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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Martin Kaymer keeps Ryder Cup hopes alive at Austrian Open
Apr 16, 2021 11:37 AM
 
An unsympathetic observer could have been forgiven for sneering when Martin Kaymer began his preparation for this week’s Austrian Open with a declaration that he retains hope of securing a spot on the European Ryder Cup team for Whistling Straits in the autumn. Winless in seven years since claiming his second major championship title at the 2014 US Open, the 36-year-old is currently a lowly 47th in the Ryder Cup standings. But with points doubling from mid-May until the end of qualifying in September, he expressed optimism that he can still book his place in the side or earn a wild card from captain, Padraig Harrington. "It's always there, that belief that I can make the Ryder Cup squad, and I think I need a hot summer, a couple of wins maybe," Kaymer reflected upon completing a practice-round at the Diamond Country Club in Atzenbrugg on Wednesday. "If my form is really good three or four weeks before the Ryder Cup maybe it's enough, or maybe Harrington might want me on the team. Who knows? Martin Kaymer appreciation post - 11 European Tour titles- 2 Majors- World No.1- Ryder Cup winning putt- Race to Dubai- European Tour Rookie of the Year pic.twitter.com/Wvcs8lt0HH— Golf Monthly (@GolfMonthly) April 14, 2021 "But I will never give up on that goal because we all know that form is very important when you get into the Ryder Cup”, he added. “You don't always need to play great golf in advance in order to make the team. If you are a hot player two or three months before I think you might have a chance to be on the team." Anyone who watched Kaymer labour to rounds of 77 and 76 to miss the cut on the occasion of his most recent start at the Honda Classic in March might reasonably feel sceptical regarding his chances of returning to the form that earned him wild card selection at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Indeed, he openly admitted that his game is not presently “ready for the PGA Tour”. However, the Düsseldorf-native carded six top-10 finishes on the European Tour last season, including consecutive top-three results at the ISPS Handa UK Championship and Andalucía Masters in September, and returned to the top-100 of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first-time in almost three years. In this context Kaymer’s assertion that “I feel I can win on the European Tour and that is something I'm focusing on for the next few months” may be less fanciful than first meets the eye. The impressive nature of the former world No.1’s opening-round display in Austria suggests he might be poised to vindicate that confidence. He fired six birdies en route to a 4-under 68 to draw to within a stroke of Alejandro Canizares’ overnight lead. If Kaymer can maintain such a rate of scoring across the weekend, he would be well placed to end a gruelling seven-year trophy drought and reposition himself firmly on Harrington’s radar for a Ryder Cup call-up later in the year. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Xander Schauffele is amazing at the majors – until the pressure kicks in
Apr 14, 2021 9:53 AM
 
In the end it was not to be for Xander Schauffele. The 27-year-old teed off for the final-round of the 85th Masters trailing leader, Hideki Matsuyama by four shots. When a double-bogey on the par-four 5th saw him slip seven off the lead, his outside hopes of contending for a maiden green jacket appeared to have vanished. However, Schauffele rallied with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 7 and 8; by the time he reached Augusta’s famed par-3 16th, he had drawn to back to within two of Matsuyama at the summit of the leaderboard. The uncharacteristically sloppy manner of the Japanese’s bogey on the par-5 15th indicated that he may be beginning to wilt under the pressure of the final-round lead. Xander Schauffele drains a long putt for eagle at the par-5 hole No. 15. #themasters pic.twitter.com/6uKxZYFPg5 — The Masters (@TheMasters) April 10, 2021 But just when the stage seemed set for Schauffele to turn the heat up further on his playing partner, he played himself out of the tournament. He flushed his tee-ball into the water before firing his third shot over the back of the green. A triple bogey six removed all pressure from Matsuyama who could afford to play his final three holes in two-over to claim a maiden major championship title by a single stroke. In the case of most 27-year-old golfers making just a fourth Masters appearance, such instances of nervy imprecision could be readily forgiven. However, Schauffele’s case demands an alternative perspective. The San Diego native travelled to Georgia with seven top-10 finishes in 14 career major tournament appearances, including