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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Westwood’s victory in Abu Dhabi sparks hope he may yet snap his major drought
Jan 21, 2020 1:45 AM
 
In the end it was never really in doubt. Lee Westwood, beginning his 27th season on the European Tour, took a single stroke lead into the final-round of the Abu Dhabi Championship. Despite being pursued closely by an all-star cast featuring Frenchman, Victor Perez and a pair of Englishmen, Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 46-year-old arrived on the 16th tee-box with a three-shot cushion. Westwood had scarcely put a club wrong during his opening 15-holes at Abu Dhabi Golf Course on Sunday. He combined four birdies on the front-nine with a coolly taken birdie on the par-3 12th hole to take a significant step towards winning his most significant accolade since claiming the St Jude Classic in Memphis a decade previously. Then came the minor wobble that briefly recalled memories of the flakiness under pressure that has so frequently stymied Westwood at the majors. An almost perfect tee shot left him an appetizing angle into the flag, but the appearance of that dreaded pull left him just off the putting surface, about 15 yards from the cup. The approach putt was good for weight but not so much for line, and the four-footer for par was always left of its required line. A fourth bogey of the week was on his card and, suddenly, his two-stroke lead with two-holes to play appeared considerably less comfortable. It was in this context that the emphatic nature in which Westwood played his way into the clubhouse was so impressive. He restored a sense of calm with a regulation par on the challenging par-4 17th before birdying the par-5 last to close out a two-shot victory over Perez in what must surely be regarded as one of the most impressive accomplishments of a decorated career. Indeed, Sunday’s triumph rendered the Englishman only the third golfer in the history of the sport, following Mark McNulty and Des Smyth, to win on the Old World circuit in four different decades. While he demonstrated an amusing honesty in conceding, “I can’t see it being five,” Sunday’s victory, following so swiftly on from his triumph in South Africa last November, does raise questions regarding what he may be capable of doing at major level in 2020. With his victory in Abu Dhabi, Lee Westwood has now won in four different decades. European Tour title No. 25. pic.twitter.com/JxZ3Xb3L6h — Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) January 19, 2020 With 19 top-10 finishes to his name at major championship level, Westwood has long been regarded as one of the most talented golfers never to win a major title. While he no longer possesses the distance off the tee required to compete at a US Open or US PGA Championship, one could still envisage the Sheffield native threatening the top end of the leaderboard at an Open Championship or a Masters. In this regard the veteran’s post-round reflection on how his mental approach to the game has changed recent years was highly interesting, stressing the influence of psychologist, Ben Davis. “Ben has instilled in me the fact that I’m playing the game I love for a living, and I should enjoy it,” said Westwood. “Sometimes it gets to the point where you don’t enjoy it enough. We’re lucky to be doing what we’re doing, and a lot of people are far less fortunate. So I don’t really lose my temper anymore. I’ve never been a club breaker, but I don’t really get wound up too much. I’ve become much more analytical and less emotional on the golf course. “All of that is spreading through my whole game and my putting,” he continued. “Everything, really. I’m on a very even keel, even if the ball doesn’t go in. The only thing I can control are the movement and the actions I’m doing to roll it on line to the hole. It might hit something, or I might misread it. But I brush it off and move on to the next. That approach is serving me well. And this week I played some quality golf.” Relaxed and confident, Westwood appears set to be a force to be reckoned with in 2020. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Abu Dhabi Championship: Lee Westwood shoots 65 to take lead after third round
Jan 19, 2020 7:31 AM
 
