Punch Shot: Which 'outsider' most likely to win at Sawgrass?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 7, 2013, 1:34 pm

Since 2000, only four players (Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson)  have been ranked inside the top 10 in the world when they won The Players Championship. In fact, during that span the average OWGR position of a Players winner has been 35.8.

So we ask: Which player outside the top 30 in the world has the best chance to win this week?


Freddie Jacobson.

The Junkman has only one top-10 in nine career starts at TPC Sawgrass, but he’s never been this consistent or sharp with his game. Since missing the cut in his first start of the season in Phoenix, he hasn’t finished worse than 25th, with three top-10s.

Jacobson never will overpower a course – at 284.4 yards per drive, he ranks 103rd in driving distance – and at TPC Sawgrass, he won’t have to. No, what will matter this week is that he’s fourth in putting, sixth in scoring average and 13th in scrambling. Indeed, Jacobson fits the A-to-B, plodder type that has excelled at The Players in the past few years.


It’s pronounced TOR-be-yorn OO-les-en. American golf fans should get used to saying Thorbjorn Olesen’s name because he has all the markings of a Players champion.

Although Olesen, who recently took up special temporary status on the PGA Tour, has gotten off to an eventful start this season – he injured himself riding a camel earlier this year and suffered a second injury when he was in a car crash during the Shell Houston Open – he already has two top-10 finishes (seventh at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a tie for sixth in his first Masters).

He also has the type of complete game that plays well at demanding ballparks like TPC Sawgrass. He’s 24th on Tour in driving distance, 26th in putts inside 10 feet and 45th in eagles.

He also fits the mold of recent Players Championship winners. Think Tim Clark with more power or Henrik Stenson with a better driver.  After a few years of seasoning on the European Tour he also enjoys a level of experience that most “rookies” don’t have.

For the injury-prone Dane, the only thing he has to improve on is his handling of courtesy cars and camel-riding skills. But at No. 33 in the Official World Golf Ranking, U.S. audiences should get used to saying his name – it’s OO-les-en.


Maybe I'm looking too much for The Matt Kuchar Story II, but I see this being a big week for another former phenom whose game fell on some hard times for a while, but has bounced back to become one of the PGA Tour's most consistent players.

My pick to win is Charles Howell III.

It's about time. Nobody in the world is more snake-bitten than Chucky Threesticks. He has only two career wins – the last one coming a half-dozen years ago. But he owns 14 runner-up finishes.

Now, sure, a few of those can be blamed on his own failures down the stretch. But there's a whole lot of bad luck in there, too. You have to be really good to consistently come so close.

So far this season, it's been more of the same. Howell has five top-10s in 13 starts, including one at Quail Hollow this past weekend. It's time for his luck to change. Yeah, I know he hasn't made a cut at The Players since 2007 and has never finished inside the top 30. I don't care. Maybe it takes a course where he's never succeeded for everything to finally go his way.

If it happens, of course, the Augusta native will clinch a return to the Masters next year. And the only thing better than that is not having to answer the incessant questions about trying to get back there again.


I’ll double down on Billy Horschel.

Yeah, he has never played The Players Championship before, but don’t tell him it's a liability. Actually, please do tell him, because it will only make him more determined, and his resolve seems to be his greatest asset.

Horschel, ranked No. 49 in the world, is on a roll with four consecutive top-10 finishes, including his maiden PGA Tour victory in his last start at the Zurich Classic. While Horschel hasn’t played The Players before, he’s hitting a lot of greens these days and that bodes well at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. In fact, Horschel is doing everything well of late. He’s eighth in ball striking, ninth in total driving, 14th in strokes gained-putting. He just might be No. 1 in confidence right now, if the Tour could measure that.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.