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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Robert Streb beats Kevin Kisner in play-off to win RSM Classic
Nov 23, 2020 12:04 PM
Tags: Robert Streb   Masters   RSM Classic   Kevin Kisner   News   pga tour  
 
To observe that Robert Streb was not much fancied in the lead up to last week’s RSM Classic would be an understatement. For although the 33-year-old claimed his maiden PGA Tour accolade at the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island in 2014, the same course on which the RSM Classic is now played, six seasons had passed since that victory and Streb’s game had declined significantly in the interim. He needed to return to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals last year just to regain full status on the PGA Tour and arrived in Georgia in the midst of a disastrous run of 12 missed cuts in 19 starts in 2020. Indeed, Streb teed-off at Sea Island last Thursday ranked outside of the world’s top-300; memories of his appearances at 10 major championships between 2014-16 had faded to nothing. Faced against what was statistically the strongest-ever field assembled at the RSM Classic, one featuring a reigning major champion and four members of the world’s top-20, there was little reason to suspect he would avail of a weekend tee-time. But golf, as players at all levels of the game will be only too keenly aware, is an infuriatingly capricious sport; form can return to grace your performances just as quickly as it deserted you previously. After months of hardship, Streb experienced the beneficent aspect of this caprice on Sunday. On the money. K-State grad Robert Streb (@therealstrebber) wins two-hole playoff, tournament crown at The RSM Classic thanks to this brilliant approach and tap-in for birdie. #KStateMGolf x @PGATour pic.twitter.com/Z8xt8ywH7n — K-State Men's Golf (@KStateMGolf) November 22, 2020 When the Oklahoma native won his first PGA Tour accolade at Sea Island six years ago, he overcame a five-stroke 54-hole deficit. This time, he lost a three-shot lead until a 6-iron to 12 feet on the par-3 17th hole for a birdie allowed him to close with a 2-under 68 and force clubhouse leader, Kevin Kisner into a playoff. Kisner had the advantage on the 18th for the first playoff hole. His approach caught a good bounce and left him a 15-foot birdie putt, while Streb drove into the bunker, couldn't reach the green and his pitch from about 30 yards away still came up some 8 feet short. Kisner missed, and Streb rolled in his par putt. They returned to the 18th again: this time Kisner caught the rough off the tee, while Streb lasered a 158-yard pitching-wedge to within inches of the cup. Kisner’s recovery bounded over the green and, knowing his chip needed to go in, he ran it some 20 feet by and holed that for a meaningless par with Streb inches away. Streb, of course, tapped in for birdie and a huge surprise victory. Remarkably, 11 tournaments into the the 2020/21 PGA Tour season, Streb is the fifth winner ranked outside of the world’s top-300, following on from the likes of Stewart Cink, who won the Safeway Open for his first victory in 11 years; Martin Laird who ended seven years without winning in Las Vegas; and Brian Gay who won in Bermuda for his first victory in more than seven years. Following Sunday’s triumph, Streb has a two-year exemption through the end of August 2023, and he returns to the Masters in April. Not a bad week’s work. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Johnson could emulate Mickelson’s career ark at major level
Nov 22, 2020 11:59 AM
Tags: Masters   Dustin Johnson   Phil Mickelson   Augusta   News  
 
In the years preceding Dustin Johnson’s five-stroke triumph at the 83rd Masters last weekend, it had become a truism to identify him as the most unrealised golfing talent of his generation. Four-times prior to last Sunday, Johnson had held the 54-hole lead going into the final-round of a major; four-times he had allowed that advantage to slip. He surrendered a three-shot lead at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach to Graeme McDowell; he squandered shares of the third-round lead at US Opens at Chambers Bay (2015) and Shinnecock (2018), and, most recently, failed to convert a one-shot advantage heading into the final-round of the US PGA Championship at Harding Park. Set against this dazzling array of near misses at the majors, the 36-year-old’s achievement in winning the 2016 US Open at Oakmont was largely overlooked, and his outrageous success at PGA Tour (10 wins), World Golf Championship (6 wins) and FedEx Cup (6 wins) level was taken for granted. Looks like we’re having sandwiches for next year’s champions dinner! Congrats @DJohnsonPGA and welcome to the club. pic.twitter.com/amOfc2kVXG— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) November 15, 2020 By winning at Augusta last weekend, however, Johnson has