Punch Shot: Biggest surprise of the PGA Tour season

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 2, 2015, 12:30 pm

With the 2014-15 PGA Tour campaign in the rear-view mirror, GolfChannel.com writers offer up their pick for biggest surprise of the season. Click here for their pick for best shot and click here for most memorable moment.

By REX HOGGARD

Say what you will about Tiger Woods’ recent struggles, his injuries, his inconsistent play, even his irrelevance in recent years, but his resume in 2015 was still the year’s biggest surprise.

The same player who just 12 months earlier was coming off a five-win PGA Tour season began his ’15 campaign with his worst performance in a non-major, a second-round 82 in Phoenix to miss the cut, and followed that with a surreal withdrawal at Torrey Pines citing a lingering back ailment.

That competitive valley was followed by a self-imposed hiatus from the Tour as he tried to regain his health, fix his short game and continue his swing change. When he did return, things weren’t much better.

After tying for 17th at the Masters, he missed the cut at Chambers Bay after a first-round 80, the Open Championship (76-75) and the PGA Championship (75-73), and he added the Wyndham Championship to his schedule in an 11th-hour attempt to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs that came up short.

Whatever momentum he gained from his tie for 10th at the Wyndham, where he began the final round tied for second place, was quickly lost with news that he’d undergone his second back surgery and won’t return until early next year.

Expectations with Tiger have always been unrealistic and maybe this is the new normal, but another lost season was still a surprise.


By RANDALL MELL

Jordan Spieth’s major championship dominance: Who would have predicted at year’s start that Spieth would win the Masters and U.S. Open and come one putt short of going to the PGA Championship with a chance to become the first player to win the modern Grand Slam? Or that at 22 he would also come so close to winning the year’s last major at Whistling Straits?

The run was nearly a historic stunner. He also moved to No. 1 in the world for the first time. We knew the young man had a tremendous upside, but nobody saw dominance like this coming, not this year.


By RYAN LAVNER

The July 4 fireworks had nothing on the shock wave that Rory McIlroy sent through the sports world. Two days after the holiday, and with the Open Championship only a week away, he revealed that he had suffered a serious injury to his left ankle during a soccer game with friends. It was the worst-timed kickabout in golf history.

The busted ankle kept him out of that week’s Scottish Open, but the bigger blow was that it cost him a spot in the Open at St. Andrews, an opportunity that arises only every five years. McIlroy was 26, in the prime of his career, and riding high off two recent titles. Who knows? He might not get a better shot at the home of golf.

Worse, he could have been the perfect foil to SpiethMania, as its protagonist headed to St. Andrews looking for his third consecutive major. Instead, McIlroy returned in time for the PGA, but was too rusty to contend. He didn’t factor in any of the three playoff events he played, either.

The lesson learned here?

“Don’t play football in the middle of the season,” he said.


By WILL GRAY

At age 51, most professional golfers are either teeing it up ceremonially or raking in the cash on the Champions Tour. They’re not playing week in and week out against players half their age, and they’re certainly not leaving with any hardware.

But that’s just what Davis Love III did at the Wyndham Championship, winning a shootout at Sedgefield Country Club that gave him his first victory in nearly seven years.

When Love earned win No. 20 back in 2008, it cemented his lifetime PGA Tour membership and seemed a fitting swan song for one of the most consistent players of the 1990s. But while many of his peers departed for the over-50 circuit, Love maintained a full slate of events against the game’s rising stars – even while juggling Ryder Cup captaincies.

That dedication was rewarded in Greensboro, where the former Tar Heel and two-time champ is a fan favorite every time he steps to the tee. While Tiger Woods was the biggest story of the week, Love was the player lifting the Sam Snead Cup, proving once again that in golf, age is just a number.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.