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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Cantlay struggling to overcome Masters trauma at RBC Heritage
Apr 20, 2019 5:57 AM
 
It has been largely forgotten amidst the hysteria accompanying Tiger Woods’ seminal Masters triumph at Augusta last weekend; however, there was a moment last Sunday, albeit brief and fleeting, when the former world amateur No.1, Patrick Cantlay seemed poised to claim a maiden major championship triumph. For 33 of the final 36 holes of last week’s Masters tournament, Cantlay was far and away the best player on the golf course. Having only barely scrapped in under the cut mark at 2-over following the opening two rounds (73-73), he tore the course apart on Saturday, signing for an 8-under 64 to draw to within two-strokes of Francesco Molinari’s slender 54-hole advantage. To put that achievement into context, only two players, Nick Price and Greg Norman, have ever gone lower (63) around Augusta National. Cantlay’s scoring didn’t let-upduring the early phases of the final-round; four birdies on the front-nine ensured that he was firmly in contention for the green jacket as the tournament entered its final stretch. A birdie on the par-4 eleventh enabled him to keep pace with the front-runners and, following on from Francesco Molinari’s dramatic capitulation at the 12th, a stunning eagle on the par-5 15th hole moved Cantlay into a single stroke lead with three-holes to play. Patrick Cantlay gets the party started with a spectacular 3rd round at the Masters. 8 birdies 0 bogeys Best career round in a major. Best round of anyone today. He's just 1 shot back of the leaders... for now pic.twitter.com/p2j51uhedx — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) 13 April 2019 Suddenly, Cantlay seemed poised to fulfil all the rich potential that has been so evident in his game since he shot an opening round of 60 on the occasion of his PGA Tour debut as an amateur at the Travelers Championship eight-years ago. As it turned, however, the victory wasn’t to be. Indeed, one could almost see the colour drain from Cantlay’s face as he realised the position he was in and, suddenly, all the precision and poise that had characterised his play over the previous 33-holes vanished. He played his final three-holes in two-over par and finished the tournament in a tie for 9th, three strokes shy of Woods’ winning total. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Cantlay has shown every sign that he has yet to recover from last week’s trauma during the early stages of the RBC Heritage event at Hilton Head Golf Links at Harbour Town. The 27-year-old started impressively with a bogey-free 4-under opening-round 67; however, he was emphatically unable to sustain such scoring on Friday as he laboured to a 1-over 72 and will consequently begin the weekend six shots shy of Shane Lowry’s lead. Cantlay’s record of two victories since turning professional seven-years ago belies his prodigious talent and his career has been pockmarked by injury and personal tragedy. Here’s hoping that next time he finds himself in the position of leading a major with three holes remaining, he doesn’t let the opportunity slip. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Lowry maintains lead at rain-delayed RBC Heritage Open
Apr 20, 2019 2:58 AM
 
Shane Lowry was not much talked about in the lead-up to the RBC Heritage Open at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head this week. For as much as the Irishman’s single-stroke victoryaway from Richard Sterne at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January inspired hopes of an elite-level revival in 2019, many commentators were unconvinced he would prove capable of maintaining such a level of performance on a long-term basis. There was legitimate reason for scepticism regarding the potential for Lowry’s revival. Shane Lowry still has two holes to play in his second round, but he’s the leader after day two at the RBC Heritage: https://t.co/1b2rX3cHzB pic.twitter.com/tNOQFOkVfu — Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) 20 April 2019 The 32-year-old had, after all, endured a three-season winless stretch prior to snapping his drought in Abu Dhabi, tumbling from a career-high 17th in the Official World Golf Rankings following his breakout victoryat the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to 92nd as recently as last July. Furthermore, in seven starts after triumphing in Abu Dhabi, Lowry missed four cuts, including at last week’s Masters tournament, and failed to card a single top-10 finish. His place inside of the world’s top-50has consequently started to look increasingly precarious. It has been, heartening, therefore, to observe the Irishman experience something of a return to form at Harbour Town over the previous two days, moving to 9-under par with two holes of his second-round remaining after play was suspended owing to darkness. Lowry had seized outright hold of the overnight lead courtesy of a sensational 6-under 65 on Thursday and knew conditions were worsening on the morning of the second-round. He consequently jumped all over the course as quick as he could with birdies on the first and