shattered emphatically any association of his career with underachievement and has established a platform from which he can build towards further success at the majors. Asked if he dreams of winning numerous further majors, Johnson replied: "I do. I do. I want to get to number three first, but I do. I dream of winning a lot of majors. Just hadn't quite happened yet. Hopefully this one will help, though, give me a little spring." Significantly, the world No.1 has just five months to wait until he can defend his title in April, with Kiawah Island hosting the US PGA in May and Torrey Pines staging June's US Open. Following its postponement this year, the Open Championship is due to be held at Royal St George's in July, where Johnson finished runner-up to Darren Clarke in 2011. Playing alongside Clarke in the final group, Johnson was two shots behind on the par-five 14th before carving his second shot out of bounds and running up a double-bogey seven. Nine years on, it is difficult to conceive the performer we witnessed conquer Augusta last weekend succumb to such profligacy under pressure. Indeed, at 36, it is conceivable Johnson could be set to inaugurate a Phil Mickelson-esque era of belated major success. It has been remarked before that Johnson shares with Mickelson many technical and physical traits; however, Johnson may also come to share with Lefty the accolade of winning the lion’s share of his major titles in the second decade of his career. It took Mickelson 14 years to win his first major and, in the following nine seasons, he would add four more. By comparison, it took Johnson nine years to win his first major and, as of last Sunday, he owns two in five seasons. Don’t back against the South Carolina native expanding that ration dramatically over the coming years. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Georgia on Lowry’s mind as focus shifts to 2021
Nov 20, 2020 11:41 AM
 
Perhaps more than at any other tournament, it takes time and patience to achieve Masters success. Indeed, Fuzzy Zoeller is the only player in the PGA Tour’s modern history to claim a green jacket on the occasion of his Augusta National debut. Dustin Johnson, meantime, didn’t manage a single top-10 finish in any of his first five appearances at Augusta and then improved gradually with four consecutive top-10s (T6-T4-T10-T2) before making his long awaited Masters breakthrough a week ago. Such circumstances make clear that, when it comes to competing at Augusta, experience is king. Indeed, it is commonplace in the early stages of a Masters tournament to observe veteran golfers, long retired from the PGA Tour, outscoring competitors more than thirty-years their junior. Just last week, for instance, Bernhard Langer (63) signed for a three-under total and share of 29th, outscoring the heavy pre-tournament favourite Bryson DeChambeau (26) by a stroke. Shane Lowry, a golfer who’s jovial and relaxed public demeanour belies a ferociously meticulous work ethic, is acutely aware of this circumstance. He is eager to build on the knowledge he gathered in Georgia last week when the PGA Tour returns to Augusta for the 2021 edition of the Masters in April. Shane Lowry with an unbelievable chip shot at #TheMasters Take a bow! pic.twitter.com/QR8QILQop4 — Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) November 14, 2020 “It’s actually going to come around very quickly, isn’t it?”, Lowry reflected after a securing a career-best tied-25th finish on the occasion of his fifth appearance at the Masters. "I've said it all along — you don't just rock up and win The Masters. It takes time to learn the course, you have to sort of respect that about Augusta.” Indeed, it is that sense of reverence for the challenge posed by Augusta that underpinned Lowry’s criticism of DeChambeau, who infamously belittled the challenge posed by the historic Georgia event. "Obviously Bryson likes talking and putting it all out there, but I thought he was building himself up for a big fall last week because going out and saying Augusta is a par-67... he's basically saying the third hole is a par-three, but it’s 360 yards. "He goes and says it's the science, but everybody just works as hard as they can. That's what top sport is all about”, Lowry added before hailing Johnson’s coolness under pressure on the back-nine. "Dustin has put years and years into it, and that Masters win is all he's ever wanted to achieve. It's not all science. It's hard work, determination and balls. There's no computer that will give you a pair of balls so that when you get up on the 12th tee at Augusta you'll hit an 8-iron over the water and on to the green. There's no formula to that." Lowry completes his PGA Tour season at this week’s tour stop, the RSM Classic at Sea Island on the Georgia coast this weekend, although his plans after that are a little uncertain. He has yet to decide if he is playing in the European Tour season-ending DP World Championship in Dubai, or take a break and resume in the new season in the Middle East. Either way, one can be sure the 84th Masters is already pencilled into his schedule for 2021. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy’s Jekyll and Hyde act frustrates as another Masters passes
