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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Winning feels a long time ago for impatient McIlroy in Abu Dhabi
Jan 21, 2021 11:58 AM
 
If 2019 was a banner season in the career of Rory McIlroy – one encompassing four tournament victories, a return to the World No.1 spot and a PGA Tour Player of the Year award – then 2020 can only be regarded as a source of deep frustration. The 31-year-old arrived at TPC Sawgrass to contest the Players Championship last 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 in July 2019. 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, perhaps, the astonishing momentum he had built-up over the backend of 2019 and the opening months of 2020 dissipated. The angles you don't see on TV Behind-the-scenes for Rory's 64.#ADGolfChamps #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/VqZkNeSrLo— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 21, 2021 In 13 starts after returning to the course, the Northern Irishman managed just three top-10 results; he finished 2020 without a victory on any tour and has fallen down to No.6 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Asked by Golfweek magazine to assign a grade to his season last December, he unhesitatingly replied, “C” adding that his frustrations arise from more than the simple failure to claim a fifth major title. “I had a great year last year [2019] and I didn’t win a major”, McIlroy reflected. “I came out of the back of last year playing some of the best golf I’d ever played, so I don’t at all think any year when you don’t win a major is a disappointment. I think any year you don’t win a tournament is a disappointment, and that’s obviously why this year is disappointing.” It should come as no surprise, therefore, that 31-year-old has been upfront in expressing the depth of his determination to return to the winner’s circle as he inaugurates his 2021 campaign at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week. The four-time major champion owns a remarkable record of four second-place finishes, three thirds and a fifth in his last nine starts at Abu Dhabi Golf Course, and he stormed into contention courtesy of an 8-under opening-round 64 on Thursday. "China back in November 2019 does feel like a long time ago," McIlroy said. "The world was a much different place back then than it is now. "I had a great start last year. Didn't really play that great coming back out of lockdown, but then felt like I was starting to play a lot better as the season came to an end. Saw some promising signs in LA and Vegas and had a decent Masters. Played really well the last three rounds there. "So yeah, I'm trying not to be impatient. I try to stay as patient as possible, but what I will say is that last win does feel like quite a long time ago at this point. A win would be a great way to start the year.” The clinical nature of McIlroy’s start to the week suggests he is on track to break his duck early in 2021. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Strong finish sees Kevin Na win the Sony Open
Jan 20, 2021 11:55 AM
 
Kevin Na was not much fancied heading into last week’s Sony Open in Honolulu. After all, the 37-year-old was winless in over a year since claiming his fourth PGA Tour title at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October 2019 and struggled for consistency during a truncated 2020 campaign in which he missed more cuts (5) than he registered top-10 finishes (3) through 21 starts. Coming off the back of an indifferent T38 finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions on the occasion of his opening start of the 2021, there was little cause for optimism regarding Na’s chances of snapping his winless run at the Waialae Country Club. But golf is a most capricious sport, and despite trailing joint clubhouse leaders, Chris Kirkand and Joaquin Niemann by three strokes with six holes to play, a sensational run of three consecutive birdies between holes 13-15 followed by a further dropped shot at the par-5 last enabled him to claim a single stroke victory in dramatic circumstances. The walk-in master is back in the winner's circle. Congrats to Kevin Na. pic.twitter.com/UEW6Dxzlsk— Skratch (@Skratch) January 18, 2021 “I knew there was a lot of birdie holes left,” Na reflected upon collecting his trophy. “I was having fun out there.” “I felt like Waialae is a golf course I really have a chance at, and there’s not too many of these left anymore, so I have to take advantage of it,” he added. “What a great feeling to win at a golf course I really feel like I can win at.” This was an extremely strong performance from Na who carded four consecutive rounds in the 60s on Honolulu and ranked inside of the tournament’s top-10 for Strokes Gained (SG) putting, approaching the green and off-the-tee. Back inside the world’s top-25, he has solid foundations on which to build in the weeks leading into the opening major of the season at Augusta in April. Niemann also a produced a performance of note. A runner-up at the Sentry Tournament of Champions a fortnight ago, the Chilean was level-par at the turn before driving the green on the 355-yard 10th hole and making a two-putt birdie, with the Chilean then adding another from five feet at the par-four 12th. A chip-in from the fringe at the 17th lifted Niemann back one of the lead heading to the final hole, where a splash-out from the sand to 10 feet saw him match Na's closing birdie and finish just short for the second event running. As this blog predicted over Christmas, the 22-year-old looks poised to enjoy a strong season. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Justin Thomas dumped by sponsors Ralph Lauren after homophobic slur