a pair of T2s (2018 Open Championship, 2019 Masters) and a T3 at the 2019 U.S. Open. For a four-time PGA Tour winner ranked inside of the world’s top-5, the next step is obvious; the frustration of Schauffele’s tied-third-place finish at The Masters last week thus derives from the fact it appears to signal an enduring inability to get into the winners’ circle at the highest level of the sport. Indeed, Data Golf statistics indicate that Schauffele is one of the PGA Tour’s worst players when it comes to performing under pressure and it is principally an erratic final-round scoring record that has prevented him from becoming a multi-major champion long before the age of 30. However, golf is an infuriatingly capricious sport and it is perfectly possible (maybe even likely) that if Schauffele keeps putting himself in final-round contention at the majors, eventually the chips will fall his way and he’ll get over the line. After all, even Sergio Garcia managed to nab a green jacket after more than 30 top-10 finishes at major championship level without winning. Nevertheless, Schauffele’s tendency to underperform when the pressure comes in the majors is beginning to develop into a pattern; he is consequently at risk of accreting scar tissue and developing a psychological complex. Here’s hoping he can learn from his error on No.16 last week and make a breakthrough in the near future. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Why Will Zalatoris’ Masters performance was no freak occurrence
Apr 13, 2021 9:36 AM
 
When Will Zalatoris was eliminated by two strokes at the First Stage of the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, he could have been forgiven for growing bitter and losing focus. Just under a year had passed since he was featured on a comically stacked Walker Cup team alongside Collin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ among others (he went 3-1 in a 19-7 drubbing). By the time the Dallas-native missed out on the Korn Ferry Q-School, most of his teammates had progressed to the PGA Tour, with some of them entering into the winners’ circle. It would only be human to feel a little stirring of resentment in such a circumstance; some might even succumb to despondency. Zalatoris, however, responded proactively. Working alongside coaches such as Troy Denton and Josh Gregory, he spent months revamping his putting stroke and, once satisfied, proceeded to chase Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifiers. By 2019, he succeeded in regaining full playing privileges. By the summer of 2020, he’d consolidated his status as the premier player below PGA Tour-level. Indeed, were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent suspension of promotion and relegation between the PGA and Korn Ferry Tours, he would have been plying his trade at the highest level of the professional game months ago. As it happens, Zalatoris finds himself in a unique scenario that is unlikely to be duplicated in the PGA Tour’s modern era. After a sparkling 2020 Korn Ferry Tour campaign that included seven consecutive top-15 finishes and a victory at the TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes, he would have normally secured Tour membership via The 25 last August. 70-68-71-70. A very impressive Masters debut for Will Zalatoris. pic.twitter.com/kIGEgr2bK5— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) April 11, 2021 But because the 2020 and 2021 Korn Ferry seasons have been merged together, the only way Zalatoris can activate PGA Tour membership this year is by winning on the PGA Tour – and, boy, has he come close. He tied for sixth on the occasion of his major championship debut at the US Open at Winged Foot last September to earn a spot in the following week’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. He finished T8 there, then placed T5 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on a sponsor’s invite. With a T16 finish at the Bermuda Championship in early November, the 24-year-old passed the non-member FedExCup Points threshold (top-150 from the 2018-19 season) to secure TOUR Special Temporary Membership – in other words, the ability to accept unlimited TOUR sponsor’s exemptions in a season. Zalatoris hasn’t slowed down. He has continued to earn opportunities and play well, ascending into the top-50 Official World Golf Ranking and earning exemptions in the WGC-Workday Championship at the Concession, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and Masters Tournament, among other TOUR starts. With his outstanding solo second finish at The Masters last week, he stands No. 27 on the Official World Golf Ranking. While as a non-member, he is not currently eligible for the FedExCup Playoff series, one would hesitate to back against him claiming a maiden elite-level title in time to book a place at the Tour Championship at East Lake. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Hideki Matsuyama holds nerve to become Masters champion