Prior to this week’s European Tour season-opening event in Abu Dhabi, the casual golf fan could perhaps have been forgiven for thinking Lee Westwood had retired from the professional game. After all, on the rare recent occasions when his name has popped-up in contemporary news media, it has generally been in the context of articles speculating on who the next Ryder Cup captain might be, or listicles ranking the five best golfers never to have won a major. Sure, Westwood showed flashes of his former level in ending a four-year trophy drought at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa last November. For most of the last three seasons, however, he has essentially ceased to be a going concern at the highest level of the professional sport and looked to be inching towards a potentially lucrative career on the Seniors Tour. GOLFTV: How to take the lead from 264-yards, courtesy of Lee Westwood.pic.twitter.com/F4w3qE1ZW7 #GOLFTV— Wayne Willmore™ (@crazy_willows) January 19, 2020 It came as no little surprise, therefore, when on Saturday afternoon, the 46-year-old shot a 7-under-par 65 to lead by one stroke after three rounds of the Abu Dhabi Championship. The Englishman, beginning his 27th season on the European Tour, hit six birdies, an eagle and a bogey to move to 14 under, with overnight leader Francesco Laporta and Bernd Wiesberger on 13 under. Italy's Laporta carded a 69, while Austria's Wiesberger matched Westwood's 65. To set the scale of Westwood’s accomplishment in Abu Dhabi in some kind of context, it is worth noting that Matthew Fitzpatrick, who sits in outright fourth following a 4-under 68, was not even born when the former world No.1 started out on tour in 1994. Two more rivals, Kurt Kitayama and Thomas Detry, were barely out of the womb. 'It's great, isn't it?' Westwood reflected after his round. 'I think if you'd asked me when I was 19 at the qualifying school in Montpellier in 1993 what I'd be doing in 2020, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have said I'd still be out here and leading a Rolex Series event. It's just fun, still playing the game I love, and I still get the same thoughts out there. 'I have to rein myself in during the third round when you start looking at the leaderboard and thinking about winning on Sunday night. But that's where the experience comes in. 'It wouldn't be right if you didn't have those feelings, that sensation in your mouth. I feel anyone who's been successful in any sport loves being in the cut and thrust of it, that's what it's all about.' Whatever transpires on Sunday, the emphatic nature of Westwood’s third-round performance in Abu Dhabi inspires hope that he may yet retire with a long overdue major championship title to his name. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Koepka cards blistering 66 in Abu Dhabi in first start after three-months out injured
Jan 17, 2020 5:15 AM
 
If there is one thing Brooks Koepka doesn’t need, it’s extra motivation. From the time he railed at ESPN for excluding him from their 2018 ‘Dominant List’, to the occasion when he called for the dismissal of a member of Fox Sport’s press team who had neglected to include him in a promo video, the four-time major champion has consistently shown himself to be, shall we say, sensitive to even the merest hint of a slight – real or perceived. Thus, when Bryson DeChambeau made light of Koepka’s physique on the eve of the duo’s first start of the season at the Abu Dhabi Championship on Thursday, there was reason to suspect the world No.1 would respond forcefully on the golf course. It would have been understandable had Koepka started slowly in the gulf; after all, Thursday marked the occasion of his first competitive round since withdrawing from the CJ Cup in South Korea in October. Instead, he opened with a blistering, bogey-free 6-under 66 to draw to within two-strokes of overnight leaders, Shaun Norris of South Africa and Italy's Renato Paratore. Perhaps most significantly, he finished the opening-round six shots ahead of DeChambeau and arguably saved his best comeback for the clubhouse when he tweeted a picture of his four major titles with caption: “You were right @b_dechambeau I am 2 short of a 6 pack!”. Touché. This was a vintage ball-striking performance from Koepka, who is seeking to claim his first title since winning his sixth European Tour-sanctioned event at the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis in July. Playing alongside (and comfortably out-scoring) Open champion Shane Lowry (70) and Tommy Fleetwood (71), a two-time winner of the gulf event, the world No.1 looked as though he had never been away. Not only was his long game firing as of old, his short game, honed under the expert eye of coach Pete Cowen, provided the highlight of the round, a chip-in from a distinctly unappetizing lie behind the 17th green. In the end, it seemed, the only person unsurprised by the strength of Koepka’s comeback performance was the player himself. Brooks Koepka hasn't played a competitive round of golf for 89 days.He's just shot a bogey-free round of 66.The game's too easy.#ADGolfChamps pic.twitter.com/WB2LQeQ9VQ— William Hill (@WilliamHill) January 16, 2020 “I like the way I've played,” Koepka reflected matter-of-factly. “I've kind of known I've been hitting it really well, putting it really well for a couple weeks. I think the first day I picked up a club, same thing. It felt like I hadn’t left. I’ve done it for years and years. You don’t forget how to swing the golf club.” It would take a brave man to back against the 29-year-old parleying his strong opening-round performance into a first title of the season. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Cameron Smith establishes a marker for 2020 with Sony Open triumph
Jan 13, 2020 4:39 PM
Tags: Cameron Smith   Sony Open   News   pga tour   Branden Steele  
 
It was an inspiring Wednesday afternoon side-bar filler in the build-up to the Sony Open in Hawaii last week. Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman each pledged donate $500 per birdie and $1,000 per eagle to support efforts to contain the vicious wildfires presently ravaging their native Australia. By Sunday evening, that pledge had become the defining narrative of the tournament as Smith birdied each of his final two holes en route to defeating the American, Branden Steele in a play-off. The victory marked the occasion of Smith’s first individual triumph on the PGA Tour and has catapulted him back up to the fringe of the world’s top-30. “Every birdie putt I had, just meant that little bit more. Rather than kind of wanting to make it I almost felt like I had to make it,” Smith reflected. “I've always been quite good at not giving up. I've never felt the need to kind of mentally check out in any way. It was a big fight all week basically.” “Just having to make the putts, feeling like something else is on the line, I think I drew a little bit from the Presidents Cup,” he added, referencing his dramatic come-from-behind victory over Justin Thomas during the Sunday singles session in Melbourne last month. “I felt as though I played some of my best golf that week, and with such little time between these events I think that's kind of rolled over definitely into this week. A fight to the end. Cameron Smith defeats Brendan Steele in a one-hole playoff to win the Sony Open and earn his second PGA Tour title. pic.twitter.com/rQOVZaYn6F— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) January 13, 2020 “I realize Australia is doing it tough right now and the focus is probably not on my golf for good reason. But hopefully it gave a few people reason to smile for a moment or two.” This was a vintage performance from Smith, who teed-off for the final-round three strokes behind Steele’s lead. Steele reached the turn with his initial advantage intact; however, Smith closed the gap with a five-foot birdie at the 11th and drew to within a single shot of the lead when Steele three-putted the 13th from 40 feet, only for the Australian to drop a shot of his own at the 15th after failing to get up and down from a bunker. Steele missed a six-foot par putt at the 17th to see his lead cut to one heading to the par-5 last, where he hooked his approach on his way to a closing par. Smith made birdie to extend the contest, and a wayward approach from Steele on the first extra-hole meant that a regulation par was enough for the Aussie to claim the title. Smith has now won four times in the last three years, including two Australian PGA Championships, and with four top-15s to his name through the course of his previous six starts, he appears strongly placed to break into the world’s top-20for the first time in his career. Set against the backdrop of the tragedy unfolding in Australia, it is difficult envisage a more fitting winner. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Woods to begin 2020 campaign at Torrey Pines – eyes outright record
Jan 12, 2020 3:47 AM
 
Tiger Woods will have his first crack at claiming a record-setting 83rd PGA Tour title when he tees it up at Torrey Pines for the Farmers’ Insurance Open next week. The 43-year-old, who tied Sam Snead at the top of the all-time PGA Tour wins list when he triumphed at the Zozo Championship in Japan last October, has claimed eight career titles at Torrey Pines, most recently at the 2008 US Open, and has traditionally used the legendary, William F. Bell-designed track to make his first start of the season. It came as little surprise, therefore, when Woods announced on Twitter last week that he would travel to San Diego to contest the event on January 23-26. “Excited for this season to begin,” he wrote. “See you soon west coast.” The world No.7 will form part of a star-studded field at Torrey Pines, with players of the calibre of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm and Zander Schauffele all slated to feature. He will follow-up the Farmers Insurance with the Genesis Invitational February 13-16 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California as his Masters preparations intensify. Excited for this season to begin @FarmersInsOpen and @TGRLiveEvents’ @thegenesisinv, our first year as an invitational. See you soon west coast.https://t.co/BgwZz9Bc7j— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) January 