Stenson, DJ turn 2016 into year of the breakthrough

By Ryan LavnerJuly 25, 2016, 8:45 pm

What had been a theme-less 2016 will now be remembered as the year that golf’s nearlymen finally broke through for their first major title.

Resounding victories in the past month by Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson offer hope to the frequent contenders who were thought to be too damaged and scarred by their past failures. After years of wilting under pressure, they each played boldly on their Open Sundays, authoring the most stirring performances of the year and shifting the narratives of their underachievement.

Uber-talented but enigmatic, Johnson had won every season as a pro but also endured a checkered history with on-course blunders and off-course recklessness. From Pebble Beach to Whistling Straits to Royal St. George’s to Chambers Bay, he woulda-coulda-shoulda bagged a couple of majors already. Instead, he entered this year empty-handed.    

Then came Oakmont, where the USGA gave him every opportunity to fold. In an unprecedented move, the rules officials interfered with the rhythm of Johnson’s round and informed him on the 12th hole that he may face a one-shot penalty after the round. The confusion about his score could have sent Johnson into a downward spiral, again, but this time he bashed his way to the top of the leaderboard on arguably the most difficult course in America. Remarkably, the very attribute for which he’d been so relentlessly criticized – a lack of mental toughness – was the main reason he won golf’s most grueling major. And so now, after years of making head-scratching blunders in big spots, no deficit or distraction will ever seem insurmountable.

“He’s a fantastic talent,” Jack Nicklaus said last month, “and I think he’s probably one of the later bloomers. He’s just starting in the prime of his career, and I think he’s got a great future.”

Though talent usually prevails, sports history is littered with cautionary tales of what-if superstars. It’s simply human nature: The more a player crumbles in crunch time, the more difficult the task becomes. The only relief from the pressure and the scrutiny – even Stenson admitted that the incessant questions about his major-less status were “annoying” – is to win.

“But if it continues to happen,” Nicklaus said of the major near-misses, “then all of a sudden it gets in your head and you can’t really get it out.”

What goes on upstairs has always been Stenson’s greatest weakness. He’s a world-class player and ball-striker who has weathered two career-threatening slumps, but it’s his drive for perfection that ultimately has capped his success. Sure, he’d captured 15 titles worldwide (including the FedEx Cup and a World Golf Championship) and had seven major top-5s prior to The Open, but equally as memorable were his tantrums in which he decapitated his driver and trashed a locker.

“It’s all about the melon, isn’t it?” said Stenson’s longtime swing coach, Pete Cowen. “If it’s a dark gray, he’s fine. But if it’s a dark green, he’s in trouble.”

Stenson’s brain certainly didn’t resemble the Hulk’s at Royal Troon. Though his putter had often tormented him in big spots previously, Stenson filled up the cup at an astounding rate Sunday, rolling in 10 birdies (including a pair of cold-blooded 30-plus-footers on the back nine) to outduel Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson in one of the greatest head-to-head clashes in the game’s long history. The Swede became just the second player to win a major after closing with 63, and his 20-under 264 set a major-championship record. 

Seems a gray melon led to a silver claret jug.

“I felt like this was going to be my turn,” he would say later.

Johnson and Stenson’s breakthroughs should be welcome sights for Sergio Garcia, 36, and Lee Westwood, 43, who now assume the mantle of the best players not to have won a major. Though there was a sense of inevitability to Johnson’s victory, given his incredible skill set, the 40-year-old Stenson proved that it’s not too late for these battle-scarred stars.

After all, Garcia’s 12 top-5s in majors are the most all time without a victory. But considering the way this major season has gone, with the Revenge of the Nearlymen, this week’s PGA could change the trajectory of his complicated career.

Just look at the transformation that is already underway within Stenson. His Open victory wasn’t but an hour old when he began looking ahead to another big prize.

“We’re only just getting started, aren’t we?” he said. “You never know once you open the floodgates what might happen.”

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.