Punch Shot: Best finish to a non-major event in 2014?

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 10, 2014, 10:00 pm

Bubba Watson holed a bunker shot for eagle on the 72nd hole of the WGC-HSBC Champions to force a playoff, and then made a 20-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to win - all after going bogey-double bogey to lose his lead. Was this the best finish of 2014? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in:

By RYAN LAVNER

Sure, we had to watch while peeking through our fingers, but Martin Kaymer’s unexpectedly exciting finish at The Players was the best of the year, non-major division. By that point you may have even turned off the coverage – after all, Kaymer was staked to a three-shot lead with 4 1/2 holes to play, and the horn had just sounded to suspend action. But when he returned to the course, mentally unprepared, all hell broke loose.

His hooked tee shot on 15 led to a double. His sloppy work around the green cost him a would-be easy birdie on 16. And on the island 17th, his tee shot took a weird bounce on the rain-softened green and sucked back near the bulkhead, and he needed to hole a 27-foot par putt – the Putt of the Year – just to stay one clear and head to one of the most daunting tee shots in golf. After a macho drive down the middle, he got up-and-down from short of the green to secure his wire-to-wire victory, capture his first PGA Tour title since 2010 and set up his blowout at the U.S. Open.

Jitters? Check. Clutch shots? Yep. A sigh of relief at the end? You bet. The Players was the best non-major finish of the year. 


By JASON SOBEL

The ending to this year’s Shell Houston Open sounded like a far-fetched movie script.

Journeyman golfer is chasing one of the world’s best, a proven winner. Needing to make a 46-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation just to force a playoff, he does it. Then on the first playoff hole, he misses the green – only to chip in and win his first career PGA Tour title in dramatic fashion.

Oh, and it also afforded him the last spot in the Masters field, being contested just a few days later.

Matt Jones’ journey to the victory circle might sound too good to be true, but instead it qualified as the best finish of the 2014 calendar year.

Maybe in the Hollywood version, Jones will go on to win the green jacket, too.


By REX HOGGARD

At first blush Rory McIlroy’s victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational has the look of little more than an entertaining interlude wedged between the Northern Irishman’s major championship march, but of all McIlroy’s accomplishments in 2014 it was arguably the most compelling.

Fresh off his breakthrough at the Open Championship, McIlroy began the final round three shots behind Sergio Garcia and among the year’s most impressive leaderboard.

Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Brandt Snedeker were all in contention on Sunday at Firestone Country Club, but it was McIlroy who began his round with birdies at four of his first five holes and played textbook prevent defense down the stretch to clip El Nino by two strokes.

While his victories at the Open and the following week’s PGA Championship received more attention, McIlroy’s Bridgestone breakthrough was his first triumph at a World Golf Championships event and propelled him back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

It was also quintessential Rory, with the Ulsterman finding nine of 14 fairways on Day 4 while leading the field in driving distance and greens in regulation (15 of 18).

The Bridgestone Invitational will end up being a footnote to McIlroy’s dominant season, but it was the year’s most impressive finish – non-major division.


By RANDALL MELL

Russell Henley survived the calamity across PGA National to win the Honda Classic back in March. In a back-nine Sunday struggle fraught with so many nervy, misfired shots, the finish felt like it was for something more important than a regular Tour title.

The four players who made the playoff didn’t look like they needed caddies as much as they needed EMTs with so much trouble lying in wait on the Champions Course. Henley, Rory McIlroy, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer all coughed up chances to win in regulation. McIlroy couldn’t hold his 54-hole lead in a disappointing final round, but he made the finish thrilling with a spectacular 5-wood at the 72nd hole to set up an eagle chance to win from 11 feet. He missed and ultimately Henley prevailed with a birdie at the first playoff hole. 


By WILL GRAY

Sure, it happened in the middle of the night during a month usually reserved for football tailgating. But the finish this past week at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China was not only thrilling – it was the best of 2014 outside the majors.

Consider the cast of contenders: three major champions in Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer; the bridesmaid of 2014, Rickie Fowler; and even a traditional underdog in Hiroshi Iwata. Six players teed off the final hole Sunday within a shot of the lead, and the reachable par-5 proved to be the perfect backdrop for a dramatic conclusion.

Watson ultimately won the event in a playoff over Tim Clark, himself already a PGA Tour winner this season. While his birdie on the first extra hole earned him the trophy, the more memorable shot from Watson will be the one that got him into the playoff: a lengthy, downhill bunker shot that found the bottom of the cup for an eagle on the final hole of regulation.

A dramatic hole-out and eagle-birdie finish to cap a victory when no fewer than five other players had a chance to win on the final hole? Yeah, I’d say that’s a decent way to end a tournament.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


Masters victory


Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


Man of the people


Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


Departure from TaylorMade


Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


Victory at Valderrama


Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm