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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Thomas eyeing return to top-spot in 2019
Dec 18, 2018 1:37 PM
 
The 2018 golfing year has thrown-up no shortage of compelling storylines; from Tiger’s renaissance and Spieth’s demise, to Koepka’s ascension to the world No.1 slot and Molinari’s major breakthrough, the past 12-months have been some of the most absorbing in the sport’s recent history. A conspicuous absentee from this list of headline grabbers is one Mr. Justin Thomas, a circumstance few would have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Thomas, after all, was the standout player of 2017 and was deservedly conferred with the PGA Tour’s coveted Player of the Year accolade last November. In addition to claiming his maiden major championship triumph by two-strokes away from Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen and Patrick Reed at the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, he won three regular Tour events (the Tournament of Champions, the Hawaiian Open and the CJ Cup in South Korea) and triumphed at the Dell Technologies Championship en route to claiming the FedEx Cup Play-Off title. Put simply, Thomas was the dominant force in world golf in 2017 and, as this blog reflected 12-months ago, he appeared strongly positioned to maintain his ascent the following year. Ever wonder exactly how tour pros practice?From everyday practice to his pre-round warm-up, Justin Thomas breaks down his routines to help your practice sessions become more efficient and effective.https://t.co/Y38MsDe535— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) December 17, 2018 This has not panned out in the manner that many commentators predicted. Now, it must be acknowledged at the outset of this discussion that, by the standards of 95% of practicing Tour professionals, Thomas has enjoyed an outstanding 2018 campaign. In addition to winning his eighth-career PGA Tour title in a play-off against Luke List at the Honda Classic in February, he claimed his maiden World Golf Championship accolade at the Bridgestone Invitational in August, and twice displaced Dustin Johnson at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings, albeit very briefly. Thomas, however, is not a regular Tour professional and will inevitably be assessed in light of the expectations generated by his achievements in 2017. Evaluated by those lofty standards, it is difficult not to deem his 2018 campaign a slight disappointment. It is striking, for instance, that he missed the cut at The Open Championship at Carnoustie in July and failed to finish better that T17 at The Masters and US Open (T25). He produced a more convincing performance when attempting to retain the Wannamaker trophy at Bellerive in August, tying for sixth, yet even then he finished six shots shy of Koepka’s winning total and never meaningfully contended for the title. At 25, Thomas has time on his side in his quest to establish himself as the foremost practitioner of the post-Tiger generation and can draw solace from an outstanding Ryder Cup performance in Paris (four points from five matches). Nevertheless, he is set to end 2018 one place lower down the world rankings (No.4) than that in which he began it and continues to trail Spieth, Koepka and McIlroy in the major stakes. He will be looking for an improvement in 2019. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy in search of New Year boost at Kapalua
Dec 17, 2018 1:41 PM
 
It is a testament to the relentlessness characteristic of the contemporary sporting landscape that just two-weeks after the final PGA Tour event of 2018 concluded, media attention has already shifted to the beginning of the 2019 campaign at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course at Kapalua on 3 January. With a field restricted to those who won on the PGA Tour in the previous calendar year, the Maui event provides a pleasingly star-studded curtain-raiser every 12-months, and the excitement generated by the 2019 event is heightened owing to the fact that four-time major champion, Rory McIlroy is set to make his debut. The Northern Irishman, of course, has been eligible to contest the Tournament of Champions for most of the last decade; however, European Tour membership has previously obliged him to partake in the later competition’s season-opening events in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This scheduling conflict ceased to be an issue in November when McIlroy controversially relinquished his European Tour membership to better prepare for the three American major championships. In contrast to the European Tour which has shifted a majority of the Rolex series events to the back-end of the year (the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, for instance, has moved to September), the PGA Tour has frontloaded its 2019 schedule (the FedEx Cup playoffs will conclude in August, just five weeks after The Open) and McIlroy is firmly of the opinion that by focusing his game on America he can enhance his hopes of ending a four-year major championship drought. What Rory owes the European Tour: zero. He has long since repaid any debt. https://t.co/Cq4rPim9mU via @golfweek— Eamon Lynch (@eamonlynch) December 17, 2018 A victory at Kapalua, of course, would provide the 30-year-old with a welcome sense of vindication and there is good reason to feel optimistic regarding his chances of contending on a receptive, 7,452 yard, par 73-track that places a far higher premium on distance off the tee than on accuracy with an iron in hand. It is striking, for instance, that the last two winners of the Tournament of Champions, Justin Thomas (2017) and Dustin Johnson (2018) ranked third and first respectively for driving-distance on the PGA Tour in the previous calendar year; Rory finished second to DJ for driving-distance in 2018 and ranked top-10 for strokes-gained off the tee, strokes-gained tee-to-green and strokes-gained total. No.8 in the world, McIlroy endured a solid if ultimately frustrating 2018; while he impressed in claiming the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, he spurned a number of strong 54-hole positions at major championships and failed to make an impact in the FedEx Cup play-offs. A fresh start at Kapalua on the PGA Tour has the potential to re-energise a stagnating routine; victory may well provide the Northern Irishman with a platform from which he can end a four-year winless run at the majors. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Rose’s strange relation to the world No.1 spot endures at Indonesian Masters
Dec 16, 2018 11:33 AM
 
To say that Justin Rose has endured an ambivalent relation to the world No.1 spot over the past three-months would be an understatement. The 38-year-old initially ascended to the summit of the rankings after blowing the BMW Championship in spectacular fashion at Aronimink Golf Club in September only to relinquish it the following week owing to the strength of Brooks Koepka’s performance at the Tour Championship. Rose again acceded to top-spot three weeks later following a fortuitous victory at the Turkish Airlines Open; however, Koepka’s triumph at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges swiftly resulted in the Englishman being bumped back into second. Rose endured yet another peculiar brush with top-spot at the Indonesian Masters this afternoon. The 12-time European Tour winner teed-off for the final-round in Jakarta in a share of fourth, confident in the knowledge that he only needed to tie for 16th with one other player to replace Koepka at the top of the rankings going into 2019. Justin Rose’s Indonesian Open meltdown costs him top ranking https://t.co/73e7Ajf77P via @IrishTimesSport— Irish Times Sport (@IrishTimesSport) December 16, 2018 However, an uncharacteristically disastrous performance ensured that even this modest target was unachievable; he will consequently begin the New Year at No.2 in the world. Beginning the day seven strokes off the pace, Rose bogeyed the first and double-bogeyed the next after two poor chips from the bottom of a greenside bank. Worse was to come at the 12th when he had a reasonably makeable birdie putt but ended up with a triple bogey, which he followed with another bogey at the 13th. The Olympic champion birdied his final two holes amid gusting winds as a storm bore down on the course but it was too little, too late and he signed for a three-over-par 75 which left him in a share of 17th on six-under, 14 strokes back from wire-to-wire winner Poom Saksansin. Ultimately, it is difficult not to feel it fitting that Koepka will end 2018 at the summit of the world rankings, for as exceptional as Rose’s campaign has been (two victories and six top-threes in 23 starts), it simply does not compare to that of Koepka. The 28-year-old became the first golfer in more than three decades to retain the US Open title at Shinnecock in June; two-months later he shot a pair of 66s on the weekend to set a 72-hole PGA Championship scoring record on his way to holding off Woods by two strokes at Bellerive. He claimed his third title of the campaign at the CJ Cup in Korea in October. Those triumphs have positioned Koepka strongly to emerge as the most decorated major-level golfer of the Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas generation and he richly deserved the PGA Tour Player of the Year accolade with which he was conferred in October. Rose has been outstanding for two straight seasons; the problem is that Koepka has been a little bit better. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
