Current parity on Tour rivaling NCAA tournament

By Jason SobelMarch 26, 2014, 8:40 pm

Far be it from me to call out Warren Buffett, but I believe the Oracle of Omaha might have missed an opportunity. If he thinks offering a billion bucks for a perfect bracket was money (still) in the bank, he needs to check out the PGA Tour lately.

In case you dozed off somewhere along the West Coast, the four winners during the Florida swing weren’t exactly a Mount Rushmore of superstars. They’re not even the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, though you might have guessed differently after the reaction to wins from Russell Henley, Patrick Reed, John Senden and Matt Every.

No single-named heavyweights, no players with Q ratings that more closely resemble IQs, no one with a major championship to their resume. In fact, you could make the argument that each champion’s victory was the greatest of his career, which is saying something during a month known more as a bullpen session for the game’s elite before taking the mound at Augusta National.

Buffett’s offer of prosperity for perfection didn’t last three days in the annual hoops tournament, but golf’s parity party easily would have kept it from happening inside the ropes, too.

This is the part where I’m probably supposed to make some grandiose proclamation about fields being deeper than ever, young players being more prepared to beat proven competitors, tournaments being more difficult to prognosticate than in the past, and everything we’ve ever known about the world of golf being flipped on its axis.

Some of that might be true. All of it might be true. But such proclamations shouldn’t be offered in March, when – to employ another hardball analogy – the game’s best are still going through spring training.

If the four majors are won this year by aforementioned single-named heavyweights like Tiger, Phil, Adam and Rory, we’ll recall the Florida swing as a mere blip on the radar screen. Chances are, though, what we’ve witnessed not only in the past four weeks but in the entire season to date is less a deviation from the norm than the norm itself.

What we might have reached – and what we’ve gradually been heading toward for a half-decade now – is the “Any Given Sunday Era.” It’s a time when Henley can claim a victory after a two-time major champion falters, a time when Every can grab one after the reigning Masters champion does likewise.

All of which should lead to two questions:

1) Is this a good thing?

2) Why is it happening?

Each can be debated at length, until another era of dominance gradually forges into the forefront without us realizing it.

The first question is the result of a long-standing conundrum in golf. Despite annual celebrations of dynasties gone by, the NFL – everybody’s favorite equal opportunist these days – prides itself on parity and, judging by its growing popularity, fans wouldn’t want it any other way. When golf undergoes a period of parity, though, it’s treated as if something is wrong with the game. Think of it this way: Nobody ever speaks in glowing terms about the mid-to-late 1930s, when two dudes named Alf won major championships … or the Brewer-Goalby-Archer years at the Masters … or the half-dozen years before Tiger started winning majors, when 20 different players combined to win 24 of 'em.

The second question has likely already been answered by a few of those recent winners. Reed made international headlines when he clinched a third career title at Trump National Doral, then trumped any bold statement made by his clubs with one by his mouth, touting himself as a “top-five” player in the world.

Every is a guy who six years ago flamed out of Q-School, only to insist, “You know, 25 guys are getting through and I’m not. It’s 25 I’m better than, too.” Forget that the Class of 2008 included would-be major champions Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner and Y.E. Yang; this was Every simply letting his confidence shine through. While he didn’t echo Reed’s sentiments about being a top-fiver, he did understand them.

“What’s wrong in believing in yourself? There’s so many sensitive people that just get all torn up on the dumbest stuff. And it’s OK to believe in yourself,” he said after winning at Bay Hill. “What Patrick Reed said, I thought that was great. … I’m serious. That’s great he thinks he’s a top-five player; he probably is right now. What’s wrong with thinking good things about yourself?”

Therein lies the biggest secret as to why PGA Tour events have become less predictable than a roulette wheel. We’ve entered an era where players don’t just want to win each week. Nearly all of them really, truly believe they can win. There’s a big difference between the two. All you have to do is revisit the Florida swing to understand that.

It might not make professional golf more appealing to the masses, but it does make it tougher to figure out on a weekly basis. Predicting winners has never been an easy proposition, but lately it’s become downright impossible. How impossible? Well, I’d be willing to bet Buffett’s billion bucks you can’t do it. Hey, golf’s parity makes filling out a perfect bracket seem easy these days.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).