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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
McIlroy out to disrupt Tiger’s march to history
Sep 23, 2018 4:35 AM
 
When Rory McIlroy converted from three-feet for birdie on the par-5 18th at the Tour Championship at East Lake on Saturday, drawing within three-shots of Tiger Woods’ outright, 54-hole lead, you could almost hear the Ryder Cup marketing team beginning to salivate. Just one week out from the big tee-off in Paris, the two highest-profile golfers from either side of the Atlantic will go head-to-head in the last pairing out on a big tournament Sunday for just the second-time in their careers. Woods and McIlroy will be playing for themselves, of course, yet this will have an undeniable US vs Europe flavour. Tiger’s surge to the summit of the third-round leaderboard understandably dominates the Sunday morning sports pages. Not long after the golfing world collectively doubted the viability of the 42-year-old’s comeback, he is on the cusp of sealing an historic 80th PGA Tour title, five-years after last triumphing at the 2013 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. Saturday was an emphatic performance from Woods. Starting in a share of the lead with world No.1, Justin Rose, the 14-times major champion rattled home birdie putts in six of his first seven holes to move three shots clear of the Englishman at the turn. While he was unable to break par on the back-nine, he can draw a great deal of confidence from a record of having hit 10 of 14 fairways for the second time this week. Tiger Woods.Birdie putt.Book it.#QuickHits pic.twitter.com/Y2KQxXlkPZ— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 22, 2018 Woods ultimately signed for a 5-under 65 and will tee-off on Sunday at 12-under for the tournament; Rose, unable to go lower than 68, will need to recoup a minimum of four strokes to have any chance of contending for the title. “I’ve been through a lot to get to this point,” Woods reflected. “I would love to be able to win this event, but there are some good players behind me. Simple maths tell me I don’t have to shoot 64 and rely on the help of the others. I’ve felt very comfortable when I’ve got in the mix this year, it hasn’t felt abnormal even though it’s been years. It’ll be fun to go out with Rory.” “Rory” does, indeed, complicate the picture. The 30-year-old was little-fancied in the lead-up to this event; while he won at East Lake en route to claiming the FedEx Cup title two-years ago, he has only managed three top-10s in his last eight starts and remains winless since shooting the lights out at Bay Hill in March. Following second and third-place finishes at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in February, McIlroy has blown a plethora of chances to win high-profile events against lesser golfers over the last nine-months owing largely to a flaky putting stroke. However, the Northern Irishman has been solid on the greens at East Lake (he leads the tournament with 17 birdies and ranks 23rd in strokes gained putting) and looks well-placed to capitalise if Woods allows his level to drop even slightly on Sunday. From 1999 to 2013, Woods converted 42 of 44 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour into tournament victories; Sunday will provide a psychological litmus test of the former world No.1’s comeback. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Woods earns share of 36-hole lead at East Lake
Sep 22, 2018 9:53 AM
 
They thronged the fairways four and five persons deep, donning Nike-swoosh hats and red polo-shirts. They cried ‘Tiger!’ and ‘T!’ after most every shot and, just in case the man inside the ropes was unaware of their presence, they shadowed him every inch of the round. This is a different Tiger Woods to the one who won the TOUR Championship and FedExCup nine-years and four back surgeries ago, but he is sure as hell still worth following around a golf-course. The 42-year-old was at the top of his game on Thursday, hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 14 greens-in-regulation en route a 5-under 65. The second-round produced a very different scenario; struggling for accuracy off the tee, Woods landed just seven fairways; he hit only 11 greens in regulation and somehow contrived to register a double-bogey 6 from a fried-egg lie at the 16th hole. Nevertheless, he still signed for a 2-under 68 and consequently seized his first share of a 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour since 2015. WALKING. AFTER. IT. TIGER WOODS. pic.twitter.com/dhSxJfTSVp— TJ Eckert (@TJEckertKTUL) September 20, 2018 Simply put, Tiger remains firmly in contention for an elusive 80th career PGA Tour accolade and, given his Friday round demonstrated an enduring capacity to play badly and score low, he looks to have taken a decisive step toward ending a five-year trophy drought. “I didn't hit it very well overall today,” said Woods, who goes into the weekend tied with world No.1 