Punch Shot: Who will surprise, disappoint at Masters

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 5, 2017, 7:40 pm

UPDATE: Dustin Johnson injured his lower back in a fall down a staircase Wednesday at His Augusta rental home. He hopes to be able to play Thursday. More details here.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Who will win, who will surprise and who will disappoint? Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell, Ryan Lavner and Jay Coffin are all in Augusta National and weigh in on these topics as we inch closer to the beginning of the 81st Masters.

Will the winner be ranked inside the top 10 in the world?

REX HOGGARD: No. Conventional wisdom aside, Danny Willett was ranked 12th last year when he won the Masters, Bubba Watson was also 12th in 2014 when he collected his second green jacket and Charl Schwartzel came from 29th when he won at Augusta National in 2011. There are plenty of clear-cut favorites within the top 10 this week, but those outside that mark have numbers on their side.

RANDALL MELL: Yes. It doesn’t matter that a favorite hasn’t won the Masters since 2005 or that a world No. 1 hasn’t won it since 2002, Dustin Johnson seems immune to trends and patterns. His work on his wedge game and putting will pay more dividends this week. His newfound love of the baby cut won’t hurt him.

RYAN LAVNER: Yes, though Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Jon Rahm – all ranked 12th or worse – certainly give me pause. That said, too many top-10 players have had a hot spring to see another “off-the-immediate-radar” winner like Danny Willett.

JAY COFFIN: I sure hope so. I love underdog stories, I love when the little guy pulls off an epic feat. But I want the big names winning our game’s biggest events. I’m not crazy enough to think all of them will all be in the hunt, but a couple should, which means odds are great that one of them will take home the green jacket.

Who will surprise?

HOGGARD: Soren Kjeldsen. Winning may be asking a bit much, but don’t be surprised to see his name on Sunday’s leaderboard. The 5-foot-8 Dane tied for seventh last year at Augusta National and advanced all the way to the consolation match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago, a run that included a 2-and-1 victory over Rory McIlroy.

MELL: Jon Rahm. Yes, he’s a first-timer at the Masters, and there hasn’t been a first-time winner since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, but these young guys just don’t know any better. Jordan Spieth started something different.

LAVNER: Jon Rahm. That Masters rookie jinx? It might not stop this kid. All he’s done since turning pro is play well at courses he’s never seen before. In recent years, because of increased TV exposure and course changes, Augusta has been more kind to newcomers. It’s a perfect scenario for Rahm – a big hitter with an imaginative short game – to thrive.

COFFIN: Paul Casey. A fourth-place tie last year and a sixth-place tie two years ago, coupled with good form right now after a solid run at the Match Play, and Casey is primed for another stellar performance here. In fact, Casey has played in 11 Masters and has four top-10 finishes. Something at Augusta National brings out his best.

Who will disappoint?

HOGGARD: Dustin Johnson. He has understandably skyrocketed to the top of nearly everyone’s list of favorites this week, but DJ’s record at Augusta National isn’t the best (two top 10s in seven starts and just 10 rounds under par) and playing your first major as the world No. 1 always brings added pressure, even for Johnson.

MELL: Jordan Spieth. He’s tough and determined and will win more Masters, but a year building to this has to take some toll. Plus, the odds start to work against you when you’ve been in the final pairing three consecutive years.

LAVNER: Dustin Johnson. There’s a reason the world No. 1 hasn’t won at Augusta since 2002. More eyeballs. More hype. Now, DJ has seemed impervious to that stuff in the past, but the course still presents a unique challenge for his game, with an emphasis on course management and short game.

COFFIN: Rickie Fowler. He’s a trendy pick this week, especially since he played well last week in Houston. I’m not buying it. He’s played in six Masters and really has only played well once. Last year there were heightened expectations and he missed the cut after shooting a first-round 80.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

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

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm