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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Thomas lays down major marker with victory at WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational
Aug 3, 2020 9:18 AM
 
When Justin Thomas claimed his twelfth PGA Tour title on his first start of 2020 at the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in January, he looked ideally placed to recapture the form that propelled him to a US PGA Championship-FedEx Cup double in 2017. After all, Kapalua marked the occasion of his third tournament victory in the space of just seven starts, and Thomas has long possessed of all of the physical and technical raw materials required to dominate to vie with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings. The emphatic nature of his victory at the Tournament of Champions hinted that he may at last have cultivated the kind of steely competitive mentality required to win regularly on the PGA Tour. However, Thomas missed the cut on the occasion of his next start at the Sony Open and after narrowly missing-out on a play-off at the Phoenix Open the following week, he suffered a second Friday-exit in three starts at the Genesis Open. By the time the PGA Tour suspended play after just 18-holes of the Players Championship in March, the 27-year-old had slipped back outside the top-5 of the world rankings and ceased contending meaningfully for titles. Once more, it seemed, Thomas’ streakiness was set to undermine his quest to return to the world No.1 spot. Count 'em.@JustinThomas34 wins @WGCFedEx to become the first 3-time winner this season. pic.twitter.com/JrFsW95tet— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 2, 2020 However, he hit the ground running when competitive play resumed at the Charles Schwab Challenge on 11 June, following up a T10 at Colonial with a T8 at Harbour Town. He further recovered from a missed-cut at the Travelers Championship to record a runner-up finish at the Workday Charity Open, narrowly losing a play-off to Colin Morikawa, and arrived at TPC Southwind to contest the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational last week off the back of a solid T18 at The Memorial. Put simply, he appeared to be recapturing top-form nicely in time for 2020’s condensed run of three majors over the next three-months; the emphatic nature of his victory in Memphis on Sunday confirmed as much. Thomas teed-off for the final-round with a four-strike deficit to 54-hole leader, Brendon Todd; however, he started strongly with birdies at the second and third and added further gains at the seventh and ninth to seize the outright lead by the time he reached the turn. A sloppy bogey on the 12th allowed Todd, Brooks Koepka and the in-form, Daniel Berger to briefly restore parity at the summit of the leaderboard. Koepka then edged ahead with his third birdie of the day thanks to a superb approach shot at the 13th, but he was quickly overtaken by Thomas as the Kentucky native capitalised on some fortuitous breaks to convert clutch birdies at the 15th and 16th. Undeterred, Koepka holed a spectacular 40-foot birdie effort on 17 to draw back to within a stroke of Thomas’ lead, but any hopes the four-time major winner had of claiming a victory evaporated on the 18th, as he drove his ball into the water for a double-bogey. Thomas coolly parred the 17th and 18th to close-out a 3-stroke victory and reclaim the world No.1 spot. “It was a hard-fought day,” Thomas reflected. “Besides that terrible wedge on 12, I played so well for 14 holes. I drove the ball just perfectly ... I realistically could have birdied my first 10 holes today and that is kind of bizarre to say.” If the world No.1 can replicate that level of performance at TPC Harding Park next week, a long overdue second major title may be a formality. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy struggling to recapture top form ahead of PGA Championship
Aug 2, 2020 9:04 AM
 
No golfer has been unaffected by the onset of the novel COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic; however, it is difficult to argue that any player has been more negatively impacted by the disruption than Rory McIlroy. The 31-year-old arrived at TPC Sawgrass to contest the Players Championship in March as the form player in world golf. He had recorded top-5 finishes in each of his first five starts in 2020 and boasted a record of 12 top-10s, including two tournament victories, in 16 starts since missing his most recent cut at The Open Championship last July. Restored to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings, he looked ideally placed to contend for a career Grand Slam at the Masters in April. Then, of course, the coronavirus intervened and the PGA Tour ground to a halt. The Players Championship was abandoned after just 18-holes and more than two-months would pass before McIlroy returned to the course at the Charles Schwab Challenge at the beginning June. Inevitably, the astonishing momentum he had built-up over the backend of 2019 and the opening months of 2020 had dissipated. The Northern Irishman shot a final-round 74 en route to a