Justin Rose (67) in search of his first victory since the 2013 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. “Didn't quite have the sharpness that I had yesterday, and it was pretty evident. At least for the most part,” he added, “I missed the ball in every spot that I needed to, so I always had a good angle in there. So, that helps. And my short game has been good.” Rory McIlroy (68) is alone in third, 5-under and two back of the co-leaders. Woods started solidly on Friday, birdying the par-4 second from 18-feet to size the outright lead, and while his progress was stymied after a bogey on the par-3 ninth, he surged back to the summit of the leaderboard following an exceptional run of three birdies in four holes between the twelfth and fifteenth. Cruising on the back-nine, the fourteen-time major winner looked poised to return to the clubhouse with a considerable half-way lead; however, disaster unexpectantly struck on the par-4 sixteenth where he three-putted for a double-bogey after driving into a bunker. But instead of allowing his morale and concentration drop, Woods displayed the mark of a champion and birdied the par-5 eighteenth after reaching the green in two in order to finish the day with a share of the lead. A victory on Sunday would surely rank among the finest of Tiger’s decorated career. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Woods and Fowler hit the ground running at East Lake
Sep 21, 2018 12:32 PM
 
On Thursday, the 19th Hole argued that this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake would function as a litmus test for Rickie Fowler’s season. The 29-year-old has struggled to recapture his best level following a runners-up at The Masters in April and remains winless since claiming his fourth PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic last February. Put simply: if 2018 is not to go down as a complete write-off in the annals of Fowler’s career, he needs to produce a big performance at East Lake. The evidence of the first-round’s play certainly suggests that he is up to the challenge; after opening with four consecutive pars, he strung together three birdies in four holes between the 5th and 8th (a run marred by a sloppy bogey on the par-4 7th) to reach the turn at 2-under in just 33 strokes. His scoring only accelerated on the back-nine; he converted from nine-feet for a birdie on the par-3 12th and from 19-feet on the par-4 14th to move to 4-under and closed with a tap-in birdie on the par-5 18th to sign for a 5-under 65 and a share of the overnight lead. WALKING. AFTER. IT. TIGER WOODS. pic.twitter.com/dhSxJfTSVp— TJ Eckert (@TJEckertKTUL) September 20, 2018 Perhaps fortunately for Fowler, the identity of his co-leader means that the calibre of his Thursday performance has flown somewhat under the radar. Tiger Woods is the centre of attention at any tournament he plays, but when he shoots a score as low as 65 to seize a share of the overnight lead, he monopolises media coverage. This was a vintage performance from Woods whose remarkable comeback story lacks just one key missing ingredient: a victory. He hit 14 of 18 greens and made his only bogey at the first hole -- where he three-putted. He added birdies at the fifth, sixth, 12th and 14th holes, made a nice save after his lone poor drive at the 17th, then rolled in a 30-footer for eagle at the 18th after reaching the green in two with a 5-wood. “It would just enhance the year,” said the former No. 1 of potential victory. “To be able to play golf again and to earn my way back to this level is something that I was hoping I would do at the beginning of the year but I didn’t know. And I’ve done it. I hit so many quality shots all day, whether it was tee to green or it was putts. I didn’t really mis-hit a single shot.” Woods’ 2018 has been a story of steady progression: first came being able to play, and then putting together a game, and then giving himself chances. All of that has happened in rapid succession and, with four top-6s in his last seven starts, it is clear he is poised to break a five-year winless run. For Woods and Fowler alike, a victory on Sunday would be a fitting way to cap a remarkable year. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Why Fowler needs a strong finish to the season
Sep 20, 2018 10:37 AM
 
When Rickie Fowler confirmed that he would sit out the first two FedEx Cup play-off events in order to focus on his recovery from a recurring right oblique injury, it seemed as good a time as any to stand back from the golf course and take some time to recover to full fitness. After all, Fowler’s T12 finish at the US PGA Championship at Bellerive capped-off a deeply disappointing summer in which he failed to contend at any of the season’s final three majors while squandering an excellent opportunity to win the Scottish Open at Gullane Golf Club. Indeed, the 29-year-old has not managed a single top-5 finish since tying for second at The Masters in April and remains winless since claiming his fourth PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic last February. Put simply, the last six months of Fowler’s campaign have been a massive disappointment in light of the excitement generated by his stunning weekend performance at Augusta. It is consequently becoming difficult to regard his final 36-holes at The Masters as anything other than a continuation of the well-established pattern whereby the Californian only shoots low whence the pressure is off. This dynamic is embodied in the damning statistic that Fowler has only converted one of six 54-hole PGA Tour leads into tournament victories and has recorded almost twice as many runners-up finishes (15) as he has tournament victories (8) in a decade as a professional golfer. Rickie Fowler What’s In The Bag? Ryder Cup 2018 https://t.co/pCvyi0suVg pic.twitter.com/BAACew8VTz — Golf Monthly (@GolfMonthly) September 19, 2018 Nevertheless, there are some signs of hope that the world No.9 might yet be able to finish 2018 on a high, an aspiration invested with added importance owing to the fact that there is a Ryder Cup just around the corner. Returning from injury at the BMW Championship at Aronimink two-weeks ago, he had slumped down as low as 26th in the FedEx Cup points race and consequently required at least a top-30 finish to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake. Under normal circumstances, of course, a top-30 finish would be a minimum expectation for a golfer of Fowler’s calibre but given he had been struggling with injury and rendered unable to practice, it was by no means a given that he would outscore the vast majority of an elite field. As it happened, of course, he shot three consecutive 65s in order to begin Sunday with an outside chance of winning the title, and while he ultimately finished four shots shy of the play-off in a tie for eighth, the apparent ease with which he rediscovered his rhythm bodes extremely well for Jim Furyk’s Ryder Cup side going into the tournament in Paris at the end of the month. Fowler has finished 8-12-26 through his last three starts at East Lake and travels to Georgia full of confidence after contending at Aronimink. Victory would be an ideal way for the Californian to round-out a trying season. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
2018 Tour Championship Betting Preview
Sep 19, 2018 12:29 PM
 
The 2017/18 PGA Tour season concludes with the FedEx Cup Play-Off-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia this week. Points-race leaders, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas all remain in with a chance of claiming the most lucrative winner’s cheque in golf. Here follows our top-three tips for the week. Winner: Justin Rose (8/1) This one feels like a bit of a no-brainer to me, not least owing to the fact that Rory McIlroy is trading level with Rose as a joint-favourite. One need only compare and contrast these players’ form to discern the value represented by backing the Englishman as an 8/1 shot. While McIlroy registered a solid T5 finish at the BMW Championship a fortnight ago, he has only managed three top-10s in his last eight starts and remains winless since shooting the lights out on Sunday at Bay Hill in March. Since finishing second and third at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship consecutively in February, the 30-year-old has blown a plethora of chances to win high-profile events against lesser golfers in 2018 (losing out to Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari at The Masters and The Open standout above all others), and while he did win the Tour Championship en route to claiming the FedEx Cup title two-years ago, a frustrating final-round flakiness renders him an extremely expensive player to back. Congratulations, Justin Rose He's become world number one for the first time in his career. https://t.co/AQUbVKZZvc pic.twitter.com/A0hMJcOhEx— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) September 11, 2018 Rose, by contrast, arrives in Georgia off the back of consecutive runners-up finishes and sits at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career. While that achievement was somewhat soured by the sloppy manner in which he squandered a 71-hole lead at the BMW Championship last time out, he looks extremely well-placed to atone for such profligacy at East Lake. In 17 PGA Tour events this season, Rose has won twice and finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions with only one missed cut; he has achieved top-10 placings in five of his past six Tour Championships and his share of the runners-up position in 2015 shows a genuine affinity for the historic Atlanta course. If Rose plays to his best level this weekend it is a struggle to envisage any rival catching him, and the 38-year-old is possessed of a deep-seated determination to vindicate his status as world No.1. Top-10: Xander Schauffele (30/1) Schauffele’s motivation levels may well suffer as a consequence of the fact