9, 2020 The second half of Woods’ 2019 campaign was not short on drama. The 15-time major champion’s performances tailed off badly following his historic victory at The Masters and he was obliged to undergo arthroscopic knee-surgery in August. Given the recovery time from such a procedure is estimated at four to six weeks, most fans and pundits assumed his season had come to a premature end. Woods, however, rallied strongly during the Fall and finished the season with a flourish. Indeed, he has competed in two events since equalling Snead’s record in Japan last October. First, he finished fourth in the 18-man Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas; he then went on to post a 3-0 record as a playing captain for the victorious US side at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne in early December. It is precisely Woods’ capacity to defy popular expectations that has persuaded many fans that he may be set to claim a ninth career title at the Farmers Insurance Open next week. Indeed, Torrey Pines was the site of arguably Tiger’s greatest ever major triumph, the 2008 US Open, when he endured a broken leg and a severely damaged ACL to force a playoff against a most endearing antagonist, Rocco Mediate. It's where the duo finished 72 holes tied at 1 under par on a brutally difficult South Course and remained all square after an 18-hole playoff on Monday. And it's where Tiger finally prevailed on the first sudden-death hole for his 14th major championship. Torrey Pines, in short, would be a fitting venue for Woods to claim an 83rd career title. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Lowry surges into contention at Hong Kong Open
Jan 10, 2020 3:00 PM
 
As seasons go, they tend seldom to get better than that which Shane Lowry enjoyed in 2019. In addition to winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the occasion of his first start of the season, he claimed his maiden major championship title on home soil at The Open in July, and rounded-out the year at No.19 in the Official World Golf Rankings – his highest such placement in three years. But professional sport waits for no man and, six weeks on from narrowly missing out on the Race to Dubai title at the DP World Tour Championship in November, Lowey has returned to the course to inaugurate his 2020 campaign as part of a strong field at the Hong Kong Open on the Asian Tour. Tony Finau, Shane Lowry chasing as Hong Kong Open finally underway https://t.co/iSuztTON6B pic.twitter.com/22GfYsQJvX— The World News (@TheWorldnews143) January 9, 2020 US Ryder Cup star, Tony Finau is the other big draw at an event that was originally slated for November, but which needed to be delayed owing to the disruption caused by pro-democracy protests. Significantly, the Hong Kong Open counts two world No.1’s and major champions, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, on its recent winners list. Lowry started solidly at the historic Fanling course on Thursday, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation en route to a 1-under 69. The Irishman had one birdie and one bogey on the front nine before bookending his second bogey of the round on the par-4 16th with two birdies. That score left him four strokes shy of the 5-under overnight lead established by Australia’s Wade Ormsby and Japan’s Tomoharu Otsuki. On Friday, Lowry’s scoring went up a gear as he posted a 66 for a share of seventh place at 5-under par at the Asian Tour’s season-opening event. The British Open champion made three birdies and one bogey on the front nine before adding his fourth and fifth birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to sit four off the lead. Ormsby held on to his lead when he returned with a second round four-under-par 66 to remain as the front runner at the Hong Kong Open at 9-under through 36-holes. “I’m very pleased,” said Lowry, who failed to make the cut when he last appeared at Fanling a decade ago. “Wade’s nine now, if he has a really good weekend he might run away… but hopefully I can shoot two decent scores and give myself a chance on Sunday afternoon.” At four-shots off the lead with 36-holes to play, Lowry, of course, still has a lot of work to do to win in Hong Kong; however, his task has been rendered easier by the struggles of Finau. The world No.16 started strongly after a lacklustre first day, but shot three bogeys over the round to card a one-under 69, seven points adrift. That left “a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth”, said the American of Tongan-Samoan heritage, who was the first Polynesian to play in a Ryder Cup. “I’m going to have to play better on the weekend to chase the guys who are playing well.” Lowry may well fancy his chances over the weekend. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
What can we expect from Rickie Fowler in 2020?
