Muirfield contenders show difficulty in winning majors

By Rex HoggardJuly 24, 2013, 6:00 pm

It’s not easy. Never was. Tiger Woods just lulled the collective into thinking that winning major championships was as natural as slipping on a red golf shirt.

That’s what happens when you win 14 of your first 46 majors, a .304 clip that made surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 major championships a foregone conclusion. Since 2008, however, Woods has posted an 0-for-17 mark in the big events.

Maybe the rank and file around Woods raised its game, maybe it’s a confidence thing – we’ll leave such esoteric questions to the armchair analyst. What is not up for debate is the degree of difficulty involved when a major hangs in the balance – whether you’re vying for your first or 15th.

Look no further than Muirfield and last Sunday’s gloomy final round when the top three players on the leaderboard to begin the final lap carded a closing-round average of 74.6.

Woods three-putted the first and fourth holes to sign for a 74, while Lee Westwood, two shots clear of the field to begin the final round, slipped out of the lead with three bogeys before the turn and sealed his fate with a bogey at the 13th on his way to a 75 and another tie for third.

Or maybe Hunter Mahan is a better case study. Mahan was tied for second place with Woods to begin the last 18 at the Open Championship, only to bogey three of his first six holes on his way to a tie for ninth.

For the second consecutive major Sunday, Mahan set out in the final group only to sign for another 75, the same score he posted on the last day at Merion. Yet where some see disappointment, Mahan embraces development. For the vast majority the road to Grand Slam glory is littered with failure; everyone knows that, even Woods.

“He said it best; when he came off the golf course at the U.S. Open they asked him if this was a letdown? And Hunter said, ‘I came into today knowing I could win and I leave today knowing I can win,’” said Sean Foley, the swing coach for all three Sunday contenders. “The only thing that will ever teach a player that is the experience. Until they see it for themselves it doesn’t really matter.”

No one knows that better than Westwood, who has finished in the top three at all four majors – call it the Show Slam. Through three rounds, however, Muirfield had all the markings of being his time.

About a month ago, Westwood began working with Foley. Nothing dramatic, “it’s not golf swing, it’s been about posture and dynamic loading. I don’t think I will ever do much to change his swing,” Foley said of one of the game’s perennially best ball-strikers.

Westwood also recently teamed with Ian Baker-Finch to improve his putting, a potent combination that lifted him to first in the field in total putts last week.

Maybe even more compelling was how relaxed the Englishman was even as the questions mounted as he inched closer to that elusive first major.

“I'm not in a high-pressure situation, because I'm going to go have dinner, and I'm so good with a knife and fork now that I don't feel any pressure at all,” Westwood smiled on the eve of the final round.

Westwood’s son, Sam, was with him last week on the East Lothian coast. The only other time the 12-year-old joined his father on the road was at the 2012 Nordea Masters, which Westwood won by five strokes.

“It’s helped having Sam along,” said Westwood’s manager with International Sports Management, Chubby Chandler. “Everything is perspective and good balance. It’s the youthful innocence of a 12-year-old.”

In practical terms, there was nothing to suggest this wasn’t Westwood’s time. But then golf, particularly the Grand Slam variety, eschews scripts. If something feels too good to be true, it probably is.

It’s why just one of the last eight 54-hole leaders at a major (Rory McIlroy at last year’s PGA Championship being the lone exception) has gone on to win, and why neither pedigrees nor sense of purpose assures success no matter how perfectly the stars seems aligned.

Late last Saturday an argument could be made that there wasn’t a better time for any of the top three contenders at Muirfield. Woods’ ball-striking and game plan seemed perfectly suited for the brown and bouncy links, Westwood’s putting and perspective made him the sentimental favorite, while Mahan’s resume suggested he’d completed his due diligence and was, well, due.

History, however, is littered with players who were one bad bounce away from Grand Slam glory. The simple truth is, it was never easy, no matter how effortless Woods made it look.

But it’s also a fact that there’s nothing wrong with Woods, Westwood or Mahan that the next major can’t fix.

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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.