Jan 17, 2021 2:38 PM
 
There was a time in human history, future generations will need to explain to their grandchildren, when a person could make a mistake, apologise and everybody would move on. For that epoch appears to have long since passed. Take the experience of Justin Thomas over the past fortnight. The 27-year-old was rightly criticised for using a homophobic slur after missing a short putt during the third round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii last weekend. Equally rightly, he apologised for his comment immediately upon completion of his round. "There's just no excuse," the 27-year-old told Golf Channel. "There's absolutely no reason for me to say anything like that. It's terrible. It's not the kind of person that I am." "I need to do better. I deeply apologise to anyone and everybody who I offended and I'll be better because of it." The PGA Tour added in a statement: "As he expressed after his round, we agree that Justin's comment was unacceptable." Paige Spiranac: Justin Thomas 'should not be cancelled' over homophobic slur https://t.co/i18Mfg1lUb pic.twitter.com/lVSLEUxaX7— New York Post (@nypost) January 11, 2021 In the past, Thomas’s apology and the PGA Tour’s statement would have drawn a line under the matter. It would have been accepted that a young man performing under immense pressure had misspoken in a bout of frustration. It might have been observed that he was unfortunate to have hissed the expletive within the vicinity of an ultra-hifrequency greenside microphone during a spectatorless golf event. But we live in a very different cultural and political context today and already sponsors are moving to distance themselves from the former world No.1. Most notably, Thomas’ principal clothing supplier, Ralph Lauren have terminated his sponsorship deal. A hard-hitting statement read: "At the Ralph Lauren Corporation, we believe in the dignity of all people, regardless of age, race, gender identity, ethnicity, political affiliation or sexual orientation. This is part of our longstanding commitment to foster cultures of belonging - in the workplace and in communities around the world. "We are disheartened by Mr Thomas' recent language, which is entirely inconsistent with our values. While we acknowledge that he has apologised and recognises the severity of his words, he is a paid ambassador of our brand and his actions conflict with the inclusive culture that we strive to uphold.” The Ralph Lauren Corporation did, however, leave the door open to renewing their partnership with the world No 3 providing he "does the hard and necessary work" to promote inclusion. The statement concluded: "As we make this decision, our hope is that Mr. Thomas does the hard and necessary work in order to partner with us again - truly examining this incident, learning, growing and ultimately using his platform to promote inclusion." A private corporation is entitled to do with its money what it wishes and this blog does not regarded Thomas, a player who earned almost $20m in prize money alone last season, as the principal victim in this sorry episode – that, of course, is the LGBT community. However, it surely a cause for regret that a person proffering a forthright apology for an error made under pressure cannot have the integrity of their word respected. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Two-time Major winner Angel Cabrera arrested in Brazil
Jan 15, 2021 12:59 PM
Tags: Angel Cabrera   News   pga tour  
 
How is it the old saying goes, “you should never meet your heroes”? The inference, of course, is that the amiable and charismatic public image cultivated by most celebrities – be they sports stars, actors or musicians – belies a grittier, more unpleasant reality. Regrettably, Angel Cabrera may be seen to typify this dynamic. A long-time member of the world’s top-10, the barrel-chested Argentine is the most accomplished South American golfer of all-time. He won the 2007 US Open at Oakmont by one shot over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. Two years later, he overcame Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry in a play-off to claim his second major title at the US Masters. He almost added a further green jacket to his collection in 2013 when he was defeated in a play-off by Adam Scott. Cabrera owns one other PGA Tour victory, the 2014 Greenbrier Classic, and his four European Tour wins include its biggest event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Indeed, he boasts a total of 52 professional victories across all Tours, and while he missed the most recent Masters tournament to undergo wrist surgery, he played five times last August and September on the PGA Tour Champions circuit for over-50s players. Throughout this decorated 32-year professional career, Cabrera has been almost universally popular among his peers and enjoyed a positive relationship fans and media across the world. His imposing physique mirrored, it seemed, a gregarious and extroverted personality, not to mention a love for fine food, wine and cigars. It consequently came as a great shock to golf fans to learn that Cabrera has been arrested in Brazil for extradition to his native Argentina to face charges over several alleged crimes. Police said in a statement that an arrest was made in an upper class area of Rio de Janeiro, without announcing the suspect's name. It described him only as a 51-year-old Argentine. However, two federal police sources based in Rio separately confirmed to the Associated Press that Cabrera was the man arrested. The police statement said the arrest was authorised by Brazil's top court and the man would be held until his extradition to Argentina. Officials in Argentina have charged a suspect with assault, theft, illegal intimidation and repeated disrespect to authorities between 2016 and last year, the statement said. Argentinian media reported earlier in January that Cabrera's former wife, Silva Rivadero, had filed two charges against the golfer. The reports also said that Cecilia Torres, another former partner, claimed Cabrera had punched her, threatened her and attempted to run her over with his car in 2016. It is a sad end to a distinguished career. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Open ruled out for Trump's Turnberry as Bedminster stripped of 2022 US PGA
Jan 13, 2021 10:20 AM
Tags: PGA of America   R&A   News   The Open   Donald Trump   Turnberry  
 
Back in February 2016, not long before one Mr Donald J Trump was confirmed as the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States, this blog observed that the governing bodies of professional golf faced a challenge in the event the conservative business mogul were to win the White House. For although the sport would be seen to benefit from the support of such a powerful patron, Trump’s questionable personal sexual morality, allied to his incendiary rhetoric on matters such as immigration and climate change, had the potential to pose a grave image problem for the sport. Golf, after all, is a traditionally upper class, white game with a chequered past in terms of providing for racial and sexual equality. For reasons of economics as much as morality, the sport needs to be seen as welcoming, diverse and inclusive. A close association with the most reactionary President in modern American history would not productively serve such an end. It was noteworthy, therefore, that in February 2016 the incoming R&A Chief Executive, Martin Slumbers determined not to permit Trump’s redesigned Turnberry course host The Open Championship before 2022 – two years after the term of the 45th President of the United States. Turnberry will not stage the Open Championship until the R&A are “convinced that the focus will be on the championship”.https://t.co/5aRLknSxj5 via @IrishTimesSport— Irish Times Sport (@IrishTimesSport) January 11, 2021 At the time, many understood Slumbers’ ambiguous reference to an unstable “macro environment” as a veiled reference to Trump’s controversial politics. The R&A’s announcement on Monday that Turnberry will not host The Open again until they are “convinced that the focus will be on the championship” confirmed as much to be case. “We had no plans to stage any of our championships at Turnberry and will not do so in the foreseeable future,” Slumbers said in a statement. “We will not return until we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances.” The news comes after Trump National in Bedminster was stripped of next year’s US PGA Championship with organisers insisting that using the course would be “detrimental” to their brand in the wake of the invasion of the US Capitol. “We find ourselves in a political situation not of our making,’’ said Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America. “We’re fiduciaries for our members, for the game, for our mission and for our brand. And how do we best protect that? Our feeling was given the tragic events of Wednesday that we could no longer hold it at Bedminster. The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave.” It is very straightforward to dismiss the statements made by the PGA of America and the R&A this week as a cynical attempt to save face following their patron’s recent dramatic fall from grace. In reality, however, the administrators of professional golf were never keen to be associated with Trump’s politics, and now that he is on his way out of office, they are free to make that uneasiness public. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
5 under 25: No. 1 – Collin Morikawa
Jan 12, 2021 12:25 PM
 
The 19th Hole continues its build-up to the 2021 campaign by counting down the best five golfers under the age of 25 to watch out for in the season ahead. Even by the very high standards of this list, the pace of Collin Morikawa’s ascent from relative unknown to international sporting superstar must be characterised as meteoric. Upon finishing in an impressive tie for 14th place on the occasion of his professional debut at RBC Canadian Open on 7 June 2019, the Berkley graduate ranked 1039th in the world. A little over a year later, in August 2020, he was golf's fourth highest-ranked player. His shock victory that month at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco -- finishing two shots ahead of Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey in only his second major outing -- catapulted him to the top of the game and into mainstream recognition. Perhaps this should not have come as a surprise. Ever since acceding to the summit of the World Amateur Golf Ranking in May 2018, Morikawa had been hyped as a coming force. In that respect, he was no different to the hundreds of other young, preternaturally gifted athletes who conquered the amateur game, of whom only a handful ever go on to win on the PGA Tour. But by the time Morikawa claimed his maiden PGA Tour accolade on the occasion of just his sixth professional start at the Barracuda Championship in July 2019, it was apparent he possessed a steely competitive temperament to match his exceptional physical and technical abilities. All gas, no brakes. @Collin_Morikawa is in the hunt after a Friday 65 @Sentry_TOC. pic.twitter.com/C9LpnjFV9r — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 9, 2021 The Californian would go on to make the cut in each of his first 22 consecutive starts as a professional, a run surpassed only by Tiger Woods (25), and when he did finally succumb to a Friday exit at the Travelers Championship in May 2020, he responded by defeating the now world No.1, Justin Thomas in a play-off to claim his second PGA Tour title at the Workday Charity Open the following week. Thus viewed as the culmination of a relentless, year-long ascent in the professional game, it is clear Morikawa’s breakthrough at Harding Park was no flash-in-the-pan. This circumstance is underlined further by the clutch nature of his victory against a crowded leaderboard. The 23-year-old broke free of the logjam when he chipped in for birdie at 14 and then drove the green at the par-four 16th to set up a timely eagle, before holding his nerve to negotiate the remaining two holes in par to complete a 64 - the joint-lowest round of the week - and become only the fourth player after Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to lift the Wanamaker Trophy at the age of 23. Morikawa did not finish 2020 as strongly as he would have wished after triumphing in San Francisco, missing more cuts (3) than he mustered top-10s (2) in nine subsequent starts. However, he legitimately begins the New Year ranked inside of the world’s top-5 and will count among the favourites to add to his major championship trophy haul when the PGA Tour returns to Augusta in April. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
5 under 25: No. 2 – Viktor Hovland
Jan 10, 2021 3:23 PM
 
The 19th Hole continues its build-up to the 2021 campaign by counting down the best five golfers under the age of 25 to watch out for in the season ahead. As the rising stars go, Viktor Hovland’s ascent toward the summit of the professional game has been well flagged. After turning pro following Low Amateur finishes at both the Masters (T32) and US Open (T12), the former World Amateur No.1 finished the 2019 campaign with eight successive top-16 finishes, including a fourth-place finish at the Wyndham Championship. Already ranked inside of the world’s top-100, the 23-year-old looked strongly placed to move up a gear in 2020 and he realised that promise emphatically. Hovland claimed his maiden PGA Tour accolade on the occasion of just his tenth such appearance at the Puerto Rico Open in February, chipping in for eagle on the par-5 15th and racing in a 30-footer for birdie on the par-5 18th for a one-stroke victory over Josh Teater. Viktor Hovland is heating up @3MOpen. #QuickHits pic.twitter.com/YX0G0V6dp7— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 7, 2019 Equally impressive was the manner in which the Norwegian picked up where he left off upon returning to the course following the COVID-19 lockdown. He finished 3rd behind Colin Morikawa and Justin Thomas at the Workday Charity Open in July and carded five top-20s in his next seven starts, including a T13 at the US Open at Winged Foot. He wound out the year by draining a nerve-jangling 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th to claim his second PGA Tour titleat the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico, before tying for 3rd at the DP World Tour Championship the following week. Firmly ensconced inside of the world’s top-15 and positioned strongly to qualify automatically to the European Ryder Cup squad, Hovland’s time flying under the radar is coming to a very definite end. In this light, it was a surprise to hear the Oslo native profess to experiencing acute anxiety when required to perform under pressure on the golf course. “I don’t really feel I am honestly very good at those pressure situations, I mean I was shaking there in the end,” Hovland said after draining his second tournament-winning birdie of the season on the 18th Mayakoba. “I needed to make birdie on 18 and it just happened to go in. I don’t feel comfortable in those moments at all.” A pristine ball-striker, Hovland ranked in the top 20 in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Approach-the-Green last season. He’s added distance with swing coach Jeff Smith. And Hovland, who once declared, “I just suck at chipping,” has shored up his short game after switching to a 10-finger grip on all shots inside 40 yards. Hovland tees off for 2021 ranked 3rd in the FedEx Cup standings and it is reasonable to expect he shall be an enduring presence at the top of that table throughout the year. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
5 under 25: No. 3 – Matthew Wolff
Jan 7, 2021 3:20 AM
 
The 19th Hole continues its build-up to the 2021 campaign by counting down the best five golfers under the age of 25 to watch out for in the season ahead. When Matthew Wolff birdied the challenging par-4 18th hole at Winged Foot Golf Club to take a two-stroke lead into the final-round of the 140th US Open in September, he seemed poised to fulfil the major-level expectations that have accompanied him since his collegiate success at Oklahoma State University. An NCAA champion in 2018, Wolff claimed his maiden PGA Tour victory within a month of turning professional the following summer, defeating Colin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau by a stroke to clinch the 3M Open title in Minnesota. He was to finish his maiden season on the PGA Tour ranked inside of the world’s top-100 and, following a slow start to the 2020 campaign, his form picked up strongly after the COVID-19 lockdown. Wolff broke into the world’s top-60 courtesy of a runner-up finish at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July; the following month, he carded four rounds in the 60s to finish fourth on the occasion of his US PGA Championship debut at Harding Park. It was unsurprising, therefore, to observe the 21-year-old contend seriously for the US Open title at Winged Foot and there was every reason to suspect he would parley his 54-hole advantage into a maiden major championship title. Eagle for Wolff.@Matthew_Wolff spins it in from 115 yards to get to -13.#QuickHits pic.twitter.com/i9cFJXxPR3— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 10, 2020 As it turned-out, of course, Wolff was unable to get the job done. He shot a final-round 75 to finish even par and in solo second, six behind Bryson DeChambeau (67), who shot the low round of the day by three. “I played really tough all week,” Wolff reflected. “I battled hard. Things just didn't go my way. But first U.S. Open, second place is something to be proud of and hold your head up high for.” This perspective was endorsed by two-time major winner, Zach Johnson, who said that Wolff ought to “leave this parking lot with the positives” and “focus in on some of the things that he did the previous three days more so than today [during the final round]”. Wolff, evidently, took this advice to heart. He signed for four rounds in the 60s en route to another runner-up finish at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open the following week, and while he did not manage to win in 2020, he round out the year ranked 9th and 14th in the FedEx Cup and Official World Golf Rankings respectively. Equally significant is the fact that Wolff appears to have remedied the inconsistency with putter in hand that blighted his progress in 2019. Indeed, he ranked inside the PGA Tour’s top-50 for strokes gained putting in 2020 after having ranked outside of the top-150 in the same statistic 2019. With a tournament victory and three runner-up finishes to his name in the space of just 33 PGA Tour starts, it is clear that Wolff possesses all the physical and technical raw materials required to develop into a consistent winner at the highest level of the professional game. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
5 under 25: No. 4 – Sungjae Im
Jan 7, 2021 2:03 AM
Tags: Masters   News   Honda Classic    Sungjae Im   pga tour  
 
The 19th Hole continues its build-up to the 2021 campaign by counting down the best five golfers under the age of 25 to watch out for in the season ahead. To observe that Sungjae Im succeeded in making a name for himself in professional golf would be an understatement. Named Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2018, the Korean led the PGA Tour in cuts made (26) during his debut season the following year. He finished 19th in the season-long FedEx Cup standings and then compiled a 3-1-1 record for the International team in the President’s Cup, including a Sunday singles match victory over the then reigning US Open champion, Gary Woodland. He was richly deserving of the coveted ‘Rookie of the Year’ award with which he was conferred in November 2019. In light of this success, it might come as a surprise that Im had held off on investing in any kind of home in the US before claiming his maiden PGA Tour victory, relying instead on an endless stream of anonymous hotel rooms and Ubers. This peculiar circumstance was remedied in March when Im, making just his fiftieth PGA start at the Honda Classic in Florida, birdied two of his last four holes to claim his first victory. The