Punch Shot: Sergio majors and Spieth green jackets

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

In the wake of the Masters, we have a few questions to answer. How many majors will Sergio Garcia win in his career? Who now is the best player without a major (minimum 10 major starts)? And how many green jackets will Jordan Spieth capture? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with their answers.

How many majors for Sergio?

REX HOGGARD: At 37, you would think he still has another 20-30 major championship starts as a legitimate contender. Given his track record – he was 0-for-73 before Sunday’s breakthrough at Augusta National – that probably doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but consider his newfound confidence after so many missed opportunities. Garcia will win one more major, probably The Open, before his career is over.

RANDALL MELL: With Garcia unburdened of the notion the golf gods are against him, he will win one more. He should be free of the massive doubt that seemed so debilitating in the past. He should also be free of the pressures that mounted as each failed major passed, but the competition is so intense now with Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day all proven major winners who are in their primes. Winning another major will take an equally strong-minded run from Garcia.

RYAN LAVNER: Three. Garcia said at Augusta that he doesn’t feel any different as a major champion, but he had the look of a man who knows that his on-course life just got a whole lot easier. Unburdened, Garcia remains too good of a player not to pick off another one or two majors. The Open is his best bet to capture another title – he has six top-6s in the past dozen years – and he’ll always be a threat in PGA Championships, where birdies are rewarded. If Garcia can handle the stress-test of a Masters Sunday, why can’t he improve on his U.S. Open record, which already includes five top-10s?

WILL GRAY: I’ll give him another trophy and say he ends up with two. For the past few years, as his renaissance has continued, it always seemed like the U.S. Open or The Open would be the site of his major breakthrough. The fact that he got it done at Augusta instead will certainly free him up moving forward, but those two events are still the ones where his clinical ball-striking is most rewarded – and his sometimes balky putter can prove the least penalizing. At age 37, he’s got several more years to go where he can be expected as a viable contender in majors. He’ll find a way to get it done once again.

Best player without a major?

HOGGARD: On Sunday things didn’t go his way but there’s no denying that Rickie Fowler continues to chip away at the Grand Slam challenge. Fowler assumes the title from Garcia, but it doesn’t seem likely it will take him as long to pass the moniker on to someone else.

MELL: Lee Westwood is the most decorated player without a major. The former world No. 1 had even more major championship starts (76 now) without winning one than Garcia did going to the Masters. But, Westwood, who has nine finishes of T-3 or better in majors, is no longer the best without a major. That distinction goes to Rickie Fowler, only because Hideki Matsuyama hasn’t had the number of major championship chances that Fowler has, and because Matsuyama still seems too young at 25 to have earned the distinction. Fowler is 28 and among the top 10 in the world with four finishes of T-5 or better in majors.

LAVNER: Rickie Fowler. The default answer has long been Lee Westwood, who is now 0-for-76 in majors. But unless he somehow catches lightning in a bottle, or steadies his putting stroke during crunch time, his window to win a major appears closed. That leaves Fowler, who has done everything but bag a big one. No, he hasn’t collected as many victories as Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama or any of the other legitimate contenders, but he’s been a fixture in the OWGR top 10 and in contention in more than a half dozen majors, and he’s clearly on the right track under Butch Harmon. His time is coming, perhaps as early as this summer. 

GRAY: This question boils down to Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama. Lee Westwood’s credentials put him without peer now that Garcia is out of the mix, but on the cusp of his 44th birthday it’s unlikely he’ll continue to have regular opportunities on the biggest stages. I believe this title has to be a mix of great potential to win a major, along with an inability to do so after several cracks in the past. So for that reason I give the edge to Fowler, who at age 28 has 27 major starts as a pro versus Matsuyama’s relatively small total of 16. Thanks to Sunday’s fade, Fowler still hasn’t had a top-10 finish in a major since he reeled off four in a row in 2014. But his game is nearing an all-time high, and his ability to win other big events shows he has the chops to do so at a major. It’s just a matter of when.

How many green jackets for Spieth?

HOGGARD: If Jordan Spieth’s tie for 11th on Sunday is rock bottom in his Masters career just imagine what the next 20 years hold. The 23-year-old has everything on his side when it comes to Augusta National, success after having already joined the exclusive club with his victory in 2015, institutional knowledge of a demanding golf course and, most importantly, time. He may never catch Jack Nicklaus, whose six Masters victories is the gold standard, but he will surely get close.

MELLSpieth looked like the man to beat going into Sunday at the Masters, even two shots down, even with that quadruple bogey from the first round dragging him down. He plays like somebody who has discovered something about Augusta National that most players don’t know, and it’s giving him great confidence there. His fade Sunday was disappointing, but nobody plays with more confidence at Augusta National. He’ll give himself more chances to win a green jacket than anyone else in their prime today, and he’ll convert at least two more of them. 

LAVNERThree. There’s no Jordan-proofing Augusta, but it’s reasonable to assume that he won’t continue to pour in 20-footers once he creeps toward (and beyond) 30. Augusta suits Spieth’s game as well as any course he plays all year because it highlights his strengths – imagination, his course-management skills and short game. That he already could – should? – have two or more green jackets in his first four attempts is ridiculous. But Spieth has accumulated a lot of scar tissue these past two years, whether it was his quad in 2016 or his surprising fade on Sunday. He’ll need to overcome those before he can think about challenging Jack, Arnie and Tiger for Masters titles.  

GRAY: Given that he has about 30 more competitive years to keep coming back to Augusta National, I think it’s a foregone conclusion that Spieth will win another Masters and expect him to end his career with three green jackets. There’s clearly an affinity between player and course, as Spieth has been able to seemingly enter a four-day trance each of the first four years. The length he cedes off the tee proves no issue at this event, where his ability to manage and plot his way around the course is unparalleled and his sublime short game can shine. It’ll be to his benefit to get jacket No. 2 in short order to avoid further lines of questions about the 12th hole, but I believe he’ll still get a couple more cracks at serving Texas BBQ at the Champions Dinner.

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.