Garcia crashes Spieth's homecoming party

By Rex HoggardMay 23, 2016, 12:27 am

IRVING, Texas – Sports rarely stays on script.

If it did, Sunday’s bookend bro-mance would have ended with Jordan Spieth hoisting the trophy in his hometown event, just hours after Rory McIlroy scored his own emotional victory back home in Ireland.

McIlroy did his part, putting on a ball-striking show coming down the stretch at the Irish Open, roping fairway woods at the 16th and 18th holes on his way to a three-stroke victory, his first win in Ireland as a professional.

Spieth came up short. Well short.

The world No. 2 started the day two strokes off the lead in the day’s final group at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but bogeyed the third, fifth and eighth holes to make the turn five strokes off the pace.

He finished his day with a 4-over 74 and tied for 18th place, nearly equaling his best finish at an event he’s been attending, in one role or another, since he was a toddler.

“I almost matched my best finish in six starts here,” shrugged the crowd favorite who finished 16th when he was 16 years old at the Nelson in 2010.

But then moral victories did little to soften Spieth’s mood.

This was supposed to be a statement weekend for the world Nos. 2 and 3 following Jason Day’s masterpiece last week at The Players. The latter, McIlroy took care of his side of the exacta.

But choruses of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” were not intermingled with “The Eyes of Texas” late Sunday afternoon.

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Instead, Sergio Garcia broke through for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2012 Wyndham Championship, edging 54-hole leader Brooks Koepka on the first extra hole after the hard-hitting American deposited his drive into a lake.

“Kind of stinks given I had a chance here at a hometown event,” Spieth said. “I haven't had great success here in the past. This was an opportunity, you can't win them all and certainly would have liked to have put on a little more of a display but, you know, just a tough day. Just an off day.”

To be precise, it was an off week for Spieth, at least tee to green. He ranked 55th out of 73 players in fairways hit (30 of 56) and managed to find just nine of 18 greens in regulation on Sunday.

For three days Spieth’s putter saved him, proving yet again that a solid short game can make up for even the most wanting ball-striking. But on Sunday that magic was absent.

It was a similar story for Koepka, who held a three-stroke lead at the turn but bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 to slip into a tie.

“I really didn't have much the last 36 holes,” conceded Koepka, who closed with a 71 after posting rounds of 65-64-65. “I had no idea where the ball was going and you can't play out here when you're hitting it in the rough. You kind of play defensively. That's not really what you want.”

It would only make sense that Garcia would emerge from a crowded leaderboard that at one point on Sunday included six players tied for second place two strokes off the lead.

The Spaniard is among the game’s perennial best ball-strikers and his putting, which at times in his career could best described as suspect, was surprisingly consistent.

Garcia, who played his first professional event at the Nelson in 1999, won the tournament in 2004 and recorded his first Tour victory just down Interstate-30 at Colonial in ’01, has always had an affinity for the Tour’s Texas swing and his victory at the Nelson will be defined by his resilience.

Following bogeys at Nos. 2 and 4 to drop three strokes off the pace, Garcia birdied three consecutive holes starting at No. 5 to remain in the hunt.

The closing loop was even more of a grind, with not one but two shots into the water at Nos. 11 and 14, but he birdied the par-5 16th hole and moved into a share of the lead when Koepka dropped his third shot of the day at No. 15.

“That meant a lot the way I played coming down the stretch, it looked like he was 17 [under], I was going to be 14 [under] after 14 [holes] and to have a chance at the end it was nice,” Garcia said.

It didn’t have the emotional pull of McIlroy’s victory at The K Club, and one can only imagine Spieth’s demeanor had he finally solved his Dallas dilemma; but Garcia’s victory was not without a noticeable degree of satisfaction, as evidenced by his fist pump after putting out for par in the playoff.

“I've always said it, every win, doesn't matter even if you're playing in your backyard with friends, winning is always tough and winning here on the PGA Tour is probably the toughest,” El Nino said. “The fields nowadays, they're so much deeper than they ever were and it's so much harder to win. Every time you get one of these ‘Ws’ it's very special.”

It wasn’t the storybook finish one could have crafted, there was no tidy synergy that would have made Sunday a sentimental slam, but after nearly four years of near misses and narrow losses Garcia’s victory qualifies as a good story even if it didn’t stay on script.

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

Getty Images

LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.