that he was overlooked for US Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk’s fourth and final wild-card pick two-weeks ago; however, the defending champion arrives at East Lake in exceptional form. He was one stroke outside of the play-off at Aronimink two weeks ago and finished in a tie for second at The Open at Royal Birkdale at the end of July. The world No.19 looks well-placed to mount a stern title defence. Top-10: Keegan Bradley (50/1) This is a very tempting price; Bradley’s play-off victory against Rose at Aronimink ended a six-year trophy-drought on the PGA Tour; it propelled him back up as high as No.31 in the world rankings and thrust him briefly into contention for Ryder Cup wildcard selection. Bradley will thus arrive at East Lake brimming with confidence and can play with that invaluable sense of freedom arising from the fact that he has nothing to lose. Back the former US PGA Championship winner to contend. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Why Justin Rose is a worthy world No.1
Sep 18, 2018 12:53 PM
 
As ascensions to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings go, Justin Rose’s was hardly the most propitious. The 38-year-old held a single stroke lead away from Keegan Bradley upon reaching the par-4 18th-hole at the BMW Championship at Aronimink Golf Club last weekend and teed-off confident in the knowledge that a regulation par would be sufficient to claim a crucial victory in the FedEx Cup play-off race. He found the fairway comfortably with a 3-wood off the tee; an undercooked approach-shot, however, left him with a tricky 15-footer for par which came up just short of the hole. Rose had somehow snatched a play-off from the jaws of victory and, visibly reeling as a consequence of his profligacy during regulation-play, he bogeyed the 18th again on the first extra-hole, handing Bradley his first PGA Tour title in six seasons. The following morning, it was confirmed that Rose had supplanted Dustin Johnson at the summit of the world rankings. Justin Rose ... for the win ... pic.twitter.com/eRYqLVnCgS— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 10, 2018 Inevitably, the downbeat nature of the Englishman’s finish at the BMW Championship dampened reception of his achievement; however, those questioning Rose’s worthiness as a world No.1 on the basis of two poor holes at Aronimink would do well to reflect on the machine-like consistency that has underpinned his rise. Rose finished 2016 ranked outside of the world’s top-10 for the first time since he cracked that elite-band five-years previously, and while his 2016 campaign will always be remembered fondly for his seminal triumph over Henrik Stenson at the Olympic Games in Brazil, he managed only one top-three in 19 PGA Tour starts and failed to contend at any of the season’s four majors. Many commentators consequently began to ponder the Ryder Cup stalwart’s potential longevity at the summit of the world game. In 2017, however, Rose’s game reached a new level; in addition to losing in a play-off at The Masters, he won the WGC - HSBC Champions event and the Turkish Airlines Open consecutively in November and rounded-out the year with a third triumph at the Indonesian Open. Indeed, the Johannesburg-native finished 2017 with three victories, three runners-up placings and nine further top-10s through 25 starts and he has scarcely allowed his level to dip since. After all, the BMW Championship marked the occasion of Rose’s third runners-up placing in 2018; he claimed his ninth PGA Tour victory at the Fort Worth Invitational in May and has carded six additional top-10s through 17 starts, missing only one cut. He will consequently tee-off at this week’s season-ending Tour Championship behind only Bryson DeChambeau in the FedEx Cup points-list. The Englishman’s destiny, therefore, lies firmly in his own hands; if Rose wins at East Lake, no-one can prevent him from winning the season-long PGA Tour spoils. Indeed, a top-three finish is likely to be enough to land this cherished accolade, which comes with the most lucrative cheque in the game. It would be a fitting way for Rose to end a sensational 24-months of relentlessly consistent golf – he is a worthy world No.1. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Reed inaugurates Ryder Cup mind games
Sep 17, 2018 12:39 PM
Tags: Ryder Cup   Thomas Bjorn   Patrick Reed   News   Jim Furyk  
 