frustrating T32 finish on the occasion of his first start back at Colonial. He bookended strong middle-rounds of 65 and 66 with a 72 and a 70 at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town the following week, finishing tied for 41st, and, despite carding four rounds in the 60s at the Travelers Championship at TPC Southwind, he was unable to crack the top-10, finishing tied for 11th. At the Memorial Tournament a fortnight ago, he failed to sign for a single round under 70 and slumped to a T32 finish on foot of a 6-over final-round 78. #RoryMcIlroy Hitting his drive on #12 at the #wgc #tpcsouthwind #memphis in 2019 into the drink but still carding a 62 on the day #pga pic.twitter.com/BiR2szNgwr— Jorby6 (@jorby88_) July 31, 2020 Suffice to say, then, McIlroy was not performing at the peak of his powers upon arriving at TPC Southwind to contest the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational last week. This circumstance was illustrated vividly by the fact that Jon Rahm had displaced him at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings. Devoid of a top-10 finish in six starts since returning from lockdown, the 31-year-old conceded that he would need four solid rounds at TPC Southwind to restore confidence and momentum ahead of the opening major of the season at TPC Harding Park the following week. This did not come to pass; indeed, McIlroy effectively played himself out of the tournament upon signing for a 3-over opening-round of 73. While he rallied impressively with a 66 on the Friday, a second 73 on Saturday killed that any hope he had of salvaging a top-10. When golf shutdown in the middle of March, McIlroy traded as the outstanding favourite to win the first major of the season at Augusta. Four months on, one struggles to make a case for the four-time major winner contending seriously for the Wannamaker Trophy in San Francisco. COVID-19 has not been a friend of any golfer, but McIlroy seems to have suffered from the suspension of play more than most. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Harrington and Molinari pull out of US PGA Championship
Aug 1, 2020 8:25 AM
 
As the reopening of social and economic life continues apace following the pandemic-enforced lockdowns of March-June, it is dawning slowly that there will not be any light switch moment when the virus vanishes suddenly allowing us all to return to the status-quo ante. The transition away from public health restrictions to a more recognisably liberal social order will be staggard, contingent and uneven, and some people will embrace the normalization of civic life more readily than others. Golf, of course, will be no exception to this broader societal dynamic, a circumstance illustrated vividly last week when Padraig Harrington confirmed that he will not contest this week’s US PGA Championship at the TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. It was long assumed that professional golfers, deprived of competitive action for four months between March and June, would jump at the chance to return to the PGA Tour circuit at the earliest possible opportunity. Harrington’s comments demonstrate this will not be the case for every player; professional golfers, like every other section of society, will face difficult decisions in attempting to balance the competing demands of professional, economic and personal health interests. Padraig Harrington’s home wedge practice area pic.twitter.com/SRb7rhQhSm— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) March 16, 2020 The Ryder Cup captain, who lifted the Wanamaker Trophy in 2008, wrote on his personal website: "After much deliberation, I have decided not to travel to next week's PGA Championship. "As Covid-19 currently looks to be under control in Ireland, I am taking the prudent approach by following the guidelines and reducing the risk as much as possible by staying at home. "I'm sure I'll be watching every shot on TV with great interest and hopefully I'll have many more years to play in the PGA Championship." Former Open champion Francesco Molinari is also understood to have withdrawn from the year's first major at TPC Harding Park. Molinari announced earlier this month that he and his family were moving from London to California, although he did say at the time his aim was to be back for the US PGA. Lee Westwood and Eddie Pepperell have also made the decision not to travel to San Francisco, despite the late easing of quarantine restrictions for players and essential personnel. Harrington and Molinari have been replaced in the US PGA field by Talor Gooch and Troy Merritt. Gooch finished in the top 25 at both the Workday Charity Open and the 3M Open last weekend, while Merritt finished tied 22nd at the Workday Charity Open and tied eighth at the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this month. The absence of two giants of European golf from TPC Harding Park demonstrates that the effects of COVID-19 will linger in professional sport long after the conclusion of the 2019/20 campaign. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Koepka’s struggles deepen following missed cut at 3M Open
Jul 26, 2020 12:17 PM
 
Brooks Koepka is not one to mince his words. From Bryson DeChambeau’s slow play and rapid weight-gain, to Patrick Reed’s penchant for improving lies and the USGA’s plans for a behind closed doors Ryder Cup, he has never been afraid to speak his mind, even at the risk of alienating paymasters and colleagues. Indeed, in a sporting landscape dominated by PR-trained athletes more conscious of keeping sponsors happy than speaking honestly to fans through the media, the 30-year-old’s characteristic frankness is refreshing. Admirably, he exhibited the same forthrightness when asked to assess his form leading into last week’s 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota. “I’ve played so bad lately; it’s really sucked.” Koepka reflected. “I’m just trying to find things. Every week I feel like the results aren’t there, but it’s getting better and better. My good shots are good, but I’ve just got to bring that bottom level up. I’ve hit some real costly shots. I seem to miss it short-sided every time and that’s been kind of the downfall of why I haven’t played well.” It was difficult to dissent from the four-time major champion’s assessment. Indeed, in 13 starts since defeating Rory McIlroy at the WGC FedEx St Jude last July, he had registered just two top-10 finishes, slipping from No.1 down to No.6 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Brooks Koepka ahead of 3M Open in Minneapolis: ‘It’s pathetic what happened’ to George Floyd https://t.co/UDqws14IYo— MSN Sports (@MSNSports) July 21, 2020 Perhaps most concerning was his form since the PGA Tour returned from its COVID-19 enforced hiatus at the beginning of last month. After tying 32nd Charles Schwab Challenge, he produced an impressive 7th place finish at the RBC Heritage. However, his form declined swiftly thereafter; he withdrew from the Travelers after his caddie tested positive for the coronavirus, missed the cut at the Workday Charity Open and finished T62 at the Memorial after shooting a humiliating final-round 80. Koepka consequently arrived at TPC Twin Cities to contest the 3M Open last week in serious need of a strong performance to kick-start a flagging campaign. He did not find one, paring a 1-under opening-round with an even-par on Friday to miss his second cut in four starts by a stroke. Damningly, the seven-time PGA Tour-winner stands in serious danger of missing the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time in his career. He came to Minnesota ranked 154th with only the top 125 at the end of the Wyndham Championship in three weeks advancing to the first round. A year ago, Koepka finished a career-high third in the FedExCup and he has made it to the season-ending TOUR Championship each of the last three years. However, 12-months is a long-time in golf and it is imperative the Ryder Cup veteran recovers a semblance of his regular level if he is to feature in the season-ending playoffs. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Fleetwood seeking to reboot PGA Tour campaign after false start at 3M Open
Jul 26, 2020 10:44 AM
Tags: Tommy Fleetwood   3M Open   COVID-19   News   pga tour  
 
Tommy Fleetwood could have been forgiven for fancying his chances upon arriving in Blaine, Minnesota to contest the 3M Open last week. While the $6.6 million event counted four other members of the world’s top-30 in its number (Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau and Paul Casey), the field was conspicuously lacking in depth when compared with that which populated the fairways of Muirfield Village for the Memorial Tournament in Ohio a fortnight ago. This circumstance was illustrated vividly by the fact the 3M Open winner received just 38 Official World Golf Ranking points – a mechanism of distribution determined principally by the median ranking of the field. Thus although Fleetwood had not struck a competitive ball in anger since the PGA Tour shutdown following the opening-round of The Players Championship in March, he could have reasonably determined that a golfer of his talent and pedigree should hit the ground running and contend seriously against a below-average field. Featured Groups: 3M Open https://t.co/unuwkV6oG6 pic.twitter.com/Rt3g6cRoU7— GolfesGolf.com (@GolfesGolfcom) July 24, 2020 To put it lightly, such expectations never materialised. The 29-year-old got off to a solid start at TPC Twin Cities on Thursday, birdying two of his opening six-holes to surge towards the summit of the leaderboard. However, he dropped his first shot of the day on the 7th before hitting into the water on par-4 9th en route to a double-bogey. He moved two-over for the opening round after bogeying the 11th, and while he demonstrated impressive resilience in battling back with two birdies on the inward stretch to salvage a level-par total, he was always going to be hard-pressed to make the cut. A 1-over second-round 72 left him 3-strokes shy of the 36-hole total required to book a Saturday tee-time; damningly, he hit just 11 of 28 fairways in Minnesota and landed just 24 of 36 greens in regulation. In assessing the indifferent nature of Fleetwood’s performance at