English golfers on top of the world, but still seeking a major

By Associated PressJuly 12, 2011, 7:17 pm

SANDWICH, England – Any other week, the flagsticks at Royal St. George’s would be adorned with the red-and-white English banner.

How appropriate.

This is the hub of English golf, a course that’s hosted more British Opens that any outside of Scotland. And, boy, the home team is sure poised to shine in the latest version of golf’s oldest major championship.

Luke Donald is No. 1 in the world rankings. Lee Westwood is right on his heels at No. 2. Paul Casey and Ian Poulter are both in the top 20. Four other Englishmen from the top 100 qualified for the Open.

“English golf is very strong right now,” Donald said Tuesday. “Obviously in the world rankings, with myself and Lee heading that list. We’ve both been having good years so far, and there’s a bunch of other English guys that probably haven’t played as well as us but certainly have the potential to win.”

The numbers sure look a lot more promising than the did eight years ago, the last time an Open was held at Royal St. George’s. Back then, there were no English players in the top 10 and only two (Casey and Justin Rose) in the top 50. Donald was way down at No. 117. Westwood wasn’t even in the top 200.

“I guess now,” Donald surmised, gauging the English hopes for this Open, “is as good a time as any.”

Westwood certainly realizes how significant it would be for an Englishman to hoist the claret jug at a spot just up the road from the cliffs of Dover.

“You know, it’s named after St. George, so you can’t get much more English than that,” he said, smiling. “It’s the biggest championship in the world as far as I’m concerned. It would mean everything, really, to win this championship.”

Donald has a crafty, delicate short game that should be a huge asset on this lumpy seaside course. Westwood is as good as anyone off the tee, and he’s certainly got plenty of experience contending in golf’s biggest events. Casey tied for third a year ago at St. Andrews, while the dashing Poulter was the runner-up in 2008.

Any of them has the game to be get their name engraved on the historic chalice.

“This is the best I’ve played,” said Donald, who solidified his No. 1 ranking with a four-stroke win at the Scottish Open last weekend. “This is the most consistent I’ve been throughout my whole game. Not just around the greens, but tee to green is getting more and more solid. I think that’s been a key to me playing well and notching up some victories.”

Of course, one key victory has eluded Donald. And Westwood. All the top English contenders, in fact.

None of them has won a major championship – no small stumbling block, especially when one starts to lug around the burden of being regarded as the best player without the most coveted of titles.

That dreaded title probably belongs to the 38-year-old Westwood, who has finished in the top three at all four majors without pulling off that breakthrough win. His plight prompted Colin Montgomerie – certainly an expert on the close-but-no-cigar syndrome – to declare publicly that Westwood might be running out of time.

He’ll be 40 in a couple of years. After that, Montgomerie said, the window of opportunity will start to close.

Westwood believes he’s got more time than that – if he needs it.

“It depends how physically able you are, and I’m obviously a finely tuned athlete that can go on well into my 40s,” he quipped, taking a self-deprecating poke at a body that no one would describe as chiseled.

Besides, there’s more important factors than looking like Adonis in polyester.

“You’ve got to want it still. That’s the main thing,” Westwood said. “People would have said I was coming into my prime ten years ago and then I dropped to 270th in the world, so what’s the point in guessing whether you’re at your prime or not? I don’t particularly think it’s an age thing, either. So many players play well into their early to mid-40s that there’s no point in thinking about it.”

Donald surged to the top of the world rankings with brilliantly consistent play this year. It all began with a victory at the Match Play Championship in late February, and he’s won twice more on the European Tour since then – not to mention eight other top-10 finishes on both sides of the Atlantic.

His only stumble came at the last major. Donald finished in a tie for 45th at the U.S. Open and still must show he has the mental strength to handle the grinding pressure of those events that really define a career.

Amazingly, Donald isn’t even the betting pick at another Tiger-less major. Rory McIlroy of the Northern Ireland is the overwhelming favorite, not surprising after a runaway victory at Congressional gave the 22-year-old his first major crown.

“I don’t think I’m under the radar because I did win last week, but obviously Rory is on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds, and rightly so,” Donald said. “He was impressive in the U.S. Open, and winning majors is a big deal, and he did it and he did it in great fashion. I’m sure a lot of the attention is on him and maybe a little bit more of the pressure, as well.”

Someone laid out this scenario, which doesn’t seem all that farfetched: Donald and Westwood playing in the final group on Sunday, each of them vying for his first major title at the course that symbolizes golf in their homeland.

Who would want it more?

“That would be a hard question to answer,” Donald said. “Obviously it would be a very intense situation, but one that I would love to be in. I look forward to hopefully being in that position.”

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.