following week, the 22-year-old finished third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and lead the FedExCup points race as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and shut down part of the season. Unsurprisingly, Im, a highly consistent young golfer who has never experienced a lengthy break in his fledgling career, struggled to resurrect his early-season momentum following the lockdown, registering just two top-10s in 18 starts between June and October and slipping outside of the world’s top-20. However, he caught fire just as the 2020 season was winding down, tying for second on the occasion of his Masters debut in November before rounding out the year with a top-15 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Congratulations to our 2020 Honda Classic Champion Sungjae Im!! pic.twitter.com/cRxuWhyzug— The Honda Classic (@TheHondaClassic) March 1, 2020 Possessed of solid length off the tee, a consistent putting stroke and arguably the most impressive array of iron shots on the PGA Tour, Im is positioned well to enjoy enduring success at the highest level of the professional sport. Reports suggest that the South Korean has determined to make Atlanta, home of the Tour Championship, his place of residence in the US. This is a fitting location, for we can expect Im to be a regular fixture at East Lake for years to come. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
5 under 25: No. 5 - Joaquin Niemann
Dec 28, 2020 10:08 AM
 
The 19th Hole continues its build-up to the 2021 campaign by counting down the best five golfers under the age of 25 to watch out for in the season ahead. Joaquin Niemann has long appeared destined to enjoy a distinguished career at the highest level of professional golf. A former World Amateur No.1, Niemann forfeited U.S. Open and Open Championship exemptions to turn professional in the summer of 2018 and swiftly earned full PGA Tour status upon registering four top-10 finishes in his first eight PGA Tour appearances. Significantly, he was only the third golfer, following Jordan Spieth (2013) and Jon Rahm (2016), to bypass the Web.com Tour Finals completely and earn a PGA Tour playing card after starting the season without any status. With characteristic panache, he vindicated this lofty status by winning on the occasion of his first start of the 2019/20 season at the Military Tribute at Greenbrier Golf Club in West Virginia, signing for four rounds in the 60s to defeat Tom Hoge by six strokes. First event of the new season, first-time winner. With a final-round 64, 20-year-old Joaquin Niemann wins his first PGA Tour title by six shots at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. pic.twitter.com/o3yEAhyJq9— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) September 15, 2019 By winning in White Sulphur Springs, Niemann became the first PGA Tour winner from Chile, and the youngest international PGA Tour winner since 1923. That victory further catapulted him inside of the world’s top-50 and assured him of a spot in Ernie Els’ Presidents Cup team for December 2019. Inevitably perhaps Niemann’s form dipped in the early stages of 2020. While he tied for fifth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, that would be his only top-10 finish in eight appearances prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, a sequence during which he missed three cuts and slipped outside the world’s top-80. However, the Santiago native rallied strongly when golf resumed in June, tying for fifth at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town. He would go on to finish inside of the top-25 in seven of his final eight starts of the season, rising as high as 35th in the FedEx Cup standings and 43rd in the Official World Golf Rankings. This uptick in form was highlighted by a sixth-place finish at The CJ Cup in mid-October; had it not been for an unfortunate positive test for COVID-19 prior to the Masters, he could have easily been higher. We further saw evidence of the Chilean’s growing maturity as he used his last two events of the year to raise money for his infant cousin’s million-dollar medical treatment. It was a classy move and helped bring awareness to the cause. Possessed of exceptional distance and accuracy off the tee (12th in SG off the tee), a penetrating iron game (32nd in SG tee to green) and a solid putting stroke (56th in SG putting), Niemann has all the physical and technical raw materials to thrive on the PGA Tour. Expect to see him rise far higher than his present world ranking in 2021. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Rory McIlroy to begin 2021 at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Dec 26, 2020 7:20 AM
 