Twin Cities one must, of course, account for the fact that his preparations were suboptimal. Having not played competitively in over three-months, he was further required to quarantine for two-weeks upon arriving back in the US from England and has sensibly avowed that he will remain on American soil for the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign. "Well, the thought process was pretty much I traveled two weeks ago, I did my two weeks quarantine in the country to then start playing this week and play all the way through for the rest of the season," Fleetwood reflected in his pre-tournament press conference. "I've not got my family out with me, so I've now got nine weeks in the country that will be me and my caddie and seeing the guys out on tour and stuff. "It was always going to be like that with the way the quarantine rules are with coming into this country and doing the two weeks, and if I ever was going to go home, I had to do two weeks in the [United Kingdom] and that pretty much determined how it was going to play out. Like I say, I'm now in a nine-week stretch where I'm going to work hard and play hard and see how well we can do." Fleetwood has made exceptional progress since surging into the world’s top-100 four seasons ago; however, a breakout win on American soil remains infuriatingly elusive. Indeed, he is the only player ranked inside of the world’s top-20 who has yet to win on the PGA Tour and consequently has much lost time to make-up for over the coming four-months. Here’s hoping Fleetwood’s meek performance at the 3M Open was merely an exercise in refining his game in preparation to hit top gear when major golf resumes in the autumn. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
'Cascading' effect of COVID crisis on European Tour worrying Eddie Pepperell
Jul 21, 2020 1:35 PM
 
From the moment COVID-19 ground world sport to halt in March, it was clear the pandemic would have a profound impact on the economic wellbeing of professional golf. But as grave as those consequences seemed set to be for the PGA Tour in the United States, they were always likely to be far graver on the other side of the Atlantic. The financial resources available to the European Tour have always paled in comparison to the riches of available on the US circuit. With The Open Championship postponed and the fate of September’s Ryder Cup unclear, many commentators have pondered whether the most enduring golfing legacy of COVID-19 may be to precipitate a long-mooted unification of the two organisations, thus creating a Formula 1-style World Tour. Indeed, it was striking that when the PGA Tour triumphantly announced its plans for a phased reopening in April, the European Tour retained a deathly silence. Leaked emails subsequently revealed that Chief Executive, Keith Pelley had been privately warning staff and players of slashed prize funds, a loss of luxury cars and a dramatically altered competitive landscape when play finally resumes. 'I'm not interested in spending two weeks in quarantine': Eddie Pepperell has ruled out travelling for the US PGA and US Open. Story by @mrewanmurray https://t.co/dE17wqT2Wz— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) July 21, 2020 Inevitably, this climate of uncertainty has influenced the media narrative surrounding the resumption of European Tour play in the UK this month and Eddie Pepperell’s recent comments to press reflect vividly the impact the pandemic is having on players. "Everyone is in different positions in terms of career, finances and family," the 29-year-old Englishman said. "From my particular perspective there's no pressure on me, I don't feel I have to play golf for any reason at the moment, it's purely do I want to play and support the Tour, and of course I do. But at the same time, should I not enjoy the lifestyle very much then it won't be very long before I just decide to stay at home and enjoy a bit more freedom. "I worry more about the cascading effects because if we're playing for 30% less then that has a knock-on effect; I don't pay my caddie as much, I don't pay my coach as much, I don't pay my physio as much so they're not as wealthy and that's what concerns me with not just golf obviously. "It's the whole situation we see around the world, the deflationary aspect of it which is frankly, a little terrifying. I am aware of that and though I'm not personally concerned for myself I'm aware that I'm just a tiny little pawn in all of this and the overall system I want to see obviously maintain a little bit of what it had." Pepperell’s reflections attest to the profound, knock-on impact the suspension of tournament play over the past three-months has had on professional golf’s wider economic eco-system. It is imperative, therefore, that the European Tour implement a testing and tracing infrastructure sufficient to ensure that no further shut-downs are necessary. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Jon Rahm survives scare to win The Memorial and move to world No 1
Jul 20, 2020 1:31 PM
 
