Horschel confident going into Zurich defense

By Associated PressApril 24, 2014, 12:08 am

AVONDALE, La. - There's something about the rhythm of life in the Big Easy that appeals to Billy Horschel, who acknowledges that he can be a little ''hyper'' for even his own liking on the PGA Tour.

Horschel earned his first PGA Tour victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans a year ago. It remains his lone triumph at golf's highest level, though he isn't shy about saying that he likes his chances of defending his title.

''Something about this city just puts me at a sense of ease,'' Horschel said, adding that he's found New Orleans to have the best dining options of any Tour stop. ''We go out to dinner pretty much every night and we don't talk about golf much. We just talk about other things and we're having a good time.''

Horschel has been disappointed with his form lately. In his last seven tournaments (excluding the Accenture Match Play Championship), he has missed three cuts and hasn't finished higher than 37th. This week, though, he has been greeted by larger-than-life images of himself as he arrives at the TPC Louisiana.

At first glance, Horschel's toughest competition this week appears to include 2013-14 Tour winners Patrick Reed, Kevin Stadler, Chris Kirk and Matt Every, along with Masters runner-up Jonas Blixt. Then there is a host of established Tour players - a number of them past winners - including Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.

Zurich Classic: Articles, videos and photos

''This is probably the first time I've been a favorite this year,'' Fowler said. ''It's nice to be back up kind of near the top where people actually are talking about me and I'm not off on the weekends doing my own thing. ... I definitely expect myself to be in contention. But it's golf; anything can happen.''

The field will not include a pair of recent Zurich champions: Bubba Watson and Jason Dufner. But Zurich has a history of producing champions who've never before won on the Tour.

Last year, Horschel became the sixth player in the last nine years to capture his maiden PGA Tour triumph in New Orleans. Horschel said he sees Canada's Graham DeLaet among the prime candidates to continue that trend.

''It still shocks me he hasn't won because he had such a great year last year,'' Horschel said.

Then he added, ''I have a feeling that you're not going to see a maiden winner this week. I think you're going to see someone who's won before, and maybe that's me.''

This marks the ninth year New Orleans' event has been held at the par-72, 7,425-yard TPC Louisiana, a Pete Dye-designed course carved out of a cypress swamp just southwest of the city. This year's purse is $6.8 million, with the winner taking home $1,224,000.

Horschel's 268 total last year was the best score since the tournament moved to the TPC Louisiana from English Turn. His final-round 64, which ended with him sinking a 27-foot birdie putt to clinch the title, tied for the best single-round score.

This year the field includes a New Orleans native who took an unusual path to his first PGA Tour appearance this week. Neal Ajubita, 26, quit competitive golf after high school and didn't even bother to try out for the team at Clemson, where he majored in Parks and Recreation, with a concentration in professional golf management.

''I thought I was going to be a club pro and shake hands with members and do that type of thing for the rest of my life,'' Ajubita said.

But when college ended, Ajubita realized he ''just wasn't done.''

He has been playing on the Adams Tour - off and on - since 2011, traveling long distances by car to tournaments and living on a tight food and lodging budget. Shoulder surgery to repair for a torn labrum hindered his return to competitive golf, but he earned a place in the Zurich field by winning the 2013 Gulf States PGA section championship last September.

''This is a pretty big step up,'' Ajubita said. ''Here you get treated like a king and it's super cool. I love it.''

Notes: Fred Funk withdrew Wednesday. The 57-year-old has been working through knee injuries in recent years and it was knee soreness again that led him to pull out. He was replaced in the field by Doug LaBelle II.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 25, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Hahn jabs USGA over possible ball rollback

By Will GrayFebruary 25, 2018, 4:43 pm

As debate continues to heat up over possible sweeping changes to the golf ball amid distance concerns, PGA Tour pro James Hahn chimed in to question the merits of a potential rollback.

The ball and distance debate gained traction earlier this week when Jack Nicklaus offered that the ball should be rolled back to the approximate distances achieved in 1995, and he put blame for the current situation squarely at the feet of Titleist. That drew a response from former Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who put the onus back on the governing bodies.

It's an issue that will likely be discussed for months to come, but Hahn took to Twitter to throw a jab toward the USGA and play devil's advocate on some key arguments related to a possible rollback:

Hahn, who has two career PGA Tour wins and lost in a playoff last month at the Sony Open, ranks 55th on Tour this season in driving distance with an average of 301.2 yards off the tee.

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Na fires back over slow play criticism from cricketer

By Will GrayFebruary 25, 2018, 4:00 pm

Kevin Na fired back over recent criticism he received about his purported slow play at last week's Genesis Open.

Kevin Pietersen is a retired English cricketer with more than 3.6 million followers on Twitter. He tweeted a video of Na, known as one of the slower players on the PGA Tour, taking more than a minute to line up and hit what he described as a "Tap In" during the final round at Riviera:

He then added another video of himself on a green in Dubai, where he again called out Na and showed how long he believed it should take for a player to brush in a short putt:

Na has faced his fair share of slow play criticism, but this time he decided to defend himself. Na isn't on Twitter, but he took to Instagram to tell Pietersen to "stick to your own sport," pointing out both the length of the putt in question and the stakes that were involved during the final round, when Na went on to tie for second behind Bubba Watson:

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Pepperell wins his first European Tour title in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 25, 2018, 3:31 pm

DOHA, Qatar - Eddie Pepperell survived a tense finish to win the Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club on Sunday for his maiden European Tour title.

The 27-year-old Englishman held off a spirited challenge from compatriot Oliver Fisher, who needed a third successive birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff, but had his putt from six feet slip past the hole for a par.

Pepperell shot a 2-under-par 70 for a four-day tally of 18 under 270, while Fisher, who started the day tied for the lead, could only manage a 71.

Sweden's Marcus Kinhult (68) finished third at 16-under.

The No. 154-ranked Pepperell made things difficult for himself with a bogey on the 15th hole, but hit a superb wedge to three feet on the next to get back to 18 under again.

Fisher, who appeared to have fallen out of contention with three bogeys starting on the third hole, stormed back with birdies on the 14th, 16th and 17th holes.

On the last, Pepperell laid up with his second into the thick rough, made wet and unwieldy by rain in the Qatar capital, but found the green in three and two-putted for the win when Fisher missed his birdie putt.

Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

''I did the things I needed to do, I didn't play fantastic but I won ugly and for the first win to be ugly is good. Hopefully, I'll have some prettier ones in the future,'' said Pepperell.

''I knew I was playing well, especially tee to green, so I expected a lot of myself this week and I guess to pull it off is amazing. When Oli birdied the 17th, that was when it really caught up with me that I was only one ahead. I was in my own zone, I knew I had a couple of shots of lead but Oli did great. It was a tough front nine for him and I had to stay right in my own way and out of the two guys' way because they were struggling a bit and it's sometimes easy to get dragged into that.''

Fisher was disappointed, but saw the silver lining in the way he fought back.

''It went all the way to the last hole which, after my front nine, was what I was hoping for on the back nine,'' said Fisher, who won the 2011 Czech Open, but recorded his first top-three finish since the 2014 Africa Open.

''I hit a lot of good shots coming down the back nine and gave myself a lot of good chances, but there were just too many bogeys today, four in total, so you're never going to win a tournament making that many mistakes on a Sunday. But at least I pressed him all the way.''

Italian Renato Paratore (66) had the low round of the day and finished tied for fourth place at 15 under par, where he was joined by the Spanish pair of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal along with Gregory Havret of France.