Reflecting upon Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk’s confirmation of Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as the first three of his four wildcard selections two weeks ago, this blog argued that the United States squad can be regarded accurately as the strongest representative unit of all-time. One need only envisage an opening-day fourballs roster of Woods-Mickelson; Patrick Reed-Jordan Spieth; Brooks Koepka-Dustin Johnson; Rickie Fowler-Justin Thomas for evidence to substantiate such an assertion. That a European squad comprising five rookies and a number of out-of-form anchor-men (think Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and the enduring caprice Rory McIlroy) face an uphill challenge in attempting to reclaim the trophy that they forfeited in such emphatic fashion at Hazeltine two-years ago is a dramatic understatement. European captain, Thomas Bjorn was entirely accurate in asserting that the Old Continent’s best hope of winning in Paris at the end of the month is to develop a team dynamic capable of melding twelve men into one, cohesive unit. "You need to make the team work," he asserted. "Europe is about the whole team and always has been. Twelve players, our wives, our caddies, the backroom team, the European Tour. Everybody we are, we are behind this team and we do it together." According to Patrick Reed, the U.S. Ryder Cup team is heading to Paris feeling like underdogs.Should they? https://t.co/CPPUglcaCj pic.twitter.com/bePb7P54f8— GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) September 16, 2018 In this context it was difficult not to crack a smile in response to Patrick Reed’s assertion that Europe must be considered favourites for the event in Paris. Addressing a press-conference shortly after Furyk confirmed his first three wild-card picks, the Masters champion stated boldly that pre-tournament predictions of a comfortable American victory are exaggerated. "We feel great and we can't wait to get over there and try to end the drought of not winning overseas," Reed said, referencing the fact that the US have not won the Ryder Cup on foreign soil since a 15-13 victory at The Belfry in 1993 and have only emerged victorious in Europe twice since the biennial competition was extended to include players from across Europe in 1979. "I feel that kind of takes a little bit of pressure off us and puts more pressure on the European team because they're the ones that have had so much success overseas, that everyone thinks we're going to come in and they're going to win the Cup again. Of course, Reed’s assertions are not devoid of historical foundation; however, it is has long been apparent to informed golf-watchers that the US are heavy favourites for this year’s event. In this context, it is difficult not to regard Reed’s intervention as an exercise in mischief-making, an indelicate attempt to deflect from the extent of the visiting side’s advantage. The Texan, who has managed just two top-10s in his last 10 starts and none in his last five, would do well to focus his attention on regaining form in time to make a meaningful contribution to his country’s title defence. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Has Justin Thomas surpassed Jordan Spieth? The PGA Tour thinks so…
Sep 16, 2018 5:45 AM
Tags: Justin Thomas,   News   pga tour   Jordan Spieth  
 
In sport as in everyday life, interpersonal rivalries generally work in one of two ways. Either the dialectic, competitive dynamic imbues both parties with a new-found hunger and zeal that drives them to ever greater heights, or one, more psychologically brittle element wilts beneath the pressure, allowing his/her opposite number romp to glory. In golfing terms, the tripartite rivalry between Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player embodied the first typology: the impetus to out-do and not be out-done undoubtedly pushed each of those three players above their natural level. Tiger Woods’ crushing of Ernie Els and Vijay Singh in the early 2000s can perhaps be judged to emblemise the later typology: the young Woods was a force of nature and each of his major championship victories appeared to visibly demoralise his opposition. For a long-time it appeared as though the rivalry between Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas would fall into the later camp as well. Do majors trump everything else when it comes to the PGA Tour Player of the Year award? Justin Thomas says yes.https://t.co/wbG1ZSKcMk — Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) September 15, 2018 The two Texans have been going head-to-head since their school days; indeed, they were only 13 the first time they went against each other down the stretch of a tournament at the Junior All-Star event at Walnut Creek Country in Dallas. Spieth won by five on that occasion and again outscored Thomas to win the collegiate-level NCAA Championship in 2012. Little altered after the pair went professional in 2013. Within two years of acceding to the senior ranks, Spieth had won six times on the PGA Tour, including twice at major-level, and decisively displaced Rory McIlroy at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings. Thomas, by contrast, needed to wait until November 2015 to make his professional breakthrough at the low-profile, wrap-around event, the CIMB Classic, and finished the season more than 30-places behind his old college buddy. Thomas, it seemed, was destined to remain in Spieth’s shadow. When Thomas retained the CIMB Classic the following autumn, however, things began