On Bubba Watson’s strange end to 2018
Dec 15, 2018 9:20 AM
 
As Bubba Watson puts his clubs back in the garage and opens-up a beer to relax during the festive period, he can justifiably reflect positively on his achievements over the past 12-months. The 40-year-old began 2018 at a desperately low-ebb. Winless since claiming his ninth PGA Tour title at Riviera back in February 2016, Watson had registered just three top-10s in 23 starts in 2017; he was controversially overlooked for Ryder Cup selection at Hazeltine, and allowed his ranking to plummet from 4th in the world as of 19 February 2016 down to 117th as of 19 February 2018. Whatever way you parsed it, Watson bore many of the hallmarks of a player enduring an irrevocable cycle of late-career decline. As results continued to slump, there was even speculation that the two-time Masters champion might be set to walk away from the game. It was in this context that his two-shot triumph away from fellow Americans Kevin Na and Tony Finau at the Genesis Open in February came as such a shock; in addition to catapulting him back inside of the world’s top-50, the victory rendered Watson a serious candidate for Ryder Cup inclusion and positioned him strongly to contend at the Tour Championship. Bubba isn't putting his clubs away for good just yet...https://t.co/um1ztVwlq6— bunkered (@BunkeredOnline) December 13, 2018 This comeback narrative was burnished when he claimed his second victory of the season at the WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in March, and he swiftly went on to claim victory number-three at The Travelers Championship in June. Suddenly, Watson was back up to No.11 in the world; he led the FedEx Cup points race and was effectively assured of a Ryder Cup slot. Understandably, Floridian’s form dipped after this exceptional run; indeed, he missed three-cuts in four starts at the US Open, The Open and the Canadian Open after triumphing at TPC River Highlands. The slight negative take-away from Watson’s 2018 campaign, however, is the fact that he never really got his rhythm back. He missed his third major cut of the season at the US PGA Championship at Bellerive in August; he tanked at the Ryder Cup (W1-H0-L3) and failed to finish higher than T7 through his final five starts of the season encompassing the FedEx Cup play-offs. Ultimately, any campaign comprising three victories and a 100-place surge up the world rankings has to be regarded in a positive manner; however, it is legitimate to ponder how well-set Watson is to rediscover his best level in 2019. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Spieth vs Reed psycho-drama shows few signs of letting-up
Dec 14, 2018 1:01 PM
Tags: Ryder Cup   Patrick Reed   News   pga tour   Jordan Spieth  
 
Another week, another story shedding light on the internal dressing-room tensions that so undermined the US Ryder Cup team’s efforts to retain the trophy in Paris in October. The highest profile story to emerge from America’s emphatic 17½-10½ defeat to Europe at Le Golf National, of course, was captain, Jim Furyk‘s decision not to pair Joran Spieth and Patrick Reed together in team-play on either Friday or Saturday. The Texan-duo combined to claim 2.5 points from four matches in helping the US win the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine and had also performed strongly as a pairing at President’s Cup level. It came as something of a surprise, therefore, when Spieth partnered Justin Thomas in the fourballs and foursomes sessions in Paris, while Reed was paired with Tiger Woods. The issue famously came to a head during the American squad’s formal post-tournament press conference. One of the final questions posed to Furyk’s team regarded the captain’s decision to pair Spieth with Thomas ahead of Reed. Spieth stepped in to answer diplomatically in the press-conference as Reed glared from the other end of the 12-man table, stating: “We were totally involved in every decision that was made. Jim allowed it to be a player-friendly environment.” It appears the Ryder Cup drama isn't over. Kevin Kisner doesn't hold back talking about Patrick Reed: https://t.co/LczTV1LOOX pic.twitter.com/MCvIV3GQiE — Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) December 12, 2018 However, Reed subsequently confided in the NYT that he was looking at Spieth “like I was about to light the room up like Phil in ’14”, a reference to Phil