Nov 19, 2020 2:37 PM
Tags: Masters   Rory McIlroy   Dustin Johnson   News   pga tour  
 
It is at this stage a truism to observe that Rory McIlroy is possessed of a tendency to start major championships as he is likely to go on. Since 2015, the Northern Irishman is 28 over par in the first round of major championships and 56 under par in the second through fourth rounds. That’s a difference of 84 strokes—and 30 strokes more of a difference than any other golfer, according to Stats LLC. The gap between how he starts golf’s biggest tournaments and how he finishes them is bigger than anyone else, and it’s not particularly close. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that McIlroy is winless at major championship level since claiming his fourth such accolade at the US PGA Championship at Valhalla in the summer of 2014. It is only when the pressure is off, it seems, that he is presently capable of producing his best golf on the sport's grandest stage. The Jekyll and Hyde dynamic that has increasingly come to define McIlroy's major championship performances was illustrated vividly at the 83rd Masters at Augusta last week. The world No.4 could only manage nine holes of his opening round owing to inclement weather and picked up the following morning in the same manner left off – with a bogey. A fall Masters and a newborn daughter may provide just the perspective Rory McIlroy needs to win. #themasters pic.twitter.com/KYny7Jt3jj— The Masters (@TheMasters) November 11, 2020 Further dropped shots at 12, 13 and 16 saw him sign for a 3-over opening round of 75, immediately slipping six strokes behind the overnight lead held by the eventual winner, Dustin Johnson. To reflect that he had made winning The Masters difficult for himself would be an understatement. Remarkably, then, less than an hour later, a completely different golfer emerged. Opening his inverted second round with a birdie at the 10th, McIlroy began crushing his drives and attacking the greens and finished with a bogey-free 66, putting him at 3 under par going into the weekend. A third round 67 drew him to within eight shots of Johnson's domineering 54-hole lead, and when Johnson stuttered with back to back bogeys on the 4th and 5th holes of his final round, McIlroy found himself within three shots of the lead. Quietly, he was eyeing a back nine assault. "When I birdied the eighth hole and I got to 11 under, I saw DJ had dropped to 14 and I thought, maybe there's a chance," McIlroy reflected. "But then the wind sort of got up as we hit the turn, and it was hard to make birdies." Indeed, McIlroy would only make one further birdie on Sunday, at the par-4 13th, and signed for a closing round 69. He was obliged, ultimately, to content himself with a T5 finish, his fifth top-10 at Augusta in the last six years, nine strokes shy of Johnson's emphatic winning total, 268. "I guess I need to take the positives, I played the last 54 really well and only made two bogeys in that 54 hole stretch, which is probably the best run of golf I've played here", McIlroy reasoned, acknowledging the fatal impact of his sloppy opening round. "Thursday was a big setback." Until McIlroy begins starting major championships in the form in which he tends to finish them, one struggles to envisage him ending a six year trophy drought at the highest level of the sport. For as the outstanding quality of Johnson's title winning performance at Augusta makes clear -- the competition requires no handicap. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Johnson endorses elite status with Masters victory
Nov 16, 2020 2:37 PM
Tags: Masters   Tiger Woods   Dustin Johnson   News   pga tour  
 
When Dustin Johnson narrowly missed par putts on Augusta National's 4th and 5th holes on Sunday, allowing the four-stroke lead with which he began the final round of the 83rd Masters to be cut to one, it was possible to foresee precisely the tenor of the Monday morning sports headlines. Memories of past major championship capitulations, such as at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach and the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, would be invoked to substantiate the truism that, for all of his outrageous natural talent, the 36-year-old lacks the psychological robustness required to close-out victories at the highest level of the sport. As it turned out, the headline writers were to be disappointed. Johnson promptly birdied the par-3 6th to stem the negative momentum, and a further dropped shot at the par-5 8th ensured he was in firm control of the tournament upon turning on to the back-nine. A sensational run of three