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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Patrick Reed 'was building sandcastles' at Bahamas event, says Koepka
Feb 20, 2020 4:12 AM
 
Say what you like about Patrick Reed, but don’t say he’s dull. From being dismissed from the University of Georgia for allegedly cheating and stealing from teammates, to stating at age 23, positioned No.44 in the rankings, that he should be considered one of the top-five golfers in the world, the Texan has long been possessed of a knack for attracting unflattering media attention. In 2018, he caused deep division among the US Ryder Cup roster when he gave an explosive, unsolicited interview to a New York Times reporter following America’s comprehensive defeat in Paris. Asked why he didn’t play alongside Jordan Spieth at Le Golf National considering their strong record as a team, Reed abandoned any pretence to diplomatic restraint and hinted at personal animosities. More recently, Reed was penalised two strokes by the PGA Tour after clipping sand in a waste area during practice swings in the third-round of the Hero World Challenge event in the Bahamas in December. Footage of incident went viral on social media, with rules officials informing the player of his punishment during a five-minute post-round discussion. Brooks Koepka, on SiriusXM, was asked if Patrick Reed cheated: "Uh, yeah. I mean, I don’t know what he was doing, building sand castles in the sand but you know where your club is. I took three months off and I can promise you I know if I touched sand."https://t.co/9ZMFubPNp0— Joel Beall (@JoelMBeall) February 18, 2020 Reed, for his part, claimed to have been totally unaware of the affair until that point. As per the rules of golf, players can ground their club in waste areas but cannot improve their capability to play a shot by “removing or pressing down sand or loose soil.” The Texan remains adamant he did nothing wrong knowingly and that a single camera angle, from behind and which twice shows the player flicking sand during practice swings, is deceptive. Speaking to the PGA Tour’s SiriusXM channel in the lead-up to this week’s WGC-Mexico Championship, however, Brooks Koepka proffered an alternative perspective. “I don’t know what he was doing, building sandcastles in the sand,” said the four-times major winner. “But you know where your club is. I took three months off and I can promise you I know if I touch sand. If you look at the video, obviously he grazes the sand twice and then he still chops down on it.” Koepka added he had witnessed rule breaches by fellow competitors in the past and had not been of a mind to raise the issue, an approach that would change should likewise happen again. “I haven’t opened my mouth,” said the 29-year-old. “But now if I saw it, just because of where I’m at in the game, the stature that I have, I would definitely say something.” Koepka, regrettably, is one three members of the world’s top-10 who have neglected to include the WGC-Mexico event in their pre-Masters schedules. Reed, however, is present in Chapultepec; the prospect of the Texan responding to the world No.2’s remarks adds an extra layer of intrigue to what promises to be an exceptional event. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy travels to Mexico with chance to atone for Riviera disappointment
Feb 18, 2020 4:07 AM
 
In the end it was not to be for Rory McIlroy. The 30-year-old teed-off for the final-round of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera last week in a three-way tie for the lead alongside Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar, but ran up a triple-bogey seven on the fifth on his way to a disappointing 2-over 73 to finish joint fifth in his first week as world number one since September 2015. “I just got a flyer out of the rough,” McIlroy reflected of the nine-iron approach which got him into trouble in greenside rough on the fifth. “Obviously not the place you want to leave yourself . . . (and on the third shot) I caught it a little thin, so it came out lower than I wanted to. It is particularly frustrating because, apart from that, I played pretty well.” Gallingly, Riviera marked the occasion of a third consecutive poor final-round performance for McIlroy. Following his WGC-HSBC Champions victory in China last November, the Northern Irishman shot 73 in the second-to-last group in Dubai, getting blown away by Jon Rahm, while he made five bogeys (including three in a row to start) while in the final group at Torrey Pines a fortnight ago. Gladly, the four-time major winner has a chance to atone for his disappointing finish at the Genesis Open at the WGC-Mexico Championship at Chapultepec this week. Just a putt around a bunker and up a hill...@McIlroyRory was THAT close.