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. 

Getty Images

Watch: Daly makes an ace at the Chubb Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

John Daly won't walk from the Chubb Classic with the trophy, but he certainly deserves recogition for his Sunday scorecard, which came complete with a hole-in-one.

Daly aced the 154-yard par-3 16th on the Talon Course at TwinEagles, when his ball carried the froont bunker and tracked right to the hole.

Two holes later, Daly signed for a final-round 67 that included four birdies, three bogeys and two eagles, which both in the span of four holes on the back nine.

Getty Images

Gustafson shares stuttering success video

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 8:31 pm

Sophie Gustafson shared a breakthrough Sunday morning on YouTube.

Gustafson, a five-time LPGA winner and 16-time Ladies European Tour winner, shared her news in a 4-minute and 15-second video.

She did so without stuttering.

And that’s the nature of her breakthrough, something she is sharing in hopes that it will help others who stutter.

“I’m certainly not perfect, and the next time you see me, I am going to stutter, there is no question about that,” she says in the video. “But I am excited, because I am going in the right direction, and I believe I have found the solution that works for me.”

For someone who has struggled with stuttering all of her life, Gustafson has touched so many with her ability to communicate. She has entertained her legion of Twitter followers with her sense of humor. She also has written articles.

Back in 2011, Gustafson touched Golf Channel viewers when she opened up about her stuttering in an interview that was aired during the Solheim Cup. Her courage in sharing her challenges was recognized the following year, when the Golf Writers Association of American presented her its Ben Hogan Award, an honor bestowed to someone who has persevered through physical ailment. She also won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award that year.

Gustafson, 44, left the game as a player three years ago to become Beth Allen’s full-time caddie on the Ladies European Tour. She explains in the YouTube video that she is making her breakthrough with the help of Steve Gill, a team member with Tony Robbins’ life and business strategy group.

Gustafson said Gill led her to breathing, meditation and incantation exercises that have helped her since they began working together eight months ago.

“If you know anyone who stutters, tell them to breathe in and then speak,” Gustafson said. “I tried it the other way for 44 years, and it's just not working.” 

Getty Images

J.Y. Ko wins her first start as an official LPGA member

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 4:09 pm

Make way for Jin Young Ko.

The South Koreans keep delivering one new star after another to the LPGA ranks, and they aren’t going to disappoint this year.

Ko made some history Sunday winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, closing with a 3-under-par 69 to claim a wire-to-wire victory. She became the first player in 67 years to win her LPGA debut as a tour member. Beverly Hanson (1951) is the only other player to do so.

Hyejin Choi, an 18-year-old who just turned pro, is yet another emerging South Korean star looking to crack the LPGA ranks. She finished second Sunday, three shots back after closing with a 67. She played on a sponsor exemption. She is already No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and likely to move up when the newest rankings are released. Had Choi won Sunday, she could have claimed LPGA membership for the rest of this season.


Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open


Ko, 22, moved herself into early position to try to follow in Sung Hyun Park’s footsteps. Park won the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards last year. She joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to do so. Lopez did it in 1978. Park shared the Player of the Year honor with So Yeon Ryu.

Ko said winning the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Award is a goal, but she didn’t come into the year setting her sights on Player of the Year.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.

Ko finished at 14 under overall.

It was a good week for rookies. Australia’s Hannah Green (69) finished third.

Ko claimed LPGA membership this year based on her victory as a non-member at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall. She’s already a star in South Korea, having won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She is No. 20 in the world and, like Choi, poised to move up when the newest world rankings are released.

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko closed with an even par 72, finishing tied for 19th in her 2018 debut. She is in next week’s field at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

Getty Images

Luiten takes title at inaugural Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands won the inaugural Oman Open on Sunday to break a title drought of nearly 17 months.

The 32-year-old Dutchman shot a 4-under 68 to finish on 16-under 272, two shots ahead of his friend, England's Chris Wood (69).

It was Luiten's sixth European Tour title and the first since the 2016 KLM Open.

Frenchman Julien Guerrier (71) virtually assured that he would not have to go to qualifying school for the 12th time with a third-place finish after a 13-under 275.

Luiten started with three birdies in his first four holes, but bogeys on the seventh and eighth set him back. On the back nine, he made three birdies, including a key one on the 16th, where he made a 30-foot putt.

''It feels great. I didn't know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition - it's a great technical golf course as well - it was beyond my expectation and to hold the trophy is even better,'' said Luiten, who is expected to rise to No. 65 in the new rankings on Monday.

''I had a great start, that's what I was hoping for. I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be.


Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic


''Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine, but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody.''

Playing one group ahead, England's Wood was right in the mix and tied with Luiten at 15-under when their fortunes went in opposite directions almost at the same time. On the 17th hole, Wood drove his tee shot into the hazard left and could do no more than chip his ball out for a bogey. Luiten, meanwhile, drained his 30-footer birdie putt on the 16th for a two-shot swing.

Recovering his form after a series of disappointments, Wood was let down by the loss and said: ''It's golf isn't it? You are never happy.

''I played poorly for six or eight months. Would have never thought I would have put myself into contention. And when you do, you feel gutted when you don't win. I am pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction.''

Luiten's win also got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, securing him a start at the WGC-Mexico Championship in two weeks.

Frenchman Alexander Levy (70), who was hoping to finish in the top five to push into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and grab the WGC-Mexico spot himself, did manage a joint fourth place at 11 under, but Luiten's victory kept him 11th.

The European Tour next moves to Doha for the Qatar Masters starting on Thursday.