Jan 8, 2020 11:28 AM
 
When Rickie Fowler closed-out a two-stroke victory over Branden Grace at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, many commentators opined that he had acquired the psychological maturity required to fulfil his enormous technical potential and begin winning regularly on the PGA Tour. Fowler began the final-round of the Phoenix Open with a four-stroke lead over Grace, and while the imperious nature of his opening 54-holes at TPC Scottsdale gave little indication he might fail to convert his advantage into a victory, a long track record of near-misses at significant PGA Tour events certainly did. Indeed, Fowler teed-off for the final-round in Phoenix with a W1-L7 record in eight PGA Tour starts as 54-hole leader; furthermore, just two years had passed since he spectacularly squandered a two-stroke lead with two-holes to play at TPC Scottsdale, eventually losing the tournament in a play-off against Hideki Matsuyama. It was in this context that Fowler’s achievement in recovering from the experience of squandering a four-stroke lead to claim the tournament by two-shots was so impressive; it suggested that California native had belatedly come of age and might be set to contend for a long overdue maiden major championship triumph. Sadly, such excited predictions never really came to pass; indeed, the final 10-months of Fowler’s 2018/19 PGA Tour season were among the worst in a decade-long career and pose serious questions regarding his medium-term future as a top-10 ranked, Ryder Cup regular. Indeed, in 17-starts across all Tours after winning in Arizona, Fowler managed just four top-10 finishes, missing three cuts, and failed to contend at any of the season’s four majors, following up a T9 at The Masters with a T36 at the PGA Championship at Bethpage, a T46 at the US Open at Pebble Beach and a T6 at The Open at Portrush (10-strokes behind Shane Lowry’s winning total). In addition to missing out on automatic qualification to the US Presidents Cup team, Fowler has fallen outside of the world’s top-20 for the first time in six-years and, damningly, he finished 19th in the FedEx Cup standings, behind players such as Jason Kokrak and Patrick Reed. Were it not for Brooks Koepka needing to withdraw from the Presidents Cup owing to injury, it is highly debatable whether Fowler would have featured in Melbourne at all. Hi 2020 and aloha from Hawaii #GAMEthatTRAVELS https://t.co/Xvdo7rHLM9 pic.twitter.com/vUAnHJ2jrM— Rickie Fowler (@RickieFowler) January 1, 2020 So, can we expect Fowler to rally in 2020? The 2019 Phoenix Open aside, closing is still an issue for the 31-year-old, who owns 70 career top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour and only five trophies. He can draw confidence from the fact that he was the 13th best putter on the PGA Tour in 2018/19 (13th in Strokes Gained: Putting); however, he ranked a meagre 70th in SG: Approach the Green and was 122nd in Driving Accuracy. Until his tee-to-green play tightens-up, Fowler’s hot putter is only going to yield limited benefit. Indeed, it is noteworthy that SG: Putting was the only category in which Fowler ranked inside the top-50 on the PGA Tour in 2018/19, and the tenor of his pre-tournament press conference in Maui last week indicates that his lack of success at the majors continues to be a source of psychological anguish. Fowler possesses all the physical and technical raw materials to be a consistent winner on the PGA Tour and it is certainly conceivable that his tee-to-green play improves to a level commensurate with his putting in 2020. The question, however, remains whether he has the psychological fortitude required to convert such material, strategic advantages into victories under pressure. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Thomas lays down marker for 2020 following victory at Kapalua
Jan 7, 2020 3:05 AM
 
Fortunately, from the point of view of Justin Thomas, there is more than one way to win a golf tournament. The 26-year-old teed-off for the final-round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui last Sunday a single-stroke behind defending champion, Xander Schauffele’s 54-hole lead. However, a sensational run of four consecutive birdies between holes 8 and 11 helped him to seize an outright advantage as the final-pairing turned on to the back nine. By the time Thomas reached par-3 16th-hole, he possessed a clear-cut, two-shot lead and his maiden victory of the calendar year seemed assured. Players of his calibre and winning pedigree simply don’t squander such advantages. But then things started to unravel – and fast. He bogeyed the par-4 16th; he needed to hole a clutch par putt from 6 feet at the par-4 17th to maintain his one-shot lead, and he made a mess of the par-5 finishing hole. Facing 346 yards into the final green, Thomas hooked a 3-wood into the penalty area and made bogey to drop back into a tie for first at 14 under. He was consequently thrust into a play-off alongside Schauffele and Patrick Reed, who closed with a sensational 7-under 66. The sense of momentum that surrounded Thomas’ game during the opening 15-holes at Kapalua on Sunday had vanished emphatically; the tournament looked to be slipping away from him. 26-year-old @JustinThomas34 has won @Sentry_TOC! No player under age 30 has more wins (12).#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/cOFSoYCO8y — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 6, 2020 It is a testament, therefore, to an impressive mental robustness that the former world No.1 swiftly recovered his composure for the play-off. Schauffele was eliminated on the first extra-hole after three-putting for par from 100-feet. Thomas and Reed moved on with birdies before trading pars on the second playoff hole. With one more hole left before sunset, Thomas finally redeemed himself on the challenging 18th, overcoming yet another poor second shot and wedging close to set up a winning birdie from 4 feet. Reed's birdie attempt from 8 feet missed narrowly right. "For some reason I was supposed to win this week," Thomas reflected. "I got very, very lucky to even have that opportunity. I truly felt like through 15 holes it was one of the best rounds I had played. I was in such control tee to green. I was putting it beautifully; my irons were awesome. I don’t know what happened from the 16th.” "A decent amount of [wins] I got fortunate like I did today," he concluded. "That's what happens when you win, stuff goes your way. With this victory, Thomas remains fourth in the Official World Golf Rankings; however, he has been catapulted to the summit of the FedEx Cup standings and, with three wins to his name since claiming the BMW Championship in August (a span in which he has failed to finish worse than T-17), the Kentucky-native looks to be shaping up for a big season. Brooks Koepka could be forgiven for shifting uncomfortably in his seat atop the summit of the world rankings. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
What can we expect from Rory McIlroy in 2020?
Jan 3, 2020 7:01 AM
 
If a week is a long time in politics, then a decade is an eternity in golf. Cast your minds back to the end of 2009; Rory McIlroy had yet to play in a Ryder Cup or win a major and Tiger Woods’ hegemony at the elite-level of the world game appeared nigh-on impregnable. Ten years on, McIlroy has amassed 27 professional titles, including four major championships; he has won four Ryder Cups, three Race to Dubai titles, and two FedEx Cups; and has spent more than 100 weeks at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings. The Sunday Times, meantime, have named McIlroy the UK’s wealthiest sports star in each of the past three years, estimating his personal fortune at approximately £148m, including more than $50m in PGA Tour prize money alone. The 30-year-old has thus accomplished more in the space of a decade than most elite athletes can reasonably dream of achieving over the course of a career. It is a testament, therefore, to his outrageous level of natural talent that one cannot help but reflect upon the first half of his career with an air of disappointment. After all, by the time McIlroy claimed his second US PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2014, he was just the third golfer in the history of the sport to amass four major titles before the age of 25. Only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods had previously achieved such a feat, a circumstance that set the history-making significance of the Northern Irishman’s early career accomplishments in sharp relief. Not unreasonably, many commentators were convinced he would go on to surpass Nicklaus’ record 18 major championship titles. Rory McIlroy says he learned a great deal from missing the cut at the Open Championship. Watch here https://t.co/9mJjhge1lT pic.twitter.com/WQQh4I2ZaX— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 29, 2019 In the five seasons since triumphing at Valhalla, however, McIlroy has not added to his major championship trophy haul. While he has won just about every other notable event, from the The Players Championship to the Tour Championship, he has failed consistently to produce his best golf in the tournaments that, fairly or not, determine players’ legacies. As a consequence he has been displaced decisively atop the summit of the world rankings by a string of younger rivals; indeed, it is noteworthy that in the five-years since McIlroy last won a major title, Jordan Spieth (25), Justin Thomas (25) and Brooks Koepka (28) have amassed a combined eight such honours. And yet, McIlroy’s astounding accomplishment in winning four times on the PGA Tour in 2019, including the FedEx Cup title and Jack Nicklaus award for Player of the Season, indicates that there is cause for optimism that he may fulfil his promise to make the second half of his career even more successful than the first. McIlroy entered 2019 with plenty to prove, ranked eighth in the world and stuck in a logjam of elite players who could each break out in any given week. He delivered early and often, cobbling together a remarkably consistent year that featured two more victories than missed cuts and one in which a top-10 result began to feel commonplace. When he was on, like a final-round 61 to blitz the field at the RBC Canadian Open, it felt like a 2014 flashback. His achievement in defeating Koepka as part of the final pairing out at the Tour Championship in August, meantime, indicated that he is poised to lay the gauntlet down to the world No.1 in 2020. “The last 18 months, I’ve been very settled. I’ve been comfortable with everything, my game, my equipment, my body’s been healthy,” McIlroy reflated after winning the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China in October. “I feel like this year compares to 2014, 2015, but I don’t see any reason why I can’t go ahead and have an even better year next year.” That is an ominous sentiment for McIlroy’s elite PGA Tour colleagues. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Dustin Johnson seeking a return to form at Tournament of Champions
Jan 2, 2020 7:03 AM
 
By the standards of 99% of PGA Tour golfers, Dustin Johnson’s professional career has been an outstanding success. As he prepares to begin his 13th season on the PGA Tour at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii this week, the 35-year-old sits at 20 career wins, including one major championship title (the 2016 US Open). That’s a 7.4% win ratio through 261 starts, a record that far outstrips the average of his peers, and he is the only golfer ever to have won at least once in each of his first 12 consecutive seasons on the PGA Tour. The difficulty, of course, is that Johnson is not 99% of professional golfers; he is a member of that hallowed 1% who measure success solely in terms of elite titles. It is a testament, therefore, to