Henley rallies for SHO win, Masters invite

By Associated PressApril 2, 2017, 7:55 pm

HUMBLE, Texas - Russell Henley no longer gets to take a week off, and he couldn't be happier.

He's going to the Masters.

Henley overcame a four-shot deficit Sunday in the Shell Houston Open by closing with a 7-under 65 for a three-shot victory, one of the most important final rounds of his career. Only later did he realize it might have been his best.

He made 10 birdies. He never went more than two holes without a birdie.

''I made 10 birdies today?'' he asked. ''Oh, wow. Wow. Yeah, then I guess it's definitely the best.''

Henley ran off five of them in the opening eight holes to briefly catch up to Sung Kang, only to make a double bogey from the bunker on the par-3 ninth at the Golf Club of Houston. Only the 27-year-old from Georgia was just getting warmed up.

The decisive stretch came on the par-5 13th, where Henley and Kang were tied for the lead. Henley pitched to 3 feet for birdie, while Kang missed from 15 feet. On the par-3 14th, Henley rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the fast greens, cut to try to mimic what players will face at Augusta National. Kang did well to save par from 6 feet. And then Henley raced out to a three-shot advantage with another up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 15th.

He finished with a bogey for 20-under 268, three shots ahead of Kang.

Rickie Fowler was never in the picture. He made a double bogey with a wild drive on the second hole, and then hit driver off the deck into the water on the par-5 fourth hole to drop another shot. Fowler trailed by as many as seven shots until making a flurry of birdies late in the round when it was out of reach.


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Fowler closed with a 70 and tied for third, along with Luke List (68).

''Just an alignment problem that just caused me to make a couple bad swings, cost me a few shots,'' Fowler said. ''Nice that I got it turned around and started to make some good swings and made some birdies and fought back, got a good finish out of it. Obviously, yeah, I would have like to have gotten off to a better start.''

Jon Rahm, the 22-year-old rookie from Spain, closed with a 67 and tied for 10th, his fourth consecutive top 10 as he heads to Augusta National for his Masters debut.

Henley won for the third time in his PGA Tour career, and his first since a playoff victory over Rory McIlroy in the 2014 Honda Classic. He was in danger of missing the Masters for the second straight year until winning the Houston Open, the only way into Augusta National at this point.

''I wasn't expecting to go back to Augusta,'' he said. ''I was planning on not going, but I was going to try my best to win. So, the fact I get to go back is pretty cool and I'm excited. It hasn't really sunk in yet.''

Henley became the third player in the last four years to win the Houston Open and earn a trip to the Masters.

Kang, going for his first PGA Tour victory, had a six-shot lead after 36 holes, the largest in tournament history. He appeared to get a slight reprieve Saturday when Fowler fell back with a four-putt double bogey on the 18th hole of the third round.

The threat turned out to be Henley, one of the best putters in golf when he gets it going.

Kang did his best to hang on, but he never made another birdie after No. 8. His hopes were all but gone when he missed a 5-foot birdie attempt on No. 16.

''This week is going to be very memorable for me,'' Kang said. ''I played really solid the first few rounds and then it shifted for two rounds. I'll keep grinding it out and working out and hopefully, I can get a chance next time.''

The starting times were moved up Sunday because of the threat of rain, and the final round featured dark, gray skies and a drizzle, followed by steamy sunshine as the leaders entered the final stretch.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was at the tournament on Sunday and advocated for moving the Houston Open inside the city limits rather than unincorporated Harris County near Humble where the tournament has been played since 2003.

Neither the sponsor nor the location for next year's Houston Open has been determined. Turner advocated heavily for moving the tournament to Memorial Park, which last hosted the Houston Open in 1963.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”