consecutive birdies from the 13th blew the chasing pack out of the water and he ultimately signed for 4-under 68 to seal an imperious 5-stroke victory at 20-under par, surpassing a tournament scoring record that has stood for more than two decades. Winning the Masters is a dream come true for Dustin Johnson. pic.twitter.com/2gGJ9HuMSJ— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 15, 2020 To observe that this triumph was overdue for Johnson would be an understatement. The world No.1 arrived at Augusta with 10 regular PGA Tour titles, six World Golf Championship titles and six FedEx Cup titles to his name, and he is the only player in the history of the sport to win at least once in each of his first 13 consecutive seasons on the PGA Tour Paradoxically this prolific win rate served only to set the relative paucity of his success at major championship level – he made his breakthrough at the US Open at Oakmont four years ago – in sharp relief. Sundays heroics have ensured that the South Carolina native can no longer be discussed as a decorated underachiever. “The Masters to me is the biggest tournament and the one I wanted to win the most,” Johnson reflected upon returning to the clubhouse. “I was nervous all day. I’m very proud of the way I handled myself and finished off the golf tournament. This is a dream come true.” "I was under pressure, but I knew if I played well, especially from eight to the house, that I was going to put myself in a good position and have a chance to win. I just didn't want anything to affect the way that I played. I took what the course gave me and hit the shots I felt I could hit." Although 2020 has been a disruptive year for most, Johnson can look back on the last six months with some pride having secured his first FedExCup title in September, regaining the world No 1 ranking and realising his Masters dream in style. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Molinari’s struggles deepen following missed cut at The Masters
Nov 15, 2020 8:59 AM
 
When Francesco Molinari converted a 7-foot birdie putt on Augusta’s par-4 11th to re-establish the two-stroke lead with which he began the final-round of the 2019 Masters, he seemed destined to secure victory. After all, the Italian arrived in Georgia as the form player in world golf. He won the BMW-PGA Championship and the Quicken Loans National in the lead-up to claiming his maiden major championship title at The Open at St Andrews the previous July, and warmed-up for the Masters by claiming his third PGA Tour title courtesy of a stunning final-round 64 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. In the 18-months leading up to the Masters, therefore, Molinari exhibited all the hallmarks of a golfer possessed of the extraordinary psychological resilience that sets multi-major champions apart. He did not appear liable to squander a two-stroke Masters lead with nine-holes to play, whether he had Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson breathing down his neck or not. Then came a pair of bizarrely uncharacteristic mistakes that cost Molinari the tournament. He drove his ball into the water on the 12th and 15th holes for double-bogeys and slumped into a tie for fifth, finishing two shots behind the eventual winner, Tiger Woods. Molinari consequently arrived in Georgia on Thursday to contest the 83rd Masters with a point to prove. As he reflected in an interview with the Telegraph’s James Corrigan in the lead-up to the event: “I need to find a form of closure; I have been waiting for this chance. I have been waiting to get to Augusta all year to put it what happened last April behind me.” “In the immediate aftermath I didn’t give myself enough credit for how I played for four days,” he added, acknowledging that all the confidence he had built up was bafflingly obliterated in one back nine. “Unfortunately my natural tendency is to think more about defeats and the ones I don’t win. That’s just how my brain has always worked.” Dustin Johnson is -16 through 15 holes!The Masters' 54-hole scoring record is -16 set by Jordan Spieth in 2015. Spieth would go on to win that year, tying the 72-hole scoring record at -18. pic.twitter.com/Z2FE9Lcin6— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 14, 2020 As it transpired, Molinari was unable to exorcize his Masters daemons. He paired four birdies with four bogeys to sign for an indifferent opening round 72. On Friday, however, he followed a promising opening birdie on the par-5 2nd with three consecutive bogeys, and further dropped shots at the 7th and 9th ensured he reached the turn at 4-over for the day. Any hopes of a back-nine fight-back were extinguished when he bogeyed the par-5 11th and he ultimately signed for a 6-over 78, missing the cut by a full five strokes. In the 18-months that have passed since Molinari collapsed on the back-nine of the 2019 Masters, he has dropped more than 70 places down the Official World Golf Rankings to his present ignominious position of No.85 and has scarcely threatened to snap a two-year winless streak. There is now serious cause to doubt whether the 38-year-old will ever rediscover the form that established him among the game’s elite. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Masters provides Cantlay with ideal chance to consolidate elite credentials