Fortunately, from the point of view of Jon Rahm, there’s more than one way to win a golf tournament. The Spaniard took a four-stroke lead into the final round of The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Ohio last week and, upon he reaching the turn, a fourth PGA Tour victory seemed a formality. After opening with four-straight pars prior to a 50-minute lightening delay, he rolled in an eight-footer at the fifth and added a two-putt birdie at the seventh. Bogeys at holes six and eight from Rahm’s principal challenger, Ryan Palmer ensured the Basque-native moved eight-shots clear going into the back-nine. But then, in the space of a remarkable five holes, Rahm saw his eight-shot advantage cut to just three. A bogey on the 10th signalled a change of momentum, and the 25-year-old suffered a double bogey on the 11th before losing another stroke on the 14th. Palmer, meantime, gained a stroke at the 12th and appeared poised to orchestrate a remarkable comeback. The shot of the tournament Jon Rahm leads by 4 at Jack’s Place pic.twitter.com/kVIMH7W5wY— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) July 19, 2020 It is a testament, therefore, to Rahm’s temperament that, after consolidating with a par on 15, he executed the shot of the day at the 16th, holing-out a 30-yard approach shot for birdie. While that score would be regrettably overturned for a rules violation after the round, and filed as a double-bogey, it swung the tournament firmly back in Rahm’s favour. Palmer’s bogey on 17 assured the Spaniard of a three-stroke victory sufficient to elevate him above Rory McIlroy to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career. "I stay on competition mode for a little longer than I would like sometimes, and I process things so much later. I'll probably wake up tomorrow morning and still not have it processed," Rahm told reporters. "I'm incredibly proud to sit here and be the Memorial tournament champion, win an event on the PGA Tour four years in a row, number one in the world. "There's a lot of accomplishments today that are hard to believe I've done so early in my career." Ever since turning professional following a Low Amateur finish at the 2016 US Open, Rahm appeared destined for the elite. A former world amateur No.1, he won his maiden PGA Tour title on the occasion of just his 12th professional appearance and, less than a year on from becoming only the second Spaniard in history after Seve Ballesteros to claim the European Tour Order of Merit title, he has become the second Spaniard after Seve to top the world rankings. Don’t be surprised to see Rahm claim a maiden major title before the year is out. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Lowry’s struggles deepen following missed cut at Memorial
Jul 19, 2020 8:43 AM
 
Every golfer has been impacted by the disruption arising from the COVID-19 pandemic; however, no member of last week’s field at the Memorial Tournament will have experienced the peculiarity of the present PGA Tour calendar more keenly than Shane Lowry. The 33-year-old should have spent last week on England’s south coast, defending his Open Championship title at Royal St George’s; instead, he found himself in Ohio, struggling to rediscover the form that propelled him to a maiden major championship title 12-months previously. “I wouldn’t say it’s bittersweet not to be at St George’s, but it is certainly strange.” Lowry reflected in his pre-tournament press-conference at Memorial. “Things happen; we’re certainly not in control of what’s happening in the world at the minute, we have to deal with the cards we’re given…So I wouldn’t say it’s hard to get my head around the fact we’re not playing [the Open this week] because I don’t dwell on things”. One year on from Shane Lowry's stunning victory in the 148th Open Championship at @royalportrush, this magnificent course is the perfect place to recreate the shots from the pros #FillYourHeartWithIreland pic.twitter.com/ghPx0HlmHL — Discover Ireland (@DiscoverIreland) July 18, 2020 “I’m fairly optimistic where my game is at”, he concluded. “I made 20 birdies and an eagle last week [at the Travelers Championship], and I’m pretty happy with that. I kind of just need to cut out the mistakes this week, and you never know what could happen.” Regrettably, this combination of optimism and stoicism failed to translate into a title challenge at Muirfield Village. Lowry arrived in Ohio off the back of T60 at TPC Southwind, a result prefaced with consecutive missed-cuts in his first two starts back after the restart at the Charles Schwab Challenge and the RBC Heritage. Once again failed to reproduce the form that saw him win twice and surge more than 50-places up the Official World Golf Rankings last season. The Irishman bogeyed the opening hole of his first round at Memorial and never meaningfully recovered. He hit just eight of 14 fairways and landed only 12 greens-in-regulation en route to a 1-over 73 on Thursday and mustered just a single birdie in the process of signing for a 3-over second-round of 74. He ultimately missed the cut by a stroke and now has three Friday exits to his name in just four starts since returning to the course early last month. This indifferent form can, of course, be