Mickelson’s searing criticism of captain Tom Watson – sitting a few feet away – following the defeat at Gleneagles. “The issue’s obviously with Jordan not wanting to play with me,” Reed said. “I don’t have any issue with Jordan. When it comes right down to it, I don’t care if I like the person I’m paired with or if the person likes me as long as it works and it sets up the team for success.” Three months on, the issue shows few signs of dying out. First came Justine Reed’s (Patrick’s wife) Twitter outburst against Spieth; then Reed’s curt admission that he has not spoken to the three-time major winner since Ryder Cup. Now PGA Tour stalwart, Kevin Kisner has added further fuel to the fire by highlighting Reed’s unpopularity as a college player at Georgia State University. "They all hate him -- any guys that were on the team with him [at Georgia] hate him and that's the same way at Augusta,'' Kisner said in a story that ran on Golfdigest.com this week. "I don't know that they'd piss on him if he was on fire, to tell you the truth.'' Kisner, a two-time PGA Tour winner, played at Georgia before Reed's arrival -- and controversial dismissal from the team in 2009 -- and was a teammate of Reed's at the 2017 Presidents Cup. Furyk has expressed hope that Reed’s relationship with Spieth and the wider US golfing community can be repaired; however, Kisner’s comments are revealing of the astonishing depth of his unpopularity at all levels of the sport. It is consequently difficult to conceive of the Texan being accepted comfortably back into a team environment. 2018 may well have been Reed’s final Ryder Cup appearance for the USA. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Year of stagnation leaves Lowry in need of fresh spark in 2019
Dec 13, 2018 1:25 PM
 
When Shane Lowry shot a 9-under final-round 63 en route to a runners-up finish at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship 12-months ago, many commentators predicted he would enjoy a significant uptick in form in 2019. The 31-year-old had, after all, played himself to within a stroke of the 19-under winning total established by world No.6, Jon Rahm and produced some of the best attacking golf of his career in the process. He consequently looked to have provided himself with a solid platform on which to rebuild at the end of a trying season that had seen him fall back outside of the world’s top-50 for the first-time since breaking that elite band in 2014. Such optimism was reflected in the Irishman’s post-tournament comments; he avowed a firm belief in his capacity to qualify for Thomas Bjorn’s European Ryder Cup squad for the following autumn. Brilliant crowds at the 8th hole today to see Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry at the Irish Open pic.twitter.com/tVc8O4ScQh— Ramsey Cardy (@ramseycardy) July 5, 2018 “That’s as good as I can play,” Lowry said when speaking with Midland Sport. “I think that I’ve accumulated quite a few Ryder Cup points over the last while and I’m going to have to play really well over the next few months with my schedule to make the team. “But I’m going to do my best to make the team — it’s my number one goal for next year.” Ultimately, Lowry proved unable to capitalise on the momentum generated by his strong finish to the 2017 campaign after the turn of the year. He missed three cuts and failed to finish higher than T49 through his first seven starts of the 2018 season, and despite experiencing a moderate uptick in form with top-20 finishes at the Houston Open and the BMW PGA Championship in the early Spring, his hopes of qualifying for the Ryder Cup perished following missed-cuts at the US Open and British Open either side of a non-descript T16 finish at the French Open at Le Golf National. Lowry came close to ending a three-year trophy drought at the Andalucía Masters in October, finishing second to tournament host, Sergio Garcia; however, an indifferent T14-T35-T30 run through his final three starts of the season at the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Challenge and the DP World Tour Championship ensured his campaign ended on a down note. Indeed, Lowry is winless in over three years since claiming his banner result at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2015, and a run of seven missed-cuts to just two top-10s in 28 starts over the past 12-months means that he will begin the 2019 season ranked outside the world’s top-70 for the first time in five-years. On form, Lowry possesses one of the finest short games on the PGA and European Tours and retains a capacity to vie with the sport’s elite. It is imperative he rediscovers some semblance of consistency in 2019 lest he risk forfeiting his playing privileges. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Zach Johnson’s caddie switch can kick-start revival
