Punch Shot: Who will win the majors in 2013?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 3, 2013, 2:00 pm

The 2013 PGA Tour season is almost under way in Kapalua, Hawaii, but it's never too late to start thinking about the majors. In this Punch Shot, GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with their predictions on which players will hoist major trophies this season.

By RANDALL MELL

Picking major championship winners this early isn’t quite as foolhardy as playing darts in the dark, but it’s close. Here goes anyway:

The Masters: Rory McIlroy. The boy wonder had the 54-hole lead at Augusta National in 2011, and he’s a much more polished player now. He hits the ball long and high, and his putter can glow red hot when he gets a sniff of the lead in a major. He’s just 23, but he isn’t lacking course knowledge at Augusta National. He will be playing in his fifth Masters this year.

The U.S. Open: Tiger Woods. Merion won’t be overpowered, and that’s just fine with Woods. He prefers the conservative approach in the game’s biggest events, and he’ll be quite comfortable navigating his way around this historic venue with 3-woods and irons off tees. Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino won at Merion. So will Woods.

British Open: Ian Poulter. With three top-10s in majors last year, and with his inspiring performance at the Ryder Cup, Poulter showed his determination to lift his game in big moments. He’ll lift the claret jug at Muirfield this year.

PGA Championship: Luke Donald. We don’t always give the Englishman his due, in part because he has never won a major, but he goes about his business nobly just the same. A wonderful putter and an equally wonderful attitude helps Donald break through to win at Oak Hill.


BY RYAN LAVNER

Masters: Rory McIlroy. Two years ago, he had a four-shot lead before a Sunday 80. A year ago, he was ill-prepared after a month-long layoff and tied for 40th. This is the year the world No. 1 finally pulls it together and wins the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

U.S. Open: Luke Donald. A claustrophobic, short layout such as Merion should be a perfect fit for Donald, one of the steadiest players in the game. He hasn’t finished worse than third in the Tour’s strokes gained-putting statistic since 2007 – at some point, his stellar short game has to show up on a major stage.

British Open: Tiger Woods. The Open represents Woods’ best chance to win a major because he doesn’t have to be perfect. His record in golf’s oldest championship is outstanding; in 16 career starts, he has 13 top-25s, eight top10s, a pair of third-place finishes and, of course, three victories. Plus, he would have been a factor at Muirfield in 2002 if not for a Saturday 81 in terrible conditions.

PGA Championship: Keegan Bradley. OK, so the sample size is small, but Bradley hasn’t finished worse than T-3 in two starts at the PGA Championship, including a victory in 2011 at Atlanta Athletic Club. A long-and-straight hitter should prevail at Oak Hill, and few players in the game are as brawny as Bradley. He’s ready to break through once again – belly putter and all. 


By JASON SOBEL

Usually when I'm asked to pick major winners so far in advance, I'll answer the question with a few questions of my own: What's the weather going to be like? How is the course playing? Which players are in form entering each one?

It might be easier predicting answers to each of those queries than predicting this year's major champions months in advance, but let's give it a whirl anyway...

Masters: Adam Scott. The golf gods don't owe him anything after last year's loss at Lytham; that was all his own undoing. But the Aussie is too good to remain winless in majors for too long. Only question is whether he'll be using a belly putter or a short stick when it happens.

U.S. Open: Brandt Snedeker. Let's see ... Tight course? Check. Fast greens? Check. Par at a premium? Check. If last year's FedEx Cup winner could build a major venue that suits his game, it would be Merion.

Open Championship: Tiger Woods. This used to be an inarguable fact: Woods is the world's greatest links player. After a few down years overseas, that can now be debated, but he still has the knowledge and talent to thrive on a fast, firm setup.

PGA Championship: Graeme McDowell. After his 2010 U.S. Open win, I thought G-Mac may have been the classic case of a guy who got his major, then relaxed. Instead, the opposite is true. He's driven, inspired and – most importantly – has the game needed to win a few more of 'em.


By REX HOGGARD

Considering last year’s list of major winners – Bubba Watson (Masters), Webb Simpson (U.S. Open), Ernie Els (British Open) and Rory McIlroy (PGA Championship) – it seems the best Grand Slam prognostications are a tad outside the box, so here goes:

Masters: Give us McIlroy in April because he has too much game and karma can’t be that indifferent to his painful history at Augusta National. Forget about that Sunday meltdown in ’11 and weekend rounds of 77-76 last year, the Ulsterman is poised to move one step closer to the career Grand Slam next spring.

U.S. Open: It’s been more than 30 years since the national championship was played at Merion and the under card, new technology vs. classic architecture, will be almost as intriguing as the champion, who will be Rickie Fowler, the star of 2009 U.S. Walker Cup team when it was played at Merion.

British Open: As stunning as Els’ victory last year at Royal Lytham was it should surprise no one that the Big Easy will emerge again at Muirfield. After all, the South African will be the defending champion (2012 Open) and the defending champion at Muirfield, having won the last Open played on the Scottish links.

PGA Championship: Tiger Woods will get off the Grand Slam schneid and it seems apropos that he will do so at “Glory’s Last Shot.” Four of Woods’ 14 majors have been won at the PGA and Oak Hill should be a perfect fit for the new and improved swing.

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."