to shift. He won twice more on the PGA Tour in January 2017 and, in August, he claimed his maiden major championship title at the US PGA Championship by two strokes away from Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed. The following month, he beat Spieth by three-strokes to the Dell Technologies Championship en route to winning the FedExCup play-off series and rounded-out the year by winning the CJ Cup. Indeed, Thomas finished 2017 with six titles; he was crowned the PGA Tour’s player of the season and ranked two spots higher than Spieth at No.3 in the world. This shifting dynamic has been consolidated in 2018; where Spieth has completed his first winless season since 2014 and slumped outside of the world’s top-10, Thomas briefly ascended to the summit of the world rankings and added the Honda Classic and the WGC-Bridgestone titles to his trophy cabinet. In this light, it is perhaps unsurprising that 68% of the PGA Tour professionals anonymously surveyed in a recent Golf.com poll deemed Thomas likely to finish his career with more majors than Spieth. Perhaps it was all that time in the shadows that has propelled Thomas to the heights he has reached over the last two seasons. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Jason Day remains short of recapturing best level
Sep 15, 2018 10:13 AM
 
When Jason Day closed out a two-stroke victory away from Nick Watney and Aaron Wise at the Wells Fargo Championship in May, excited prophecies that he was poised to recapture the form that propelled him to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings seemed entirely justified. After all, the Aussie suffered badly in 2017; in addition to completing his first winless season in more than four years, he tumbled from 1st down to 13th in the Official World Golf Rankings and posted just a single top-three finish through 22 starts. When he squandered a single-stroke 54-hole lead at the Australian Open in Sydney last November and finished the tournament three-shots shy of a 22-year-old winner ranked outside of the world’s top-1,000, Cameron Davis, many commentators consequently began to ponder whether his time as a top-level golfer was up. It was in this context that Day’s victory at Wells Fargo felt so significant. Coming just six starts after he ended an eighteen-month trophy drought at the Farmers Insurance Open, the triumph at Quail Hollow appeared to confirm the 30-year-old had rediscovered the technical élan and mental toughness that rendered him the foremost player in the world just over a year previously. .@BMWchamps equipment notes: Xander Schauffele’s putter tweak pays dividends, the story behind Jason Day’s new driver shaft and much more. https://t.co/qqYZrXsIF8 pic.twitter.com/gwG0l1XoEm— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) September 10, 2018 Suddenly, Dustin Johnson’s hold on the world No.1 spot began to look a great deal more precarious; further major championship triumphs surely beckoned. But since triumphing at the Wells Fargo, Day’s name has been conspicuously absent from the business end of big tournament leaderboards and he will tee-off at next week’s Tour Championship trading longer than 30/1 to take the title. While Day posted solid top-20 finishes at three of the season’s four major titles, he never meaningfully contended at any of them and missed the cut at the US Open at Shinnecock. Indeed, in 10 starts since triumphing at Quail Hollow, the Queensland-native has managed only two top-10 finishes and an indifferent T20-MC-24 run through the first three FedEx Cup events has caused him to slip back outside of the world’s top-10. 2018 will go down as year of progress for Day; he abated the precipitous decline that threatened to engulf him towards the end of last season and re-established himself as a fixture inside the PGA Tour winner’s circle. Nevertheless, he remains some way off recapturing the form that elevated him to No.1 in the world three-years ago and, with players like Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas now vying for top-spot, he may well struggle to reclaim that mantle. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Finau worthy of Ryder Cup wildcard
Sep 14, 2018 12:33 PM
 
In the end it was a case of too little, too late for Xander Schauffele. The 24-year-old, who exploded into the popular golfing consciousness upon claiming the Tour Championship at East Lake last September, briefly fired the race to secure US Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk’s fourth and final wild-card selection with a frisson of excitement at the BMW Championship last week. Schauffele’s stunning 7-under opening-round 63 was inevitably overshadowed by Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods’ accomplishment in signing for 62s; however, he claimed the outright 36-hole lead following a 64 on Friday and entered into a rain-delayed final-round within a shot of Justin Rose’s slender, 17-under lead. Victory would surely have rendered