Apr 12, 2021 8:00 AM
 
When the history of the 85th Masters comes to be written, the tournament will be seen to have turned upon the session that followed a 75-minute weather delay during the third-round. Hideki Matsuyama was three strokes off the lead when the field was summoned back to the Augusta National clubhouse to shelter from an electrical storm on Saturday afternoon. Having parred each of the opening six holes of his round, he did not appear poised to embark on a sudden, blistering run of low scoring. However, he marked his return to the course with a birdie at the 7th and, by the time he reached Amen Corner, he drawn level with Justin Rose at the summit of the leaderboard. Matsuyama went on to complete the back-nine in six-under par, signing for a bogey-free, 65 to open-up a four-stroke lead atop the summit of the leaderboard. One of the best things we’ve ever produced, starring Hideki Matsuyama and a few of his friends (you may have heard of them): pic.twitter.com/NzpI774y4Y— Stina Sternberg (@StinaSternberg) April 10, 2021 From there, it was simply a question of whether or not he could hold his nerve and maintain a steady rate of scoring into the clubhouse on Sunday to be become the first Asian player to don a Green Jacket and the only Japanese male to win a major. The answer, it transpired, was an emphatic yes. Matsuyama started unconvincingly; a bogey at the 1st meant his lead was cut to one when debutant, Will Zalatoris picked up his second shot of the day on the par-five 2nd hole. However, the leader battled back with a birdie at the 2nd and picked-up two further shots on the final two holes of the front nine to open up a five-stroke lead. Disaster threatened briefly at the 15th when Matsuyama pulled a 180-yard approach shot into the water and needed to scramble to make bogey. Playing partner, Xander Schauffele carded a fourth consecutive birdie on the same hole to draw to within two of the lead. However, peril was to follow for the world No 6, who found water from the tee at the par three 16th and fired his third shot over the green. Matsuyama could exhale. A bogey for the Japanese was fine in context of Schauffele’s six. The pair traded pars on the 17th before Matsuyama teed off on the 72nd hole with a two-shot lead over his nearest challenger, Zalatoris who had already returned to the clubhouse. A closing bogey mattered not; a decade on from winning Low Amateur on the occasion of his Augusta National debut, Matsuyama claimed his maiden major championship title by a shot at 10-under, 278. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Rory McIlroy’s struggles deepen following missed cut at The Masters
Apr 11, 2021 8:11 AM
Tags: Masters   Rory McIlroy   Pete Cowen   News   pga tour  
 
In most cases, when an elite-level golfer is struggling for form or confidence, the clues can be so subtle as to be nigh-on imperceptible. A discerning observer may note, for example, excessive regripping before the player in question addresses an errant tee-shot; alternatively, one may notice an additional, tentative glance toward the hole prior to the execution of a flawed putting stroke. In the case of the most naturally gifted golfer of the present generation of PGA Tour professionals, however, the symptoms off struggle could scarcely be more apparent. Addressing a 180-yard approach into Augusta National’s 7th green during the opening-round of the 85th Masters last Thursday, Rory McIlroy flushed an intended draw-shot directly into the right shin of his father, Gerry who had been standing in the greenside gallery. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he went on to bogey the hole for his third dropped shot of the afternoon. “I was trying to turn the ball off him,” the four-times major winner joked upon returning to the clubhouse. “It was a perfect shot; it was dead straight. But I think he was OK. He didn’t limp away, he walked away pretty swiftly, so that was all right. I knew it was my dad when I was aiming at him, so probably 30 seconds before I hit it.” Rory McIlroy hit his dad with an errant approach shot on No. 7 during the first round of #theMasters pic.twitter.com/uEle8iqeyR— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 8, 2021 “I think he just needs to go and put some ice on,” he added. “Maybe I’ll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him.” McIlroy was rightly praised for the good humour with which he handled questions regarding the incident after signing for a 4-over opening-round of 76. Such cheerfulness comes naturally to an admirably grounded sportsman who has long since established himself as the PGA Tour’s most adept media performer. It was a reflection of the true extent of Northern Irishman’s frustration, therefore, that he refused to speak to the media at all after double-bogeying the par-4 10th en route to a second-round 76 on Friday, a score that resulted in him missing his first Masters in a decade. Indeed, McIlroy can presently be seen to be enduring the most serious slump of a gilded career. Winless in over a year, he has not contended meaningfully for a title since tying for third at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in late January. He missed the cut by 10 shots upon attempting to defend his Players Championship title in March and crashed out at the group-stage of the WGC Match Play event in Austin a fortnight ago. Languishing outside of the world’s top-10 for the first time in over three years, the insipid nature of McIlroy’s performance at Augusta suggests newly appointed swing coach, Pete Cowen has his work cut out in attempting to restore the Northern Irishman to the summit of the world game. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Justin Rose aiming to make up for lost time at Augusta National
Apr 9, 2021 5:33 AM
 
When Justin Rose departed Augusta National’s par-four seventh hole on Thursday, having just three-putted for his second bogey of the opening-round of the 85th Masters, he could have been forgiven for succumbing to a bout of pessimism. After all, the 40-year-old possesses a long track-record of near misses and heartache on the Georgia course. In 2015, he finished as a narrow runner-up to the then fresh-faced and seemingly callow youth, Jordan Spieth. Two seasons later, he was denied a green jacket in a play-off by long-time friend and Ryder Cup colleague, Sergio Garcia. Indeed, Rose has finished inside of the top-15 at The Masters in five of the last seven seasons, but despite consistently positioning himself in final-round contention, he has proven frustratingly unable to add to his maiden major triumph at the 2013 US Open. Struggling both for form (he is winless over two years) and fitness (he was forced to withdraw from last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational with a back injury), he might reasonably have lost focus and motivation following an uncharacteristically sloppy start at Augusta on Thursday. However, the former world No.1 rallied by converting a 10-foot eagle at the eighth and produced an impressive iron shot to set up a close-range birdie at the next to reach the turn in 35. He then went on to convert a 25-foot birdie putt on the 10th and picked up another shot at the par-three 12th, moving him alongside morning clubhouse leaders Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama, before grabbing the outright lead by laying up and nudging in from three feet at the par-five 13th. Rose got up and down from a greenside bunker to birdie the par-five 15th and nailed a 15-footer at the par-three next to extend his advantage, before firing his approach at the 17th to tap-in range for another birdie and then signing off his stunning round with a two-putt par for a seven-under 65. "I've been trying to prepare hard for this Masters." Justin Rose posts 7-under 65, his lowest career round at #themasters. pic.twitter.com/OfASQXR8gj— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 8, 2021 Four strokes clear after the opening day, Rose emphasised the benefits of experience in enabling him to keep his head following a difficult start. "That eagle maybe settled me down if I'm honest," said Rose, who has now held the first-round lead at the Masters four times. "I kind of knew being two over through seven is not the end of the world, but also knew you're going in the wrong direction. "You can't win the golf tournament today, and even with a 65 you can't win it today, but you can only probably lose it today, obviously. And I was very aware of that being a couple over through seven. I didn't hit the panic button, but I reset just prior to that and thought if I can get myself back around even par, that would be a good day's work.” With Rose looking back to something approaching his best, the chasing pack have much catching-up to do. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Why Rory McIlroy begins the Masters as a true wildcard
Apr 7, 2021 6:03 AM
Tags: Masters   Rory McIlroy   News   pga tour   Jordan Spieth  
 