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/vRkFMkq2Ye— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 14, 2020 He finished as a narrow runner-up to Dustin Johnson at the Mexico event 12-months ago and victory would render him only the second player after Johnson to complete the “WGC Slam” of winning all four of the World Golf Championships (WGCs). Significantly, three of the world’s top-10 ranked players – Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods and Patrick Cantlay – have chosen not to include the €9.7 million event in their schedules, while players of the calibre of Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau and Henrik Stenson will also be absent. Inevitably, this circumstance enhances McIlroy’s hopes of claiming a first victory of the season, and while his recent Sunday performances have disappointed, there can be little disputing his status as the form player in world golf. Riviera marked the occasion of McIlroy’s fifth consecutive top-5 finish and, in 12 starts since missing the cut at the British Open last July, he has racked up 10 top-10s, including two wins. The Northern Irishman is richly deserving of his position at the summit of the world rankings and there is little reason to doubt that he will be once more firmly in contention for PGA Tour honours at Chapultepec on Sunday. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Scott caps return to elite with Genesis Open triumph
Feb 18, 2020 2:44 AM
 
In a peculiar way, Rory McIlroy can draw solace from Adam Scott’s triumph at the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California on Sunday. McIlroy began the day tied for the lead with Scott and Matt Kuchar but ran up a triple-bogey seven on the fifth on his way to a disappointing 2-over 73 to finish joint fifth in his first week as world number one since September 2015. Upon turning 30 last May, the Northern Irishman spoke optimistically of his desire to make the second-half of his career even more successful than the first; the emphatic nature of Scott’s victory in California suggests such an ambition is certainly achievable. Scott, who won his thirtieth professional title the Australian PGA Championship three days before Christmas, overcame dropping three shots in two holes on the front nine to card a closing 70 (1-under) and finish 11 under par, two shots ahead of Sung Kang, Scott Brown and Kuchar. In addition to snapping a four-year PGA Tour trophy drought, Sunday’s victory provides a Scott with a three-year Tour exemption and $US1.674m ($A2.49m) in prize money. Furthermore, the Aussie has been catapulted to a new world ranking of No 7 – his first time inside the top 10 since June 2017. Approaching his 40th birthday in July, Scott is now equal with Bruce Crampton for third-most wins by an Australian on the PGA Tour behind Norman (20) and Jim Ferrier (18). Unsurprisingly, the former world No 1 is confident that he has ushered in a new chapter and his best may lie ahead. “Hopefully, this is the first step in a multiple-win year”, Scott reflected. “There’s a lot of golf ahead of me with some great opportunities. I need to make the most of that moving forward and if, one day, I get up to [Norman’s] level it’d be incredibly satisfying.” @AdamScott has won @TheGenesisInv!He's the third Australian to win in six weeks. #LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/Xtcss6qTD6— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 16, 2020 “Today goes a long way and I’m excited about Augusta; the mission is to keep myself in form for the next eight weeks,” he added. “My big goal is to be a multiple major winner and I think the habit of winning is good for that.” The next five years can be my best years on tour. However, that’s easy to say but very hard to do, because there are so many great players.” On the basis of Sunday’s evidence, one would be hard-pressed to dispute Scott’s optimism. The former Masters champion made the ideal start to the final round with birdies on the first and third, but bogeyed the fourth and then took six on the next after missing the green with his approach and needing two attempts to find the putting surface. McIlroy did likewise but compounded the error by three-putting from 20 feet and - although he birdied the par-five 11th to remain in contention - a bogey on the 13th to Scott's birdie effectively ended his chances. Scott gave the chasing pack hope when his approach to the 15th plugged in a greenside bunker and led to a bogey, but a superb pitch to the par-five 17th set up a decisive birdie from 10 feet. Back inside of the world’s top-10, the Aussie must now be regarded among the frontrunners to win the Masters at Augusta in April. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Genesis Invitational: Rory McIlroy just two off the lead as Tiger Woods slips at Riviera
Feb 15, 2020 12:42 PM
 
