Punch Shot: Best major of the decade (so far)

Rory McIlroy won a thriller at Valhalla, site of the 96th PGA Championship. It was the most exciting major of the season but was it the best of this decade? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with their favorite majors over the last five years.

By RYAN LAVNER

There have been more dramatic finales, like the 2011 Masters or the recently completed PGA. There have been better four-round individual performances, like Rory McIlroy's tour de force at the 2011 U.S. Open. But for the best major - the best winner, the most intrigue, the sweetest setting -- the answer is the 2013 Open Championship, when Phil Mickelson surprised everyone, even himself, in capturing the claret jug.

The major had everything. Most importantly, it had all of the bold-faced players in place, with Lee Westwood leading through 54 holes, Tiger Woods two back, Adam Scott lurking, Henrik Stenson in the hunt, too. Five back was Mickelson, who for years had been befuddled by links golf. But on Sunday, he closed with a flawless 66 - including a riveting finishing kick - that ranks among the best major rounds, ever. That all of the drama played out over the links at Muirfield, the best course in the Open rota, only added to the major's majesty. 


By JASON SOBEL

Among my personal finalists for this honor were last year's Open Championship and last week's PGA Championship, but the 2011 Masters is my winner.

Ask me again in a few minutes, though, and I reserve the right to change my mind.

That year's Masters featured eight different players holding at least a share of the lead in the final round. It was frenzied action from start to finish, with Charl Schwartzel surviving as the last man standing.

I still maintain that if Schwartzel's closing stretch of birdies on his last four holes came from a more heralded star – oh, say one named Tiger or Phil – it would be hailed as one of the greatest feats in Masters history. It still is, but too often gets overlooked.

Were the other majors I mentioned just as dramatic? Maybe. But neither one of them was played on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. To me, that was the deciding dynamic.


By REX HOGGARD

The best major of this decade may go down as the best-ever for the 20 million or so Australians who tuned in early Monday morning on April 15, 2013, to watch Adam Scott end the country’s Masters drought.

No tournament inspired as much nostalgia or handwringing for an Australian than the Masters, an anxiety fueled by Greg Norman’s assorted near-misses and heartbreaks at Augusta National.

But that collective curse ended last spring when Scott played his last six holes in regulation in 3 under par and calmly rolled in a 12 footer for birdie on the second extra hole to beat Angel Cabrera and end Australia’s 76-year drought in the year’s first major.

But if the subtext of becoming the first player from Down Under to slip his arms into a green jacket wasn’t compelling enough, Augusta National’s closing nine delivered the coup de grâce that separates the ’13 Masters from all other majors this decade.

In order, Jason Day birdied three consecutive holes on the closing loop to make his claim for his first major only to bogey Nos. 16 and 17 and finish two back, while Tiger Woods made arguably his best run at major No. 15 with a closing 70 to finish tied for seventh.

In short, the ’13 Masters had it all.


By RANDALL MELL

Adam Scott's victory at the 2013 Masters gave us a few goosebump moments. His birdie at the 72nd hole looked like it would seal this feel-good story. At 32, this former prodigy looked like he was finally going to shake all the disappointments in his mediocre major championship history and become the first Australian to win a green jacket. The story got better when Angel Cabrera stormed in behind Scott with a terrific closing birdie of his own, extending the high drama to a sudden-death playoff that Scott won with a birdie at the second extra hole. 

For those who thought Scott too soft to win a major, he delivered a tough-guy performance. His collapse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes at the British Open the summer before could have spawned a legion of demon doubts. If he had them, he slayed them at Augusta National.


By WILL GRAY

Watching the chaos this past weekend at Valhalla evoked memories of the 2011 Masters, when a number of players had one arm into the green jacket before Charl Schwartzel took the title with an unprecedented run of four birdies to close his final round. A total of eight – eight! – players held at least a share of the lead on Sunday. At one point on the back nine, there was a five-way tie at the top.

The tournament may be better remembered for the collapse of 54-hole leader Rory McIlroy, but Schwartzel’s victory deserves recognition. If a bigger name had won (say, Adam Scott, who tied for second), it would probably rank higher on most lists. For my money, though, nothing beats a group of challengers trading birdies down the stretch at Augusta National, which the 2011 edition delivered in spades. 

South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

The fourball results:

LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.

 

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET

An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.


Here are some other social media posts that have surfaced:


Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.



Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''


Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open


Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''