second holes before storms swept the island resort area. After waiting out a delay of close to four-hours, the Offaly-native played consistently enough to maintain a slender advantage going into the weekend. Trey Mullinax is a stroke after signing for a 68; Dustin Johnson and Emiliano Grillo, meantime, lurk ominously on 7 under after 67s. "This is one of those days when you look forward to getting back on the couch and watching the guys (in the afternoon) deal with it," said past RBC Heritage champion Matt Kuchar, a morning starter who finished before the delay. "It's one of those struggling days where you have gone through your own struggles and fun to watch your friends go through it." Lowry is among 56 players who'll return Saturday morning to complete the second round before starting the third. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Shadows of Augusta weigh heavy on Molinari at Harbour Town
Apr 19, 2019 12:32 PM
 
On paper, there was good reason to feel optimistic regarding Francesco Molinari’s chances of claiming an eleventh professional title at the RBC Heritage Open at Harbour Town Golf Links this week. The 36-year-old arrived in South Carolina fresh off the back of a fifth-place finish at the Masters, his first start after tying for third at the WGC-Dell Match-Play in Arizona last month, and just five-weeks have passed since he claimed his third PGA Tour victoryat the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, signing for an 8-under closing-round 64 in the process. Shane Lowry hits the front at Hilton Head https://t.co/RbQyjyD511 via @IrishTimesSport— Irish Times Sport (@IrishTimesSport) 18 April 2019 Indeed, Molinari has been arguably the outstanding player in world golf for the better part of 18-months; he won the BMW-PGA Championship and the Quicken Loans National in the lead-up to claiming his maiden major championship titleat The Open at St Andrews last July, and rounded-out the year by posting a W5-H0-L0 record at the Ryder Cup. Add to this the fact that the world No.7’s game aligns perfectly with a shot-maker’s golf course such as Harbour Town, where the quality of one’s ball-striking and iron-play count for far more than brute distance off the tee, and his pre-tournament odds of 18/1 seemed eminently attractive. Golf, however, is not played on paper, and as hard as Molinari tried to underline his enthusiasm for contending at Harbour Town at a pre-tournament press-conferenceon Tuesday, it was difficult to avoid the feeling that he would rather be almost anywhere else in the world. After all, the Italian shouldreally be teeing-off for this event as the freshly crowned Masters champion. He carried a two-stroke lead into the final-roundat Augusta and, after recovering from a shaky start, he retained the same advantage heading into the final seven holes of the tournament. Then came a pair of bizarrely uncharacteristic mistakes that cost Molinari the tournament and that have likely resulted in the accretion of some painful psychological scar-tissue.He landed shots in the water on the 12th and 15th holes for two double-bogeys that dropped him from contention into a tie for fifth, two shots behind winner, Tiger Woods. Inevitably such a high-profile and costly error will have exerted a heavy mental and emotional toll and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Molinari was far from at his best at Harbour Town on Thursday, shooting four bogeys and a double on route to a 3-over opening-round 74. Nine-shots shyof Shane Lowry’s surprise overnight lead, the Italian faces an uphill task in attempting to even make the cut this week. Then again, perhaps a weekend off is precisely what Molinari needs to begin to move on from the trauma endured in Georgia. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
2019 RBC Heritage Betting Preview, Odds and Tips
Apr 18, 2019 2:07 AM
 
Following on from Tiger Woods’ historic triumph at Augusta, the PGA Tour travels from Georgia to Hilton Head for the RBC Heritage Open at Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina this week. Here follow our top-three bets for the tournament. Winner: Jim Furyk (35/1) Surprisingly, perhaps, in light of the physical and psychological toll the Masters exerts inevitably on competitors, this event is densely populated with players who contended at Augusta last week. Indeed, Dustin Johnson, a runner-up in Georgia, trades as the outright favourite to win on Sunday at 8/1; fellow runner-up Xander Schauffele is priced level alongside Bryson DeChambeau at 18/1 to claim his second title of the season, while fifth-place Masters finisher, Francesco Molinari is a 14/1 shot to atone for his painful back-nine collapse last weekend. None of these odds are particularly attractive. In the first instance none of these big name players have ever won at Harbour Town (Johnson, who is only contesting this event because he is sponsored by RBC, finished 16th last year; Schauffele, meantime, wound-up back outside the top-30) and there is zero correlation between Master’s finishes and performance in the RBC Heritage. Indeed, nine of the last 12 Heritage winners have either not played in the Masters in the preceding week or missed the cut in Georgia, and the course set-up could scarcely be more different from Augusta. At 7,000-yards (extended only if the wind picks-up), Harbour Town is a shot-makers’ golf course, placing a far higher premium on the quality of competitors’ iron-play and ball-striking than on distance off the tee. Defending @RBC_Heritage champion Satoshi Kodaira speaks with the media. https://t.co/b5EQsoQLu6 — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) 16 April 2019 Indeed, the last five Heritage winners have ranked 65th, 51st, 37th, 75th and 56th respectively for distance off the tee and, revealingly, 12 of the past 14 winners have been aged 35 or older. It is clear, therefore, that ball-striking, strategic intelligence and experience are far more important around this track than raw power or Masters form; in this respect Jim Furyk stands out as an attractive 35/1 option in the outright winner’s market. The 48-year-old, who did not feature at Augusta last week, has been in exceptional form through the early phases of the 2018/19 campaign. Furyk was T6 at the Mayakoba Open at the end of 2018, T14 at Pebble Beach, T9 at the Honda Classic, runner-up at the Players Championship (on a Pete Dry track, as is this week's test) and, most recently, added top 25s at the Valspar and Texas Open. Furthermore, Furyk boasts exceptional course-form: he won this event twice in 2010 and 2015 and owns two further second places and three other top 10s. Inspired following by his contemporary, Woods’ achievement in rolling-back the years at Augusta last week, Furyk seems well-placed to end a four-year trophy drought at Harbour Town. Top-10: Graeme McDowell (55/1) Beyond Furyk, Graeme McDowell attracts as a 55/1 shot. The Northern Irishman ended a four-season trophy drought in the Dominican Republic last month and tied-seventh on the occasion of his last start at the Texas Open. Furthermore, McDowell’s game is ideally suited to American links golf; indeed, he won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 and triumphed at Harbour Town three seasons later. Outsider: Jason Kokrak (60/1) Like Furyk, Kokrak is long overdue a victory. The 33-year-old, who owns six professional titles, has yet to win at PGA or European Tour level; however, he travels to Harbour Town in exceptional form off the back of six top-20s in eight starts in 2019, including three top-10s, and he finished in a tie for second at the Valspar in his most recent outing a fortnight ago. Back him to contend against an average field. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Spieth’s woes deepen following missed-cut at the Masters
Apr 17, 2019 12:32 PM
Tags: Masters   Rory McIlroy   Tiger Woods   News   Jordan Spieth  
 
Media reaction to the 83rd Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia last week has understandably focused almost exclusively on Tiger Woods’ achievement in claiming a fifteenth major championship title, 11-years after his fourteenth such victory at the 2008 US Open at Bethpage Black and 14-years after last prevailing at Augusta. Naturally, Woods’ achievement has reinvigorated debate regarding his hopes of equalling or surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major titles, and many commentators have begun to ponder his hopes of reclaiming the world No.1 spot, five-years after being decisively displaced at the summit of the world game by Rory McIlroy. But as compelling as the Tiger story undoubtedly is in the context of the short-to-medium term future of US golf, of far greater long-term significance is the ongoing demise of Jordan Spieth. The Texan arrived at Augusta in the midst of his most severe contraction in form since storming to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings in 2015. Walking on water. @JordanSpieth pulls off the trick shot. pic.twitter.com/MZJexIaHsk— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) 10 April 2019 Winless in 40 starts worldwide since claiming his third major championship title at the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale, the Texan had failed to finish higher than T24 through eight starts in 2019 and last recorded a top-10 finish at the 2018 Open at St. Andrews last July. Indeed, Spieth travelled to the Masters ranked outside of the world’s top-30 for the first time since breaking into that elite band seven-years ago and ranked 167th on the PGA Tour in the Strokes Gained: Total statistic: that is, 135 positions lower than his rank in the same statistic at the same stage of last season. Nevertheless, many commentators held out hopethat the Masters would trigger at return to form for Spieth; after all, Augusta was the site of his maiden major championship triumph in 2015 and he had finished inside of the top-three on the occasion of four of his five previous Masters starts. As ESPN Golf’s Anthony Guliziaprophesied last week, Augusta National ‘can be the place where Spieth rebuilds the foundation of his game and snaps out of the worst stretch of his career.’ As it turned-out, however, Spieth performed at roughly the same level that he has been for most of the past 18-months; that is, badly. He carded three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par-3 sixth-hole en route to a 3-over opening-round 75and never threatened to his play his way back into the tournament, despite rallying to make the cut on Friday. The 25-year-old ultimately finished with a respectable, albeit indifferent 5-under total for a tie of 21st alongside Rory McIlroy, eight-strokes shy of Woods. Spieth’s Masters display has done little to alter the general impression that his game is stuck in a rut; it is imperative that he begins recording top-10s again soon before his spot inside of the world’s top-50 comes under threat. This week’s RBC Heritage event at Harbour Town would be an ideal venue at which to inaugurate such a fight-back. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy left to lick wounds following major disappointment at Augusta
Apr 16, 2019 12:24 PM
Tags: Masters   Rory McIlroy   Tiger Woods   News  
 
Responding to Tiger Woods’ historic victory at the 83rd US Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia on Sunday, Rory McIlroy commented that: “I couldn’t be happier for him, what a great day for golf”, adding that it was “So cool seeing him with Tida, Sam, Charlie, Erica and the rest of the team behind the 18th green.” There can be no doubting the sincerity of his comments. McIlroy has long enjoyed a positive, if not particularly intimate, relationship with Woods and, like many of his peers, he came to golfing maturity when Tiger was at the absolute peak of his powers, claiming 14 majors in 11 years between 1997 and 2008. Woods’ victory on Sunday was consequently possessed of particularly romantic aura for players of McIlroy’s generation, who would have watched the former world No.1 claim his fourth Masters title in 2005 on television in their family home. But for all the outpourings of joy and heart-felt public congratulationsissued in the aftermath of Tiger’s triumph, there must surely be an acute sense of frustration among the PGA Tour elite that a 43-year-old who could barely swing a club 18-months ago beat them to a major title. McIlroy should be feeling this sense of regret as keenly as anyone, for although he was never in contention for the title on Sunday, this was supposed be his tournament to lose. Close and closer. #themasters@McIlroyRory @rickiefowler pic.twitter.com/zb7hxSFAUC — Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) 12 April 2019 The 29-year-old, it bears restating, arrived at Augusta off the back of seven consecutive top-10 finishes, including a runners-up finish to Dustin Johnsonat the WGC-Mexico Championship in February and an emphatic single-stroke victoryaway from Jim Furyk at The Players Championship in March, and he traded as short as 6/1 to become only the sixth player in the history of the sport to complete a Career Grand Slam. McIlroy was further content to talk-up his chances of victory leading-in to the tournament, emphasising how his ongoing collaboration with the Floridian sports psychologist, Dr Clayton Skaggs had enabled him to cultivate a better sense of emotional balance on the golf course, not least through techniques of meditation, mindfulness and even juggling. When push came to shove, however, McIlroy simply didn’t show-up; he trailed the overnight leaders, Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau by six after the opening-round (Tiger was only three-shots better-off at the time) and never played his way back into the tournament. He finished the week in a tie for 21st at 5-under, eight strokes shy of Woods’ winning-total, having made more bogeys (16) than he managed birdies over 72-holes. Indeed, McIlroy failed to sign for a scorecard lower than 70until the final-round (68) and it was the first time he had failed to finish inside of the top-10 at Augusta in six-years. Speaking to the press on Sunday evening, McIlroy commented glibly that: "It seems like you guys are more disappointed than I am". Such may be construed as revelatory of a certain defensiveness; nobody should be more disappointed at the outcome of last week’s tournament than McIlroy and, deep down, it would be a little concerning if he wasn’t galled at finishing so far behind Woods – the player he was supposed to have long since superseded as the dominant force in world golf. With each passing year and each near-miss one cannot help but wonder whether McIlroy might need to win another major elsewhere before he can taste success at Augusta. The pressure, otherwise, simply seems too great. Ultimately, the super-human nature of Woods’ achievement has served to set McIlroy’s sporting mortality in relief. Five seasons on from his last major triumph, it is imperative the Northern Irishman breaks his duck soon; the British Open at his home course of Royal Portrush would seem provide an ideal venue for such a reprieve. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Woods seals victory for the ages at Augusta
Apr 15, 2019 1:17 PM
 
From time to time, sport can produce outcomes that defy conventional analysis; moments of such raw emotional power that journalistic prose is rendered incapable of accounting adequately for the drama and cultural import of the events that unfolded. We witnessed one such moment at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia on Sunday evening as Tiger Woods ended a 14-year wait for a fifth green jacket and an 11-year wait for a fifteenth major championship title, claiming the 83rd Masters by two-strokes away from Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele. Tiger Woods' stunning victory at the Masters tournament Sunday had big rewards for brands that stuck with him. Here are the winners and losers at the Masters. https://t.co/wbwPm2GV2i pic.twitter.com/MYcHxfvuGR— Bloomberg (@business) 15 April 2019 Most remarkable of all, of course, is the fact that he achieved this feat less than 24 months after conceding to close friend, Mark O’Meara that he doubted he would ever play again. Indeed, it bears restating that Woods has undergone seven major back surgeries in the last 10-years, the last a spinal-fusion procedure in 2016, and has endured a sequence of high-profile public humiliations (from the shocking breakdown of his marriage in 2009to his DUI arrest in 2017) sufficient to drive most celebrities permanently out from the public eye. Not Tiger; for better or worse, Woods has always been made of sterner stuff and it felt fitting that he completed arguably the greatest renaissance in sports history at the same venue where he began altering the shape of golf in 1997. Twenty-two years on, a 43-year-old Woods celebrated more wildly than ever before in the company of his mother and children. Remarkably, it was the first time he had ever triumphed at a major from the position of having trailed after 54-holes. It would require the pagination of a telephone book to account fully for the drama that unfolded on the back-nine at Augusta on Sunday. Woods began the day in a tie for second-place with Tony Finau at 11-under, two-strokes shy of the 54-hole leader, Francesco Molinari, and despite reducing the deficit to a single shot upon reaching the fourth tee-box, Molinari had restored a two-shot lead by the time the final group reached the turn. It was on the back-nine that the tournament shifted in Woods’ favour and, as has been the case on so many occasions in the past, the notorious, 147-yard, par-3 twelfth-hole was to prove decisive. First Koepka found the water off the tee, effectively ending his title charge; 10-minutes later, Molinari’s miscued iron shot bounced from the bank and into the most famous stream in golf. It was the least surprising Sunday act that Woods took dead aim for the centre of the green and made a routine par. Molinari’s double-bogey dropped him back to a share of the lead at 11 under.Woods, smelling blood, went on to make birdies at the 13th and 15th holes to seize the outright lead even as Schauffele and Johnson made late surges for the title in the group ahead. Then came what was perhaps his shot of the tournament, a perfect 8-iron at the par-3 16th -- where two aces were made Sunday -- that landed on a slope and trickled down toward the cup, sliding just past the hole. He made the 4-footer for birdie and a two-shot lead. Tiger, young or old, does not fritter that away. Woods had two putts for victory at that 18th; in adding to the drama, he used them. "This is just unreal, to be honest with you,'' Woods reflected. "Just the whole tournament has meant so much to me over the years. Coming here in '95 for the first time and being able to play as an amateur. Winning in '97 and then come full circle 22 years later, to be able to do it again. And just the way it all transpired today.” This was a richly deserved triumph for Woods; suddenly Jack Nicklaus’ record 18-major titles seems back up for grabs. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Molinari poised to frustrate Woods at Augusta
Apr 14, 2019 6:45 AM
 
Tiger Woods has likely grown sick of the sight of Francesco Molinari. Just nine-months after the Italian brushed off a Sunday partnership with Woods to claim his maiden major championship titleat The Open at St Andrews, he is once again poised to frustrate the American’s pursuit of a fifteenth career major championship title. Woods will tee-off for the final-round of the 83rd Masters level with Tony Finau at 11 under par, two adrift of Molinari’s outright lead, and one clear of the three-time major winner, Brooks Koepka who remains very much in contention for the green jacket at 10-under. It’s been 14 years since @TigerWoods last won the Masters. Predictions for his final round today? pic.twitter.com/nvz6bwFZqk — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) 14 April 2019 But as the last 54-holes of golf have made abundantly clear, Woods faces an enormous challenge in seeking to displace the Italian at the summit of the leaderboard; indeed, it cannot be overlooked that all 14 of his major championship titles have been claimed from the position of having held the third-round lead and he benefitted from some quite extraordinary good fortune on Saturday. The 43-year-old found clear paths towards greens despite drives pushed into trees at the 9th and 11th. As he sought to bite off more of the dog leg at the 13th than was safe, it seemed Woods would finally run out of luck. Not so; his ball rebounded from trees and into semi-rough, from where he was able to produce a birdie. Indeed, by the time the former world No.1 carded his sixth birdie of the afternoon on the par-3 sixteenth-hole, he had drawn level for the lead; Augusta began to pulse with a sense of optimistic energy and excitement at the prospect of his claiming a fifth green jacket, 14-years after last triumphing at the Masters. “It's been a while since I've been in contention here,” Woods reflectedafter signing for a 5-under third-round of 67. “But then again, (being in the mix to win) the last two majors counts for something.” Indeed, the 80-time PGA Tour winner shot a final-round 64 to finish second to Koepka at the most recent major, the PGA Championship last August; at The Open Championship the month before that, he signed for a final-round 71 to finish in a tie for sixth. It may well be the case that such recent experience of contending for the sport’s top honours has provided Woods with the crucial psychological edge that will push him over the line on Sunday. To be sure, however, Molinari will not make things easy for the crowd-favourite. The 36-year-old birdied four holes in-a-row between 12 and 16 en route to a 6-under 66 on Saturday and, as if to underline his remarkable composure as a front-runner, he has not carded a single bogey since the eleventh-hole of his opening round. Molinari claimed his third PGA Tour victoryat the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, signing for an 8-under closing-round 64 in the process, and arrived at Augusta ranked No.7 in the worldoff the back of a third-place finish at the WGC-Dell Match Play. It is a testament, ultimately to the insularity of the popular American sporting consciousness that he was not treated more seriously as a potential winner in the lead-up to this event. Molinari may well underscore this point by claiming a maiden green jacket on Sunday. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Woods sparks hopes of 15th major triumph at Augusta
Apr 13, 2019 12:28 PM
Tags: Masters   Tiger Woods   Francesco Molinari   News   pga tour  
 
There was a brief moment on the 14th-hole on Friday when it seemed as though the golfing gods were conspiring to disrupt perhaps the greatest comeback story in sporting history. Tiger Woods, having played himself to within two-strokes of the lead at the 83rd Masters, hit his tee shot left into the crowd, who gathered close around to watch him play his second. After he had hit it they surged in behind him and, in-keeping with his brief, a jittery security guard came hurtling across to make sure they did not come too close. In his eagerness to ensure the player’s well-being, however, the aforementioned guard lost his footing on a wet bank, slipped and allowed his knee to collide with Woods’ right shinas he fell. BIG fist pump. @TigerWoods is one off the lead.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/0SoLtPTUwn— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) 12 April 2019 Cue mass Twitter hysteria as Woods grimaced in pain and skipped gingerly downhill on his left foot. For a brief moment it seemed as though his surge back into major championship contention had been ended prematurely in a most bizarre and unfortunate fashion. As it turned out, however, the collision looked much worse than it actually was. Within yards a rueful smile etched its way across the player’s face; a few minutes later he converted a 25ft birdie putt as if to underline the fact that there had been no lasting damage. As Woods holed out again from long range at the 15th, Augusta’s belief that a fifth Green Jacket could adorn the returning hero was at an all-time high. A cool, 4-under second-round 68 ensured he will begin day three at six under par, one adrift of Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen at the summit of a compelling leader-board. But for a series of squandered opportunities on the greens (he missed twice from within five-feet of the hole on the front-nine) Woods would be firmly in command of this tournament. Still, the 14-time major champion will need to improve his accuracy with the flat-stick if he is to have any chance of displacing Molinari atop the leaderboard. The Italian, who claimed his maiden major championship titleat The Open at St Andrews last year before going on to post a W5-H0-L0 record at the Ryder Cup, was perhaps the most underestimated big-name player coming into this tournament. He claimed his third PGA Tour victoryat the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, signing for an 8-under closing-round 64 in the process, and arrived at Augustaranked No.7 in the worldoff the back of a third-place finish at the WGC-Dell Match Play. The 36-year-old started solidly with a 2-under opening-round of 70 but went three lower on route to a bogey-free 67 on Fridayand looks well placed to sustain such scoring across the weekend. “There’s obviously loads of great players in golf right now,”Molinari said. “I think I’m getting the attention that I deserve and it’s not something that I seek or that I want desperately. I’m happy to go about my business and keep playing good golf.” The Italian may well emerge as Woods’ principal rival over the weekend. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Koepka flexes his muscles to seize early Masters advantage
Apr 12, 2019 12:19 PM
 
It’s not difficult to understand why Brooks Koepka has been attributed with the nickname, ‘Hulk’ by his colleagues in the PGA Tour dressing room. Weighing-in at over 185 pounds composed of toned and refined muscle, the Palm Beach-native has long cut an eye-catchingly hefty figure on the golf-course, exhibiting a physique more akin to that of a light-heavyweight boxer or an NFL line-backer than a regular Tour professional. However, the parallels between Koepka and the legendary green comic-book hero extend well beyond sheer physical bulk; indeed, perhaps the most compelling similarity between the two characters is their capacity to convert a perceived sense of grievance into high calibre performance. Put simply, a riled Brooks Koepka tends to be a dangerous Brooks Koepka, and after having had his title hopes ignored by a curiously indifferent media and his physical fitness questioned by the controversial Golf Channel pundit, Brandel Chamblee, the golfing ‘Hulk’ was not lacking in motivation to perform during the opening-round of the 83rd Masters tournament on Thursday. Commenting on Koepka’s much publicised recent weight-loss programme last week, Chamblee criticised the golfer for placing frivolous bodily aesthetics over golfing performance. Why would a star playing the best golf of his career tinker with his body?The question of Brooks Koepka's weight-loss still looms: https://t.co/vHSfI3I9LA pic.twitter.com/YqKL2B6o9P— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) April 11, 2019 He said Koepka’s decision to lean up and change his body was the "most reckless self-sabotage that I have ever seen of an athlete in his prime". Never mind Koepka being starving, it was Chamblee who was made to eat his words after the 28-year-old took a share of the first-round lead at Augusta thanks to a six-under 66. Furthermore, Koepka hit back at Chamblee after his opening round. He said: "Well, I lift all the time. I lift too many weights and I'm too big to play golf. And then when I lose weight, I'm too small. So, I don't know what to say. "Listen, I'm going to make me happy. I don't care what anybody else says. I'm doing it for me and obviously it seems to work." This was a vintage performance from Koepka who has positioned himself strongly to claim a fourth major championship title in three seasons following back-to-back victories in the US Open in 2017 and 2018 and a triumph at the US PGA Championship last August. The 28-year-old had a quiet front-nine, dropping only a single shot at the par-5 second to reach the turn in 35; however, his scoring ignited on the inward stretch as he converted five birdies in six holes between 10 and 16 to join Bryson DeChambeau atop the overnight leaderboard. Koepka’s form at the Masters has trended continuously upwards over the last three seasons (T33-T21-T11); he is well positioned to maintain such a trajectory over the weekend. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy poised for date with destiny at Augusta
Apr 11, 2019 12:01 PM
Tags: Masters   Rory McIlroy   News   pga tour  
 
Rory McIlroy arrived at Augusta National Golf Club last weekend trading as short as 13/2 to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as only the sixth golfer in the history of the sport to win a career Grand Slam by claiming the green jacket. Not since the Tiger Woods’ heyday has a player been so heavily fancied to win the Masters. There is good reason to feel confident regarding McIlroy hopes of getting over the line in Georgia this week. In seven starts since taking-up full-time membership on the PGA Tour, the Northern Irishman has carded seven top-10 finishes, including a runners-up finish to Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship in February and an emphatic single-stroke victory away from Jim Furyk at The Players Championship three-weeks ago. This dominance is reflected in most of the major statistical indicators of performance quality; indeed, McIlroy leads the PGA Tour in strokes-gained off the tee (1.308) and from tee-to-green (2.415), and ranks 12th and 24th respectively for strokes-gained approaching the green (.753) and around the green (.354). The 83rd Masters is officially underway. pic.twitter.com/CI0dZ1vexA— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) April 11, 2019 A moderate ranking of 57th for strokes-gained putting, meantime, is more than adequate to grind-out a major victory provided his tee-to-green game positions him consistently within birdy-distance of the hole. Indeed, it is striking that from 38 Masters rounds, McIlroy is a combined 11 and 35 over on par threes and fours respectively. Profit has arisen on par fives, where his record is an aggregate of 61 under. Golf is not played on spreadsheets but should McIlroy tidy up his performance on shorter holes while remaining better than proficient on the 2nd, 8th, 13th and 15th, he will be extremely difficult to beat. The effect of heavy overnight rains, softening greens and placing a greater premium on driving-distance, has further tilted course conditions in McIlroy’s favour. Optimism in the 29-year-old’s chances of securing the career-slam has been further enhanced by the fact that, in seven Masters starts since squandering a four-shot 54-hole lead