Rory McIlroy arrived at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California to contest the Genesis Invitational on Monday with a point to prove. The Northern Irishman had just been restored to the world No.1 spot following a four-and-a-half-year absence, and while no one could deny the consistency of his performances over the previous two seasons, some commentators pondered whether a golfer who has not won a major since 2014 could really be deserving of such lofty status. “Everyone keeps saying congratulations, but I said the work is only started,” McIlroy said. “Staying there is the hard part. Just a putt around a bunker and up a hill...@McIlroyRory was THAT close.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/vRkFMkq2Ye — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 14, 2020 “Look, it’s a calculation based on how you’ve played over the last two years. I’ve played well and I’ve played consistently well. The mathematics add up that I’m at the top of the list right now, and obviously I have a chance to stay there this week.” 36-holes into the Genesis Invitational, few could accuse McIlroy of failing to abide by his rhetoric. The four-time major champion went one shot better than his 3-under opening-round 68 with six birdies and just two bogeys to edge into tied-second at Riviera on Friday. Level with Wyndham Clarke and Harold Varner III on 7-under par, he sits two-strokes behind leader, Matt Kuchar heading into the weekend and professed to feel extremely comfortable with his swing. “I’m managing my game well,” McIlroy, who finished third at last month’s Farmers Insurance Open on his only other appearance this year, said after his round. “I’ve hit a couple loose shots here and there, but I’m thinking my way around the golf course and that’s what this place is all about. “You can hit a few squirrelly shots and get away with it as long as you miss it in the right places, and for the first couple days I’ve done that. “I’m feeling pretty good about my game.” Significantly, the same could not be said of Tiger Woods, who began the day five shots off the lead but finished it nine back after a two-over 73 – his first over-par round of the year – which contained a double-bogey six, three bogeys and three birdies. “I made some pretty bad mistakes out there with balls in the fairway: one ball in the fairway with wedge in my hand and another one with a sand wedge in my hand and played those two holes in three over. Not very good,” said Woods, who will not play in next week’s WGC-Mexico Championship after the entry deadline passed without him confirming his attendance. “You take those away and I’m near the top of the board. So it’s not that complicated, I just need to clean it up, but I’m now pretty far back and I have to make a lot of birdies this weekend. “I just could not get the ball close enough to the hole to give myself good putts, and then when I did, I was in the wrong spots, I was above the hole and had to putt pretty defensively.” Also at even par is Koepka, who three-putted from just three feet on the final green to complete a rollercoaster 73 which included two double-bogeys, four bogeys but also six birdies. The weekend thus provides McIlroy with a significant opportunity to open-up a little daylight between himself and his rivals for the world No.1 spot. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Garcia seeking redemption at Genesis Open
Feb 14, 2020 3:04 AM
 
To observe that Sergio Garcia has been attracting the wrong sorts of headlines over the past 12-months would be an understatement. For in addition to completing a second consecutive winless season on the PGA Tour in 2019 and slipping outside the top-40 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in a decade, the 2017 Masters champion has been involved in a series of high-profile, on-course temper tantrums that have led many pundits to fear that his mentality has regressed to the adolescent state of 1999. First, there was the ransacking of multiple bunkers and greens at the Saudi International last February; then came the controversy arising from a fixture with Matt Kuchar at the WGC-Match Play in April. Next, he threw a club at his caddie at The Open at Royal Portrush in July and, most recently, he gouged a tee box after a loose drive during the final-round of the WGC-FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis. Headlines such as “Sergio Garcia continues to be mired in controversy” and “Latest Sergio outburst raises further questions about conduct" reflect vividly the deleterious impact these recent outbursts have had on his reputation. As a gesture of goodwill and contrition, the Spaniard waived his appearance fee upon returning to contest the Saudi event a fortnight ago. Next up: this Thursday, the Genesis Open kicks off at Riviera Country Club. For us golf architecture nerds, the Tour’s annual return to this 1927 George Thomas masterpiece is one of the year’s best events. pic.twitter.com/w5fadbPY14— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) February 10, 2020 Overlooked in much of the media coverage surrounding Garcia’s moral failings, however, is the fact that the veteran has begun to rediscover some of his best form over the past five months. Indeed, in nine starts since claiming a 16th European Tour title at the KLM Open last September, he has missed just a single cut and arrives at Riviera Golf Club to contest the Genesis Open this week off the back of a T8-T23-T6 run through his opening three starts of the 2020 season. This is significant owing to the fact that Riviera has long been regarded as a course Garcia is destined to win on: he's banked two top fours (2012 and 2015), a sixth (2007) and seven top 25s in 12 visits to the California track, and regularly speaks glowingly of the venue in the media. "It is a tournament that I really enjoy playing. I