Nov 12, 2020 11:26 AM
 
It has been largely forgotten amidst the hysteria that accompanied Tiger Woods’ seminal triumph at Augusta last April; however, there was a moment during the final round of the 83rd Masters when the former world amateur No.1, Patrick Cantlay appeared poised to claim a maiden major championship title. For 33 of the final 36 holes of last year’s Masters tournament, Cantlay was far and away the best player on the golf course. Having only barely scrapped in under the cut mark at 2-over following the opening two rounds (73-73), he tore the course apart on Saturday, signing for an 8-under 64 to draw to within two-strokes of Francesco Molinari’s slender 54-hole advantage. To put that achievement into context, only two players, Nick Price and Greg Norman, have ever gone lower (63) around Augusta National. After the rain comes beauty. #themasters pic.twitter.com/JT77OuU93E— The Masters (@TheMasters) November 12, 2020 Cantlay’s scoring didn’t let-up during the early phases of the final-round; four birdies on the front-nine ensured that he was firmly in contention for the green jacket as the tournament entered its final stretch. A birdie on the par-4 eleventh enabled him to keep pace with the front-runners and, following on from Molinari’s dramatic capitulation at the 12th, a stunning eagle on the par-5 15th hole moved Cantlay into a single stroke lead with three-holes to play. Suddenly, the Californian seemed poised to fulfil the potential that has been so richly evident in his game since he shot an opening round of 60 on the occasion of his PGA Tour debut as an amateur at the Travelers Championship nine-years ago. As it turned, however, the victory wasn’t to be. One could almost see the colour drain from the Californian’s face as he realised the gravity of the position he occupied and all the precision and poise that had characterised his play over the previous 33-holes vanished. He played his final three-holes in two-over par and finished the tournament in a tie for 9th, three strokes shy of Woods’ winning total. A year on from that disappointment, however, Cantlay appears strongly positioned to contend once more for major championship honours at Augusta. He claimed a long-overdue second PGA Tour title at The Memorial Tournament last June and, just a fortnight ago, consolidated his position inside of the world’s top-10 upon winning the Zozo Championship in Las Vegas, edging out Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas by a stroke. The outstanding nature of Cantlay’s weekend performance at the 2019 Masters shows that he has all the physical and technical raw materials to win a green jacket. 18-months and two PGA Tour victories on, he may also have added the mental steel required to close-out a lead at Augusta. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Carlos Ortiz wins first PGA Tour title at Houston Open
Nov 9, 2020 2:47 PM
 
To observe that Carlos Ortiz was not much fancied in the lead up to last week’s Houston Open would be an understatement. Winless at PGA Tour level, the 29-year-old had not triumphed in over six seasons since claiming his third Webb.com title at the Portland Open in 2014, and he arrived at Memorial Park in the midst of a dire run of form comprising nine missed-cuts and zero top-10 finishes in 22 starts across all tours in 2020. Mired outside of the world’s top-150, there was little reason to suspect Ortiz had any hope of contending against an elite field featuring players of the calibre of Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau, Adam Scott and Brooks Koepka. Put simply, he appeared miles out of his depth. But golf, as players at all levels of the game will be only too keenly aware, is an infuriatingly capricious sport; form can return to grace your performances just as quickly as it deserted you previously. After months of hardship, Ortiz experienced the beneficent aspect of this caprice on Sunday. Carlos Ortiz won this week. So did Memorial Park. A muni that costs less than $40 to play challenged the world’s best, produced a strong leaderboard and created drama: https://t.co/9iovIjTn59— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) November 8, 2020 The Mexican teed-off for the final round in a share of second-place alongside former world No.1, Jason Day, a single stroke behind Sam Burns’ slender 54-hole lead. He opened solidly with three consecutive birdies before edging into a surprise early lead upon carding his first birdie of the day at the par-4 4th. Ortiz was swiftly joined at the