When the history of Rory McIlroy’s 2020 season comes to be written, it will inevitably include a significant footnote – the impact of COVID-19. Clearly, no golfer was unaffected by the pandemic; however, few were more negatively impacted than 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, perhaps, the astonishing momentum he had built-up over the backend of 2019 and the opening months of 2020 dissipated. In 13 starts after returning to the course, the Northern Irishman managed just three top-10 results; he finished 2020 without a victory on any tour and has fallen down to No.4 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Asked by Golfweek magazine to assign a grade to his season, he unhesitatingly replied, “C” adding that his frustrations arise from more than the simple failure to claim a fifth major title. Starting my 2021 season in Abu Dhabi https://t.co/MjD5pyDFlv— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) December 16, 2020 “I had a great year last year and I didn’t win a major”, McIlroy reflected. “I came out of the back of last year playing some of the best golf I’d ever played, so I don’t at all think any year when you don’t win a major is a disappointment. I think any year you don’t win a tournament is a disappointment, and that’s obviously why this year is disappointing. “It’s hard because I felt like I had a nice bit of momentum going at the start of the year”, he added. “I was playing well and then everything stopped. And I struggled with the restart. It maybe took me longer to adjust to it than some other people.” But with top-10 finishes at the Tour Championship, the US Open and the Masters within his final five starts in 2020, McIlroy legitimately argued that he is beginning to “figure things out” and rediscover his touch. He will be keen to translate that momentum into a fast start in 2021, a campaign he will open alongside Justin Thomas at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on 21-24 January. McIlroy owns eight top-five finishes in 10 appearances at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship without a victory; he is consequently positioned strongly to lay down a marker for the year ahead. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Westwood shows that, for golfers, age is still just a number
Dec 20, 2020 6:19 AM
 
When Lee Westwood failed emphatically to deliver upon his controversial wildcard inclusion at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, losing all three of his matches, it appeared his time contending at the elite-level of professional golf had come to a decisive end. Westwood, after all, has long been regarded among the best players never to claim one of the sport’s four most prestigious titles. In the course of a decorated 27-year professional career, the former world No.1 has recorded 19 top-10 finishes at major championship-level, including six third-place finishes and an agonising three runner-up finishes. But at age 43, his failure to earn automatic qualification to the Ryder Cup squad and his poor performance upon being included as a wildcard indicated his career was winding down to an ignominious end. Indeed, he would go on to finish the 2017 season ranked outside of the world’s top-60; by the summer of 2018, he languished outside of the top-100. Then, out of the blue, Westwood ended a four-season trophy drought at the 2018 Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa, defeating Sergio Garcia by three shots to become the first golfer in the modern history of the European Tour to win at the age of 45. The following year, he tied for fourth at The Open and finished the season ranked back inside of the world’s top-60. Lee Westwood wins Race to Dubai as Fitzpatrick takes championship https://t.co/33q8UC7io6 — Guardian news (@guardiannews) December 13, 2020 Suddenly, the Nottinghamshire native was relevant again, a circumstance endorsed by his two-shot victory over Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Victor Perez at the European Tour season opener in Abu Dhabi in January, making him only the third golfer in the history of the sport to win on the Old World circuit in four different decades. It was fitting, therefore, that Westwood should cap his resurgence by claiming the Harry Vardon Trophy as European Tour Order of Merit winner for a third-time following his runner-up finish to Matthew Fitzpatrick in Dubai in December. Back inside of the world’s top-50, the 47-year-old has no qualms about targeting a return to the European Ryder Cup squad for an 11th appearance at Whistling Straits next year. "I'd love to play the Ryder Cup again obviously," said Westwood, who has 23 points from his 10 previous appearances. "It beats watching. There's obviously a lot less pressure watching the lads being vice-captain. "If I qualify for the team then I'm clearly good enough, and you know, that's the way I'm going to play it. I can still turn up to the biggest tournaments and compete as I proved at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi, and at the US Open, where I bogeyed the last two holes, and if I hadn't, I'd have finished fifth, and here. "So I'm not going to say it's one of my goals for next year because you should never make Ryder Cup one of your goals. You should break it down to try and play well each tournament. But I could see it happening." At a time when the median age of the world’s top-10 golfers is growing younger and younger (presently, it’s 29), Westwood’s accomplishments over the past 18-months seem all the more remarkable. He richly deserves the chance to end his Ryder Cup career on a high at Whistling Straits. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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