Stumble shouldn't deter Stenson in major quest

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2015, 11:44 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – A few years back a group of on-air pundits were asked who would be the first Swede to win a major championship.

Someone picked Carl Pettersson. Another went with Jonas Blixt. Annika Sorenstam’s name may have also been mentioned in jest; it’s hard to remember exactly because of what happened next.

Henrik Stenson entered the "Morning Drive" studio for the next segment and glared at your scribe, a member of that misguided group, and said simply, menacingly even, “That was a mistake.”

As the golf world inches closer to the year’s first men’s major at Augusta National, Stenson’s admonishment is starting to feel more like foreshadowing.

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On Sunday on a softer-than-Wonder Bread Bay Hill layout, the stoic-looking Swede didn’t win that elusive major or even a mid-major, but he certainly seemed to take a step toward breaking through that Grand Slam ceiling.

A half-world away Pete Cowen didn’t watch Stenson’s eventful final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He didn’t see him squander a one-stroke lead late Sunday at Bay Hill.

He didn’t need to.

After 14 years and endless hours working with him on far-flung practice tees he knows the talent that burns within the 38-year-old. So instead, he watched the Man United-Liverpool tilt.

When it comes to Stenson, Cowen knows the fine line between victory and defeat is measured in the moments when things aren’t going his way.

“We like to say if he can keep his melon on he can win anywhere,” Cowen said.

Whether Stenson’s melon is squarely fused to his broad shoulders permanently is still unknown, as evidenced by his near-miss at Arnie’s invitational.

After starting the day with a two-stroke advantage, he dropped two behind the likes of Morgan Hoffmann only to forge ahead with birdies at Nos. 11 and 12.

That’s where the line became blurry. It’s the moment when he and Hoffmann, who was paired with Stenson, were put on the clock by a PGA Tour rules official on the 15th hole.

It was the second time the group was subjected to the pressures of a stopwatch, and will be documented as the moment Stenson three-putted from 45 feet at No. 15, and then he needed three more from the fringe at the par-5 16th hole. For a player who had recorded just two three-putts his first three days it was the metaphorical fork in the road.

“It’s hard when you don’t feel like you can take the time you need,” said Stenson, who would par the final three holes to finish a stroke behind API winner Matt Every. “I just don’t see the point.”

Widely considered a “five-tool” player, it’s Stenson’s ability, and at times inability, to deal with adversity that has covered the divide between consensus world-beater and would-be champion.

It’s why when Stenson rang Cowen past midnight on Wednesday about a swing that had been blown out of position by winds that buffeted the pro-am, the swing coach calmly worked his man through the moment.

“There is one fault that he has with his swing and one fault only,” Cowen said.

The two discussed the esoteric elements of Stenson’s swing. Essentially, Cowen walked him through the mechanics of “getting pressure on the ball.” Put another way, predictable contact creates repeatable results, and Stenson responded with three consecutive rounds in the 60s.

There was no sense of urgency for either Stenson or Cowen because when it comes to the golf swing he is the quintessential Swede, unflappable and detail driven.

It’s an advantage Stenson has come by honestly after a career dotted with peaks and valleys yet defined by quality with Tour victories at a World Golf Championship, The Players and two FedEx Cup playoff stops.

“He’s been through two adverse periods and that has given him confidence to know he can handle anything,” said Cowen, referring to Stenson’s swoons in 2003, when he drifted to 502nd in the world, and 2012, when he dropped to 222nd. “His caddie [Gareth Lord] said that if he keeps his head we’ll have chances every week.”

So far in 2015 on the PGA Tour Stenson has largely played to that script, finishing fourth in his first two starts of the season and runner-up on Sunday at Bay Hill.

It’s likely why Stenson took the long view following his near-miss at Bay Hill.

“My goal is to play as good as I can, be up in contention as many times as I can and the more times I’m there the more tournaments I will win,” Stenson said. “It’s still good practice to feel the heat and be out there in contention today.”

But for those who know Stenson, and what he is capable of, it’s not practice that he needs if he’s going to finish his major quest.

“He’s good enough to win anything, the thing is staying patient,” Cowen said.

Whether he maintained that patience on Sunday at Bay Hill is open to interpretation, although he didn’t break any clubs like he’s done regularly in his career, most notably at the 2013 BMW Championship, but he may have broken some china with the Tour official with the quick second hand.

What isn’t open for discussion is Stenson’s status as the clear second favorite, behind a slow-starting Rory McIlroy, heading into the Masters.

“I think Stenson has played his way to being a favorite,” said Ernie Els when asked about the possible contenders heading into the year’s first major next month at Augusta National.

He also moved to No. 2 in the World Golf Ranking with his bridesmaid showing at the API, but then Cowen didn’t need to see any of that to grasp his man’s status as a major championship conversation starter.

And now the rest of the golf world is learning it, one misguided pundit at a time.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x