Punch Shot: First-time major winner in 2017?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 4, 2017, 1:00 pm

The 2016 schedule saw four first-time major winners. Who is most likely to continue that trend? Our writers are (almost) united.


Maybe it’s because his game isn’t flashy or because he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in the media spotlight, but Hideki Matsuyama has taken being underrated to the extreme.

After winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2016, Matsuyama had his best year in the majors, finishing tied for seventh at the Masters and fourth at the PGA Championship.

Even more impressive is how he finished the year, winning four of his last six starts around the globe, including the WGC-HSBC Champions.

The hottest player in golf at the moment also may have the most complete game. While he doesn’t make many highlight reels with his power, he ranked in the top 20 last season in strokes gained: off-the-tee, tee-to-green and scoring average.

If Matsuyama has even an average week putting, he is easily the best player in golf without a major and the most likely to shed that dubious title.


This might be a classic case of recency bias, but Hideki Matsuyama has to be atop the short list of contenders.

A world-class ball-striker, he has worked tirelessly to improve his putting, and the results are astounding: He had four wins, a runner-up and another top-5 finish in his last six starts of 2016. And some of those victories, including the WGC-HSBC Champions, were in a rout.

Unlike, say, Patrick Reed, Matsuyama has already played well in the majors, racking up five top-10s since 2013. (It’s a testament to his all-around game, too, that he has at least one top-10 in all four majors.) The Japanese star is going to bag a couple of majors in his career. Why not begin in 2017, while he’s in the best form of his career?


It’s easy to peg Hideki Matsuyama for this one, given the fact that he ended 2016 as the hottest player in the world. But what fun is it to scroll down the OWGR and tip the top-ranked player still without a major?

I’ll go a bit further down the list for Branden Grace, who has shown over the last two seasons that he has more than enough chops to win one of golf’s four biggest events.

The South African has a penchant for showing up big in majors, with four top-5 finishes over his last seven major starts. That includes a near-miss at Chambers Bay as well as a T-4 finish last year at Baltusrol. Grace notched his first PGA Tour win at the RBC Heritage in April, freeing him up to craft a worldwide schedule of his choosing without having to worry about maintaining his card.

Grace remains one of the world’s best drivers, and big ballparks like Erin Hills and Quail Hollow should play right into his hand. By the time we reach the postseason, we’ll be talking about him as one of the biggest storylines of the year.


Hideki Matsuyama is a major talent, and he’s showing major affinity for Augusta National. Matsuyama tied for seventh at the Masters last year and was fifth there the year before. We’ve seen how certain names keep getting in the Sunday mix at Augusta National over the years, and Matsuyama is looking like he’s going to be one of those regulars. 

Matsuyama won five times around the world last year, twice on the PGA Tour, with two top 10s in the majors. He tied for fourth at the PGA Championship.

One of the world’s best ball-strikers, Matsuyama has the game tee to green to win multiple majors. He only needs to show he has the putter, too.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.