Stat attack!: Honda Classic review

By John AntoniniMarch 3, 2014, 3:13 am

The Bear Trap holes might have garnered all the headlines at the Honda Classic, but the way Russell Henley played the hole before PGA National’s terrible trio was an example of what secured him a second PGA Tour victory. Henley followed his 150-yard hole-out for eagle on the 14th hole Saturday with a chip-in from 37 feet there Sunday. They were two of Henley's four hole-outs for the week, and were examples of the outstanding short game that propelled the 24-year-old Georgian into a four-way playoff with Rory McIlroy, Ryan Palmer and Russell Knox. With dusk approaching, Henley made birdie on the first extra hole to walk away with his first victory of the year. It was an unlikely win for sure. For the last five years, the Honda champion had led (or shared the lead) after three rounds, McIlroy hadn’t blown a 54-hole lead since the 2011 Masters, and Henley himself had gone 20 starts without so much as a top-10 finish. But Henley’s 72 Sunday was enough to catch McIlroy, who shot 74, and causes us to hit the reset button the next time we play “The last time this happened …”

The last five come-from-behind winners at the Honda Classic

 Year Player Through 54 holes Final round
 2014 Russell Henley Two back 72, won playoff
 2008 Ernie Els Three back 67, won by one
 2005 Padraig Harrington Seven back 63, won playoff
 2003 Justin Leonard One back 67, won by one
 2002 Matt Kuchar Three back 66, won by two

Rory McIlroy has held or shared the 54-hole lead nine times in his PGA and European Tour career. He would go on to win five of those events, but he hadn’t lost after holding the 54-hole lead since his unforgettable meltdown at the 2011 Masters. His final-round 74 at PGA National was the result of loose swings Sunday on the 16th and 17th holes, which caused him to make double bogey and bogey, his first over-par scores on the Bear Trap all week. He became the fifth third-round leader in 2014 to shoot 73 or worse in round four. Of those, only Jimmy Walker would go on to win his event.

Rory McIlroy with the 54-hole lead

 Event Final round Finish
 2014 Honda Classic 74 T-2, lost playoff
 2012 DP World Tour 66 Won
 2012 PGA Championship 66 Won
 2012 Honda Classic 69 Won
 2011 U.S. Open 69 Won
 2011 Masters 80 T-15
 2011 Dubai Desert Classic 74 T-10
 2009 Dubai Desert Classic 70 Won
 2008 Omega Euro. Masters 71 2, lost playoff

Third-round leaders who shot 73 or worse in the final round in 2014

 Player Score Tournament
 Rory McIlroy 74 T-2, Honda
 William McGirt 73 T-6, Northern Trust
 Jimmy Walker 73 Won, Pebble
 Gary Woodland 74 T-10, Farmers
 Dustin Johnson 73 T-6, Hyundai

Henley, meanwhile was stellar when it was least expected. He hadn’t finished better than 27th on the PGA Tour in 2013-14, which, it must be noted, came in the 30-player Hyundai Tournament of Champions. His last top-10 finish came at the 2013 Memorial (T-6). At Honda, Henley excelled at scrambling, a category in which he entered the week ranked T-153 on Tour. He had made par or better only 52.46 percent of the time that he missed the green in regulation, but at PGA National he converted 72 percent of the time, T-9 for the tournament, and much better than any of his playoff competitors.

Scrambling stats for the Honda Classic playoff participants

 Player Rank Percentage
 Russell Henley T-9 72% (18 for 25)
 Russell Knox 17 68.42% (13 for 19)
 Rory McIlroy T-41 60% (15 for 25)
 Ryan Palmer 50 57.89% (11 for 19)

Henley’s wedge game was special. He had four hole-outs, more than anyone else at the Honda Classic, including the 150-yarder for eagle at No. 14 Saturday that got all the replays. He also chipped in three times from closer than 30 yards; at No. 14 Sunday, No. 17 Saturday and No. 12 Friday. In addition, Henley led the field in proximity to the hole on approaches from 50-125 yards – a distance that none of his hole-outs fall into. Entering the week he ranked T-115 on Tour in this stat, landing his approaches an average of 19 feet, 9 inches from the hole. At the Honda, he almost halved that distance, averaging 10 feet, 7 inches on his six approaches from that range, making birdie on four of them.

Proximity to the hole from 50-125 yards among the playoff participants

 Player Proximity to hole Attempts To par
 Russell Henley 10 feet, 7 inches 6 -4
 Russell Knox 17 feet, 4 inches 10 -3
 Ryan Palmer 21 feet, 11 inches 5 Even
 Rory McIlroy 27 feet, 1 inch 8 +1

Henley joins McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Harris English as current players under age 25 with multiple wins on the PGA Tour.

Wins by players under age 25

 Player Wins Tournaments
 Rory  McIlroy 6 2010 Wells Fargo, 2011 U.S. Open, 2012 Honda, 2012 PGA, 2012 Deutsche Bank, 2012 BMW
2 2013 Fed-Ex St. Jude, 2013 Mayakoba
2 2013 Sony, 2014 Honda
 Patrick Reed 2 2013 Wyndham, 2014 Humana

The Honda victory gets Henley into the field for this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral (as well as the Masters). English, McIlroy and Reed will also be there. We'll see if youth is once again served.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry