What We Learned: Transitions Championship

By Mercer BaggsMarch 18, 2012, 11:45 pm

Each week, the GolfChannel.com team offers thoughts on 'what we learned' from the most recent events. This week, the team reflects on Luke Donald's victory at the Transitions Championship from Innisbrook's Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla.

I learned that when Hank Haney initially said that his book, 'The Big Miss,' was about his observations during a six-year span with Tiger Woods, those 'observations' extend to aspects of Tiger's personal life, including his marriage. The book always felt like a breach of trust, but judging by the leaked excerpts in the New York Times, it also feels like an invasion of privacy. – Mercer Baggs

I learned that Hank Haney's Tiger Woods book 'The Big Miss' is about more than golf. When word leaked that the book was in the works Haney had hinted that the book was mostly about golf and said he believed Woods would think it was a fair depiction of their time together. With more leaks this week alleging Woods to be cheap, rude, dishonest and mean-spirited about other players, this is going to get uglier than I first thought.  Jay Coffin

Ernie Els deserves another chance at the Masters.

The Big Easy may not have won the Transitions Sunday, and he may not qualify for the Masters, but he deserves an invite, based on his life’s work.

With his strong play Sunday in a bid to return to Augusta National, Els showed he is still competitive, still worthy of a chance to win a major he has come so painfully close to winning (two second-place finishes).

With his disappointing bogey-bogey finish outside Tampa, he also made golf fans wonder if that scar might be his last, if he has taken too many blows to fully recover and win another PGA Tour event. The putting stroke, so problematic in recent years, didn’t hold up in the end Sunday, but you can see the desire’s still there, the fight is still in him. He was so close Sunday that it wouldn’t seem fair if we never saw him in another Masters. – Randall Mell

I learned that Ernie Els has more demons than a Wes Craven film. OK, so maybe I was acutely aware of this fact before he finished bogey-bogey at the Transitions Championship to go from a one-shot lead to one shot out of the playoff, but his inefficiency down the stretch once again reared its ugly head.

The Big Easy missed a couple of short, easy putts on Nos. 16 and 18, his bugaboo throughout the second half of his career. Afterward, he looked completely shellshocked, like he didn’t even know what had taken place over the final 30 minutes of his round. If he ever reviews the tape, he’ll see a man with a lot more weighing on his mind than the next shot and one who lost all confidence when it came to crunch time.

That’s a shame, because in a tournament that featured a fun, frenetic final round with a four-man playoff that was won by Luke Donald, the lasting image will be that of Els, still wondering what happened to the title he was supposed to win. – Jason Sobel

I learned that if Luke Donald was ever prepped to win a major, his time is now and that major is the Masters.

With his victory at the Transitions Championship, Donald took back the world No. 1 ranking and added a fifth PGA Tour championship to his resume. He’ll be heading down Magnolia Lane in 14 days feeling at ease in the driver’s seat.

Donald finished T-4 at Augusta last year and will likely ride his wave of momentum right into his first major championship. – Bailey Mosier

I learned that the best storyline in a golf tournament isn't always the winner. Luke Donald won the Transitions Championship and regained the world No. 1 ranking. Good for him, but in the grand scheme of things, so what? The No. 1 ranking may end up being traded from player to player for quite some time.

But how can you not feel for Ken Duke and Ernie Els? Both missed short putts that would have kept dreams alive – Duke's for finally getting his first PGA Tour win, Els' for getting a win that would have put him back into the Masters field. Els' interview with Golf Channel's Steve Sands was cringe-worthy viewing. Clearly the Big Easy was angry. That's the lasting image I'll take out of this tournament, which is unfortunate. It should be Donald's remarkable approach from the rough to the first playoff green. – Al Tays

I learned that it might be time for a temporary reprieve from the debate about belly and long putters. With the USGA saying it would like to gather data to prove any statistical correlation with the length of the flat stick and sinking putts, the governing body had two good examples of how no putter can steady nerves.

Ernie Els had a 4-foot putt on the 72nd hole to make it a quintet in the sudden-death playoff at the Transitions Championship. He pulled it.

Robert Garrigus had about twice the length as Els did on the same hole in the first round of sudden death. He pulled it. Luke Donald didn't.

As Stuart Bloch, the USGA's chairman of the Equipment Standards Committee, said in a 1989 statement blessing long putters, 'The Equipment Standards Committee felt and the Executive Committee agreed that the use of longer putters introduces a new element but does not change the essential nature of the game.'

That essential nature is the urge to blink. Els and Garrigus did. – Ryan Ballengee

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

Getty Images

The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.