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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
PGA Tour stars are about to get even richer with new incentive scheme
Apr 22, 2021 9:23 AM
 
There are manifold legitimate critiques fans and pundits can proffer regarding the extraordinary salaries reaped by elite-level athletes. Indeed, at a time of global economic hardship occasioned by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trappings of international sporting stardom – the gilded mansions, private jets, multi-million-dollar sponsorship deals and so on – can seem particularly offensive. But as distasteful as gross inequity in material comfort may seem in any facet of life, top-level athletes have always had a compelling rebuke to such criticism. Sport, after all, can be seen the ultimate meritocracy and those who work hard enough to cultivate the physical, technical and psychological abilities required to out-perform their rivals on a regular basis are, by the logic of meritocracy, fully deserving of the rewards with which they are bestowed. But as the controversy surrounding recent proposals to form a breakaway European soccer ‘Super League’ illustrates, the meritocratic justification for income inequality is undermined when elite performers are seen to exploit their status and reward themselves financially in a manner that discriminates against less prominent competitors. In other words, once the equality of opportunity inherent in the concept of open competition is disregarded and elites are seen to be reinforcing a position of financial privilege, it becomes very difficult to justify material inequality. It is for this reason that the economic architecture of the PGA Tour’s new Player Impact Program, as reported by Golfweek, seems problematic. Spooked by the prospect of its biggest stars defecting to a Saudi-backed ‘Premier League of Golf’, the Tour has implemented a new incentive structure designed to compensate players who are judged to drive fan and sponsor engagement. In other words, the PGA Tour’s richest and most successful stars are about to get even richer. A PGA Tour spokesperson confirmed to Golfweek that the Player Impact Program began January 1 to “recognize and reward players who positively move the needle.” At the end of the year, a pool of $40 million will be distributed among 10 players, with the player deemed most valuable receiving $8 million. 2 years ago today, Tiger Woods (+1400) won his 5th Masters pic.twitter.com/rullC0q5Wu— Barstool Sportsbook (@BSSportsbook) April 14, 2021 The 10 beneficiaries will be determined based on their “Impact Score,” a number generated from six separate metrics that are designed to quantify that individual’s added value. These include: their position on the season-ending FedEx Cup points list; their popularity in Google Search; their Nielsen Brand Exposure rating; their Q Rating, which measures the familiarity and appeal of a player’s brand; their MVP Index rating, which calibrates the value of the engagement a player drives across social and digital channels; and their Meltwater Mentions, or the frequency with which a player generates coverage across a range of media platforms. Put simply, the PGA Tour has ceased distributing prize money based solely on players’ performance inside the ropes and has begun rewarding its members for their popularity off the golf course. This is a circumstance with which all fans supportive of an equitable competitive infrastructure should take issue. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Martin Kaymer’s trophy wait goes on following near miss at Austrian Open
Apr 21, 2021 4:46 AM
 
In the end it was not to be for Martin Kaymer. Winless in seven years since claiming his second major championship title at the 2014 US Open, the former world No.1 teed-off for the final-round of the Austrian Open in Atzenbrugg last week in a share of the lead alongside Spaniard, Alejandro Canizares. Less than two years after losing his PGA Tour playing card and plummeting outside of the world’s top-200, he was suddenly being discussed as a potential candidate for Ryder Cup selection come the autumn. "It doesn't really matter what happens tomorrow, if you win or not it's nice to be in that position, to have an opportunity to win a golf tournament," Kaymer reflected after signing for a 3-under third-round 69 to move into a share of the 54-hole lead. "Last year I had a couple of chances which I didn't use. More often as you get into that position I think you get more comfortable and then it's just a matter of time.” Chasing dreams, @JohnCatlin59 #AustrianGolfOpen— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) April 19, 2021 As it transpired, however, the Austrian Open was emphatically not Kaymer’s time. A bogey at the par-5 opening hole immediately put him on the back-foot and, when he double-bogeyed the par-4 third, his hopes of ending a seven-season trophy drought looked to have all but evaporated. Strikingly, he had been at least two under par upon reaching the fifth tee-box in each of his opening three rounds; it appeared the pressure associated with attempting to end a long winless drought was once more undermining his play. Indeed, Kaymer was three-over for the day upon reaching the turn, and while he rallied impressively with four birdies in his final six holes to sign for a 2-under total of 70, he ultimately finished three strokes outside the play-off contested by American, John Catlin and Germany's Maximilian Kieffer. Clearly there are a great many positives Kaymer can draw from the nature of his performance in Atzenbrugg. In addition to consolidating his position inside of the world’s top-100 and rising as high as No.57 in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, he has climbed to No.35 in the European Ryder Cup points race. However, Sunday marked the occasion of the 36-year-old’s third top-3 finish on the European Tour in the last seven months; faced against relatively weak fields, they are events a player possessed of Kaymer’s outstanding physical and technical abilities should be winning. Kaymer admitted last week that his game is not presently at the level required to compete on the US PGA Tour, but if he is unable to close out victories against fields such as that which comprised last week’s Austrian Open, it is difficult to see where his next victory is likely to come from. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Stewart Cink wins third RBC Heritage title
Apr 19, 2021 5:14 AM
 
When Stewart Cink ended an 11 season PGA Tour trophy drought at the Safeway Open in California last September, the win was understandably framed as an appropriate romantic swansong for a venerable professional entering into the winter of his career. It is striking, therefore, that seven months on, the 47-year-old’s emphatic four stroke-victory at the RBC Heritage eventis being treated, less as an idealised ‘last goodbye’, than as heralding the beginning of a late career renaissance. No sooner had the 2009 Open Champion returned to the Harbour Town clubhouse than reporters began quizzing him about his hopes of returning the to the US Ryder Cup fold for the first time in a decade. He had, after all, just jumped 13 spots in the points race up to No.24, as well as climbing back into the top-50 of the world rankings. “Not really,” Cink replied when asked if the possibility of making a return in the biennial event as part of Steve Stricker’s side was beginning to be in his mind after some fans had greeted his win with a shout of ‘Ryder Cup, see you at Whistling Straits’. “At 47, I just don't have this endless supply of energy, and I need to kind of like keep my decision-making to a minimum. As it turns out, I think that having two wins in between the US Opens, maybe I might be exempt for the US Open (at Torrey Pines in June) now, I'm not really sure, but I'm hoping that I can get out of that 36-hole qualifier.” 63-63-69-70. What a week for @StewartCink alongside his son, Reagan. pic.twitter.com/ZXoShzl0Qv— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 18, 2021 This was a vintage performance from Cink who broke the 36-hole and 54-hole scoring records at Hilton Head to take a five-shot advantage into the final day. The closest challenge came from Harold Varner III and Emiliano Grillo, who shared second on 15 under; however, no one could get close enough to the leader to exert meaningful pressure. Cink closed with a stress-free 70 for a 19-under-par total and a third career triumph at Harbour Town following on from previous successes in 2000 and 2004. Remarkably, the triumph has elevated Cink to third in the FedExCup standings. The only other players aged 47 or older to win more than once in the same season on the PGA Tour since 1960 are Sam Snead, Julius Boros and Kenny Perry, who achieved the feat twice, most recently in 2009. “This week I threw some really good execution in there and our game plan was solid,” said Cink of his week’s workalong with his son and caddie, Reagan. “This course just demands so much discipline, and I was able to stay committed. It's believing that the game plan is there for a reason, and we stayed with it. “It was just a really good, solid week all the way through. It was pretty spectacular the first two days, just like I could do no wrong.” [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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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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