Dec 12, 2018 1:58 PM
 
When Zach Johnson went 65-68 through the second and third-rounds of the Valero Texas Open in April, finishing in a tie for fifth, four strokes shy of Andrew Landry’s winning total, many commentators tipped the veteran to enjoy a profitable second-half of the season. Johnson struggled badly during the early phases of the 2018 campaign, failing to finish higher than T16 through his first nine starts of the season; he consequently arrived in Texas ranked outside of the world’s top-50 for the first time in almost a decade. In this context, a strong performance at the TPC San Antonio appeared to signal that he had rediscovered something approximating his best level in time to contend during a crucial summer stretch encompassing each of the final three majors of the year. Suffice to say, this did not transpire. In 14 subsequent starts across all Tours, Johnson missed three cuts, and while he posted a respectable T12-T17-T19 run through the US Open, The Open and the US PGA Championship, he failed to card a single top-10 finish prior to a T7 at the RSM Classic last month. Zach Johnson, caddie Damon Green part ways after 15 years.Full details: https://t.co/GekWRTgCdq pic.twitter.com/3Qg7lp0qpp— Golfweek (@golfweek) December 8, 2018 Inevitably such indifferent form has exerted a profound, deleterious impact on the Iowan’s world ranking; indeed, he is poised to begin the 2019 campaign positioned outside of the top-60 for the first time since 2003, and he remains winless since claiming his second major championship title in a play-off at the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews. The fatalistic view, of course, would be that, at 42, Johnson has entered into a cycle of irrevocable late-career decline and that he must readjust his mental approach to the game in a manner appropriate to accommodate an altered professional circumstance. Unsurprisingly, the player is unprepared to endorse such an outlook and today’s confirmation that Johnson is set to end a 15-year relationship with caddie, Damon Green in a quest to rediscover his best level in 2019 speaks to an enduring competitive desire. They had worked together for 12 victories, two of them majors, and more than $44 million in PGA Tour earnings. "Zach said, 'I think we need to take a break. It's not a firing. We're too good friends for that,'" Green told The Caddie Network. "I just think he didn't want to say the word 'fire.'" "I'm thankful I don't have work again if I don't want to," he said. "But there's a part of me that loves caddying. I'd say it's probably 80 percent I'll caddie again. But it has to be the right situation." Whatever the future holds for Green, it is clear Johnson needs to imbue his game with a fresh competitive impetus. If nothing else, this decision proves that the two-time major winner is unprepared to reconcile himself to a slow descent down the world rankings. The desire to win is still there; so long as that hunger remains, Johnson retains a capacity to vie with the PGA Tour elite on shorter, technical golf courses. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Molinari is a justified European Tour golfer of the year
Dec 11, 2018 1:37 PM
 
When on 9 October, Brooks Koepka was named PGA Tour Player of the Year for 2018, there were a few conspicuous murmurings of discontent. While the decision was welcomed warmly by the vast majority of the US golfing establishment (who can really argue with two majors, the world No.1 spot and one regular Tour victory in 12 months?), a handful of commentators made the case for a resurgent Tiger Woods, or the remarkably consistent Justin Rose. Conspicuously there has been almost no dissention in response to the European Tour naming Francesco Molinari as its Player of the Year for 2018. The Italian was conferred with the coveted accolade for the first time in his career after enjoying a stand-out campaign in which he won his first major title and produced an historic performance at the Ryder Cup. Molinari started the year slowly and, by the time he missed his second cut in eight starts at The Players Championship at Sawgrass in May, his season looked to be unravelling at an alarming rate. BREAKING: Francesco Molinari has been named European Tour Golfer of the Year #SSN pic.twitter.com/qqYtvYNHM0— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) December 10, 2018 After all, the 35-year-old had just slipped back outside of the world’s top-30 and, given that he remained winless at all levels of the professional sport in over eighteen-months, there was little reason to be optimistic regarding his chances of qualifying for Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup squad. A week, however, is a long-time in golf, and after reconvening with long-time coach, Denis Pugh, at the Wisley club in Surrey, Molinari recaptured his best form at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, signing for a weekend scorecard of 66-68 to beat Rory McIlroy to the title by two strokes. He went on to finish as a runner-up at his home Open in Italy the following week before claiming his maiden PGA Tour title by six shots at the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac in Maryland at the beginning of July. A T2 at the John Deere Classic followed. Molinari consequently arrived in Carnoustie for the British Open in June off the back of a sensational run of two victories and two runners-up placings in five starts; the question was whether he was capable of maintaining such form against the best players in the world game under the full glare of the global media. The answer, as it transpired, was an emphatic ‘yes’: he posted a weekend scorecard of 65-69 to claim his maiden major title by two strokes away from Rose and McIlroy, and next went on to star at the Ryder Cup, becoming the first European player in history to win all five of his matches. The 36-year-old rounded-out the campaign by claiming the European Tour’s Race to Dubai title for the first time in his career. Speaking about the award, Molinari told Sky Sports News: "It's incredible. I'm very proud to receive the Player of the Year award. "Like a lot of things, I probably never dreamed of this at the beginning of the year, knowing what kind of players there are now on the European Tour. So I'm very, very proud. It's a reflection of how good the year's been and I'll try to do it again next year." He is a thoroughly deserving winner of a prestigious accolade. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Louis Oosthuizen eases to victory at South African Open
Dec 10, 2018 1:08 PM
 
Louis Oosthuizen was not much fancied in the lead-up to last week’s South African Open at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg. Winless in over two years since claiming his eighth European Tour title at the ISPS Handa Perth International in February 2016, the 36-year-old arrived in South Africa off the back of a deeply indifferent run of having carded just four top-10s in 23 starts across all Tours in 2018. Thus although he had showed signs of a return to form in the process of finishing T5 at the CIMB Classic in October and 3rd at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City last month, he remained some way off recapturing the level that propelled him to The Open Championship title in 2010. Inevitably this underwhelming form exerted a negative impact on the Mossel Bay-native’s competitive standing; indeed, he had fallen almost 20 places down the Official World Golf Rankings since the beginning of the year to No.37 as of the beginning of last week, and had long since ceased to pose a threat to Francesco Molinari at the summit of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings. In this context, it was heartening to witness a late-season renaissance from Oosthuizen at Randpark Golf Club. "I knew today was going to be very special or heartbreaking." Louis Oosthuizen wasn't going to play it safe on Sunday at the #SAOpen https://t.co/wAr3EXDRw3 pic.twitter.com/1Fyrwyo4qe — Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) December 10, 2018 The home-favourite carried a three-stroke lead into the final-round and expected to face a tough Sunday challenge from good friend, and fellow major winner, Charl Schwartzel. This much vaunted, all Springbok shootout looked set to materialise when Oosthuizen dropped two shots in his opening three-holes; however, he rallied with four birdies to reach the turn with his initial three-stroke lead intact. The former Open champion then surged clear of the chasing pack courtesy of a stunning eagle on the par-5 14th-hole and a birdie on the par-4 16th helped to ensure his sole bogey on the 17th was immaterial. He ultimately signed for a 4-under final-round 67 and an emphatic six stroke victory away from Romain Langasque; the import of this triumph in the broader context of Oosthuizen’s career was made clear by the uncharacteristically emotive tenor of his post-tournament press-conference. “I wish the family was here,” said Oosthuizen, who fought tears just off the 18th green. “The crowd was great this whole week. It was nice to do it for them. I knew today was either going to be very special or heartbreaking. “I know there’s only a few that have won the [British] Open and the SA Open so I’m very chuffed to have my name on this. This feels very special. This is perfect.” Oosthuizen will now finish 2018 ranked comfortably back inside of the world’s top-30; Sunday’s victory provides the veteran with firm foundations on which to build in the New Year. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