really love the golf course. I think when it plays firm, it's the kind of golf course that is asking you to hit the proper shots”, Garcia told course reporter, Doug Milne in 2017. "Yes, it is old-school. It is quite long, too. Yeah, greens for the most part are fairly small, so it's the kind of golf course that if you're playing well and you're hitting a good amount of greens, you always feel like you have birdie chances. You don't usually have a lot of, you know, 50- and 60-footers. So it's just a solid golf course." Noteworthy, too, is the fact that, since the turn of the century, there have been three multiple winners at the Genesis Open: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Mike Weir. All three players have one thing in common: they’ve won the Masters – just like Sergio. At the Masters, of course, a strong par-5 scoring record is crucial to success; however, it is equally important that winners hit plenty of greens in regulation and scramble well. The last two factors are why Masters champions tend to perform strongly at Riviera. Winners at Riviera are obliged similarly to hit plenty of greens in regulation and, when out of position, scramble well. Garcia, as arguably the most gifted ball-striker of his generation, ticks all of these boxes. Sunday could be the day we the Spaniard make an overdue return to the PGA Tour winners’ circle. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy’s consistency warrants return to No.1 spot
Feb 11, 2020 8:05 AM
 
When Rory McIlroy was asked at the end of 2019 what his goals were for the season ahead, he struck a conspicuously honest and forthright tone: a return to the world No.1 spot was firmly in his sights. “It’s been a goal of mine for a while,” McIlroy told Golf Digest magazine. “Winning four times last year, I closed the gap a little. There was a point in the middle of last year where I was, like, four points behind Brooks Koepka. And then, once I won the Tour Championship and then in China [WGC-HSBC Champions], I kind of saw that gap closing. Then it sort of became, ‘Huh, I’m actually close.’” These comments, of course, sparked frenzied media speculation regarding when the Northern Irishman could potentially displace Koepka at the summit of the rankings. When the American tied for 34th on the occasion of his first competitive start of the season at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January, McIlroy was provided with an opening at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Win, and he was assured of reclaiming the position he held for 95 weeks prior to September 2015. Two rounds of 67 ensured the four-time major winner teed-off for the final round with a real chance of claiming the title; however, he was ultimately unable to keep pace with the Australian, Marc Leishman and was obliged to wait for another chance to reclaim his position at the top of the world game. Brooks Koepka in October 2019: "Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour. So I just don’t view it as a rivalry. "I’m not looking at anybody behind me. I’m Number one in the world."Rory McIlroy in February 2020: *reclaims world number one spot*. pic.twitter.com/uHN3aYQbVu— bet365 (@bet365) February 3, 2020 Owing to the bewildering capriciousness of the OWGR algorithm, however, McIlroy was yesterday elevated to the top of the rankings without having even struck a ball. This is because Koepka finished 17th at the controversial Saudi International, an event which Rory declined to attend. His rise back to the top of golf’s official world rankings, which uses a rolling two-year points format, means McIlroy will move into fourth place in total time spent as number one. This will be his 96th week there, behind only Tiger Woods (683), Greg Norman (331) and fellow Briton Nick Faldo (97). Significant, too, is the fact that it has been four years and four months since Rory was last at the top of the rankings; not surprisingly that is a record gap between stints at No.1 and attests, ultimately, to the remarkable consistency that is swiftly becoming a hallmark of his game. McIlroy entered 2019 with a point 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 was poised to lay the gauntlet down to the world No.1 in 2020. Indeed, in 11 starts since missing the cut in spectacular circumstances at his home Open at Royal Portrush last July, McIlroy has finished outside the top six only twice. He won the Tour Championship in September and followed it up with victory in the World Golf Championships event in Shanghai. His past four results have been as follows: tied third, first, fourth and tied third, and he travels to Riviera to contest the Genesis Open this week with bona fide hopes of claiming his first title of the year. He tied fourth at the same event 12-months ago. “It’s a byproduct of playing consistently good golf and I’ve been doing that for a while now,” said McIlroy of his trajectory back to the world number one position. “It’s a very volatile system,” he added. “It can move up and down very quickly, and I didn’t know I was going to get a chance this early.” Depending on results at Riviera, both Koepka and Justin Thomas could usurp McIlroy at the summit of the rankings before the end of the week; however, one cannot begrudge the Northern Irishman his achievement in reclaiming top-spot after such a lengthy wait. Since first entering the world's top 10 at the end of 2009, he has never been lower than 13th in the rankings. In that time, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth have each risen to No.1 only to tumble to their present position at the fringes of the top-50. No less than major championship triumphs, consistency warrants recognition. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Taylor denies Mickelson to seal Pebble Beach triumph
