Short game propels Senden to second Tour title

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2014, 12:09 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – In this era of titanium-denting bombers and bold, brash youngsters, 42-year-old John Senden has come to realize this:

“You really have to do everything great to win.”               

Funny thing, then, because in the final round of the Valspar Championship, one of the game’s pre-eminent ball-strikers needed to rely on a sublime short game to notch his first PGA Tour title in nearly eight years.

“When a good ball-striker starts putting good,” said his caddie of 12 years, Josh Cassell, “it’s a pretty nice combo.”

No kidding. 

Struggling with his long game on Innisbrook’s claustrophobic Copperhead Course – he hit just five fairways and 10 greens in the final round – Senden was able to summon the short-game magic that for some many years has been missing.   

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Coming down the stretch, he rammed home a 15-foot birdie putt on 14, chipped in on 16 and then sank a 21-footer on 17. He played the downwind 18th conservatively, taking iron off the tee and finding the middle of the green with his approach. From 37 feet he nestled his birdie putt within a few inches, leading to a stress-free, tap-in par for his first (and only other) Tour victory since the 2006 John Deere Classic. 

At 42, Senden is the oldest winner on Tour this season by five years. He also punched his ticket to the Masters for the third consecutive year. 

“I’ve been doing a lot of things great,” said Senden, who is expected to move to about No. 60 in the world rankings, “it’s just about continuing to believe that I can actually do it.”

Senden has always known how to dissect a golf course – he was ranked inside the top 12 in ball-striking for a decade (2002-2012). But what has held him back has been his work around the greens. Since the Tour began keeping the strokes gained-putting statistic in 2004, he has finished outside the top 100 seven times. He’s never been better than 64th. 

Recently, though, he enlisted the help of seemingly every putting guru with an opinion – Ian Triggs, Pat O’Brien, even Ian Baker-Finch has offered a few tips. His posture improved. He lightened his grip pressure. But most important was a mental adjustment. 

“I had to believe that I’m hitting good putts all the time, rather than just some of the time,” said Senden, who entered this week No. 11 in putting.

Sure, it helps too that he is healthy after dealing with an assortment of injuries in the past 16 months. 

He suffered a rib injury in either late 2012 or early 2013, making it difficult for him to fire through the ball. As a result he overcompensated with his hands, and soon he developed wrist soreness. He wound up 120th in 2013 earnings.  

“It was hard work last year,” he admitted.

The last seven-plus years haven’t been easy either, as Senden fought to rediscover that championship form. 

So, he was asked: Is the thrill of victory any different now than it was back in 2006? 

“It is something that makes you believe that you can get it done more than just once,” he said. “Thinking back in 2006, was it something of a flash in the pan? I don’t believe so. It feels good to do it again after seven years. Lots of good things to come.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.