Expert Picks: Honda Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 27, 2013, 3:45 am

This week the PGA Tour heads to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. for The Honda Classic. Rory McIlroy returns to defend his title at PGA National, but a strong field will be chasing him, including last year's runner-up, Tiger Woods. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner. They will also be joined by former 'Saturday Night Live' star Norm Macdonald, who will serve as a celebrity guest throughout the fantasy season.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: Forget those 75s to start 2013, forget the wayward iron play at the Match Play and the poor driving in Abu Dhabi, he was downright dominant last year at PGA National and has the look of a new man this week.

Group 2: Peter Hanson: Although off to a slow start in his Tour debuts this year, the Florida Swing is where he started to heat up last year (T-4 at Doral) on his way to a T-3 at The Masters.

Group 3: Geoff Ogilvy: The move back to Scottsdale hasn’t exactly produced the results he’d hoped for but he has a good history at this event (runner-up showings in 2001 and 2006). Besides, when the Australian is on there are few who can control their golf ball in the wind as well as he can.

Group 4: Chad Campbell: Not a lot of great options in this group, but the Texan is used to playing in the wind and has played some of the best golf of his career in Florida (won 2004 Arnold Palmer Invitational).

Win McMurry

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Really tough to pick in this group. I narrowed it down to Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, and local resident Tiger Woods. Ultimately going with Tiger because of this particular statistic thanks to the folks at Shotlink. Instead of looking at him getting knocked out in Round 1 of the Match Play as a negative, I view it as a positive because when you look at the six times it's happened, he's managed to go on and finish inside the top 10 in his next start each time, including last year, when he finished T-2 at Honda.

Group 2: Fredrik Jacobson: The Swede, who makes his home in nearby Hobe Sound, has a great resume at the Honda for a player in this group. He finished T-16 last year, T-6 in 2010 and T-5 in 2009. He has three top 10s this season with a T-3 the best of the year at the Northern Trust Open. He also advanced to the third round last week at the Match Play. He is second on Tour this year in strokes gained putting and second in scoring average, as well as 13th in scrambling.

Group 3: Brian Harman: He tied for 12th last year and has made a paycheck in each of his last four starts. This is what I liked best about him in this group, he is one of only eight players who played the Bear Trap bogey-free last year in all four rounds. He had three birdies and nine pars.

Group 4: Stuart Appleby: The 1997 winner has finished inside the top 25 here the last two years, tying for 10th in 2011. This season he has made a paycheck in three of his four starts.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Lee Westwood: In a year where it seems like every top player is getting a turn, this ball-striker’s course should suit Westwood’s game well. 

Group 2: Ernie Els: His last three wins in the States have come in Florida; after a T-13 in his last stroke-play event, this could be a big week for the Big Easy. 

Group 3: Ted Potter, Jr.: Trust me on this one: The Florida kid will find a lot of success playing on home turf during this year’s Florida Swing.

Group 4: Patrick Reed: Man, that’s a packed Group 4 filled with players who can contend, but I’ll go with young Reed, who has shown a lot of promise.

Will Gray

Group 1: Justin Rose: A key to success on a difficult course like PGA National is hitting the green in regulation. It was important last year, as 12 of the top 15 on the final leaderboard finished T-10 or better in GIR percentage for the week, and it makes me lean to Rose, who led the Tour in the category in 2012. He is one of many looking to rebound from an early exit at Dove Mountain, but I think he gets his third top-five finish at this event in as many starts. 

Group 2: Ernie Els: A winner here in 2008, Els has notched a pair of top-25 finishes since that victory, including a T-21 showing last year. While he left Dove Mountain earlier than planned, I think his play this week will more closely emulate the form that yielded a T-13 at Riviera the week prior. 

Group 3: Billy Horschel: The Florida grad has now made the cut in 16 consecutive events, one shy of the best active streak (Ian Poulter 'made' his 17th in a row at the Match Play). In Group 3 I want solid cash, and Horschel will provide it as he is not the same player that missed the cut here in 2011, his lone prior appearance in this event.

Group 4: Jerry Kelly: The former Players champion has been feast or famine in this event lately. In six starts at PGA National, Kelly has three missed cuts but he also has three top-20 finishes, including a solo third in 2011. With the veteran in decent form of late on some difficult tracks (T-27 at Torrey Pines, T-38 at Riviera), I'll take my chances.

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Watch: Daly makes an ace at the Chubb Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

John Daly won't walk from the Chubb Classic with the trophy, but he certainly deserves recogition for his Sunday scorecard, which came complete with a hole-in-one.

Daly aced the 154-yard par-3 16th on the Talon Course at TwinEagles, when his ball carried the froont bunker and tracked right to the hole.

Two holes later, Daly signed for a final-round 67 that included four birdies, three bogeys and two eagles, which both in the span of four holes on the back nine.

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Gustafson shares stuttering success video

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 8:31 pm

Sophie Gustafson shared a breakthrough Sunday morning on YouTube.