Feb 10, 2020 4:29 AM
 
Phil Mickelson returned to Pebble Beach on Sunday morning hoping his brilliant third round performance would pave the way for an historic sixth career victory at the AT&T. The five-time major winner had looked close to his best in holing a bunker shot and taking just 22 putts to sign for a 5-under 67 on Saturday, drawing to within a single-stroke of Nick Taylor’s slender 54-hole lead. Indeed, the Canadian arrived in California ranked No.224 in the world, and while he had triumphed previously on the PGA Tour, at the 2014 the Sanderson Farms Championship, he had never done so at a venue like Pebble Beach against opposition of the calibre of Mickelson. Nerves were inevitable and the possibility of a humiliating capitulation ever present. In the end, it wasn’t even close as Taylor produced his best Mickelson impression – hitting bombs, attacking flagsticks, holing-out from off the green – to beat the veteran at his own game. He signed for a 2-under-par 70 and a four-stroke victory; remarkably, Sunday marked the occasion of just the second wire-to-wire triumph in the AT&T Pro-Am’s history. Taylor's one-shot overnight lead was swiftly erased when he missed a five-foot putt to match Mickelson's birdie at the second; however, the Canadian journeyman was on target from double that range on the fourth before both hit cracking tee-shots into the short fifth which they converted for birdies. Back-to-back birdies on the par-3 fifth and par-5 sixth-holes kept Mickelson within touching distance of the lead; however, a disastrous double-bogey at the eighth, compounded by a sloppy bogey on the ninth, provided Taylor with a six-stroke lead heading into the back-nine. Both players struggled in difficult conditions on the inward stretch. Taylor dropped four shots in four holes between 11 and 14 to enable Mickelson draw briefly back to within two-shots of the lead. However, Lefty would card three bogeys of his own on the back-nine to slip back into third place behind Kevin Steelman. Taylor, meantime, rallied with two birdies inside his closing four-holes to close out a banner victory. “If you told me for 15 years I would finish 110 on the FedEx Cup, I think I would be fine with that,” Taylor reflected. “You never know when that one break happens,” he said. “I had to battle for my card the last few years; I think some of those rounds to keep my card helped me today for sure. Some par saves rank higher than others.@PhilMickelson said this one is in his top 5.#QuickHits pic.twitter.com/6Kvjkaiyg2 — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 8, 2020 “I don’t think it’s going to sink in for quite some time,” he added. “I don’t know if I blocked out the last five hours and just played golf, and you know, now I’m here with winning with a trophy, it’s amazing.” Sunday’s triumph provides Taylor with solid foundations on which to build in 2020. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Jason Day hoping to kick-start 2020 campaign at Pebble Beach
Feb 7, 2020 8:48 AM
 
Pebble Beach has long been one of those places where Jason Day seems destined to win. With eight top-14 finishes to his name through 10 starts on the Californian links track, including top-5s in four of the last five years, it has appeared a matter of time before the Aussie claims the Pro-Am title. Indeed, his birdie average at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is the best average of any player in the last 12 seasons with a minimum of 12 rounds. It is a testament, therefore, to the extent of Day’s physical and technical struggles over the previous 18-months that he is not trading alongside the likes of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson as one of the favourites to triumph at Pebble this week. Winless in over a year since claiming his 12th PGA Tour accolade at the Wells Fargo Championship last May, the 32-year-old arrives in California ranked No.46 in the Official World Golf Rankings. That is his lowest ranking since 2013 after reaching No. 1 in the world for the first time in 2015 and getting there again in 2016. If he’s outside the top 50 on February 10, he would also be ineligible for next month’s WGC-Mexico Championship. After a difficult 2017 in which his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer (and initially given only months to live) and his wife, Ellie, suffered a miscarriage over Thanksgiving, Day looked to have gotten his career back on track with two wins inside the opening six-months of 2018. In 14 starts worldwide since tying for fifth at the 2019 