Expert picks: Shell Houston Open

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 27, 2012, 9:00 pm

The PGA Tour heads to the Lone Star state as players make their final preparations before Augusta. 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 consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Steve Stricker: In his last five starts, he has been in the top 11 four times. He was T-8 in his last start at Doral.

Group 2: J.B. Holmes: He closed with a 68 in very tough conditions at Bay Hill to finish T-29. Was runner-up here in 2009.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Has found his form again with T-16 and T-4 finishes in his last two starts.

Group 4: Brian Harman: Harman has top-15 finishes in two of his last three starts. He's playing some of the most consistent golf on Tour.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Steve Stricker: Going with a sure-bet pick in Group 1 this week (I need the points!). Stricker has three top-10s in four starts this year, plus four top-11s in his last five starts at Redstone.

Group 2: Seung-Yul Noh: I love the solid play we've seen from him since the Sony. Only two missed cuts in nine starts, plus he is coming off a strong T-20 finish at Bay Hill.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Can't believe Bud is in Group 3 - great value here as he enters Houston off a T-4 at Arnie's and a T-16 the week before in Tampa. Wouldn't be surprised to see him surge to the top of the leaderboard Sunday, just in time for that last Masters' invite.

Group 4: Colt Knost: This Texan showed us a glimpse of his stellar game last month in Mexico where he tied for third. Back in his home state this week, Colt has the opportunity to flourish.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Hunter Mahan: It's been feast or famine for him in eight career starts in Houston, finishing in the top 11 half the time and missing the cut the other half. He's looking to recapture the form that won him the WGC Match Play as he looks forward to Augusta National.

Group 2: Seung-Yul Noh: This accomplished Tour rookie has made the cut in seven of nine starts in 2012, including a T-20 finish last week. He made the cut in all three majors he played in 2011 and is well aware that a win this week will earn him an invitation to his first Masters.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: He's gone from college to the PGA Tour without Q-School, and he too is looking for an invitation to his first Masters with a win. With three top-5 finishes in his first 18 starts on Tour, Cauley is knocking at the door of his first win.

Group 4: Brian Harman: Another impressive rookie who has played very well this year. Harman has four top-26 finishes in his last five starts, with the highlight being a 61 at PGA National en route to a T-12 finish.

Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Ernie Els: Of everyone in the field not already invited to the Masters, Els is the most motivated of all of them. His best finish in Houston is T-14 but I would not be shocked to see him win this week as he has been in the top 21 each of the last four weeks.

Group 2: Chris Kirk: After starting the season with a T-7 in Kapalua, Kirk has struggled to find the form he had in 2011. Last year, he finished runner-up here after almost three months without a top-10 finish; I would not be shocked to see him do it again in 2012.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Been talking up this kid all year long and after a bit of a slow start in 2012 he has played well recently. He now has three top-5 finishes in just 18 career PGA Tour starts and I think his good play will continue this week.

Group 4: Fred Couples: Going from youth to experience on this pick in Couples. He won on the Champions Tour last week and is getting ready for the Masters where he has finished in the top 15 each of the last two years.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Hunter Mahan: A victory at the Shell Houston Open would give swing coach Sean Foley four victories in the last six weeks. Mahan has had success here, having finished in the top 10 in three out of his last five starts.

Group 2: Chris Kirk: Finished runner-up at Redstone last year when he led the field in greens in regulation and is re-energized following the birth of his first child earlier this month.

Group 3: Chad Campbell: A Texas native who has played well in Houston before (runner-up in 2008). Expect him to have a good week here.

Group 4: Brian Harman: The rookie has been solid all spring, with top-30 finishes in four of his last five starts including a stellar Sunday at Bay Hill that featured one of just two sub-70 scores (68) on a demanding golf course.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: John Senden: Ball-striker supreme is quietly having a very solid season, with three top-10s in his last five starts.

Group 2: Brian Davis: Walking the course during his practice round last week, I was told to keep an eye on Davis. Should have listened; he finished T-4.

Group 3: Henrik Stenson: Slowly but surely earning his way back into relevance on the PGA Tour, he could be a surprise to claim that last Masters spot.

Group 4: Brian Harman: Coming off a strong final round at Bay Hill, the rookie could be a popular final-group selection this week.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Steve Stricker: In a game where each golfer represents a quarter of your roster, you grab the sure bet and hang on. They don't get any more reliable than this guy. Four top-11s in five starts at Redstone and still humming along at age 45.

Group 2: Jimmy Walker: In a surprisingly top-heavy-absent Group 2, I'm employing the same strategy as above. Walker has top-25s in four of nine starts this year and co-owns the course record at Redstone (63).

Group 3: Henrik Stenson: Nice find here given that he has top-25s in his last four starts worldwide, including a T-15 last week at Bay Hill. Shared third place in his only appearance at Redstone in 2009.

Group 4: Anders Hansen: I've leaned on him a couple times already this year, and he's a diamond in Group 4. First appearance at Redstone since 2008, but he has seven top-25s in his last 10 starts worldwide.

You can watch complete coverage of the Shell Houston Open Thursday-Friday live on Golf Channel from 3PM-6PM ET.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.