Its been a full two years since Hal Sutton won on the PGA Tour, but he enters this weeks Shell Houston Open with renewed confidence.
Sutton is fresh of his first top-10 finish since he triumphed at the TPC at The Woodlands in 2001.
Struggling for the past year and a half with his iron play, the soon-to-be 45-year-old got a tip from tour marksman Nick Price last Tuesday. It helped result in a tie for third.
Of course, Sutton isnt the defending champion; that distinction belongs to Vijay Singh.
Singh shot no worse than 68 a year ago to better Darren Clarke by six shots. His 266 (22-under) total tied the 72-hold tournament record, established by Lee Trevino and Curtis Strange at the Woodlands Country Club in 1980.
A playoff, like the one between Trevino and Strange, is more expected at this event than a runaway like Singh produced.
There have been 11 extra sessions in the last 23 years. And only twice during that span has someone won by more than three strokes.
This is the 56th playing of the Houston Open. After nearly two decades at the TPC at The Woodlands, it will be contested at par-72, 7,508-yard Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas. This is the 11th different tournament venue.
Six players have won this event on more than one occasion; though, no one has ever repeated. Carey Middlecoff won in 1953 and finished runner-up the following year. Arnold Palmer did the same in 1966 and 67.
Strange is the only three-time champion. He prevailed in 1980, 86 and 88.
On the other hand, Jeff Maggert is a three-time runner-up. He finished behind Mike Heinen in 1994; lost in a playoff to Mark Brooks in 96, and was one back of David Duval in 98.
The good news for Maggert is that Sutton twice took home the silver medal before garnering the gold.
This years purse has increased $500,000 to $4.5 million. The winner will take home $810,000.
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.''
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:
This is unreal,hiding in kitchen beachside missile attack from North Korea. Alarm went out all over Hawaii, and it’s no test...
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.
“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.
Focus on a different face every time and this 15 second clip turns into 10 minutes of pure entertainment pic.twitter.com/JJeVV5eaVh
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.
Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.
Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.
Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).
The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."
In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.