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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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."


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Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."