Glory, Glory, Hallelujah

By Rex HoggardAugust 15, 2011, 2:20 am

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Without the benefit of a Tiger Woods, who still appears four cylinders shy of a full block, and a Phil Mickelson, whose golf has appeared more recreational of late, the year’s final major championship received an unexpected boost late into Sunday afternoon via an eclectic combo of fire and ice tea, with an assist from a hard-as-nails golf course that doled out pleasure and pain with equal abandon.

Fire, the golf world is rapidly learning, was the excitable Keegan Bradley; while Jason Dufner gamely played the part of flatliner until the bitter end at the 93rd PGA Championship.

And it all unfolded in 1 hour, 55 minutes. That’s how long it took for Bradley to make up five shots in just three holes and mow down decades of tradition. In order, the Tour rookie became the first player to hoist Grand Slam gold with a belly putter, a breakthrough that promises to send rules types into a tizzy, the first player since Ben Curtis to join the major club in his first Grand Slam start and the first to win a major the year after graduating from the Nationwide Tour.

“It seems like a dream and I'm afraid I'm going to wake up here in the next five minutes and it's not going to be real,” said Bradley, who closed with a 68 to tie Dufner at 8-under 272 and force overtime.

As he tapped in his clinching par putt at the 18th to clip Dufner by one stroke in a three-hole aggregate playoff Bradley smiled widely into the setting sun. It was a celebration that seemed so unlikely just two hours earlier.

Trailing Dufner by two strokes, Bradley’s 4-iron tee shot at the par-3 15th hole settled into the deep Bermuda grass rough and as his chip raced across the green and into the pond he appeared on his way to also-ran status.

“We got to the 16th tee and I told him to keep fighting,” said Bradley’s caddie, Steven “Pepsi” Hale. “But this guy is the gutsiest player I’ve ever worked for. I can’t teach heart and heart won this golf tournament.”

Well, heart and a steady putter that drained putts from 8 feet at No. 16 and 35 feet at the par-3 17th hole. Dufner took care of the rest.

How hard was Atlanta Athletic Club playing? When Dufner stepped to the 15th tee he was leading by four strokes and proceeded to fan his hybrid tee shot into the water behind Bradley. Before he took his drop he was leading by five, courtesy of a late bogey by Anders Hansen. Dufner scrambled for bogey at the 15th, wilted from a greenside bunker at the 16th, and three-putted the 17th to drop back into a tie with Bradley.

“The course is so tough that no lead is safe,” Bradley said. “I kept trying to tell myself that because I knew that that was the case, especially if you got a big lead, you might get a little tight coming down the end.”

That both players managed to par the closing hole showed an astonishing level of grit, but in the Hotlanta heat “Fire” was too much for the Auburn iceman. Bradley birdied the first extra hole and when Dufner three-putted the 17th green for the second time in 30 minutes not even the feared closer could change the outcome.

“I was thinking about trying to win the thing,” said Dufner (69) of his miscues at Nos. 15, 16 and 17. “They are tough holes. Everybody has struggled on them. It’s disappointing, (No.) 16, being in the middle of the fairway. I should hit that green. Didn’t. Probably one of the worst iron shots I hit all week.”

But then the frenzied playoff, the second consecutive overtime at the PGA, was almost a foregone conclusion considering how the day unfolded. Sunday’s final turn was a free-for-all in major championship clothing, with a dozen players within six strokes of the lead at the turn, including Robert Karlsson who teed off 40 minutes and five strokes outside the lead but closed with a 3 under front nine and a 10 footer for eagle at the 12th hole.

For 68 holes uncertainty ruled with the Wanamaker Trophy earmarked for cash compensations and a player to be named later, until the last four, “Calamity Lane” as one announcer dubbed the diabolical stretch, began dispatching all comers with ease. First it was Karlsson, who finished bogey-bogey-bogey, then Hansen, who bogeyed the 16th and finished alone in third place at 7 under.

Coming into Sunday Dufner was 3 under on the last four, Bradley was even par, but that changed dramatically as the rookie played the stretch in even par counting the three-hole playoff and Dufner limped home in 3 over.

The only thing missing was Woods.

On Wednesday Woods’ swing coach Sean Foley was cautiously optimistic, “What we have now is Tiger’s blueprint and getting his swing in the position where he can be himself – a creative artist, a feel player.”

Thursday morning Woods played his first five in 3 under, his last 13 in 10 over and hit the same number of bunkers (14) as he did fairways and greens combined. It was all enough to likely make Bryon Bell relieved his status on Woods’ bag was interim.

“I just thought, this is a major, and you peak for these events. And once you get to a major championship, you just let it fly, let it go. And I did and it cost me,” a frustrated Woods said.

The next time Woods resurfaces remains almost as much of a mystery as his game. His early exit from AAC guaranteed he’d miss the FedEx Cup playoffs and he offered a vague “I might” when asked if he’d play a Fall Series or European Tour event before November’s Australian Open, his next scheduled start.

The uncertainty doesn’t stop there, thanks to Rory McIlroy’s youthful actions adjacent the third fairway on Thursday. The injury the Ulsterman sustained when his 8-iron powered into a root seemed innocent enough, but as he closed with rounds of 70-73-74-74 and bolted Atlanta to spend time with his physical trainer there was a measure of concern.

In hindsight, Rory vs. the root probably wasn’t a risk worth taking, and the 22-year-old acknowledged as much. “Looking back on it, it probably wasn't the right thing to do.”

But even the specter of the game’s two biggest needle movers on equally uncertain paths wasn’t enough to rob “Glory’s Last Shot” of a dramatic finale thanks to Bradley.

The victory assured the 25-year-old membership in the game’s “young guns” club, if his victory earlier this year at the Byron Nelson Championship didn’t already gain him status. And his emotions on Sunday made him an instant classic with the sweet-stained masses. Not that Bradley has ever had a hard time showing his emotions.

“We’ve tried to temper that a little bit. It’s part of the learning curve. That was part of the dialogue this week after what happened at Firestone,” said Hale of Bradley’s tie for 15th following a closing 74 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “I told everybody that we are going to find out how much we learned last week.”

The answer surprised everyone, maybe even Bradley, and wrenched the PGA Championship out of a frenzied funk – just in time.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.