Schauffele a ‘lock’ for the US Ryder Cup squad’s final wildcard slot, but while most captains would envy Furyk for having an agonising decision simplified in such decisive fashion, it was difficult not to feel as though Schauffele’s late surge in form functioned principally to complicate a well-established plan – a plan to select Tony Finau. That Tony Finau has underwhelmed since claiming his maiden PGA Tour title at the Puerto Rico Open in March 2016 is undeniable. A dream come true!! Incredibly honored to be a part of @RyderCupUSA! Excited to join the team and do whatever it takes to help us bring home a victory!! Thanks to Captain Jim Furyk for believing in me and to all the fans for their support. I’m truly humbled. #GoUSA #RyderCup pic.twitter.com/E9qR4S7KnP— Tony Finau Golf (@tonyfinaugolf) September 10, 2018 Blessed with exceptional length off the tee, a solid iron game and consistency on the greens, he looked to possess all the physical and technical raw materials to emerge as a consistent winner at the highest level of the professional sport. Over two-years on, Finau remains stuck on one top-level triumph; however, a run of seven top-10s, including a T5 at the US Open and two runners-up finishes at The Genesis Open and the Northern Trust Open, through 20 starts in 2018 marks a major improvement on last season and suggests it is only a matter of time until he wins again. Indeed, Finau travelled to Philadelphia for the BMW Championship last week fresh off the back of a 2-T4 run in his first two Play-Off events and a T8 finish at Aronimink ultimately propelled him up to a new career-high ranking of No.15 in the world. On form, therefore, the 29-year-old possessed every claim to be handed a Ryder Cup debut; only a Schauffele victory could scupper Furyk’s plans. In the end, Furyk was spared the invidious task of needing to separate the in-form Finau from a victorious Schauffele; as occurred at The Open in July, Schauffele’s scoring dried-up under pressure on a back-nine on Sunday and he ultimately finished a shot outside the play-off contested between Rose and champion, Keegan Bradley. Furyk duly confirmed Finau as the last of his wildcard picks alongside Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Ultimately, it is difficult to begrudge Finau his selection; however, Schauffele’s near-miss at Aronimink does illustrate vividly the razor-thin margins that separate elation from acute disappointment in professional golf. Win or no, play-off place or no, Schauffele performed exceptionally at the BMW Championship and would have been well worth a place in Furyk’s team. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Spieth’s 2018 illustrates the zero-sum nature of professional golf
Sep 13, 2018 7:34 AM
 
Suspend disbelief for a minute. Not a great way to begin an analytical golf blog, admittedly, but bear with me: there is an alternate universe out there somewhere in which Jordan Spieth has just completed his banner year. In addition to having claimed a second green jacket courtesy of staging the greatest comeback in Masters history, he became the first golfer in a decade to retain the Claret Jug and consequently heads to East Lake at the summit of both the World Golf and FedEx Cup rankings, fully confident of claiming a second Play-Off title in four seasons. His peers are not Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka, but Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Of course, the extent to which your willing to indulge this little fantasy is heavily contingent upon your belief in a multiverse, which I’m going to go ahead and guess is not very strong. Jordan Spieth is outside the top 30 in the #FedExCup.This helps. #QuickHits pic.twitter.com/kQpuPHFnzW— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 8, 2018 There may well be an alternate reality in which Spieth’s 2018 campaign will go down as one of the greatest seasons in PGA Tour history; in our own one, however, the whole thing has been a bit of a slog. In addition to having failed to win a single PGA Tour title for the first time since 2014, he finished the season with his lowest earnings in six full seasons as a pro and managed to register just one more top-10 finish (5) than he missed-cuts (4) across 22 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 contraction in form has exerted a profound, deleterious impact on the Texan’s competitive standing; in addition to having slipped outside of the world’s top-10 for the first time since cracking that elite-band four-years ago, he has failed to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in his career, creating the ignominious situation of likely facing fine or suspension for not making the minimum required starts on tour. For a player of Spieth’s calibre, qualifying for East Lake is not an achievement – it is an expectation; his absence from the Tour Championship must, therefore, be understood as a damning indictment on a deeply disappointing campaign. It is not difficult