back in 2011, he has carded five top-10 finishes, going T8-4-T10-T7-T5 through his last five starts at Augusta, posting an outstanding cumulative score of 23-under-par in the process. But perhaps the most important factor in persuading the public that McIlroy is ready to win a Masters title has been the striking level of emotional maturity he has demonstrated in early 2019. For too long the Irishman’s performance levels have hinged on his emotional state; an early birdy or early bogey frequently set the tone for entire rounds (even tournaments) as he acquired an additional bounce in his step or allowed his shoulders to slump. Such a mentality could never reliably underpin a title challenge at a tournament as mentally and emotionally taxing as the Masters, and the world No.3’s newfound equanimity under pressure could prove decisive in enabling him to claim a long overdue green jacket. Here’s hoping he can get across the line on Sunday. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
The Masters will provide a litmus test of Spieth’s decline
Apr 10, 2019 2:01 PM
 
There was a brief period last weekend, lasting about 12-hours or so, when all seemed well in the world of Jordan Spieth. The 25-year-old had just signed for a second-consecutive four-under round of 66 to draw level with US Ryder Cup teammate, Rickie Fowler in a tie for second-place after 36-holes of the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio and he looked dangerously poised to end an 18-month trophy drought stretching back as far as his victory at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Suddenly all the speculation regarding putting yips, technical shortcomings and mental fragility seemed to be melting away – the ‘golden boy’ of US golf’s post-Tiger era was back in contention and seemed set to start winning again. A six-over front-nine on Saturday morning, however, immediately ruled Spieth out of the running for the title, and while he rallied with five birdies on the back-nine, he never had any realistic chance of playing his way back into the tournament. An even-par final-round 72 ultimately obliged the three-time major winner to settle for a T30 finish, 13-strokes back from the eventual tournament winner, the Monday qualifier, Corey Conners. Spieth will have grown disconcertingly accustomed to such finishes over the previous two-years; winless in 40 starts worldwide, the Texan has yet to finish higher than T24 through eight starts in 2019 and last recorded a top-10 finish at The Open at St. Andrews last July. Walking on water. @JordanSpieth pulls off the trick shot. pic.twitter.com/MZJexIaHsk— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 10, 2019 Indeed, the University of Texas graduate arrives at Augusta for the Masters this week ranked outside of the world’s top-30 for the first time since breaking into that elite band seven-years ago and appears to be suffering a profound crisis of confidence in both the technical and psychological aspects of his game. It is striking, for instance, that Spieth presently ranks 167th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Total statistic: that is, 135 positions lower than his rank in the same statistic at the same stage of last season, and 2018 will hardly go down as a banner year for the former world No.1. However, if there is one tournament Spieth always seems to raise his game for, it is the Masters. He boasts a sensational T2-W-T2-T11-3 record through five appearances at Augusta; indeed, he is a combined 39-under-par at the Masters since 2014, which is 12 strokes better than any other player in that span. The eyes of the golfing world will consequently be fixed firmly on the 2015 champion when he tees off alongside Paul Casey and Brooks Koepka as part of the last group out at 2pm local time tomorrow, a circumstance the player is well aware of. "My expectations are high this week," Spieth said in a press-conference at Augusta on Tuesday. "I feel great about the state of my game right now. I feel like my recent results aren't a tell of where my game is actually at, and I feel I've made a lot of strides in the last couple days in the tee‑to‑green game, really just off the tee, my long game, which has been the only separation from being able to win golf tournaments over the last month or so. "So I feel really good about my game, where it's at, heading into this week. It's just a matter of trust in the stuff that I'm working on, and I don't feel like I have to play well. I don't feel like there's any added pressure this week. I feel kind of under the radar, which is really nice, and that changes day‑to‑day out here, though." Spieth certainly has good reason to feel confident regarding his chances of contending at Augusta; however, it cannot be overlooked that he has only managed one top-10 result since finishing third at the Masters a year ago. If he fails to produce a compelling performance in Georgia this weekend, there is cause for serious concern regarding the long-term viability of his elite-level career. Here’s hoping Spieth can rediscover some semblance of his best form at the Masters. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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