Harrington said. "If we were coming back to Hazeltine it would be another question of my appetite to go there. I strongly looked at the fact that we are going to a golf course that is at least European style. I want to be a winning captain.'' His appointment has certainly rendered America’s task in attempting to regain the Cup a whole lot more difficult. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Familiar failings resurface to frustrate McIlroy at Kapalua
Jan 8, 2019 1:28 PM
 
As Rory McIlroy strode to the sixth tee-box during the final-round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Sunday, having just drawn to within a stroke of the lead courtesy of a birdie on the par-5 fifth-hole, he appeared ideally placed to inaugurate a crucial 2019 campaign with a statement victory. The Northern Irishman has spent much of the past two-months defending his decision to relinquish European Tour membership in 2019 to better prepare for the three American majors; a victory in his first PGA Tour start of the New Year would consequently have functioned as an ideal rebuttal to his critics, vindicating his switch stateside. But as has been the case so frequently over the past two seasons, McIlroy was unable to convert a strong Sunday position into a tournament victory; he played the final 14-holes of his tournament in a cumulative 1-over-par and wound-up in a tie for fourth, eight-shots shy of Xander Schauffele’s winning total. Damningly, McIlroy lead Schauffele by a stroke going into the final day, and he was ultimately the only player in the tournament’s top-20 who signed for a Sunday scorecard of over 70. "I hit good shots and gave myself plenty of chances," said McIlroy; "I hit good putts, it was just one of those days. I just didn't have it." Game respects game.@McIlroyRory congratulates @XSchauffele after the win.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/Sz5U0KG0Rz— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 7, 2019 “I’m going to go home, reflect on this week what was good and what wasn't so good and work on a few things. This week I showed more versatility in my game. I was hitting different shots — left to right, right to left, high, low. It’s something I wasn’t quite as comfortable doing last year. Overall it was a positive week.” Of course, McIlroy’s failure to parley a strong opening five-holes into a victory might be reconciled as simply a ‘bad day at the office’; however, such is to overlook a number of significant longer-term failings in the world No.8’s performance stats. Put simply, McIlroy seems to have lost his ability to perform under pressure. Sunday marked the seventh consecutive occasion in 12 months that McIlroy has failed to win from a starting position as part of the last group out on Sunday: the Dubai Desert Classic, the Masters, the BMW PGA Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the Open Championship and the Dell Technologies Championship all provide examples of comparable instances from 2018. Indeed, it is noteworthy that McIlroy’s most recent victory on the PGA Tour (at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March) was the result of a sensational back-nine comeback on Sunday (starting from the second-last group out); indeed, the last time McIlroy converted a final grouping into a win came in May 2016 when clinching his last European Tour title at the Irish Open. When it comes to the PGA Tour, however, where McIlroy will base himself for the majority of 2019, you have to go back to May 2015 when he sprinted clear of the chasing pack for a seven-stroke win at the Wells Fargo Championship. From tee-to-green, McIlroy remains one of the most physically and technically complete golfers on the face of the earth; but until he rediscovers a capacity to convert strong 54-hole positions into tournament victories, one struggles to envisage him breaking his four-year major championship trophy-drought and returning to the world No.1 spot. Worryingly, the longer this pattern persists, the harder it will be for him to break. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Schauffele establishes marker for new season at Kapalua
Jan 7, 2019 3:44 AM
 
