Shark Bites Back at 95 Hartford
And when old championships are being rehashed, no golfer in history comes to mind quicker than Greg Norman. Norman has won 18 PGA Tour events plus two British Opens, certainly a laudable figure. But more prominent is his 31 seconds. He has managed to lose by means that would send any other golfer screaming to the psychiatrists couch.
He finished second four times in 1986, four times in 1993, and three times in 1994. He lost a playoff for the British Open (to Mark Calcavecchia) in 89, which would have 32 runner-ups. He also lost a U.S. Open playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller in 1984, the PGA to Paul Azinger in 93 and the Masters in a playoff with Larry Mize in 1987.
He had to be exceptional, of course, to be so close so often, yet come up empty. One of the times he was not a runner-up was the 1995 Canon Greater Hartford. He won in a final round in which he looked eyeball to eyeball with Zoeller, and Zoeller blinked first. And it was the week after the U.S. Open, just like it is in 2002. Norman, incidentally, had once again finished second at Shinnecock to Corey Pavin.
In 1995, though, he was the top of his game. The brilliance at Hartford proved it. He had slipped at the last moment at the Open to allow Pavin to squeeze through to the victory, yet didnt let a bad memory intimidate him the following week. Norman was once again in a real struggle for most of the day, just like the week before, but in the end he just turned on the afterburners and blew the pursuers away.
I could have easily come into this week and not performed as well, he said afterwards. As it turned out, I made myself concentrate and work hard.
I wanted to pull myself up because I knew my game was good. Coming back after a major and doing this, especially after being in contention in a major, is important. I think it was easier because I knew I was playing so good. It was harder because of what happened last week.
A 64-65 start on Thursday and Friday had put Norman in control of the tournament. The rains came on Sunday, putting the breaks on scoring for the entire field. Consequently, by the time the nine-hole turn came in the final round, Norman was ahead by three shots.
Just like that ' snap! ' though, Norman lost his lead. It happened on No. 10, when a snap-hook drive, a tree limb which caught his approach, and a long pitch combined to send him spiraling down with a double bogey. And when Fuzzy Zoeller birdied the 11th, the tournament was tied.
And there was more ' another birdie by Zoeller at the par-5 13th, at the same time Norman was missing a three-footer for a birdie of his own, gave Zoeller the lead. Suddenly, it was put-up or shut-up. Norman had to look inward and ask himself for a little something extra. Would he indeed be the Great White Shark? Or would he be the Chicken of the Sea?
He would find out on the 15th tee. Zoeller had already hit, laying up on the 296-yard shortie. Norman had to answer a big question as he prepared to drive the ball.
I stood on the tee and asked myself, Do I want to win the golf tournament? said Norman. And I said, Yeah, I do. I thought, Well, lets go ahead and win it.
He yanked out the driver and went for the par-4 green with one big bash of the club. The drive hit the green but bounded down the side. Zoeller chunked a short pitch, finally reached the green in three, and two-putted for a bogey. And something good was about to happen to Norman.
He lofted the short pitch toward the pin, then watched with everyone else as it circled the cup and fell in for eagle. He had begun the hole a shot behind, but as he left the green, he was two shots ahead.
Norman had a couple of slips the final four holes, but no one could nab him. He still led by two shots as he came to 18, and won for the 15th time when the day was over.
To come out and do it, that makes me feel very good, said Norman. He had experienced plenty of days when someone had done it to him. This was one when he did to someone else.
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.