summit of the leaderboard by major winners and former world No.1s, Johnson and Koepka as the heavyweights appeared poised to reassert their grip on the tournament. However, he rallied with back-to-back birdies to finish the front nine while Koepka narrowly missed a birdie putt at 12, affording Ortiz a two shot lead. Johnson continued his challenge by holing a 60-foot putt for birdie at the 11th and Matsuyama moved into contention with successive birdies at 12 and 13, as Ortiz posted six consecutive pars to the 15th. The Mexican then missed a fantastic eagle chance at 16, but tapped in from close range to move back in front just as Matsuyama recorded another birdie to move to 11-under par. Johnson and Matsuyama both missed chances to move to 12 under on the 18th, while Ortiz not only held his nerve on the final hole but holed a birdie putt to win by two shots. "It feels awesome," the 29-year-old reflected upon returning to the clubhouse. "It's been a while since I have won - it feels good. "I made some huge putts on the front nine, that kickstarted my round, and after that I played really good, I didn't miss many shots, and it was awesome finishing with the birdie on 18." Up to a career-high No.65 in the world, Ortiz has solid foundations on which to build for 2021. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Robert MacIntyre wins first European Tour title at the Cyprus Showdown
Nov 8, 2020 11:14 AM
 
When Robert MacIntyre was conferred with the the prestigious Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award 12 months ago, he seemed poised to establish himself as a serious force at the highest level of the professional game. The Scot, who teed-off for his maiden campaign on the European Tour with the sole aim of retaining his playing privileges, recorded seven top-10 finishes and just five missed cuts in 30 starts, including three runner-up finishes and a T6 Low Amateur finish at The Open at Royal Portrush. In addition to climbing more than 150-places up the Official World Golf Rankings, from No.247 as of 31 December 2018, to No. 65 as of 1 January 2020, he finished 11th in the Race to Dubai standings and caught the eye of the European Ryder Cup captain, Padraig Harrington, who conceded that he would be "very happy" were the youngster his way into the team at next year's tournament. Robert MacIntyre is a European Tour winner!! #CyprusShowdown pic.twitter.com/0SCBwqNL1w— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 8, 2020 But as is so frequently the case with young golfers who enjoy gilded breakout campaigns, MacIntyre, labouring under the burden of increased spectator and media attention, struggled to sustain his best level of performance during the early stages of his second professional season. Indeed, the 24-year-old arrived at Aphrodite Hills Golf Club to contest the Cypriot Showdown last week ranked No.97 in the world with just a single top-10 finish to his name in 14 starts since the turn of the year. It is in this context that the clutch nature of MacIntyre’s victory in Cyprus is so impressive; it demonstrated that, despite the adversity of a pandemic impacted season, he possesses the psychological robustness to play his way out of a slump and enter the European Tour winners’ circle for the first time. The Oban native birdied four of his last six holes, including birdies on 17 and 18, to finish on seven-under-par, one shot ahead of Masahiro Kawamura. A tense final day saw the lead change hand several times while play was also suspended for 48 minutes due to the threat of lightning. But it was MacIntyre who emerged victorious, a week after finishing third over the same layout at the Cyprus Open. "This is what I've been working for," MacIntyre told Sky Sports. "It's been a difficult few months for me, only my family know what is going on. I can't believe it. My game is there, tee to green I've been absolutely brilliant the last two weeks but the putter has been cold - stone cold. When the rain delay came in there I said to (caddie) Mike, 'it's time to show up'. I hit a great iron shot into 15 and there it was, it turned up right at the right time." Back consolidated inside of the world’s top-100, MacIntyre possesses a solid foundation from which to push for Ryder Cup inclusion over the coming months. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Johnson’s Masters misfortune demonstrates how COVID continues to impact golf
Nov 7, 2020 6:08 AM
 
Ever since the PGA Tour returned from its COVID-19 enforced hiatus on 11 June with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas, a peculiar air of normality has grown-up around the sport. A handful of positive tests in the early summer sparked inevitable flurries of media speculation regarding the long-term viability of the Tour’s comeback. However, professional golf has, for the most part, managed the disruption effected by the virus with an ease that is the envy of professional sporting institutions the world over. While aspects of the competitive calendar continue to shift and most all events remain closed to spectators, player, fan and media attention has shifted conspicuously away from the virus and towards the compelling action that has been produced on the world’s most prestigious fairways. In early August, for instance, the PGA Tour captured the imagination of sports fans across the world as the 23-year-old tournament debutant, Collin Morikawa produced one of the greatest US PGA Championship performances in recent history to claim the Wannamaker trophy. The following month, Bryson DeChambeau commanded a similar level of international attention as he bludgeoned Winged Foot into submission to win the US Open . Swiftly thereafter, the focus of the world’s golfing media began to train on Augusta and the tantalisingly novel prospect of a November Masters. In a strange way the regular rhythms of the professional game appear to have resumed. In his second round back from COVID quarantine, Dustin Johnson shoots 66 https://t.co/I8adTDXX8t pic.twitter.com/bdKuD8xaxg— Golfweek (@golfweek) November 7, 2020 But as welcome this veneer of normality is, the reality is that the prevalence COVID-19 continues to produce serious challenges for professional golf. The severely disrupted nature of Dustin Johnson’s preparation for next week’s Masters sets this dynamic in sharp relief. The world No.1 tested positive for COVID-19 on 13 October forcing him to withdraw from both the CJ Cup in Las Vegas and the Zozo Championship in California. Confined to a hotel room for 11 days, he was denied any possibility of refining his game in preparation for the final major of the calendar year and arrived at this week’s Houston Open having not contested a competitive event since tying for 6th at the US Open in September. "My health is good. The state of my game is undetermined," Johnson told a pre-tournament press conference at Memorial Park. It wasn't that bad (in) as far as I didn't get really sick. I felt like I had a cold for a few days and then after that I didn't - so I was pretty much asymptomatic. "A little fatigue and things like that, but I couldn't really figure out if that was because I was stuck in a hotel room for like 11 days not doing anything or it was COVID that made me feel that way. I didn't leave the room for 11 days, I was just laying around kind of doing nothing. I watched a lot of TV, but even then I ran out of stuff to watch. It was really boring. "It definitely puts a wrench in your plans on what you were trying to do. Obviously I was planning on playing Shadow Creek and Sherwood, those two events. I had a lot more time off than I was planning on." With two tournament victories and four further top-10 finishes to his name in just 16 starts in 2020, Johnson would, under normal circumstances, stand out among the favourites to win next week’s Masters. However, the inadequate nature of the 36-year-old’s tournament preparation undermine severely his hopes of contending for a maiden green jacket and demonstrates how COVID-19, though no longer in the media spotlight, continues to shape the contours of the professional game. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Hero World Challenge cancelled due to coronavirus travel restrictions
Oct 31, 2020 10:29 AM
 
From the tournament’s inception two decades ago, the Hero World Challenge has become a staple event among the PGA Tour elite. Hosted annually by the Tiger Woods foundation, the limited field event – comprising the top 14 available players from the Official World Golf Ranking and four sponsors exemptions – is recognized as an unofficial money event by the PGA Tour and offers Official World Golf Ranking points. The Hero World Challenge’s consistently growing prestige is reflected in its illustrious winners list, featuring names such as Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and, of course, Tiger Woods himself. Staged annually in December on the stunning Albany Resort on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, the event has become an ideal digestif, rounding out the golfing year. Perhaps most significantly, the Hero World Challenge possesses a proud track-record of philanthropic benefit. With proceeds administered annually to venerable organisations such as the TGR Foundation, Tavistock Foundation and the Bahamas Youth Foundation, the event has raised more than $26 million for youth charities over the past 20 years. It is in this context that last week’s announcement that the 2020 Hero World Challenge has been cancelled owing to COVID-19 travel restrictions came as such a stark disappointment. A statement issued on the tournament website laid out the rationale for the decision. There's only one reaction for these types of putts. A birdie from @TigerWoods. pic.twitter.com/MsFP5rxwci— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 22, 2020 “Given