No Oakmont Hangover For Mahan
After a week of U.S. Open golf where groans outnumbered roars, TPC River Highlands and the Travelers Championship was like a light dessert after a big Sunday dinner.
And it was just the right complement.
Jay Williamson. A 40-year-old career journeyman looking for his first PGA Tour victory, did everything but win. He shot scores of 66-66-67-66 which got him to 15-under. But these turned out to be deeds that did not go unpunished when he found himself in a playoff with Hunter Mahan at the end of 72 holes.
The 25-year-old Mahan got there by roaring home with a final round 65 and then stuffing a short iron on the first playoff hole to emerge with his first win on Tour.
It was crazy out there, said Mahan, the youngest PGA TOUR winner so far this season. I played well all day and Jay was a fighter. You definitely think youre good enough to win. But you just never know when its going to happen.
For his efforts, Mahan will have 1.08 million dollars wired to his account. Williamson, who began the year wondering if professional golf was still part of his future, earned $648,000 for second place.
The wondering, and the worrying about nagging injuries, are behind him for now.
This, actually, would have been Williamsons second victory of the year. Early last month he won in Arkansas on the Nationwide Tour. But regaining his privileges on the big tour shouldnt be a problem now. No. 125 on then money list last year made $660,898.
My life certainly changed for the better today, Williamson said. But it couldve changed for a lot better.
PGA TOUR winners receive, among other things, exempt status for the rest of this year plus two more; an invitation to The Masters; and a spot in the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship at Kapalua, Hawaii next January.
Actually, there were plenty of goodies to go around in Connecticut last week. Bo Van Pelt aced the 16th Sunday and, for that effort, will receive a $50,000 shopping spree of Roberto Coin Jewelry at Lux Bond & Green, a local jeweler. Yes, Van Pelt is married. His wifes name is Carrie.
And, no, they werent giving out shopping spree money at the U.S. Open last week at Oakmont.
This was just more of the contrast between Oakmont and TPC River Highlands. Mahan arrived having played well at Oakmont (T13) and he picked up where he left off there.
Previous first-time winners in this event comprise an eclectic group and include Bob Toski (1953), Charlie Sifford (1967) and Mac OGrady (1986).
Back in the late 90s Mahan had played his first TOUR event (as an amateur) in this tournament. Seems like light years ago, he said. But this place is a little special.
A lot special, really. Coming to the 72d hole Sunday he trailed by a shot and knocked his approach inside of Williamson, he had only had 10 feet himself. Williamson missed, Mahan made.
Same thing on the same hole in the playoff. Williamson hit it close. Mahan hit it closer.
I just couldnt hit the putts that I needed to make to win today, Williamson said. For the week, Mahan had 108 putts, Williamson 111.
And if you are seriously into golf, you couldnt take your eyes off the final pairing of Mahan and Williamson. It doesnt have to be a major championship to be compelling.
Put two players, on top of their games, desperate for a PGA TOUR victory, delivering the goods and it will always be interesting.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.