Masters, however, he has not registered a single top-10 finish and has struggled consistently with debilitating back injuries. “The gist of it is my rib cage is kind of out of alignment and starts to pull on certain things and certain muscles,” Day explained in advance of his first start of 2020 at the Farmers Insurance Open a fortnight ago, an event in which he finished a respectable T16. “If I swing a lot and also putt [in] a bent-over position, things start to tighten up. If I don’t get that stuff kind of loosened out and get a little bit of mobility in there, that’s when things start to—it’s not so much the actual swing itself, I'll just go bend over and pick something up, my back will go out and then I'm done for two weeks.” “I can only putt for 30 minutes a day,” Day added, noting that he usually spends two hours a day on the practice green. “So obviously I'm a little bit behind schedule. But I feel pretty good about how things have progressed.” Clearly, Day’s fortunes have not been aided by the conspicuous level of instability that has characterised his support team in recent months. It is noteworthy, for instance, he has changed caddies four times in the last two seasons, which included hiring Steve Williams—the two split after just six events together. However, it is impossible for any athlete to reach and maintain a peak level of performance when their preparation is undermined repeatedly by injury. Day is convinced, therefore, that if he can get his body right, results will follow. In danger of dropping out of the world's top 50 for this first time almost a decade, Jason Day is hopeful of a boost at the US PGA Tour's Pebble Beach tournament this week. He’s got an impressive record at Pebble without lifting the trophy: https://t.co/F55uwq2jEb— Evin Priest (@EvinPriest) February 5, 2020 “If I can focus on that and feel healthy … the confidence will come back. And then when I can practice more, I’m sure the results will come also, as those other issues won’t be in the back of my mind. “Overall, I feel good about the game and coming to an event where I've played well is nice," Day concluded. "I feel my game is around the corner. It could be this week or next week. It's coming around." The elite-level of the professional sport stands only to benefit from the return of a fully fit and confident Jason Day. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Can Phil Mickelson defend his Pebble Beach title?
Feb 6, 2020 4:59 AM
 
When Phil Mickelson closed with a 6-under final-round of 65 to claim his 44th PGA Tour victory at the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am 12-months ago, the golfing media was ablaze with excitement that the veteran may be poised to end his agonising wait to secure a career grand slam. Ever since winning his fifth major at The Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013, Mickelson’s career has been defined by the absence of a US Open title, an event in which he has finished as runner-up on an agonising six occasions. Given the 2019 edition of America’s oldest major was set to be staged at Pebble Beach in July, Lefty’s early victory on the Californian track boded extremely well for the major season ahead. As it turned-out, however, such early-season such optimism was misplaced and Mickelson proved incapable of sustaining or, indeed, recapturing the level of performance he produced at Pebble in February. In 16 starts across all Tours following his victory, the 49-year-old missed eight cuts and failed to produce a single top-10 finish. In addition to missing-out on the FedEx Cup-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, he ended the year ranked back outside of the world’s top-80. This blog even went so far as to speculate whether the 49-year-old may be tempted to take-up membership of the Champions Tour upon turning 50 in June, enabling him to contest the US Senior Open and British Senior Open at Newport C.C. and Sunningdale respectively. I’m no Moses But I’ll give it a shot pic.twitter.com/6aH8pexc7u — Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) February 2, 2020 The ignominious manner in which the veteran laboured to back to back missed-cuts on the occasion of his opening two starts of the 2020 season at the American Express Open and Farmers Insurance Open indicated that there may be sound logic to justify such a transition. Last week, however, Mickelson shot a 3-under 67 in his final round at the Saudi Open to finish in a tie for third place, his first top-10 finish since winning at Pebble last year. Suddenly, there is a sense of momentum surrounding Lefty’s game as he bids to claim a sixth career Pebble Beach Pro-Am title on the occasion of his 25th appearance at the event. “It was so fun to be back in the mix,” he said after the Saudi event. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in contention. It’s been a while since I’ve been playing well and it feels really good. The way I drove it the first, well, the first three days, was a really big first step for me because (I was) starting to really strike it well off the tee with ease.” “It was so fun having a chance, being in the thick of it again,” he said. “Feeling my game come back and feeling the ease I was swinging it. “I haven’t felt that in a while. I haven’t played my best,” Mickelson said. “I haven’t been my best since I won Pebble a year ago, and I’m excited to go back there next week with a little bit of momentum.” In carding three sub-70 rounds in Saudi last week, Mickelson showed glimpses of his former self. If he can replicate such ball striking at Pebble, a record sixth title on the Californian track cannot be discounted. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Graeme McDowell targets big year after Saudi International victory