the current global restrictions and ongoing developments resulting from COVID-19, the 2020 Hero World Challenge will not be played this year. This decision was made with the health and well-being of all tournament constituents and the Albany community in mind. “We look forward to hosting 18 of the top players in the world and welcoming tournament guests to Albany, Bahamas next year. Updates on the 2021 event will be made at HeroWorldChallenge.com and @TGRLiveEvents social channels.” It is difficult to contest the logic of the decision, one taken firmly in the interests of public health. But coupled with the cancellation of events such as the Australian Open and Australian PGA Championship, the abandonment of the 2020 Hero World Challenge illustrates vividly the ongoing challenge posed to professional golf by COVID-19. Beginning with the abandonment of the Players Championship after just 18-holes in March, there can be no disputing the fact that professional golf suffered badly as a consequence of the pandemic. But since the PGA Tour resumed with the Charles Schwab Challenge in June, a peculiar sense of normality has reigned. Collin Morikawa, for instance, produced one of the greatest US PGA Championship performances in recent history to claim the Wannamaker trophy in early August, while Bryson DeChambeau bludgeoned Winged Foot into submission to win the US Open last month. Already the attention of the world’s golfing media is trained on a jam-packed 2021 season. It is in this context the cancellation of the Hero World Challenge provides a timely reminder that COVID-19 continues to pose problems for professional golf, particularly for events outside of the United States. Unfortunately, the PGA Tour’s bubble system can only protect players and communities within a single country; the international sport will consequently suffer for the absence of the game’s leading stars. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Masters’ traditional par-3 event cancelled owing to COVID-19 restrictions
Oct 30, 2020 11:23 AM
 
Some combinations in life are just made for each other. A fine Bordeaux with a fillet stake, for example; beer with potatoes chips, chocolate with coffee, or ice cream with apple pie – some things are just meant to go together. In golfing terms, one struggles to think of a better match than the Masters Tournament Par-3 contest which traditionally precedes the inauguration of the formal, 72-hole stroke-play event on a Wednesday afternoon. First contested prior to the 24th Masters Tournament in 1960 – and won appropriately by three-time Masters champion, Sam Snead – the contest takes place in a single round on a nine-hole, par-27 course in the northeast corner of Augusta National Grounds, which was designed in 1958 by George Cobb and club founder Clifford Roberts. Played in a jovial and lighthearted spirit; traditionally those contesting the event have invited family members onto the course to caddie for them, sometimes allowing them to play shots on their behalf. Through the 2019 contest, ninety-four holes in one have been made during the history of the tournament, including nine in the 2016 event, and the result of the tournament has been decided by a playoff on 21 occasions. Strikingly, no winner of the Par-3 Contest has gone on to win The Masters in the same week since Snead triumphed in the inaugural event 60 years ago. Tended with care. #themasters pic.twitter.com/F8sh1Ybqg2 — The Masters (@TheMasters) October 30, 2020 The Par Three Contest, then, has become as much a part of Masters folklore as the green jacket or the Eisenhower cabin; it is deeply regrettable, therefore, that Augusta National have decided to cancel the event next month, with the hope of restoring the contest to the Masters coverage in April next year. Augusta chairman Fred Ridley said: "The fun and excitement of watching Masters competitors with their friends and family is what makes the Par Three Contest such a special part of Masters week. “We know that experience could not have been replicated without guests and patrons at Augusta National, and we eagerly anticipate the opportunity to bring back this signature tradition.” While disappointing, the decision is certainly understandable. The Par-3 Contest, more than any other aspect of Masters week, is animated by interaction between players and fans to the point that some golfers, such as the three-time Par-3 winner, Pádraig Harrington, have invited fans on to Augusta’s famed greens to take putts for them. Deprived of such jovial, spontaneous player-fan interaction, one struggles to envisage the event capturing the public imagination in the manner that has traditionally been the case. Ultimately, the cancellation of the Par-3 event sets the ongoing challenges posed to professional sport by the COVID-19 pandemic in relief. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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