Like the blooming of the azaleas along Magnolia Lane, the debate regarding Rory McIlroy’s chances of claiming a maiden green jacket and, with it, the career Grand Slam has become an annual feature of the weeks preceding the Masters. Only five players in the history of golf have ever succeeded in winning all four of the sport’s most coveted titles: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan. Every year since adding the British Open to his US Open and US PGA Championship accolades in 2014, McIlroy has travelled to Augusta National seeking to become the sixth. He has come close – tantalisingly so. Indeed, the Northern Irishman has finished inside of the top-10 at the Masters in six of the last seven seasons and has regularly formed part of the final pairing out of the clubhouse for the final-round. Still, he has never managed to close the deal and arrives at Augusta this week seeking to play his way out of a troubling slump in form. Rory McIlroy's first round as a father is something for all new dads to aspire to. #themasters pic.twitter.com/XZg5OZogG8— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 6, 2021 Winless in over a year since, McIlroy has not contended meaningfully for a title since tying for third at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in late January. He missed the cut by 10 shots on the occasion of his most recent stroke-play appearance at The Players Championship in March and crashed out at the group-stage of the WGC Match Play event in Austin a fortnight ago. Languishing outside of the world’s top-10 for the first time in over three years, his chances of ending a seven season wait for a career grand slam have seemed seldom appeared more remote. Nevertheless, the betting markets price him as a 14-1, fifth favourite to triumph this weekend, level with former Masters champion, Jordan Spieth, and McIlroy has expressed optimism regarding the impact of his new collaboration with renowned English swing coach, Pete Cowen. "He's got a lot of knowledge and a lot of wisdom ... That's the reason I brought him in," McIlroy said of Cowen. "It's basically just about trying to understand the body movements a little bit more and sort of understanding why certain shots happen and how to fix those on the fly." "When you don't understand why you're hitting certain shots, you can become lost and you can start to think of all sorts of stuff," he concluded. "I felt like every time I was going to the range, I was trying something different." It is frequently observed that, at 31, McIlroy can no longer assume he will have lots of chances to win the Masters. But before writing him off, it is worth recalling that Phil Mickelson, owner of three green jackets, only claimed his first Masters win in 2006 at the tender age of 34. Even struggling for form, a player of McIlroy’s unique physical and technical abilities can never be discounted at a major. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Jordan Spieth has Masters in sight after 'monumental' win at Texas Open
Apr 5, 2021 6:45 AM
 
As Easter resurrections go, they tend seldom to get more dramatic than that achieved by Jordan Spieth at the Valero Texas Open on Sunday. The former world No.1, as is well known, endured a shocking slump in form in the years following his third major triumph at 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017. He managed just six 10 top-10 finishes in over 50 starts during the 2018 and 2019 campaigns and missed three times as many cuts (6) as he recorded top-10 finishes through 20 starts in last term. Upon making his first start of the 2021 campaign at Torrey Pines in January, a second-round 75 meant he missed the cut by a single shot and his world ranking tumbled to No.92. To observe that he was locked in a vicious cycle was an understatement. Then, almost out of the blue, he carded three rounds in the 60s, including a sensational third-round 61, en route to a tied-fourth finish at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix. The following week, he signed for rounds of 65 and 67 to finish tied-third at the Pebble Beach Pro-AM. He proceeded to tie-15th at the Genesis Invitational and fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and recovered from an indifferent Players Championship performance (T48) with a tied-ninth finish at the WGC Match Play event in Austin. After nearly 4 Long years...Your 2021 Valero Texas Open Champion, Ladies and Gentlemen: Jordan Spieth pic.twitter.com/fj0dDssyLj— Spieth Tracker (@Spieth_Tracker) April 4, 2021 Restored to the cusp of the world’s top-50 and back contending regularly at the business end of PGA Tour leaderboards, the 27-year-old had legitimately begun to refer to his ‘slump’ in the past tense. All he required to truly re-establish himself among the favourites for the opening major championship of the season at Augusta this week was a victory; the significance of his triumph in San Antonio last Sunday can only be understood fully in that wider context. Spieth teed-off for the final round of the Texas Open in a share of the lead with in-form Englishman, Matt Wallace; former winner, Charley Hoffman was positioned ominously two strokes further back. However, Spieth had opened up a two-shot lead by the turn thanks to birdies at the second, third (where he hit his tee shot to two feet), sixth and eighth, either side of his only bogey of the day at the fourth. Hoffman’s flawless 66 dragged him to within one of Spieth