dismissed as a simple manifestation of rustiness following a lengthy, COVID-enforced hibernation across April and May. However, Lowry has a track record of allowing peaks in his career to be followed by lengthy troughs. One thinks, for instance, of when he played himself out of Ryder Cup selection in the year that followed his breakout victory at the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Inivtational, or when he followed his narrow runner-up finish at the 2016 US Open with a slump outside of the world’s top-80. On form, Lowry remains one of the most gifted technicians in the professional game, a player possessed of all the physical and mental attributes required to thrive at the highest level of the sport. It is imperative, therefore, that he recovers that form soon before a lengthy slump again denies a Ryder Cup birth that seemed assured following his victory at Portrush a year ago. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy hopes coach Bannon can get him back on track
Jul 18, 2020 6:50 AM
 
COVID-19 is no friend to any golfer, but although Rory McIlroy never contracted the virus, it is arguable that he has been the player worst impacted by the sudden suspension of regular PGA Tour competition. The 31-year-old arrived at TPC Sawgrass to contest the Players Championship in March as the form player in world golf. He had recorded top-5 finishes in each of his first five starts in 2020 and boasted a record of 12 top-10s, including two tournament victories, in 16 starts since missing his most recent cut at The Open Championship last July. Restored to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings, he looked ideally placed to contend for a career Grand Slam at the Masters in April. Then, of course, the coronavirus intervened and the PGA Tour ground to a halt. The Players Championship was abandoned after just 18-holes and more than two-months would pass before McIlroy returned to the course at the Charles Schwab Challenge at the beginning June. Inevitably, the astonishing momentum he had built-up over the backend of 2019 and the opening months of 2020 had dissipated. This week's Featured Groups @MemorialGolf: Tiger Woods Rory McIlroy Brooks Koepka Phil Mickelson Justin Rose Shane Lowry Bryson DeChambeau Collin Morikawa Patrick Cantlay Dustin Johnson Justin Thomas Xander Schauffele pic.twitter.com/QGtI55WsSj — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 13, 2020 The Northern Irishman shot a final-round 74 en route to a frustrating T32 finish on the occasion of his first start back at Colonial. He bookended strong middle-rounds of 65 and 66 with a 72 and a 70 at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town the following week, finishing tied for 41st, and, despite carding four rounds in the 60s at the Travelers Championship at TPC Southwind a fortnight ago, he was unable to crack the top-10, finishing tied for 11th. Unsurprisingly, McIlroy professed frustration at the inconsistent nature of his performances since returning to the competitive circuit and consequently reunited with coach, Michael Bannon in search of a technical remedy leading into the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio last week. "This might sound bad, but looking back on the first three events I played, I sort of treated them as just dipping my toes my back in the water again and seeing how things felt in terms of no crowds," said McIlroy. "There were spells within that three weeks that I felt my game was there, it was just maybe a little erratic, I would make a dumb mistake here or there. They were just lapses in concentration. It was nice to take a couple of weeks off. I needed to do a little bit of work on my game, so I got my coach Michael Bannon over, it was the first time I had seen him since the start of February. "This is a huge event. I saw a stat yesterday that this field is stronger than the last eight Masters tournaments. There are a lot of world ranking points and there's a lot to be focused on this week. I feel like my game is definitely better now after that week I had with Michael. I'm excited to get going." Ultimately, it was not a particularly profitable week for McIlroy; a two-under opening-round of 70 followed by a level-par 72 left him seven strokes adrift of the halfway lead and he was unable to recoup that deficit across the weekend. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see the world No.1 availing of Bannon’s expertise in order to get a fresh perspective on his game. McIlroy has frequently been criticised for being overly headstrong or insular in his approach, tending to ignore those who dissent from his favoured programme of preparation. Bannon’s involvement in McIlroy’s preparation for Memorial suggests the four-time major winner is ready to treat seriously external perspectives as he bids to recover the form he took into the lockdown. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Padraig Harrington: Golf becoming no country for short players
Jul 14, 2020 8:18 AM
 
Padraig Harrington is a stickler for hard work and strategic intelligence. Never a bomber or a particularly pristine ball-striker, and never blessed with the sublime natural ability of a Tiger Woods or a Rory McIlroy, the three-time major champion built a decorated professional career on the sheer sweat of his brow, working harder than 99% of his rivals to maximize his performance. It was principally a combination of acute tactical nous, and a voracious competitive intensity and will to win, that propelled the Irishman to the summit of the world game. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that Harrington has expressed reservations regarding the extreme physical and tactical transformation achieved by Bryson DeChambeau over the previous nine months. For those of you who have not been paying attention, DeChambeau has been the talk of the sporting world since the PGA Tour returned from its COVID-19 enforced hiatus last month. He arrived to contest the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas on 11 June carrying 20 more pounds of muscle than earlier in the year, and he had already made headlines in late 2019 for piling on 25 pounds in advance of the Presidents Cup last December. Padraig Harrington discusses the postponement of The 2020 Ryder Cup pic.twitter.com/28uZzQtov9— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) July 8, 2020 All this bulking-up, of course, was undertaken with the intention of increasing club-head speed and, ultimately, the distance he is capable of hitting the ball off the tee. In that respect the 26-year-old’s muscle-building experiment has been a resounding success. Pick any driving stat you like, he leads it. He heads the PGA Tour in respect of driving distance at an average of 323 yards and paced the pack with a mind-numbing average of 350.6 en route to winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic a fortnight ago. Inevitably the world’s golfing media has been whipped into a frenzy of excitement at the scale and rapidity of DeChambeau’s transformation, intimating his radical new approach has the potential to alter fundamentally the nature of the professional game. Harrington, however, has warned that by redesigning courses to combat the unprecedented lengths being achieved by big hitters, officials risk homogenising golf, rendering the game unplayable for those who do not regularly drive the ball over 300-yards. Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport, Harrington said that DeChambeau’s approach marks a major shift in the game from his own early years, when players who spanked the ball in John Daly-esque fashion were discouraged on the basis that they couldn't control their driving. "Anytime there was somebody an outlier in terms of hitting it a long way - David Love in the 80s for instance - the crowd or the masses of players undermined that play," Harrington recalled. "Because any time a long hitter missed a fairway, they say you missed that fairway because you're a long-hitter, you're hitting it too hard. "When Rory started playing well in 2011, long-hitting was a huge advantage to him. But then all of a sudden, the other long hitters - Bubba Watson, JB Holmes, DJ - they started using their length because they saw Rory do it. And now, you have 30 guys in any event who are exceptionally long. So, generally one of those guys is going to win if he has a good week. And now Bryson has come along. He's taken another leap, jumped out there and now he's super long.” "Going forward, the short hitter will be undermined. They're already becoming the outliers…A good putter does a lot in golf and there's a lot of things that go into it but it's hard on a majority of golf courses for a short-ish hitter - and remember that these kids are trying to proof themselves for the next 15 years - to compete with 30 or 40 guys who hit it like Rory McIlroy in terms of distance, another 15 who hit it like DeChambeau and then one or two who hit it even further. When there are numbers of them, it comes down to which of those guys putts well." It is difficult to dissent from Harrington’s perspective. Until rules officials confront manufacturing interests and begin seriously regulating club and ball technologies to curtail the significance of distance in determining results, golf will increasingly become a game for long drivers and much of the artistry and nuance that animated the performances of players such as Harrington will be lost. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
How rising star Viktor Hovland has forced himself into Ryder Cup contention
Jul 14, 2020 6:39 AM
 
