Punch Shot: Rookie of the Year in 2017?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 3, 2017, 11:00 pm

This season's PGA Tour rookie class includes players who have already visited the winner's circle. Who will rise above the rest? Our writers weigh in.

By REX HOGGARD

A class that includes arguably more blue-chip prospects than any other rookie group in recent memory will be led by a true blue-collar player – Andrew “Beef” Johnston.

Although it’s tough not to acknowledge that there are already two rookies with victories on their resumes this season (Mackenzie Hughes and Cody Gribble), the hardware for best first-year player seems destined for Johnston considering his resume and the opportunities he will have in 2017.

Johnston, who earned his Tour card via the Web.com Tour Finals, finished the year inside the top 100 in the world ranking and began his season at the lucrative, no-cut WGC-HSBC Champions. It’s a luxury most rookies won’t enjoy, and his victory late last season at the European Tour’s Spanish Open is proof he can compete at the highest level.


By RYAN LAVNER

It took him a little bit longer than some of the more heralded members of the high school class of 2011, but Ollie Schniederjans has finally landed on the big tour.

A former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, he has the firepower to hang with anyone on the PGA Tour. The only concern, like with most young players, is consistency. He’s prone to big splashes and even bigger flameouts. Last year on the Web.com Tour, he made only 12 of 20 cuts. He still finished sixth in earnings. Already on the PGA Tour, he’s just 1-for-4, but the lone made cut was a tie for sixth at Sea Island, where he was in contention all four days.

The hatless wonder is a future star on Tour. His 2017 can be made with just a few spectacular weeks. 


By WILL GRAY

This piece of hardware tends to go to players who win in their first season on Tour, giving Cody Gribble and Mackenzie Hughes a decided advantage heading into the new year. But given the choice, I’ll side with Gribble, who has already shown that his Sanderson Farms victory was no fluke.

A former standout at the University of Texas, Gribble finished T-8 at the Safeway Open in his first start as a member and also added a T-15 finish in Mexico after bagging his first trophy. Gribble was on that 2012 Texas team that won a national title and featured a young prospect named Spieth, and Gribble’s strong short game has him ranked fifth this season in strokes gained putting.

Gribble’s win didn’t earn him a Masters invitation, but he’s in the PGA and has qualified for the U.S. Open each of the last two years at sectionals. When the dust settles in August, expect him to have passed Hughes and the rest of the ’17 rookie class.


By RANDALL MELL

Wesley Bryan.

Though Bryan didn’t make a large impression in his four PGA Tour fall starts, he enjoyed a big 2016 season anyway, thanks to his three Web.com Tour victories. He led that tour in putting, was second in birdies per round and third in scoring.

Those numbers bode well for continuing to show there’s more to this player than his viral video trick-shot fame.

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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.