Now, the 19th Hole is never usually one to ‘toot its own horn’ but, given the festive time of year, it seems appropriate to engage in a little self-indulgence. Just three weeks have passed since this blog opened it’s ‘Players to watch out for in 2019’ series by bigging-up the title credentials of one Mr Xander Schauffele. The 25-year-old rose to international prominence by winning both the Greenbrier Classic and the Tour Championship at East Lake during his maiden season on the PGA Tour in 2017; he rounded-out a comparably productive 2018 season by winning the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China last October. With three victories to his name in just two years on the PGA Tour, therefore, there was good reason to feel optimistic regarding Schauffele’s chances of breaking into the world’s top-10 and contending at the majors in 2019. The final-round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions event at the Plantation Course at Kapalua endorsed such a perspective. The adrenaline was pumping for Xander Schauffele after making his second eagle of the day to move within one shot of the lead at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.But perhaps it was pumping *too* much, as he topped his tee shot on the following hole.https://t.co/pVYVLbt82B— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) January 7, 2019 Schauffele teed-off on Sunday five-strokes shy of Gary Woodland’s surprise 54-hole lead; a sloppy bogey on the par-4 opening-hole swiftly increased that deficit to six. It was then that Schauffele, convinced he had nothing left to lose, determined to release the handbrake and go all-out in pursuit of birdies. The result of this strategic volte-face was quite incredible. A birdie on the par-4 third-hole restored Schauffele to Evens for the round before he surged back into contention for the title courtesy of a remarkable run of three consecutive birdies between the fifth and seventh-holes. He eagled the par-5 ninth-hole to reach the turn at 5-under; he holed a wedge from 107 yards for another eagle on No. 12. He took his first lead with back-to-back birdies on the 14th and 15th holes, both times coming close to chipping in for more eagles, and seized an outright hold of the clubhouse lead courtesy of a birdie-birdie finish, sealing a course-record equalling 11-under 61. Woodland, partnered with four-time major champion, Rory McIlroy in the last group out behind Schauffele, needed to birdie the par-5 eighteenth in order to force a play-off; however, he pulled the relevant putt from 10-feet and needed to settle for a runners-up placing at 22-under-par. The world No.31 has now squandered all seven of the 54-hole leads he has held on the PGA Tour. "It was a crazy day," Schauffele said. "I knew it was going to be a birdie fest at the end. We kept our head down and made a run for it." Up to No.6 in the world, we can expect to see more of the same from Schauffele over the next 12-months. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Woodland leads McIlroy by three after 54-holes in Kapalua
Jan 6, 2019 7:40 AM
 
In many respects, the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua felt perfectly set-up for a Rory McIlroy triumph. The Northern Irishman has spent much of the past two-months defending his decision to relinquish European Tour membership in 2019 to better prepare for the three American majors; a victory in his first PGA Tour start of the New Year would consequently function as an ideal rebuttal to his critics, vindicating his switch stateside. For much of the third-round, it appeared as though the McIlroy revival narrative was playing out perfectly to script. The 29-year-old teed-off on Saturday in a three-way tie for second-place alongside Bryson DeChambeau and Kevin Tway at 9-under-par, three-strokes shy of Gary Woodland’s surprise 36-hole lead. By the time McIlroy reached the 13th tee-box, he had drawn level at the summit of the leaderboard, having posted four birdies on the front-nine. Just a 364-yard drive at No. 6 for @McIlroyRory.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/HD797P8UH2 — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 5, 2019 A further dropped shot followed on the par-4 14th-hole; however, Woodland’s response was emphatic: he converted a stunning 65-foot eagle putt on the 15th hole to re-establish a two-stroke lead and closed with a 12-foot birdie on the 18th to match McIlroy’s 5-under 68 and retain a three-shot advantage going into the final-round. "Another good round of golf," McIlroy told Sky Sports, despite parring both the par-5 15th and 18th holes to relieve pressure on the frontrunner. "I drove it well again, iron play was pretty good for the most part, finished out well, holed good putts when I needed to, to save par and some good birdies." Woodland, who ended a gruelling five-year trophy drought by claiming his third PGA Tour title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last February, has never won on the PGA Tour in the six previous times he held the 54-hole lead in stroke-play. This circumstance will undoubtedly fuel McIlroy’s hopes of achieving a comeback victory on Sunday afternoon. Woodland can, however, draw solace from history at Kapalua. While the Plantation course lends itself to wild swings in scoring, no one has ever lost a three-shot lead after 54 holes since the winners-only tournament moved here in 1999. "The difference is I'm a completely different player than I have been in the past," Woodland said. "I've obviously been in the position multiple times. It's nice to build off those and take certain things out of them. ... I'm playing well enough where I don't have to play conservative. I can attack and continue to trust what I'm doing and should be good." We are poised for a thrilling conclusion. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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