Media reaction to last week’s Workday Charity Open in Dublin, Ohio has focused on two personalities: Colin Morikawa and Justin Thomas. This, of course, is entirely understandable. It was the world No.5, Thomas who squandered a three-stroke lead with three regulation holes to play and the 23-year-old Morikawa who capitalised to claim a second PGA Tour title in a dramatic three-hole play-off. But perhaps the most significant long-term takeaway from last week’s contest in Ohio is the enduring rise of the player who wound-up in outright third, four strokes outside the play-off: Viktor Hovland. After turning pro following Low Amateur finishes at both the Masters (T32) and US Open (T12) last season, the former World Amateur No.1 finished 2019 with eight successive top-16 finishes, including a fourth-place finish at the Wyndham Championship and a runner-up at the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft Nabisco. The wind is gusting ...So Viktor Hovland keeps it low on the 166-yard par-3 12th. pic.twitter.com/hXPpJjV7nP— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 10, 2020 This consistency was underpinned by exceptional ball striking: Hovland would have ranked second in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and third in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green had he played enough rounds to qualify for the PGA Tour statistical rankings. Indeed, the 22-year-old established a new PGA Tour record in 2019 for the most consecutive rounds in the 60s (19) after less than a full year as a professional, and he went on to claim his maiden title on US soil at the Puerto Rico Open in February, defeating Josh Teater by a single stroke. Remarkably, it was just his seventeenth start on the PGA Tour. In addition to earning a cool $540,000 in prize money, Hovland’s victory in Puerto Rico secured a full tour exemption through the 2021-22 season and spots in the PGA Championship and The Players Championship for 2020. It also catapulted him from No.100 in the world rankings to No.60 and he was banging the door of the top-50 when Tour play was halted entirely after just 18-holes of the Players Championship in March. Such a sudden halt in competitive play would be sufficient to stymie the momentum of many young golfers; however, Hovland has hit the ground running following the resumption of play at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas on 11 June, where he finished T23. He tied for 21st at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head the following week and went on to finish T11 at the Travelers Championship at TPC Southwind and T12 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit prior to his T3 in Ohio. Hovland, then, is one of the form players in world golf, a circumstance reflected in his present ranking of No.33 in the world. The qualifying process for the European team for the Ryder Cup – be it later this year or delayed until 2021 – may currently be on hold, but there is no doubt the Norwegian’s ongoing improvement has him on European captain, Padraig Harrington’s radar. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Thomas left to rue near miss at Workday Charity Open
Jul 13, 2020 8:39 AM
 
In the end it was not to be for Justin Thomas. The 27-year-old produced some of the best golf of the season en route to seizing a two-stroke 54-hole lead at the Workday Charity Open in Dublin, Ohio last weekend, signing for three consecutive six-under-par rounds of 66. Furthermore, while he started poorly during the Sunday session, bogeying two of his opening three holes, he demonstrated impressive psychological robustness to reclaim the lead, picking up seven shots between the eighth and the 15th to take a three-stroke advantage down the stretch. From there, a second PGA Tour victory of 2020 seemed assured. However, sloppy bogeys on the par-3 16th and par-4 18th holes allowed Colin Morikawa to force his way into a play-off. While Thomas again exhibited an impressive clutch mentality to drain a 50-foot birdie putt on the first extra-hole, he ultimately lost the tournament to a Morikawa par on the third play-off hole. “It’s completely unacceptable to give up a three-shot lead with three to go,” Thomas fumed upon returning to the clubhouse. “I’m upset, I’m disappointed in myself.” He is right to be. Justin Thomas drops a BOMB on the first playoff hole for birdie!!! pic.twitter.com/WkI0fyHRaz — Dave Holmes (@DaveHolmesTV) July 12, 2020 Now before ripping into the world No.5 it must be noted that he didn’t do anything egregiously sloppy to lose the tournament. He hit a tee shot in the thick collar on the par-3 16th that led to bogey; he narrowly missed a 12-foot birdie attempt on the 17th and drove his tee ball into a bunker on the 18th, leading to another bogey and a 69. He and Morikawa finished at 19-under 269. However, Thomas, at 27, 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. Inevitably this pedigree obliges us to hold Thomas to a higher standard of criticism and, frankly put, it is inconceivable that a professional of such standing could squander a three-stroke lead in the space of just three holes at a regulation PGA Tour event, especially when faced with a relative newcomer such as Morikawa. The circumstances of Thomas’ defeat belies a brittleness under pressure (manifest, for instance, at the 2018 WGC-Dell World Match-Play Championship and at the WGC-Mexico last March) that has led many commentators to conclude he lacks the substance required to dominate the sport in the manner of a Rory McIlroy or Brooks Koepka. Until Thomas begins converting strong 54-hole positions into PGA Tour titles with greater regularity, the world No.1 spot will remain elusive. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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