with two holes to play, but the one-time Masters champion kept his cool to birdie 17 and close out his first PGA Tour triumph in four years. "This is a monumental win for me. It's one that I've certainly thought about for a long time," Spieth reflected upon returning to the clubhouse. "I felt really light. I just wanted to come out and smile and try and have some fun. That's been kind of a challenge for me on these Sundays when I've been in contention, I've not come out with a real lightness to me and today I did. "It's been a long road. I never really doubted myself that I'd get back to where I wanted to go but when you lose confidence a lot of times it's hard to see the positives going forward and I just kept my head down. I owe a lot of people thanks. It's a team and a team effort and I've been blessed to work with the best in the world at everything they do." Spieth, who claimed his maiden major championship title at the Masters six years ago, will now travel to Augusta trading among the favourites to win the first major of the season. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Fowler seeking to salvage Masters hopes at Valero Texas Open
Apr 2, 2021 5:55 AM
 
For those who have yet to be provided with an Augusta National tee-time, victory at the event slated the week before the Masters comes with a noteworthy bonus – it secures an invite the opening men’s major of the season. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Valero Texas Open field is filled with big-name PGA Tour stars seeking to play their way into next week’s Masters draw. Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, former world No 1 Luke Donald, 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell and Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello are part of the European contingent all requiring a winning week, with England's Tom Lewis and Scotland's Russell Knox also not yet holding an invite. World No 63 Erik van Rooyen is the highest-ranked player in action in Texas and currently not in the Masters field, while compatriot Branden Grace needs a win as his Puerto Rico Open victory in February - an opposite-field - did not offer Augusta qualification to the champion. Adam Long and Brendan Steele are among those inside the world's top 100 without an invite to the Masters, with Charley Hoffman - the first-round leader in 2017 and a player with a consistent record at Augusta - also not yet in the field. Unquestionably, however, the highest-profile player competing in Texas who has yet to secure a Masters invite is Rickie Fowler. Featured Groups for this week’s @ValeroTXOpen: Phil Mickelson Matt Kuchar Hideki Matsuyama Tony Finau Cameron Champ Joel Dahmen Jordan Spieth Ryan Palmer Corey Conners Gary Woodland Rickie Fowler Scottie Scheffler pic.twitter.com/MWlQ27OGpE— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 30, 2021 The 32-year-old has featured in the last 41 consecutive majors, including every edition of The Masters since his debut in 2011. Indeed, he finished as a runner-up at Augusta as recently as 2018 and owns two other top-10 finishes at the Georgia event. However, Fowler is winless since in two full seasons since claiming his fifth PGA Tour accolade at the 2019 Phoenix Open, and after missing four times as many cuts (8) as he registered top-10 finishes (2) in 2020, he has picked-up where he left off in 2021, missing three cuts and failing to finish higher than 20th in his first eight starts of the season. Fowler consequently travels to San Antonio this week ranked outside of the world’s top-90, a circumstance that prompted six-time major winner, Nick Faldo to publish a tweet suggesting the California native is more concerned with lucrative endorsement deals than achieving consistent success on the golf course. Fowler, however, is not taking the bait. "No, I know where Nick was trying to come from on that," Fowler told reporters in San Antonio on Tuesday, "and it's like competitor to competitor, you're trying to needle each other and get each other going type of thing. “I'm going to keep kicking down the door”, he concluded. “If we're able to do something special in the next few weeks before Augusta, we'll be there. If not, we'll keep grinding and we'll be back in the winner's circle soon." [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Billy Horschel fends off Scottie Scheffler to win WGC Matchplay
Mar 31, 2021 4:17 AM
 
