Punch Shot: Who is the current Masters favorite?

By Golf Channel Digital, Rex HoggardMarch 11, 2015, 7:00 pm

Rory McIlroy is currently the odds-on favorite to win the Masters Tournament. But should he be? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with their current favorite to win, with one month to go before the event begins at Augusta National.


Who’s going to forget that great escape at the 10th hole in 2012, when Bubba Watson hit that amazing hook around the trees to save par and beat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff for his first Masters’ victory.

Or Watson’s towering blast over the trees at the 13th last year, where he cut the corner with that mammoth 366-yard drive  in the final round to set up his second victory at Augusta National.

“This place suits him perfectly,” Rickie Fowler said last year. “He’s able to hit golf shots around here that some guys can’t.”

Bubba Watson makes his way around Augusta National like some caretaker’s son, like the kid who knows all a property’s shortcuts, all its nooks and crannies. We see the comfort he has there, his confident sense of belonging. So do other players. It’s what makes Bubba the favorite to win his third Masters’ title in four years. The belief he takes to that iconic golf course knowing it embraces him as much as he embraces it makes him the man to beat no matter what the oddsmakers say.


An angrily tossed club and more than a sleeve of lost golf balls aside, Rory McIlroy is still the man to beat at Augusta National.

The world No. 1 missed the cut in his first start on the PGA Tour two weeks ago at the Honda Classic and received more attention last week at Doral for throwing his 3-iron into a lake than he did for his game. But as McIlroy has proven in his young career, he is exceedingly adept at turning things around.

Remember, this is the same guy who struggled in 2013 - only to come back and win two majors and a World Golf Championships event in 2014.

At Doral, where he tied for ninth with something well less than his best stuff, McIlroy was particularly concerned with his inability to move the ball from right-to-left in a healthy breeze.

As a result, he will spend this week with his father and New England quarterback Tom Brady looking for answers at Augusta National.

He has plenty of time to cure what ails his long game. But most importantly, he has plenty of motivation to turn things around in time for the Masters – a chance to win the career Grand Slam.


The oddsmakers in Las Vegas still favor Rory McIlroy, but if the Masters started tomorrow I’d give my No. 1 seed to Bubba Watson.

While McIlroy chases the career Grand Slam, Watson is in search of another impressive feat – three green jackets in a four-year span. There’s reason to think that he’ll get it, too, considering the fact that the golf course appears to be tailor-made to suit his arcing ball flight. His recent form doesn’t hurt his cause, either: Watson has a win, a runner-up and a third-place finish already this season, with each of his five starts going for no worse than a T-14 result.

McIlroy has the game to compete and win at Augusta National, but the suffocating pressure that will come with his quest for a third straight major victory will be too much for him this year. He’ll get his green jacket someday – likely more than one – but as Phil Mickelson can attest, chasing the fourth leg of the slam can prove difficult.


Bubba Watson.

You may have seen the stat floated last week: The years Watson has won the Masters (2012, ’14), he also finished runner-up at Doral. Well, the world No. 2 finished third last week at Trump’s Place, so that should portend well for next month’s gathering in Augusta.

Truth is, Watson was the Masters favorite even before he bombed his way around the beastly Blue Monster. His impressive performance there only strengthened our belief.

In his last six PGA Tour starts, Watson hasn’t finished outside the top 15 while winning once and finishing inside the top three on three other occasions. The player who once was the most unpredictable force in the game has become decidedly predictable, in that he contends almost every single week.

That shouldn’t change at the Masters. Until further notice, his nuclear driver, shot-making ability and imagination around the greens will always be a recipe for green-jacketed success. 

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.