Gustafson, a five-time LPGA winner and 16-time Ladies European Tour winner, shared her news in a 4-minute and 15-second video.

She did so without stuttering.

And that’s the nature of her breakthrough, something she is sharing in hopes that it will help others who stutter.

“I’m certainly not perfect, and the next time you see me, I am going to stutter, there is no question about that,” she says in the video. “But I am excited, because I am going in the right direction, and I believe I have found the solution that works for me.”

For someone who has struggled with stuttering all of her life, Gustafson has touched so many with her ability to communicate. She has entertained her legion of Twitter followers with her sense of humor. She also has written articles.

Back in 2011, Gustafson touched Golf Channel viewers when she opened up about her stuttering in an interview that was aired during the Solheim Cup. Her courage in sharing her challenges was recognized the following year, when the Golf Writers Association of American presented her its Ben Hogan Award, an honor bestowed to someone who has persevered through physical ailment. She also won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award that year.

Gustafson, 44, left the game as a player three years ago to become Beth Allen’s full-time caddie on the Ladies European Tour. She explains in the YouTube video that she is making her breakthrough with the help of Steve Gill, a team member with Tony Robbins’ life and business strategy group.

Gustafson said Gill led her to breathing, meditation and incantation exercises that have helped her since they began working together eight months ago.

“If you know anyone who stutters, tell them to breathe in and then speak,” Gustafson said. “I tried it the other way for 44 years, and it's just not working.” 

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J.Y. Ko wins her first start as an official LPGA member

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 4:09 pm

Make way for Jin Young Ko.

The South Koreans keep delivering one new star after another to the LPGA ranks, and they aren’t going to disappoint this year.

Ko made some history Sunday winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, closing with a 3-under-par 69 to claim a wire-to-wire victory. She became the first player in 67 years to win her LPGA debut as a tour member. Beverly Hanson (1951) is the only other player to do so.

Hyejin Choi, an 18-year-old who just turned pro, is yet another emerging South Korean star looking to crack the LPGA ranks. She finished second Sunday, three shots back after closing with a 67. She played on a sponsor exemption. She is already No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and likely to move up when the newest rankings are released. Had Choi won Sunday, she could have claimed LPGA membership for the rest of this season.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

Ko, 22, moved herself into early position to try to follow in Sung Hyun Park’s footsteps. Park won the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards last year. She joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to do so. Lopez did it in 1978. Park shared the Player of the Year honor with So Yeon Ryu.

Ko said winning the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Award is a goal, but she didn’t come into the year setting her sights on Player of the Year.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.

Ko finished at 14 under overall.

It was a good week for rookies. Australia’s Hannah Green (69) finished third.

Ko claimed LPGA membership this year based on her victory as a non-member at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall. She’s already a star in South Korea, having won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She is No. 20 in the world and, like Choi, poised to move up when the newest world rankings are released.

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko closed with an even par 72, finishing tied for 19th in her 2018 debut. She is in next week’s field at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

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Luiten takes title at inaugural Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands won the inaugural Oman Open on Sunday to break a title drought of nearly 17 months.

The 32-year-old Dutchman shot a 4-under 68 to finish on 16-under 272, two shots ahead of his friend, England's Chris Wood (69).

It was Luiten's sixth European Tour title and the first since the 2016 KLM Open.

Frenchman Julien Guerrier (71) virtually assured that he would not have to go to qualifying school for the 12th time with a third-place finish after a 13-under 275.

Luiten started with three birdies in his first four holes, but bogeys on the seventh and eighth set him back. On the back nine, he made three birdies, including a key one on the 16th, where he made a 30-foot putt.

''It feels great. I didn't know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition - it's a great technical golf course as well - it was beyond my expectation and to hold the trophy is even better,'' said Luiten, who is expected to rise to No. 65 in the new rankings on Monday.

''I had a great start, that's what I was hoping for. I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be.

Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic

''Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine, but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody.''

Playing one group ahead, England's Wood was right in the mix and tied with Luiten at 15-under when their fortunes went in opposite directions almost at the same time. On the 17th hole, Wood drove his tee shot into the hazard left and could do no more than chip his ball out for a bogey. Luiten, meanwhile, drained his 30-footer birdie putt on the 16th for a two-shot swing.

Recovering his form after a series of disappointments, Wood was let down by the loss and said: ''It's golf isn't it? You are never happy.

''I played poorly for six or eight months. Would have never thought I would have put myself into contention. And when you do, you feel gutted when you don't win. I am pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction.''

Luiten's win also got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, securing him a start at the WGC-Mexico Championship in two weeks.

Frenchman Alexander Levy (70), who was hoping to finish in the top five to push into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and grab the WGC-Mexico spot himself, did manage a joint fourth place at 11 under, but Luiten's victory kept him 11th.

The European Tour next moves to Doha for the Qatar Masters starting on Thursday.