When in 2014 Billy Horschel won the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship consecutively en route to becoming the first player to claim the season-ending FedEx Cup play-off series while ranked outside of the world’s top-20, it seemed only a matter of time until he made a breakthrough at major championship level. The Floridian had, after all, been earmarked for success by PGA Tour insiders ever since qualifying for the 2006 US Open as a 17-year-old; he went on to post a 3–1 record for the victorious US Walker Cup team the following year and turned pro in 2010. By the end of 2013, Horschel had already collected his maiden PGA Tour prize at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans by a single shot away from D.A Points after tying for fourth at the US Open. The fact that he directly outshot players of the calibre of Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk and Rory McIlroy in order to win the FedEx the following season seemed to confirm an ability to transfer his enormous amateur-level talents on to the professional stage. The master of Match Play. Billy Horschel is your 2021 #DellMatchPlay Champion! pic.twitter.com/3CkZ8zyW8x — WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (@DellMatchPlay) March 28, 2021 In addition to affording the then 27-year-old a fat, $11 million winners cheque, the playoff victory propelled Horschel up as high as 12th in the Official World Golf Rankings and ensured that he would be a regular fixture at major championship level. But instead of kicking-on towards the summit of the rankings, Horschel’s progress stalled. Three seasons would pass before he claimed a fourth PGA Tour accolade at the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic in the summer of 2017, and while he added a further bauble alongside Scott Piercy at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans the following season, he had long since ceased to be regarded as a coming force at the highest level of the professional game. Indeed, Horschel arrived in Austin to contest the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship last week ranked 34th in the world, and while he had impressed in finishing as a runner-up at the opening World Golf Championship event of the season at The Concession club, he remained winless in over two years at all levels of the professional game. Faced against a field containing players of the calibre of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, there was little reason to feel optimistic regarding Horschel’s chances of returning to winning ways. However, the 34-year-old burned through a group containing world No.4 Collin Morikawa, as well as J.T. Poston and Max Homa, and after dispatching Kevin Streelman and Tommy Fleetwood in the last-16 and quarter-finals respectively, he saw off the world No.31-ranked Frenchman, Victor Perez to setup a surprise final clash against the No.30 seed, Scottie Scheffler. In a tense, attritional affair featuring just two birdies and lasting over four hours, Horschel sealed victory on the 17th to claim a sixth PGA Tour accolade just over a week out from the Masters. Not a bad time to return to winning ways and retake a place among the world’s top-20. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy’s Masters hopes fade following early WGC Match Play exit
Mar 27, 2021 7:31 AM
 
As Rory McIlroy advanced to the 17th hole of his final group fixture against Cameron Smith at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play event in Texas last Saturday, he retained hope of progressing to the knock-out phase. So long as Ian Poulter failed defeat Lanto Griffin in the group’s other third-round fixture, a victory over Smith would have provided the Northern Irishman with an unlikely passage into the round-of-16. As it transpired, however, McIlroy’s final act of any meaning at Austin Country Club was to strike a clean wedge off the tee and watch as it kicked left over the rocks and down into the greenside water hazard, gifting Smith a one-hole lead with a hole to play. The former world No.1 holed a putt for birdie from off the final green to salvage a half; however, his fate had been long since sealed. As if to add insult to injury, Poulter, who had humiliated McIlroy en route to a 6&5 victory the previous day, sealed a late 2&1 triumph to book his spot in the last-16. Under normal circumstances, a sympathetic observer might reasonably compartmentalise McIlroy’s performance in Texas when assessing his hopes of ending a seven year wait for a career Grand Slam at the Masters next month. Match play, after all, is a discipline unto itself; it’s very structure incentives an aggressive style of play that results, not uncommonly, in misfortune such as that which befell McIlroy on 17th green on Saturday. Rory McIlroy has sent his ball for a swim in a nearby pool at the #WGCMatchPlay! Watch Featured Match coverage live now on Sky Sports Golf!— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) March 24, 2021 Sergio Garcia might easily have succumbed to a similar fate in his final group fixture against Lee Westwood had his spectacular, play-off winning tee-shot travelled just a yard or two further prior to landing on the same putting surface. The difficulty, though, is that the imprecision that cost McIlroy his chance of defeating Smith and advancing to the knock-out phase has been a persistent feature of his performances for over a year. The 31-year-old, it bears restating, was the form player in the world when the PGA Tour ground to a halt owing to the initial outbreak of COVID-19 just over 12 months ago. After winning four times in 2019, the then world No.1 arrived at TPC Sawgrass to defend his Players Championship title last March off the back of seven consecutive top-5 finishes. He was trading as odds-on favourite to secure a career grand slam at the 83rd Masters last April. Then, of course, COVID-19 intervened. The Players was abandoned after just 18-holes and more than two months would pass before McIlroy returned to the course at the Charles Schwab Challenge last July. By that time, all the momentum he had generated over the back end of 2019 and the early months of 2020 had dissipated and he struggled badly for form. Indeed, McIlroy managed just three top-10s in 13 appearances following the COVID-19 lockdown and an indifferent start to the 2021 campaign ensured that he arrived in Austin to contest the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last week ranked outside of the world’s top-10 for the first time in over three years. Clearly, this circumstances of McIlroy’s elimination in Texas did little to abate this decline; he consequently travels to Georgia to contest the Masters in a fortnight’s time devoid of a victory in over 16 months. It is difficult, therefore, to feel optimistic regarding his hopes of ending a seven year wait for a fifth major championship title. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Jordan Spieth reveals centrality of hand injury to decline in form
Mar 26, 2021 8:47 AM
 
As slumps in form go, they seldom get more dramatic than that which Jordan Spieth has endured over the previous three seasons. Consider that between April 2015 and June 2016, there was only one week he was positioned outside the top two places in the Official World Golf Rankings. In that time he won the Masters and US Open and was within a shot of the play-off that decided the 2015 Open at St Andrews. At that point he was chasing history, a calendar year grand slam of major titles. Two seasons later he claimed the Claret Jug with a brilliant victory at Royal Birkdale. And then he stopped winning. He managed just six 10 top-10 finishes in over 50 starts during the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. Through 20 starts in 2020, he missed three times as many cuts (6) as he recorded top-10 finishes. You don't see this every day. @JordanSpieth's drive on the 13th hole bounced off the cart path and rolled passed Patrick Cantlay as he was putting ... ... on the 15th hole. pic.twitter.com/EbJ2gi2XNM — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 24, 2021 Upon making his first start of the 2021 campaign at Torrey Pines in January, a second-round 75 meant he missed the cut by a single shot and his world ranking tumbled to 92. To observe that he was locked in a vicious cycle was an understatement. Then, almost out of the blue, he carded three rounds in the 60s, including a sensational third-round 61, en route to a tied-fourth finish at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix. The following week, he signed for rounds of 65 and 67 to finish tied-third at the Pebble Beach Pro-AM. He has since gone on to tie-15th at the Genesis Invitational and fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Restored to the cusp of the world’s top-50, the 27-year-old is increasingly coming to refer to his ‘dip’ in form in the past tense. It was fascinating, therefore, to listen to Spieth elaborate on the role played by a hand injury in deepening his recent technical struggles. "It's just a matter of how bad it's bugging you and it was for a while there in the spring of 2018 through that fall," Spieth reflected ahead of this week's WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin. "Then it got a little better probably because I started swinging so poorly. "As the year went on my grip got weaker. It was 100 per cent responsible for me not being able to strengthen my grip, which in turn then is probably normally the first thing guys go to if something gets a little bit off,” he concluded. “Everybody's got some reason for something that they get off. That was mine, and I certainly could have handled it differently. I didn't really know what to do and I just ended up playing through it. I feel good that right now it's not an issue. I don't feel it now, which is nice." Ultimately, Spieth’s decision to reveal details of his persistent fitness struggle serves only to set the scale of his recent accomplishment in recovering his form in even sharper relief. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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