Poulter puts the peril in the Honda Classic

By Randall MellMarch 2, 2015, 12:47 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Drama didn’t race into Sunday at PGA National with quite the dizzying speed of one of Ian Poulter’s Ferraris, but it was close.

With Poulter’s stunning shank at the fifth tee, the Honda Classic went from a yawner to a thriller in a heart-thumping hurry.

After Poulter hooked his drive into the very same lake off the sixth tee, the leaderboard looked as bunched as an IndyCar race running under a caution flag.

For better or worse, Poulter steered the frenzied action in the suspended final round on the Champion Course.

Somehow, some way, when darkness finally suspended play, Poulter marched off the seventh green tied for the lead with Paul Casey, who was through nine holes.

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At 7 under overall, they were a shot ahead of Patrick Reed (through 7 holes) and three ahead of a pack of five players that includes Phil Mickelson (through 10 holes).

The field will be back in place at 8 a.m. Monday to conclude the final round.

From three shots up at the fifth tee to a shot down walking off the sixth green, Poulter was beyond frustrated with himself.

You could almost see tendrils of smoke coming off his head.

Asked what he was muttering to himself internally walking to the seventh tee, Poulter’s eyes widened to that saucer-like intensity so familiar to golf fans.

“You don't really want to know,” Poulter said. “Trust me, you don't. It's not newspaper or Internet worthy. I was pissed. I was seriously pissed.”

Poulter appeared in total control of this tournament, making one wonderful swing after another in shooting 64 in the second round and 66 in the third. His rhythm went south at that fifth tee, where he shanked an 8-iron sideways, off a cart path and into a part of the lake that no player in Honda’s nine-year history at PGA National may ever have reached before.

“It was a lack of concentration,” Poulter said. “I tried to take too much off an 8-iron and hit a beautiful shank.”

Poulter made double bogey. Adding to the dizzying turn of events, Reed holed out from off the green for birdie, putting up a steep slope and a winding  turn from 34 feet away.

The three-shot swing was a blow to Poulter, leaving him briefly tied with Reed.

“I didn't even realize that I had a three-shot lead,” Poulter said. “I was in cruise control, shall we say, not making bad swings. You take your foot off the accelerator for one second, all of a sudden, you find yourself completely out of position, making an easy double bogey.”

Poulter, 39, has never closed out a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event, but that’s because, surprisingly, he never held a 54-hole lead, until Sunday at PGA National. He has won 16 times around the world, with his two PGA Tour titles including the 2010 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the 2012 WGC-HSBC Champions in China, where he came from behind in the final round.

On Sunday, Poulter’s lead was gone after he hooked that tee shot at the sixth into the lake and made bogey.

That led to the scolding he gave himself, some self-talk that actually got him back a share of the lead at the seventh hole, where he stiffed a 6-iron to 3 feet to make birdie.

“Yeah, I was internally very angry, shall we say,” Poulter said. “And when I do that, obviously, my heart rate goes up slightly, and, obviously that sometimes is what needs to kick in, to kick in the adrenaline. So the shot on seven was fueled with adrenaline, because I was so pissed off.”

How important was that birdie to end his day?

“Massive, massive,” Poulter said. “It was a bit of a body blow, shall we say, five and six, coming out of nowhere.

“It was some pretty good golf today, I've got to be honest, and that just came out of left field.”

With Poulter in trouble, fellow Englishman Casey quietly climbed the leaderboard playing two holes in front. Casey, 37, is seeking to add to his lone PGA Tour title, the 2009 Shell Houston Open. He’s a 13-time European Tour winner who is devoting himself solely to the PGA Tour this season.

“I'm eager to win,” Casey said. “I feel like I'm playing good golf, and there are no obstacles in the way. Everything's great on and off the golf course. No two tours to worry about. There's just nothing standing there, nothing that's distracting me, which is a great feeling to have.

“It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean I'll win, but I hope I win this year. I'd love to win tomorrow."

While Poulter has never held a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, he has proved himself a formidable closer on the European Tour. He has closed the deal seven of nine times taking a lead into the final round on that tour.

At day’s end, Poulter rode into the clubhouse sitting alongside his 10-year-old son, Luke. Despite all the adventure, Poulter is still very much in the running for his first stroke-play title on U.S. soil.

“I'm playing good,” Poulter said. “So, I just need to be patient, keep making the swings I've made.”

With the Honda Classic feeling like it will open under a caution flag with Monday’s conclusion of the final round, Poulter will be looking to lead the race with a steadier hand.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x