On the verge of 30, Fowler must be weary of his biological clock
Dec 9, 2018 8:24 AM
 
When on 6 December 2017, Rickie Fowler signed for a blistering 11-under 61 to overturn a 7-stroke 54-hole deficit and win the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course in the Bahamas, he felt certain there were more victories to come for him in the following year. Ever since finishing in the top-5 of all four major championships in 2014, commentators have avowed consistently that it is only a matter of time until the Californian made a breakthrough at the highest level of the sport. Coming just weeks after Fowler secured his second top-five major championship finish of the year at the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, his triumph in the Bahamas appeared to signal that a big season was to come in 2018. Suffice to say, this has not materialised; indeed, Fowler’s T5 finish at the 2018 edition of the Hero World Challenge two-weeks ago (7-strokes shy of winner, Jon Rahm) marked the conclusion of his first winless season since 2014. He will consequently tee-off for the 2019 campaign on the verge of falling back outside the world’s top-10. Now, it is important to state at the outset of this discussion that Fowler’s 2018 campaign cannot be understood as a wash-out. In addition to finishing outright second at The Masters, he posted seven top-10s on the PGA Tour and qualified comfortably for the US Ryder Cup squad. for photo shoot @RickieFowler #PforPUMA pic.twitter.com/MRgdNKdfg2— PUMA GOLF (@PUMAGolf) December 6, 2018 Nevertheless, it is impossible to reflect upon the last 12-months of the Californian’s career as anything other than a period of stagnation (perhaps even regression), and with his 30th birthday just around the corner (13 December), it is imperative that he begins converting consistent performances into tournament victories soon, before being superseded entirely by younger, rising talent like Jon Rahm, Haotong Li and Cameron Champ. The extent of Fowler’s stagnation is set in sharp relief when one compares the evolution of his career over the past four years with that of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas (both aged 25). Where the 2015 PLAYERS Championship remains Fowler’s signature victory, Spieth and Thomas have amassed two FedExCups, four major titles and 19 overall PGA Tour wins since 2014. Indeed, Fowler has still only four PGA Tour titles to his name and a record of one victory from seven career 54-hole leads speaks to an enduring flakiness under pressure that many commentators predicted would vanish with age. The Californian has recorded more than twice as many runners-up finishes (15) as he has tournament victories (6) on the PGA and European Tours in nine seasons as a professional and, at 30, his continuing inability to capitalise on strong Sunday positions is increasingly coming to resemble a form of psychological complex. Until Fowler demonstrates a consistent ability to score low under pressure, one struggles to see him getting over the line at major championship level. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McDowell and Grillo targeting positive end to year at QBE Shootout
Dec 8, 2018 7:13 AM
 
Graeme McDowell and Emiliano Grillo were little discussed in the lead-up to this week’s QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club in Florida. McDowell, after all, is winless in over four full seasons at all levels of the professional game, while a run of 10 missed-cuts to just a single top-10 through 27 starts in 2018 has caused him to slip down as low as No.231 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Indeed, the widespread sense of optimism generated by surprise T12 and T5 finishes at the BMW Championship and Italian Open in April swiftly dissipated following a run of consecutive missed-cuts at the US Open and the Travelers Championship in June, and he arrived in Florida off the back of an MC-T41-MC-T41-T11 run through his previous five starts. Grillo, meantime, remains winless in over three seasons since claiming his maiden PGA Tour title at the Frys.com Open in the Autumn of 2015, and while he threatened to establish himself at the elite-level of the professional sport off the back of an exceptional 2016 campaign (comprising five top-10s, including two runners-up finishes