Stat attack!: Zurich Classic of New Orleans preview

By John AntoniniApril 22, 2014, 8:36 pm

At the 2013 Zurich Classic of New Orleans Billy Horschel (pictured) and D.A. Points took disparate paths to the top of the leaderboard. Horschel impressed in greens in regulation and proximity to the hole, while Points was dominant in fairways hit and scrambling. They were both outstanding once they got to the green, Points finishing second in strokes gained and Horschel third. Horschel was the tournament leader in putting from beyond 10 feet. His 26-foot birdie putt on the last hole, was his 15th putt made from more than 10 feet for the tournament and it provided the margin of victory in Horschel’s first PGA Tour win.

Tournament stats for the leaders at the 2013 Zurich Classic

 Player Distance Accuracy GIR Prox. to hole Scrambling Str. Gained
Putts from
10+ feet
288.3 (27) 55.36% (T63) 81.94% (T2) 28' 2" (4) 61.54% (50) 1.768 (3) 15/45; 33.33% (1)
276.5 (58) 82.14% (1) 69.44% (T38) 35' 6" (41) 90.91% (2) 1.868 (2) 9/34; 26.47% (5)

That’s the type of venue the TPC Louisiana is turning into. It doesn’t favor any particular type of golfer. Winners there have been bombers (Bubba Watson) or shorter hitters (Jerry Kelly). Hit plenty of fairways as Jason Bohn did in 2011, or play the course from the rough as Horschel did a year ago. It hardly seems to matter.

What Horschel did last year was maximize his opportunities. His Sunday 64 included nine birdies and he made 15 on the weekend. The 64 tied the current course tournament record and his weekend rounds of 66-64—130 added up to the lowest last 36-hole total since the event moved to TPC Louisiana. It was the culmination of a grand start to the 2013 season for the Floridian, the victory coming in his 12th-straight cut made and his fourth-straight top 10. But a repeat performance might not be in Horschel’s future. Although eight of the previous 10 winners of the Zurich Classic made the cut, none finished in the top 10. In fact, only 2005 winner Tim Petrovic has a subsequent top-10 finish in the tournament, with a T-7 in 2008.

How the defending champion fared at the Zurich Classic: 2004-2013

 Player Year won Following year
 Jason Dufner 2012 T-42
 Bubba Watson 2011 T-18
 Jason Bohn  2010 T-67
 Jerry Kelly 2009 T-67
 Andres Romero 2008 DQ
 Nick Watney  2007 T-42
 Chris Couch 2006 T-80
 Tim Petrovic 2005 MC
 Vijay Singh 2004 T-21
 Steve Flesch 2003 T-45

Horschel is one of five players who got his first PGA Tour victory at TPC Louisiana. The Zurich Classic was first played at TPC Louisiana in 2006 and moved there permanently in 2008. Among the group in the previous chart, Dufner, Romero, Watney and Petrovic lifted their initial hardware on the Bayou. (Couch and Flesch did too, but they won at English Turn G&CC, the tournament’s home from 1989-2004 and 2006.)

A good percentage of the players in the Zurich Classic are seeking PGA Tour win number one, some have been seeking it longer than others. Eight players in this year’s field have made more than 200 starts on Tour and haven’t won. Three of them – Brian Davis, Jeff Overton and Charlie Wi – came close in New Orleans.

Most PGA Tour starts with no wins among 2014 Zurich Classic field

 Player Starts Runner-ups on Tour Best Zurich finish
 Briny Baird 375 6 T-8, 2003
 Greg Chalmers 349 2 Fifth, 2010
 Brian Davis 293 5 T-17, 2005
 James Driscoll 227 2 2, 2005
 Jeff Overton 226 4 2, 2010
 Charlie Wi 220 5 T-2, 2009
 Tag Ridings 210 1 T-26, 2011
 Chris Stroud 204 1 T-5, 2007

Baird and Stroud are among the group of 11 winless players in the Zurich Classic field who have finished in the top-three of a PGA Tour event this season. (Horschel had a second and a third in 2013 before he won.)

Winless players with top finishes in 2013-14

 Player Best 2013-14 result
 Brooks Koepka T-3
 Chris Stroud T-3 CIMB, T-3 Mayakoba
 Briny Baird T-2 McGladrey
 Graham DeLaet T-2 Farmers, T-2 Phoenix
 Jim Renner T-2 Pebble
 Brian Harman T-3 No. Trust
 Russell Knox T-2 Honda
 Danny Lee 2-Puerto Rico
 Ben Martin T-3 Puerto Rico, T-3 Heritage
 Scott Langley 3 Valspar
 Daniel Summerhays T-2 Texas

Those looking for their first win this week won’t have to deal with a very strong field. None of the top-10 players on the Official World Golf Ranking are playing in the Big Easy. Only nine of the top 50, including the Big Easy himself, are playing. Two players from that group – Horschel and Nick Watney – have won in New Orleans.

Top players on the world ranking in the New Orleans field

 Rank Player Best Zurich result
 11 Justin Rose T-5 in 2004
 21 Keegan Bradley T-26 in 2011
 25 Patrick Reed T-24 in 2012
 31 Graham DeLaet T-4 in 2012
 36 Rickie Fowler T-10 in 2012
 42 Matt Every T-32 in 2013
 44 Ernie Els Second in 2012
 49 Nick Watney Won in 2007
 50 Billy Horschel Won in 2013

One final note: It’s not rare that a player from the same region wins the host tournament, but the last four winners of the Zurich Classic in New Orleans – Jason Bohn, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Billy Horschel – all have ties to the deep south. Although Bohn and Dufner were born in Pennsylvania and Ohio, respectively, they both went to college in Alabama (Bohn in Tuscaloosa and Dufner at Auburn). Horschel and Watson are Floridians. Before that, Louisiana native won the tournament in 2001 and if you want to go stray farther south, a pair of players from South America have won in recent years, Argentina’s Romero in 2008 and Paraguay’s Carlos Franco in 1999 and 2000.




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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."