Punch Shot: Most anticipated early-season event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 2, 2013, 3:49 pm

The 2013 PGA Tour season begins this Friday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii. In this Punch Shot, GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with the early-season tournament they most anticipate.

By RANDALL MELL

The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Feb. 20-24, will mark the first gathering this year of the game’s biggest stars.

Yes, you can argue that the season will feel as if it’s beginning in earnest Jan. 17-20 on the European Tour at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, where Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will make their ’13 debuts, but the Accenture Match Play Championship will adorn Woods and McIlroy with a deeper all-star cast.

The World Golf Championship event gives us our best early perspective in how the stars are aligning themselves in the new season. Plus, the nature of match play, with its win-or-go-home finality, deliciously ratchets up the intensity right from the first tee shot. While stroke play is like a long-distance race, with contenders pacing themselves for the final back-nine Sunday push, match play creates pressure from the opening tee shot. There’s winning and losing from the first hole. The first day of the Accenture Match Play Championship may be the best day in golf outside the majors and the Ryder Cup.


BY RYAN LAVNER

Sure, Kapalua is loads of fun to watch – radiant sunshine, white-capped waves, a bombers’ track. But the field is too weak.

And yes, Abu Dhabi packs the most intrigue – Tiger and Rory, Rory and Tiger, making their 2013 debuts. But there is also a nine-hour time difference.

So the early-season event I’m most looking forward to? The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a U.S. Open test with majestic views, Tiger and Phil, Brandt and Rickie, DJ and Bubba.

Still not intrigued? Consider that there also is a mandatory players’ meeting on Tuesday of Torrey Pines week, when they are expected to discuss and decide when to implement the anchoring ban (perhaps as soon as October). Heck, that meeting alone could provide the early pyrotechnics. 


By JASON SOBEL

Sitting here at Kapalua right now, you can accuse me of drinking the Kool-Aid. At least, that's what I thought was in this tall glass with the mini umbrella on top.

I know the Hyundai Tournament of Champions doesn't have the greatest field; in fact, the eligible players who aren't here easily outshine the ones who are. And I also know that this event has some issues; the fact that players are rewarded this season because of something they accomplished last season has always bugged me.

But there's something about the gorgeous vistas that signifies a fresh start to the new year. Watching elite PGA Tour players compete while framed by a background of bright rainbows over the mighty Pacific is like golf's version of calling out, 'Gentlemen, start your engines!'

I love the Sony Open, because it provides a first opportunity to watch new players at the game's uppermost level and I can't wait for the Farmers Insurance Open and Abu Dhabi Championship to duke it out from opposite sides of the world on the same week.

Give me Kapalua, though, for what it symbolizes. And let me raise my glass of Kool-Aid for a toast: Here's to new beginnings.


By REX HOGGARD

Not far from the Yas Island links that will host this year’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship looms Ferrari World and what is billed as the world’s fastest roller coaster, a white-knuckle ride that leaves riders pinned into their seats by excessive G-Forces and in search of a Dramamine milkshake afterward.

It is, all things considered, the perfect metaphor for the unofficial start of the 2013 season. With apologies to this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua – not to mention the Farmers Insurance Open, which previously held the title – Abu Dhabi has firmly established itself as opening day.

Last year’s stop in Abu Dhabi gave us Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy paired together for three days, in some ways a precursor to how the season would unfold, and this year’s event, which will be played Jan. 17-20, promises even more early-season intrigue.

Included in this year’s field will be world No. 1 McIlroy, who will likely be announced as Nike Golf’s newest staff player on Jan. 14 in Abu Dhabi, and No. 3 Woods, both making their ’13 debuts.

Adding even more intrigue to the week will be the European Ryder Cup captain’s announcement, and that’s all before the first official shot is hit at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. It’s a start almost as fast as that roller coaster at Ferrari World.

Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.