Florida swing a major test without a major

By Randall MellFebruary 23, 2016, 11:09 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Florida swing sets up like a tough series of undercards before the year’s first major championship.

The Florida events are bruisers so formidable a pro risks getting beat up before he even gets to the Masters in April.

It starts with what may be the gauntlet’s toughest test at this week’s Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion Course.

“This golf course plays like a major tournament, no doubt about it,” said Padraig Harrington, the defending champion. “You’ve got to man up quite a bit out here and hit some tough shots.”

Harrington defeated Daniel Berger in a playoff last year. They were tied at 6 under overall through 72 holes. No regular Tour event was won with a higher score in relation to par last year. In fact, that total was higher than the 18-under Jordan Spieth put up winning the Masters, the 15-under Zach Johnson put up winning The Open Championship at St. Andrews and the 20-under Jason Day put up winning the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

Spieth’s 5-under at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was the only winning score higher than Honda’s in relation to par last year.

“If you can win here [at PGA National], you can win a major,” Harrington said.

And Harrington ought to know. He has won three of them.

“There are a lot of big shots here, just like a major tournament,” Harrington said.

The Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

The WGC-Cadillac Championship wasn’t much easier in the Florida swing than Honda at the redesigned Trump Doral’s Blue Monster last year with Dustin Johnson winning at 9 under, nor was the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course with Jordan Spieth winning at 10 under.

The only respite in the Florida swing came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with Matt Every winning at 19 under, and that was lowest score at Bay Hill in a dozen years.

“The Florida test is a lot tougher than the West Coast,” said Billy Horschel. “Torrey Pines is a good test and L.A. is a good test, but other than that, the rest of the courses on the West Coast don’t test you as much. You can get away with misses and still play well.

“You come to Florida, and you know you’re going to have to deal with the wind and controlling your ball flight. You know you’re going to have some tough conditions. You have tough courses and tough shots you have to hit.

“It just mentally prepares you [for a major], and it might get you in the right mind frame.”

Spieth looked well prepared for the Masters with his Florida run last year. He won the Valspar Championship and a month later won at Augusta National.

You could argue, though, that the Florida swing might have become too tough.

Before Spieth’s win in Tampa last year, it had been 10 years since a winner in Florida went on to win the Masters. That came in 2005, when Tiger Woods won the Ford Championship at Doral and then went on to win at Augusta National.

Still, Harrington likes the tone PGA National’s Champion Course sets leading off the Florida swing and leading to the Masters. He likes how it requires a toughness of temperament similar to what majors require.

“This is everything a major would be - capable of holding a major - except it’s not a major in name,” Harrington said. “But it’s a big tournament and the best players are turning up ... This is definitely a warm-up in terms of attitude that you need in a major. If you’ve got the skills to win around here, you know you can win on any major golf course.”

Horschel believes PGA National can separate contenders and pretenders, and that’s what majors do.

“You can’t have a whiner’s mentality and play this golf course,” Horschel said. “You can play some really good golf and walk off this course shooting 76. I did it last year. I played in the afternoon on Thursday in some really, really windy conditions and played well, and I shot 5 or 6 over. People might have been thinking, `You didn’t play well,’ but I hit a lot of good shots.”

Anything less than good shots can end up wet through the notorious trio of holes known as the Bear Trap. The 15th, 16th and 17th holes all require forced carries over water, often in high winds.

“This course is really good,” Horschel said. “It tests all aspects of your game. For the most part, you have to be mentally strong since you have to understand there’s going to be stuff you do really well that’s not going to turn out well, due to the wind and everything here.”

The Florida swing can make players believe they need to do more than put up their best games. It can make them feel as if they have to put up their dukes.

Getty Images

Snedeker starts slow in effort to snag Masters invite

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.

Rose (62) sets blistering pace in Indonesia

By Associated PressDecember 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Justin Rose shot a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, starting on the back nine at Royale Jakarta Golf Club, had five birdies to go out in 31, then birdied four of five holes midway through his final nine and another birdie on his last hole in the $750,000 tournament.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Gunn Charoenkul (64) was in second place and Kim Giwhan and Phachara Khongwatmai (both 65) were tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Ranked 51st in the world, the American is aiming for a strong finish in Jakarta to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Getty Images

LaCava: Woods wouldn't talk after H.O.R.S.E. match

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 2:27 pm

The competitive streak within Tiger Woods knows no bounds - even on the basketball court, according to caddie Joe LaCava.

LaCava has been on Woods' bag since 2011, and he recently shared a story on "Inside the Ropes" on Sirius/XM PGA Tour Radio about a clash between the two men over a seemingly friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. Actually, it turned into nine straight games (and nine straight wins) for LaCava, who exploited a weakness in Woods' on-court strategy while leaning on a mid-length jumper of his own:

"The thing with him was if I missed a shot, which I missed plenty of shots, but if I missed the shot he'd go back down to the 3 (point line) because he liked to make the 3," LaCava said. "But it's harder obviously to make a 3, and I'd go right back to the baseline 12-footer, and he couldn't make it."

It's a short list of people who have beaten Woods nine times in any athletic pursuit, let alone in a row. But for LaCava, the fallout from his afternoon of on-court dominance was less than subtle.

"He did not talk to me the rest of the day," LaCava explained. "I didn't even get the old text, 'Dinner is ready,' because I stay across at the beach house. I didn't even get that text that night. I had to get take-out. He didn't announce he wasn't (talking), he just did it. I'm telling you, nine games in a row. Like I said, he's so competitive, even at something like that."