Getty Images

Stock Watch: Highs and lows of 2017

By Ryan LavnerDecember 5, 2017, 3:33 pm

This week, we’re examining which players’ stocks and trends were rising and falling in the world of golf in 2017.

RISING

JT (+10%): No longer just Jordan Spieth’s “good buddy,” Thomas asserted himself as one of golf’s superstars with a breakout 2017 that included his first major, a FedExCup title and Player of the Year honors. If he stays hungry, Thomas should close the gap on Spieth.

Jordan (+9%): It was his iron play and mental fortitude – not his famously hot putter – that carried him to another major title. Those memorable final six holes at Birkdale epitomized Spieth’s unique gifts.  

Team USA (+8%): After steamrolling the competition in the past two international events, and with its core intact, the talented, fearless, young Americans will head to France as heavy favorites as they look to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

Jon Rahm (+7%): In just a year and a half, he has skyrocketed from 551st in the world to No. 4. There are no holes in his game – he ranked third on Tour in strokes gained-tee to green – and it’s a matter of when, not if, he wins majors and challenges Dustin Johnson for the top spot.

Tommy Fleetwood (+6%): The Englishman might look more like a grunge rocker than an elite player, but he broke out in a big way this year, winning twice, finishing runner-up in two events and taking the season-long European Tour title.

Xander Schauffele (+5%): Just six months ago, he was a struggling newcomer who was in danger of being sent back to the minors. He held his own at Erin Hills, won a few weeks later at The Greenbrier and used a torrid back nine in the playoffs to reach the Tour Championship, which he won to collect a $4 million bonus. Not bad, rook.

Patrick Cantlay (+4%): One of the year’s feel-good stories, after being sidelined for years because of an injury and personal loss, the former No. 1-ranked amateur reminded observers of his immense potential, winning in Vegas for what should be his first of many titles.

Caddie-bros (+3%): How about this trend: Five of the top 12 players in the world ended the year with a caddie who had no prior looping experience. It seems players these days want friends with them inside the ropes, not grizzled veterans.

Lexi (+2%): Yes, she developed even more scar tissue after two heartbreaking losses, but Thompson made huge strides by shoring up her biggest weakness (putting) and nearly completing a dominant season. Perhaps next year she’ll put it all together.

Tiger (+1%): He seems happy and healthy, and best of all his game showed plenty of promise. Tiger vs. the generation he created is the battle we all want in 2018.


FALLING

Lydia (-1%): The former teen phenom and world No. 1 changed coaches, equipment and caddies … and then had a winless year. Go figure.

Women’s No. 1 (-2%): Five different players held the top spot this year – and another, Lexi, should have – which is concerning for a tour that desperately needs a dominant player to reach a mainstream audience.  

J-Day (-3%): On the top of the world at the start of 2017, he endured a difficult year on and off the course, with a slumping long game, his mother’s health scare and the deterioration of his relationship with longtime caddie/father figure Colin Swatton.

Rory (-4%): His injury-plagued year was so disappointing, he decided to shut it down this fall, before the end of the European Tour season. He should show up in January highly motivated – and, hopefully, with improved wedge play and putting.

Season finales (-5%): The rarely fair (and usually awkward) ending to the FedExCup might soon include a one-day, $10 million shootout for the top players after the Tour Championship. Because apparently 18 or 36 holes better determines a season-long race?

Bubba (-6%): Changing his golf ball was always a silly risk for someone who shapes the ball as much as Watson. Now he’s outside the top 80 in the world and without a ball deal for 2018.

PGA (-7%): Beginning in 2019, the year’s final major is moving to May, sandwiched between the Masters and the U.S. Open. Its new identity will be … um … any ideas?

Major records (-8%): Thanks to Branden Grace and Justin Thomas, there is now a sub-63 score in a major and a 9-under round at the U.S. Open. (Sorry, Johnny.) Unless the governing bodies address equipment technology, this could become an annual occurrence.

Presidents Cup (-9%): Time to blow this thing up and try again. The U.S. won by eight at Liberty National (and it wasn’t even really that close) to extend its record in the biennial event to 10-1-1. The Tour’s brainchild is not a compelling product.

Rules issues (-10%): After another year of head-scratchers – from Lexi’s post-round scorecard penalty to Bernhard Langer’s questionable putting stroke to a non-concession at the U.S. Girls’ Junior to the increased use of backboarding on Tour – here’s wishing more officials could use common sense and not the strict, overly penal rulebook.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

Getty Images

Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

Getty Images

Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

Getty Images

List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).