Stenson in position to ice victory at Bay Hill

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2015, 11:26 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – The PGA Tour’s Iceman can be a difficult read.

This isn’t an aloof-Swede deal so much as it is the emotional distance Henrik Stenson tends to travel in relatively short periods of time.

This is, after all, the same player who destroyed a driver and a locker a week after winning the 2013 Deutsche Bank Championship. It’s equally significant that a week after that implosion at the BMW Championship, he won the Tour Championship and collected the $10 million FedEx Cup.

It’s the same guy who told the media on Friday at Bay Hill that “I kind of kicked myself in the butt” after a particularly slow start on Day 2.

Since that motivational pep talk on Friday, Stenson has played his last 27 holes in 12 under to add a measure of star power to an otherwise nondescript field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

At 38, Stenson will tell you he has worked to control his emotions, and for the casual observer the Iceman seems to live up to his nickname. What’s hidden from prying eyes behind a pair of wrap-around sunglasses, however, is a competitor who can still run as hot as a ’67 Ford Mustang.

“I’m kicking myself in the butt all the time,” smiled Stenson, who finished his round with a 19-footer for eagle on 16 and kick-in birdie on 18 for a 6-under 66 and a two-stroke lead. “Today, I was going about my business, didn’t get off to a fast start but it was still OK. I kept it in play and took my chances when I got them.”

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, videos and photos

For tournament officials, the third-ranked Swede is a much-needed addition to the marquee and a sign, however faint, that things may be returning to normal on the PGA Tour.

The parity that has gripped the Tour this season can be summed up with a single sound bite – in 18 events there have been 18 different winners.

Or, for the more visually motivated, a once over of the Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard would also suffice as a paradigm of parity.

In order, Morgan Hoffmann – a 25-year-old Tour sophomore whose best finish this season was T-17 at Doral – looms just two strokes behind Stenson after a third-round 71. He's followed by Jason Kokrak – an almost 30-year-old who considers his back-to-back state high school championships his biggest thrill in golf – Matt Jones, Ben Martin, and Matt Every.

It's the collision of balance that has overtaken golf at the highest level and a Bay Hill layout softened by less-than-ideal conditions, an agronomic necessity that helped vault Stenson to his 16-under total.

There hasn’t been a winner that far under par at Arnie’s Place since the event went by the Bay Hill Classic (1987).

Rory McIlroy seemed headed in a similar direction as Stenson, moving to within one shot of the lead at 12 under before three consecutive bogeys dropped the world No. 1 a touchdown off the lead.

“There were parts of the round that were good. I have to concentrate on that and focus on the positives and try and take those into tomorrow,” said McIlroy, who seems to have lapsed into Masters mode following a slow start to his 2015 season on Tour.

So the challenge of catching Stenson will fall to the likes of Hoffmann and Kokrak, the latter of whom tied for the round-of-the-day with a 7-under 65.

“I’m going to make birdies, they’re going to make birdies. I’ll just try to make the best of it,” said Kokrak, who will head out in Sunday’s penultimate group with Jones. “The gameplan stays the same.”

After two dominant days to begin the week (66-65), Hoffmann took a similarly high-minded approach to his final-round pairing with Stenson, and Every certainly has the track record at Bay Hill, having won last year’s API.

But the numbers on this are rather straightforward.

Combined, the five players within three strokes of the lead have three Tour victories, one less than Stenson, which leads one to concede the likelihood of at least one Tour trend ending on Sunday.

The last eight 54-hole leaders on Tour all failed to close Sunday with a victory, whereas Stenson is a perfect 1 for 1 with the three-quarter advantage.

That the Swede has also started his Tour year with back-to-back fourth-place finishes would also tilt the scales in his favor. But it’s his improved demeanor on the golf course that may be the most telling sign of how far Stenson’s game has evolved.

And that’s not to say Stenson is any easier to read.

In his signature style late Saturday, as he spoke with the media, Stenson’s train of thought drifted from blithe to blunt in a single answer.

“When they asked me on Thursday if I wanted to be announced from Florida or Sweden, of course I took Orlando for support,” he laughed before adding, “the golf god doesn’t know what’s happened the last three days. Hopefully I tell it good [on Sunday]. That would be a good closing.”

It seems the dichotomy of the Iceman doesn’t stop on the golf course.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.