Masters on minds of Horschel, other contenders

By Ryan LavnerApril 7, 2013, 12:15 am

SAN ANTONIO – Will there be a 94th and final Masters participant this year?

Ask the question at your own peril.

Players steadfastly avoid talking about Augusta, perhaps wary of some green-jacket jinx. But if recent form and the current leaderboard are any indication, Billy Horschel seems as good a bet as any to assume the last available spot.

If nothing else, it would fulfill a guarantee he made at Q-School. Last December, at PGA West, he stood next to Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz, with the cameras rolling, and declared, “I’m going to win on the PGA Tour next year. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.”


Rarely are such proclamations made at the torture chamber known as PGA Tour Q-School. (May it rest in peace.) Walking off 18 green, most players exhale, not bluster.

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It was bold. It was cocky. And, Horschel says, it was true.

“I’m as confident as I’ve ever been, and I feel just as good as anyone else in the world right now,” he said late Saturday. “I have nothing to back that up against, but in my own mind that’s all I care about.”

At 10 under (68-68-70–206), Horschel has a two-shot lead at the Valero Texas Open, where a victory would get him into the Masters. You know, the storyline no player seems eager to talk about this week.

If Horschel, who tied for  second last week in Houston, doesn’t collect the $1.1 million first-place prize, if distractions overwhelm him or if he wilts under the spotlight – all of which seems unlikely, it should be noted – then who?

Perhaps Charley Hoffman, two strokes back, will board a flight Sunday night from San Antonio to Atlanta.

That would surprise, no doubt. It’s been a “very below-average season,” Hoffman conceded. He still doesn’t know how he broke a rib in February, but overuse seems a likely culprit. Nevertheless, he played through the injury in Arizona, and then again in L.A., before shutting it down for six weeks.

When he turns up in these parts, however, he may as well be ranked world No. 1, not his current 176. He hasn’t finished worse than 13th in the past four editions of this tournament, including a runner-up in 2011.

“I’ve been on Tour eight years and I think I know what golf courses I play well,” he said. “This is one of them.”

Is the Masters on his mind? Maybe, but it’s buried beneath thoughts of his health (now about 100 percent), and his family, and an Oaks Course that showed its fangs in the afternoon winds Saturday.

“You don’t base your career on how many Masters you play in,” said Hoffman, who has made only one appearance, in 2011. “I’m looking for win No. 3, and it would be a great bonus if win No. 3 comes with a trip to Augusta.”

It’s been nine years since Bob Estes last made that drive down Magnolia Lane. At 47, the Texan thinks he’s in the midst of a career renaissance, a byproduct of the renewed confidence with his long game.

After struggling for much of the past decade, Estes said optimistically of Augusta, “Actually, I’d be much more looking forward to playing there than before.”

Such nostalgic talk would only tease Marcel Siem, who has flirted with a trip to Georgia far too many times in the past week. Last Sunday, he won the European Tour event in Morocco and was told by local media and officials that he had moved inside the world top 50, only to fall percentage points shy.

“My dad was even more upset that I’m not in,” Siem said, “because I always promised him that I’d take him and Mom to the Masters. It’s a dream come true if I finally make it one day.”

Yes, there is a chance, albeit a slim one.

Because Valero had offered him a sponsor exemption, Siem flew privately from Morocco to his home in Germany, crashed for a few hours, then skipped across the Atlantic and arrived here having slept only a few hours.

Not surprisingly, he appeared sluggish in the first round, opening with 76. But he rebounded with rounds of 67-69, putting him six shots off the third-round lead.

“I’m pretty tired,” he said, “but the Masters is a big goal for me. The rest of my energy, I will suck it all out tomorrow.”

Horschel, however, will try to conserve energy. Maintain focus. Attack targets when necessary. Continue to putt like the cup is the size of a sinkhole.

He refuses to talk about Augusta – “It will be cool, but I’ll worry about that tomorrow if it happens” – and for good reason. All a victory here means, he says, “is that I can check off one of my goals that I’ve had since I turned pro.”

“I think I’ve put everything and done everything you need to do to get to the level to win,” he said. “Whether my time is tomorrow, I can’t tell you right now. But I hope it is.”

Take a number, Billy. So do the rest of the Masters hopefuls.

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TT postscript: Tiger (E) survives difficult day

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 6:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here are some observations after watching Tiger Woods’ even-par 70 in the first round of the Honda Classic:

• Whew, that was tough. Like, by far the most difficult conditions Woods has faced this year. The wind blew about 20 mph all day, from different directions, and that affected every part of the game, especially putting.

• And though the stats aren’t necessarily pretty – half the fairways hit, just 10 greens – this was BY FAR his best ball-striking round of the new year. He even said so himself. When he walked off the course, he was just four off the lead.

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• Woods had only one bad hole Thursday. It came on the par-5 third hole, his 12th of the day. He blew his driver into the right bunker. He had to lay way back, to clear the lip of the bunker. And then he tugged his third shot just barely in the greenside trap. And then his bunker shot didn’t get onto the green. Then he chipped on and missed a 4-footer. A truly ugly double bogey.

• The driver is still a concern – he found the fairway only once in five attempts. But only one of those misses was way off-line. That came on the 12th, when he double-crossed one way left.

• Though the driver is uncooperative, he has showed a lot of improvement with his 3-wood. The four times he used it, he controlled the ball flight beautifully and hit it 300-plus. His 2-iron is making a comeback, too, in a big way.

• After this round, he should have a little wiggle room Friday to make the cut, barring a blowup round. It’s playing tough, and the 36-hole cut should be over par. Tiger needs four rounds of competitive reps. If he plays like this Friday, he’ll get them. 

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 5:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.

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Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).