to pin-point the root cause of the Texan’s struggles. Two years ago, Spieth ranked second in strokes gained/putting, and ninth the season before that. After falling to 42nd in the category in 2017, Spieth departed last week’s BMW Championship in Philadelphia at 136th in sg/putting. To put this figure into context, even the notoriously inconsistent Rory McIlroy ranks top-60 for sg/putting. In simple terms, then, Spieth’s putter has gone cold, depriving him of the safety net that sustained him when his more fallible tee-to-green game faltered. Until he regains his best level on the greens, it is difficult to envisage him replicating the kind of scoring that propelled him to five wins, including two major titles, in 2015. And yet, it all could have worked-out so much better for Spieth, a circumstance that speaks to the essential capriciousness of this golfing universe. It is striking, for instance, to reflect that he held the first-round lead at The Masters and, after moving sideways on Friday and Saturday, he mounted one of the greatest comebacks ever seen at Augusta National. Starting Sunday nine shots back of Patrick Reed, Spieth birdied nine of his first 16 holes, and saw an 18-footer for No. 10 slip just by on the 17th. He bogeyed the 18th, ultimately finishing two strokes behind Reed. But in that moment, before his putt on the 17th decided not to drop, Spieth was on the precipice of history. Three months later, at Royal Birkdale, he held a share of the 36-hole Open lead and began the final-round with the 8-under total that ultimately proved sufficient for Francesco Molinari to claim a maiden major championship title. Golf is a notoriously cruel and ruthlessly punishing sport. Spieth was handled sympathetically by the sporting gods in 2015, ’16 and ’17; this year, he has borne their wroth. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy’s putting woes return to undermine him at Aronimink
Sep 12, 2018 12:56 PM
 
Damningly, Rory McIlroy is probably getting used to the feeling of departing big golf tournaments with an acute sense of regret. The 28-year-old bookended an indifferent, 1-under second-round 69 with two outstanding scores of 62 and 63 at the BMW Championship at Aronimink Golf Club last week and consequently started Sunday within a shot of Justin Rose’s 17-under lead. With that elusive putter hot and the driver typically booming, the stage seemed ideally set for McIlroy to banish the ghosts of a frustrating summer and recapture the form that propelled him to a fourteenth PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March. From the perspective of European Ryder Cup captain, Thomas Bjorn, such a confidence-restoring triumph could scarcely have come at a more opportune moment. When push came to shove, however, McIlroy’s scoring dried-up; a 2-under 68 left him two shots outside of the play-off contested by Rose and winner, Keegan Bradley and he ultimately departed Philadelphia ruing a considerable missed opportunity. Indeed, one need only glance at the Northern Irishman’s Sunday statistics to glean just how much he left out on the course. Calling the captain. Here is what happens when @RyderCupEurope players share a BMW... #BMWCHAMPS #DRIVENBYPASSION pic.twitter.com/2cRnln6rxU — Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) September 9, 2018 He hit 17 greens in regulation and had a birdie putt on every hole, including one from the fringe. He made just two of them. Eight of his 13 birdie putts were inside 15 feet, and the one had made as an 11-inch tap-in. In a round where he was brilliant from tee-to-green, McIlroy took 32 putts and ceded 2.7 strokes to the average of the field on the greens. To put that figure into context, he gained more than three-strokes to the average of the field when shooting 63 on Saturday. He has a week off to work on his putting before resuming tournament play at next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta but, simply put, such a fluctuation in putting figures from one round to the next is deeply unbecoming of a top-10 player in the world and cannot but severely corrode a golfer’s confidence. McIlroy ranks ninth on the PGA Tour for strokes-gained off the tee in 2018; he 16th for strokes gained around the green; 10th for strokes-gained approaching the green and sixth in strokes-gained total. And yet, when it comes to strokes-gained with a putter in hand, he languishes outside of the top-60. With eight top-10s on top of a tournament victory in 2018 (including a T5 at The Masters and a T2 at The Open), McIlroy has, by any normal standards, enjoyed a stellar year; and yet, regardless of what happens in Paris at the end of the month, it will conclude with a lingering sense of regret. The fact remains that if McIlroy was putting at a level even vaguely commensurate with his approach play, top-10s such as last week’s, would be categorised as victories. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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