Left-Handed Axley Wins First Event

By Sports NetworkSeptember 24, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 Valero Texas OpenSAN ANTONIO -- Eric Axley became a first-time winner on the PGA TOUR when he closed out a three-shot victory at the Texas Open on Sunday.
 
Playing on a one-year exemption he earned through the 2005 Nationwide Tour money list, Axley entered the final round with a four-shot lead after consecutive rounds of 63.
 
He looked steady as a frontrunner on Sunday until he scattered shots all over the 14th on the way to a double-bogey, snapping a 53-hole streak of par or better.
 
The left-handed rookie also bogeyed the 17th, but the late lapses only served to thin his winning margin.
 
Axley closed with a birdie at 18 and shot a 1-over 71, finishing at 15-under-par 265 for his first victory in 27 career PGA TOUR starts.
 
'It got a little shaky there, but I held it together,' said Axley, who was calm during a television interview afterward, like a seasoned pro.
 
Anthony Kim, making his first PGA TOUR start on a sponsor's exemption, fired a 5-under 65 to move into a tie for second place with Dean Wilson (69) and Justin Rose (68).
 
Kim chipped in for birdie on the 17th, his eighth birdie of the day. Wilson was Axley's closest challenger for much of the day, but was done in by a bogey at the 15th. Rose collected his fourth straight top-15 finish.
 
None of them could catch Axley, whose only other professional win came on the Nationwide Tour last year.
 
Before his late-round miscues Sunday, when Axley missed shots this week he was only just missing them. But mostly he was making shots, finishing first in birdies, first in greens in regulation and ninth in putting.
 
It was a surprising performance for someone with little PGA TOUR experience prior to this season.
 
Axley, 32, missed the cut at the 2004 U.S. Open, his first PGA TOUR tournament, then missed 1-of-2 PGA TOUR cuts last year while playing full-time on the Nationwide Tour.
 
This year, in his first full season on the PGA TOUR, Axley had made just 10 cuts in 23 previous starts. Before this weekend, his biggest check was for $24,300.
 
Sunday, his winner's check was for $720,000 -- almost 3 1/2 times what he had earned in all his previous PGA TOUR starts.
 
'It feels unbelievable,' said Axley.
 
The wind was up Sunday at LaCantera Golf Club, and so were the scores. But Axley's grip on the lead was only loosened a little towards the end.
 
He flirted with bogey for the first time since the first round, but drained a 10-foot par save at the second hole. Axley then made a curling, 30-foot birdie putt at the fourth to get to 17 under.
 
Axley made another nice par save at the ninth, rolling in a 14-foot putt to keep his bogey-free streak alive. He then two-putted for par at the 10th, a hole that gave the rest of the field fits Sunday.
 
By then, Axley was six shots ahead of Wilson with eight holes to play.
 
Then, the 14th happened.
 
Axley was in the trees, in the fairway and in the rough twice on the way to his bogey seven.
 
'The first 13 holes I stuck to my game plan pretty well and was playing pretty conservative. But it slipped away from me at 14,' he said.
 
At the 17th, Axley missed a long par putt from the fringe and dropped another shot. But at the 18th, he knocked his approach within 4 feet to set up the closing birdie.
 
Someone in the gallery sounded an awkward scream when Axley's final approach landed close. It may have been his wife, Cortney, who leapt into her husband's arms before he could give a television interview.
 
'I'm so proud of you,' she told him. And if he was more excited than his wife, it sure didn't show.
 
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    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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    Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

    When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

    Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

    "I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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    The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

    Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

    "It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.