The right day for a left-handed battle

By Rex HoggardJanuary 31, 2011, 5:49 am

Farmers Insurance OpenSAN DIEGO – If 2011 turns out to be the much anticipated old vs. young showdown the PGA Tour is billing it to be, consider the latter the leader in the clubhouse, although Sunday’s showdown at the Farmers Insurance Open felt more like a split decision than it did a TKO.

If the Tour is indeed a clash of generations, consider this bout between young and old a work in progress.

A left-hander won the annual Torrey Pines stop, although those with Left Coast leanings no doubt feel it wasn’t the right southpaw. Not that Bubba Watson, a youngish 32 who counts Rickie Fowler and Twitter among his greatest distractions, was bothered by the partisanship or any other distraction on a rare cold, overcast SoCal day. Which is a victory unto itself considering Watson’s historic lack of attention span.

“I’ve never been to a doctor to be tested (for Attention Deficit Disorder), but we’re guessing I probably do,” said Watson, following a final-round 67 for a one-stroke victory.

Just behind Watson was hometown hero Phil Mickelson, a player who has, on occasion, been accused of over-thinking things, beaten by a player who has never been accused of over-analysis. Which was just one of many profound dichotomies that emerged on a sunless Sunday.

Not only did Watson clip Mickelson in textbook style, he did so with a swashbuckling abandon that Lefty considered detrimental to success on the South Course ever since architect Rees Jones rewired the seaside muni.

Wielding a pink-shafted driver from nearly every tee box, Watson hit just 28 of 56 fairways for the week. Not exactly a recipe for South Course success but the boy from Bagdad, Fla., muscled his way to 59 of 72 greens in regulation, which ranked first among the field.

And if his 29 putts in Round 4 don’t fly off the stat sheet, his final 21 feet (a 9 footer for par at the 17th and a 12 footer for birdie at last) proved to be pivotal for a man who quickly admits, “my mind is messed up.”

Clinging to a one-stroke lead Watson pulled his drive into a bunker left of the 17th fairway and airmailed the green and into a lie so deep that his chip to 12 feet was considered a best case scenario.

A hole later he pounded another drive, missed another green and scrambled for a title-clinching birdie at the iconic last hole. Watson didn’t watch Mickelson play the 72nd hole, his mind and emotions wouldn’t allow it. Had he been so inclined he would have watched the three-time Torrey Pines champion lay up from a bad lie on the last and pace off the 72 yards to the hole.

Had Watson watched the histrionics, he would have seen Lefty’s caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay run forward to tend the flag for his man’s approach, a move that may have appeared presumptive but was actually optimistically precautionary.

“If you know how many times in a year he hits the pin it was a no-brainer,” Mackay said. “These guys hit flags and we’d be feeling pretty disgusted if it hit the flag and went in the soup.”

Bubba Watson
Watson got up and down from the bunker on No. 18 Sunday to edge out Phil Mickelson by a shot.
It didn’t do either, instead Mickelson’s approach hopped to 2 feet for birdie and his best Torrey Pines finish in a decade.

For the week, Watson won the title and Tiger Woods’ retooled swing seemed to take the weekend off, but it was Mickelson who answered the most questions at Torrey Pines.

A decade removed from his last Torrey Pines title and the better part of a year between himself and that emotional Masters triumph, the question marks loomed large over Lefty heading into his Tour debut.

He didn’t answer them all, but he showed himself, and the golf world, enough.

“I did what I thought would be enough, but it wasn’t,” said Mickelson, who held a one-stroke lead through 54 holes and closed with a 69. “I wanted to start the year off with a win and get some momentum going early, but I gave myself an opportunity.”

Which is more than he’s been able to say about his game, or his health, since last April. The painful arthritis that essentially sidelined him for much of the second half of last year under control and his strength back Mickelson looked more like the guy who won back-to-back titles at Torrey Pines in 2000 and 2001 than the guy who appeared confused by Jones’ handiwork and Woods’ dominance at what is a home game.

Particularly when compared with the other half of the marquee, which was on his way to the airport by the time Mickelson and Watson finished their private duel.

Following a steady start to the week (69-69), Woods ballooned to a 5-over-par weekend and carded back-to-back over-par cards at Torrey Pines for the first time as a professional (74-75). He finished tied for 44th, his highest finish at Torrey Pines as a professional, and headed back to Isleworth looking for answers of his own.

“The old motor patterns are still there, and that is the thing. I'm going to have to fight through that. And I've done it before, and there's no reason I can't do it again,” said Woods, who hit less than 50 percent of Torrey’s fairways (25 of 56) and only 48 of 72 greens in regulation.

“Old motor patterns” is starting to sound like an indictment of former swing coach Hank Haney, until the world No. 3 reminds the impatient masses that his previous makeovers, one under Haney and two with Butch Harmon, also came with predictable performance ebbs.

“I went through a stretch there from '97, the middle of '97 to May of '99 when I only won one tournament. So I've been through stretches like that before, and it takes time,” said Woods, whose next start will be the European Tour’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic next month.

If Woods’ weekend retreat was concerning to Tour types pining for a comeback in a contract year, they could take solace in a leaderboard dotted with more storylines than a Super Bowl media day.

Young guns Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney both roared to top-10 finishes with super Sundays. Johnson went round in 66 while Watney posted a 63.

“I cannot believe what Nick Watney shot,” Mackay deadpanned, “he played the North Course, right?”

Star-in-the-making Jhonattan Vegas, fresh off his first Tour victory at last week’s Bob Hope Classic, was vying for a rookie double until his 5-iron second shot from the rough splashed into Devlin’s Billabong in front of the 18th green.

Anthony Kim, Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas – who began the final round tied with Mickelson – also posted top 10s, giving youth a clear 1-up lead in what the Tour hopes is a season-long generation gap.

But it was the guy who couldn’t make the travelling team at the University of Georgia who proved once and for all that the South Course, at least the mutated version that Jones gave the golf world in 2001, is the realm of the bombers and the bold, regardless of what Mickelson may or may not have learned in a decade of defeat. He also put Gen X on the board. At least for now.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.