Feb 4, 2020 3:05 AM
 
Graeme McDowell was not much talked about in the lead-up to the Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club last week. For as much as the 40-year-old impressed in snapping a four-season winless run at the Corales Championship in last March, inaugurating a surge from No.257 in the world to the Open Championship field at his native Portrush, he remained a long way from competing with the game’s elite. After all, the Corales Championship was only sanctioned as a PGA Tour event in 2018 and is contested opposite the WGC Match Play Championship in Texas. Consequently, very few players ranked inside of the world’s top-100 contest the Dominican Republic-based event and it is revealing that McDowell finished the 2019 campaign ranked outside of the world’s top-120. He had recovered from the depths of 2016-17 campaign; however, he was someway off recapturing the level that propelled him to the US open title a decade ago. It is for this reason that McDowell’s achievement in ending a five-year European Tour trophy drought at the Saudi International last weekend is so significant. The Northern Irishman signed for a level-par closing-round 70 to claim a two-stroke victory over defending champion world No.4 Dustin Johnson, with players of the calibre of world No.1, Brooks Koepka; Open champion, Shane Lowry; five-time major winner, Phil Mickelson; and Ryder Cup legend, Sergio Garcia all trailing in his wake. 2,037 days later @Graeme_McDowell is back in the winners' circle #SaudiIntlGolf— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 2, 2020 Unsurprisingly, Sunday’s victory afforded McDowell double the number of world ranking points he claimed for his triumph in the Dominican Republic last year and catapulted him back up inside of the world’s top-50. In addition to qualifying for the WGC Mexico Championship, the Portrush-native is nigh-on guaranteed a tee-time at both the WGC Dell Match Play and the Masters. Strong performances at such high-profile events further make Ryder Cup qualification a real possibility. "I'm just so excited about the year," McDowell said. "I was hoping I was going to have a big season; fourth in Hawaii got me off and running and then a missed cut in Dubai last week, but I knew I played well. "My big goal this year was to be back in the top 50 in the world, back competing in the big tournaments. I'm very excited that it's happened a little faster than I expected but hopefully it's laying some foundations down for having a big year.” Significantly, the Northern Irishman highlighted the influence of coach, Kevin Kirk as key to his late-career renaissance. “Kevin said to me, ‘there’s no reason why the best golf in your career can’t still be ahead of you’. I like that. I like that kind of idea, that focus,” said McDowell, adding: “I’ve been working hard the last year and a half. I want to be back up there one more time just to be able to play against these guys . . . the game of golf is in great shape, there is so many great players in the world, it is so exciting to be a top player in the world and I want to be back up there again.” On current form, there is little reason to doubt McDowell’s capacity to build on his success in Saudi and make a serious push for Ryder Cup inclusion. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Finau poised for Sunday shootout with Simpson at Phoenix Open
Feb 2, 2020 7:05 AM
 
Tony Finau and Webb Simpson arrived at TPC Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open this week with contrasting tournament histories. After all, where Simpson had recorded six top-20 finishes in a dozen starts at Scottsdale, including a runners-up placing in 2017, Finau had missed each of his last four consecutive cuts at the Jay Morrish-designed course and never appeared likely to contend for the title. But despite these contrasting trajectories, it is Finau who leads Simpson by a stroke at the summit of the Phoenix Open leaderboard going into Sunday, having signed for a sensational 9-under third-round 62, featuring an eagle on the par-5 13th-hole. The 30-year-old, who has represented the United States at Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup level over the past two years, is determined to snap a gruelling four-season winless streak dating as far as the 2016 Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach. “If I want to accomplish the things I feel like I can accomplish, I have to put those types of expectations on myself,” Finau reflected when asked about the prospect of claiming a long overdue second PGA Tour victory. “I