through 30 starts), he has struggled to maintain such form over the last two years. Watch all the highlights from @HarmanBrian & @PKizzire's opening-round 59 Friday @QBEShootout. pic.twitter.com/STU2uRD36e — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 8, 2018 He managed just two top-10s in 26 starts in 2017, and while a run of eight top-10s, including three top-threes, through 26 starts this year has enabled him to climb back inside the top-50, he remains some way off recapturing his 2016 level. It has been heartening, therefore, to observe this unlikely pairing tap into a surprisingly rich vein of form during the opening-round in Florida. McDowell and Grillo combined for an eagle, 12 birdies and one bogey at Tiburon Golf Club to leave themselves at 13 under par after a 59 in the scramble format of the unofficial team golf event. Significantly, the duo birdied each of their final three consecutive holes going back into the clubhouse and will consequently tee-off for the second of three rounds in a share of the lead with American pairing, Patton Kizzire and Brian Harman, as well as Bryson DeChambeau and his South Korean partner, Kevin Na. LPGA Tour player Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau were two strokes back at 61 with Charley Hoffman-Gary Woodland and Charles Howell III-Luke List. Defending champions Steve Stricker and Sean' O'Hair shot 62. The teams will play modified alternate shot Saturday, and close with better ball Sunday. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Schwartzel eyeing maiden home triumph at South African Open
Dec 7, 2018 12:28 PM
 
If Charl Schwartzel was forced to retire from professional golf tomorrow, he could reflect upon a 16-year career that would be the envy of most of his peers. In addition to winning The Masters by two-strokes away from Antipodean rivals, Jason Day and Adam Scott back in 2011, he has amassed 11 European Tour victories, nine Sunshine Tour victories and one regular-season victory each on the US PGA Tour (the 2016 Valspar Championship) and the Asian Tour (the 2012 Thailand Golf Championship). These achievements have enabled the Johannesburg-native to spend most of the past decade ranked inside the world’s top-30, rising as high as No.6 in 2012, and he has represented his native South Africa at each of the last four consecutive Presidents Cups. Suffice to say, then, Schwartzel has enjoyed a profitable decade-and-a-half as a professional golfer; and yet, there is remains one significant gap on a decorated CV about which the player himself admits to being acutely conscious – the absence of a victory on home soil. The South African Open has been a long-term source of frustration and regret for Schwartzel. Since debuting at the competition as a 20-year-old, he has amassed a pair of runner-up finishes and four other top-fives; however, he has never quite been able to convert strong performances into victories. Charl Schwartzel looking good at -12 after 36 holes at the South African Open pic.twitter.com/doLSwlHLdH — Golf Monthly (@GolfMonthly) December 7, 2018 36-holes into the 2018 event, he looks ideally placed to remedy that deficit. Schwartzel entered this week ranked 80th in the Official World Golf Ranking, his worst ranking since 2008. Indeed, in 22 worldwide starts since tying for 15th at the last SA Open in January, he has managed just four top-10s and one other top-20, missing eight cuts. Nevertheless, the former Masters champion looked comfortable at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg through two rounds, especially on the back-nine on the Bushwillow Course on Friday. Heading into the par-4 11th hole at 6 under, Schwartzel birdied four of his next six holes before holing out for eagle at the par-5 17th hole to sign for a second-round 63 (8-under) and a single-stroke lead away from Zambia’s Madalitso Muthiya going into the weekend. Oosthuizen, ahead by a shot after the first round, dropped into a tie for third at 10 under with Kurt Kitayama (69) and Zander Lombard (68). “It’s probably the most consistent I’ve driven the ball and I felt it,” Schwartzel reflected upon reaching the clubhouse. “In practice I’ve been doing the same. It’s just nice to do it in a tournament now.” Significantly, Oosthuizen also is the only player within three shots of the lead who is already qualified for next summer’s Open Championship. The top three finishers this week, not already exempt, will receive invites to Royal Portrush. Such will serve only to imbue Schwartzel with an added incentive to end his home soil drought come Sunday. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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