Horschel cashes in with Tour Championship win

By Rex HoggardSeptember 15, 2014, 12:10 am

ATLANTA – Remember that 6-iron?

You know, the one that laid sod over Billy Horschel’s second shot on the 72nd hole at the Deutsche Bank Championship three weeks ago and sent social media into a frenzy?

Well, on Sunday at the Tour Championship that same maligned 6-iron, along with the 13 other more non-descript implements in his bag, helped lift the outspoken Horschel to the Tour Championship title, the FedEx Cup crown and an $11.4 million payday that just a month ago seemed unlikely for anyone outside of his inner circle.

Horschel has now lost a U.S. Open wearing octopus pants and won the PGA Tour’s season-long race wearing your grandmother’s drapes.

Call it “Billy Ho Golf,” complete with a clutch 30 footer on East Lake’s 16th hole for par under gloomy skies to turn the final march, and the mathematical madness that normally defines the season finale, into a Sunday stroll.

There were the occasional awkward moments like when officials explained to Chris Kirk, the points leader coming into the Tour Championship who finished second in the season-long race, that he needed Horschel to finish in a tie for second place to claim the FedEx Cup, but when the eventual champion arrived at the 18th tee with a three-stroke lead the checks were already being printed.

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Not bad for a guy who slipped to 82nd on the point list after missing the cut in the post-season opener in New Jersey. From there, however, he was nearly unstoppable, finishing tied for second to Kirk at TPC Boston after that infamous 6-iron found the hazard at the last, and then swept the rest of his starts with victories at the BMW Championship and East Lake.

It was a signature victory for Horschel, who has struggled to contain his emotions in the past. Particularly considering that he set out on Sunday tied with McIlroy for the lead and the GDP of a small nation hanging in the balance.

But with each round the normally excitable Horschel played the role of a flat-liner, oblivious to the ubiquitous leaderboards and the endless collection of FedEx Cup scenarios that dotted East Lake as well as the mounting pressure of playing for a $1.4 million winner’s check and $10 million FedEx Cup bonus cash.

“I woke up this morning and had this sense of calm over me, which is unusual,” said Horschel, who closed with a 68 for a three-stroke victory over Jim Furyk and Rory McIlroy.

That sense of self likely built when he birdied Nos. 4 and 5 to maintain his advantage, but a bogey at the 10th hole dropped him to 10 under, and when Furyk birdied the 15th hole the two were tied atop the year’s final leaderboard.

The lone moment of suspense came when Horschel fanned his drive right of the 16th hole, and he was forced to punch out. The traditional buzz that grips the finale each year on Sunday ignited.

Among the litany of potential outcomes the most surreal involved Rickie Fowler, who would have created a nuclear scenario of a playoff for the title and a separate overtime for the FedEx Cup, when he pulled to within a stroke of the lead early, but he rinsed his tee shot at the sixth and finished his top-5 year with a rare eighth-place finish.

Less than 10 minutes later McIlroy’s magical season essentially ended when his 5-iron found the depths on the same hole to drop the Northern Irishman three strokes out of the lead, and his pursuit of the one thing in professional golf, other than a Masters’ title, that has eluded him.

“I really wanted to win. I really wanted to cap this year off well, even though it's still been a great year,” said McIlroy, who closed with a 71 and finished the year third on the FedEx Cup point list. “You know, I was coming in here with really high hopes and expectations, and I haven't quite been able to play the golf to live up to those.”

Maybe the U.S. team does have a chance later this month at the Ryder Cup if McIlroy drives the ball at Gleneagles like he did on Sunday at East Lake, but don’t count on it.

Of course, Tom Watson may also be wishing he’d have saved one of those captain’s exemptions for Horschel. Over the course of the playoffs “Billy Ho” outplayed the three U.S. picks – Keegan Bradley (who didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship), Webb Simpson and Hunter Mahan – by a combined 37 strokes.

Or maybe Paul Azinger should have sent “Cracking the Code,” his tome to the victorious 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team, to Captain Tom.

But that’s not a concern for Horschel, whose scrambling par at the 16th hole gave him a one-stroke cushion followed by back-to-back bogeys for Furyk to close his round and set the stage for the anti-climactic finish.

“Billy was out ahead all day, and I just couldn’t case him down,” said Furyk, who won the 2010 Tour Championship and FedEx Cup.

For a player who had endured a self-described pedestrian year, before the post-season Horschel had just two top-10 finishes and told his wife just three weeks ago he couldn’t wait for the 2013-14 season to be over, it was the ultimate Cinderella playoff tale.

That a player whose mind has a tendency to race ahead closed out the event with so much on the line only made it that much more compelling.

“Every night I’d send him a text, ‘Holes 1 through 18 are done. Same plan for holes 19 through 36, then 37 through 54 and so on. You have to keep the same mind set,” said Horschel’s swing coach Todd Anderson, the first to coach two separate players to the FedEx Cup crown (Brandt Snedeker, 2012). “(Horschel) can get broad picture really, really quickly.”

As for that much-maligned 6-iron and the fallout from his Boston letdown.

“I’m not afraid of what people say,” said Horschel, whose wife, Brittany, is due with the couple’s first child in two weeks. “Maybe it gives me a little chip I can prove people wrong and that I have what it takes to get the job done.”

Point made.

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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."

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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.'"

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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."

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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."

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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.