look forward to tomorrow. My game’s in a good place, and I always tell myself whatever happens, you’re going to learn from it and get better and stronger.” A tribute to his idol. Tony Finau played the 16th hole wearing Kobe Bryant's Lakers jersey on Thursday.pic.twitter.com/V50LnGNGOa — Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) January 31, 2020 “No, it’s crazy,” Finau added when asked to account for the strength of his performance this week in light of his previous failure to contend at Scottsdale. “I like the golf course. I like the vibe. I like the energy. Just haven’t performed.” Significantly, the world No.13 leads the tournament in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (+9.435) and Scrambling (12/13), and his Saturday total of 62 matched his career low. He hit 12 of 14 fairways after hitting just 13 of 28 the first two days; should he maintain such accuracy off the tee on Sunday, he will prove difficult to stop. Simpson, however, is poised dangerously to capitalise on even the merest hint of a stutter on Finau’s part. The 2012 US Open-winner hit 12 of 14 fairways and landed 14 greens-in-regulation en route to signing for a 7-under 64 on Saturday, and notably aced the 196-yard par-3 12th hole. Fresh off the back of a third-place finish on the occasion of his first start of the year at the Sony Open in Hawaii a fortnight ago, the six-time PGA Tour winner will be confident of claiming his first title since the 2018 Players Championship. “I’ve learned from every tournament, good or bad,” Simpson reflected of his near-miss at the Sony Open and at the RSM Classic late last year. “I know what I’ve done wrong in the past, I guess, year, year and a half. But I’ve also had a few seconds where guys have shot 8- or 9-under. I’ve just got to go out tomorrow and take care of my game and the results will come.” Whoever comes out on top, the Phoenix Open looks set to produce a thrilling finale. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Rahm travels to Phoenix with world No.1 spot in reach
Jan 29, 2020 12:05 PM
 
It’s a good thing Jon Rahm’s golf is better than his math. The Spaniard teed-off for the final-round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last week with a single stroke lead away from a crowded chasing pack. However, a disastrous run of four bogeys inside his opening five holes meant that he was playing catch-up for most of the round. The Spaniard demonstrated admirable resilience to claw his way back into contention on back-nine, and a birdie on No. 17 combined with a Marc Leishman bogey in the group ahead meant that he headed to the 18th tee at 13 under, one shot off the lead. But speaking to reporters after the round, Rahm revealed that he didn't look at another scoreboard the rest of the way. That meant he was unaware of Leishman's 72nd-hole birdie: the shot that moved the Aussie two strokes ahead of Rahm, thus obliging the Spaniard to make an eagle - not a birdie – on the last to force a playoff. Rahm reached the par-5 green in two and barely missed a lengthy eagle putt before turning to caddie Adam Hayes expecting to prepare for overtime. "When Adam told me the news, he's like, 'Hey, good try.' I'm like, 'What do you mean? We're in a playoff,'" Rahm said. "He's like, 'Nope, (Leishman) birdied 18.' And I didn't hear any roars or anything, so I just assumed he parred." "I wouldn't have changed anything. I hit a great drive and a great second shot," he concluded. "The putt, that's a tough putt. You can't just ram it by 10 feet by, it's just not going to go in. So I did hit it with trying to make it with perfect speed, thinking a two-putt would get into a playoff." Wednesday is a BIG day at #thepeoplesopen! Check out what's in store and find out what time everyone tees off tomorrow for the Celebrity @Annexus Pro-Am!Pairings https://t.co/XkH0CY9pBq pic.twitter.com/G0AwQDtogB— WM Phoenix Open (@WMPhoenixOpen) January 29, 2020 Gladly, the 25-year-old has an opportunity to avenge his misfortune at the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale this week; indeed, he trades as a 7/1 favourite to claim his fourth PGA Tour accolade. With event form figures reading 5-16-11 and current form figures reading 8-6-5, since he returned to action following the festive break (and remember, he finished runner-up to Henrik Stenson at the Hero Challenge before Christmas), it's difficult to critique the shortness of his odds. Significantly, Rahm tees-off in Phoenix confident in the knowledge that a victory has the potential to propel him to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career, provided that the current world No. 1 Brooks Koepka finishes worse than solo fourth or a three-way tie for third at the Saudi International. With 10 victories to his name in just three full seasons as a professional, it is possible to make a persuasive case for Rahm to be considered the form player in world golf. It is a matter of time until he reaches the No.1 spot and, on current form, he is well capable of achieving that feat before the end of the week. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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