Johnson’s outrageous level of natural talent that a record of 20 wins through 13 seasons is perceived widely as underwhelming. The player himself conceded this point when addressing the media in Maui on Wednesday. “It’s so difficult to win out here,” Johnson reflected. “The guys out here, they’re so good. You know, any week anybody in the field can win the tournament if they play really good. You never take it for granted because you don’t win that much if you think about the amount of times you play, so winning’s still special and it’s always going to be special for me.” Asked whether he feels he should have won more, Johnson replied: “I think so.” Asked how much more, he estimated: “Probably about double”. World Golf Rankings: 1 Brooks Koepka 2 Rory McIlroy 3 Jon Rahm 4 Justin Thomas 5 Dustin Johnson 6 Tiger Woods 7 Patrick Cantlay 8 Justin Rose 9 Xander Schauffele 10 Tommy Fleetwood pic.twitter.com/1DcZ7Bl2jV — SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) January 2, 2020 It is difficult not to admire the candidness and honesty manifest in Johnson’s answer, or to dispute his logic. The South Carolina native won four times in the process of acceding to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankingsin 2016-17, and added three more titles to consolidate that position in 2017-18. He started 2018/19 in a similar fashion, winning twice and finishing second at two majors, but essentially ceased to contend meaningfully for titles after missing-out on the US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in June. Indeed, Johnson failed to finish higher than T20 in any of his final eight starts in 2019, slipping from second down to fifth in the world rankings. While he helped the U.S. to a comeback victory at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne last month, he has not contested a stroke-play tournament since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery following a dead-last, 30th-place finish at the Tour Championship in August. Johnson, then, has a point to prove in 2020. Decisively displaced by Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods at the highest level of the sport, the onus is on Johnson to return to the winner’s circle at big events in order to vindicate his claim to rank among the game’s elite. A victory in Maui this weekend, at an event he has won twice in the last six years, would be a strong start. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
What can we expect from Adam Scott in 2020?
Dec 31, 2019 6:26 AM
 
Say what you like about Adam Scott, but don’t say that he is lacking in confidence. The 39-year-old was winless in over two years prior to claiming his 30th professional title in spectacular fashion at the Australian PGA Championship last month. While he conceded that the length of the drought had caused him to ponder whether he would ever win again, he did not play-down speculation that his victory in Melbourne might foreshadow a Masters triumph in the manner it did famously in 2013. “It’s very difficult to win and I’m on the wrong side of this age thing now,” Scott reflected. “It’s been a long time between drinks for me and maybe only once or twice did the thought cross my mind that I’ll never win again. “But a victory (makes) you feel like you’re just never going to lose again. I hope it helps at the majors and at August next year; it’s nice to have reassurance and the belief of winning. You want to be in contention and find out how you feel and respond and I got some of that today and if I happen to be in that position Sunday at the Masters I can draw on it.” Adam Scott has pulled off a remarkable victory at Royal Pines to seal his second Australian PGA crown. The Queensland golfer now ranks 13th in the world. https://t.co/tIEQ9K5sus @IslaStanich #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/7JxGzbOs5b— 7NEWS Gold Coast (@7NewsGoldCoast) December 23, 2019 Of course, Scott’s comments might be dismissed as lofty hyperbole, the excited ramblings of a man speaking in a fit of pique. The Aussie has only entered the winner’s circle once in the last three years, and while he remains strongly positioned at No.15 in the Official World Golf Rankings, it is noteworthy that he has not seriously contended at a major championship since finishing two-shots behind Jordan Spieth at the US Open in 2015 (he finished third to Brooks Koepka at the 2018 US PGA, but never threatened to win the title) and has not won a PGA Tour event in four-years. However, it would be as uncharitable as it would be hasty to dismiss Scott’s hopes of re-establishing himself alongside Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at the summit of the world game in 2020. For although he has lacked a clinical-edge at the highest level of the sport in recent years, he retains the physical and technical prowess required to contend and win consistently at WGC and major championship-level. Indeed, Scott has recorded 21 top-10s on the PGA Tour since winning The Honda Classic and the World Gold Championships-Mexico consecutively in the spring of 2016. Eight of those finishes were top-5s, including a pair of runner-ups, and he finished in the top 10 in half of his 18 PGA Tour starts in 2019. Indeed, Scott finished sixth in the overall, end-of-year FedEx Cup standings and the stats attest to the fact that he remains one of the finest ball-strikers in the world game. He finished in the top 25 in Strokes Gained: Approach (4th) for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. He also had the eighth-largest gain in Strokes Gained: Putting, from 165th (-0.29) to 31st (+0.35), and ranked 54th out of over 200 players on Tour for driving distance. In technical terms, then, there is not a lot wrong with Scott’s game, and if the clutch nature of his victory in Melbourne last month signals that he has developed a clinical mentality under pressure, the PGA Tour has a lot to worry about in 2020. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
What can we expect from Justin Thomas in 2020?
Dec 29, 2019 2:48 PM
 
It is ultimately a testament to the outrageously high standards Justin Thomas has established over the course of six-years as a professional golfer that his 2018/19 campaign was marked by an air of disappointment. By the tender age of 27, Thomas has already achieved more than most golfers can dream of accomplishing in a career. He claimed his maiden major championship title at the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in the summer of 2017 before going on to win the FedEx Cup and make his Presidents Cup debut in the winter. The following year, he acceded to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings en route to making his Ryder Cup bow as a part of Jim Furyk’s team in Paris. Measured against the accomplishments of 2017 and 2018, Thomas always needed to produce something extraordinary in 2019 to continuing wooing fans and pundits around the world. Ultimately, Thomas’ much vaunted banner season never really came to pass; indeed, his campaign was greatly overshadowed by the seminal accomplishments of Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods respectively. For although the Kentucky-native produced one of the finest performances of the season en route to claiming his 10th PGA Tour title at the BMW Championship in August (shooting a sensational third-round 61), and claimed a second CJ Cup title in three years in October, he failed emphatically to parley the former triumph into a second FedEx Cup victory at East Lake. He was ultimately left to rue a sequence of squandered early-season title opportunities at the Tournament of Champions (3), the Phoenix Open (3) and the Genesis Open (2). It's not over yet! @camsmithgolf earns a huge point for the #IntlTeam with his victory over Justin Thomas. Score is 13-15, #USTeam leading. pic.twitter.com/HvDJeHvCE0— Presidents Cup (@PresidentsCup) December 15, 2019 Injury, of course, played a role in all of this; indeed, Thomas has publicly rued the wrist-problem that deprived him of the opportunity to contest The Players Championship and PGA Championship, while stymying his preparation for the US and British Opens. But although that lengthy spell on the sidelines undoubtedly functioned to disrupt the world No.4’s rhythm, it would be charitable to put his failure to contend seriously at the majors down solely to injury. Indeed, one of the most notable post-season performance statistics listed on the PGA Tour website is that Thomas ranked 144th in Strokes Gained: Putting in 2018/19 – that is, the fifth lowest average (-0.7 strokes per round) on Tour. His iron-play, by contrast, was nigh-on unsurpassed: he ranked second in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green last season. If Thomas can remedy that disjuncture in 2020 and bring his putting game up to even an average standard, it is easy to imagine him racking up multiple titles and pushing back towards the world No.1 spot. Indeed, it cannot be overlooked that Thomas’ 11 wins since start of 2014-15 season are surpassed only by Dustin Johnson’s 12. By notching his 11th win before turning 27, Thomas pulled even with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth for fastest starts on Tour. Only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods won more before turning 27. Thomas has all the physical and technical raw materials to mark himself out as an epochal talent and win multiple majors; a moderate improvement with the flatstick in 2020 has the potential to transform his competitive fortunes. Expect a big year. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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