Every club in the bag: Shots that shaped 2016

By Doug FergusonDecember 20, 2016, 11:57 pm

The year began with PGA Tour rookie Smylie Kaufman hitting the opening tee shot into the blue horizon at Kapalua. It ended 319 days later when PGA Tour rookie Mackenzie Hughes rolled in an 18-foot par putt from the fringe to win at Sea Island.

One way to look back on 2016 is through every club in the bag - not necessarily the best shots, but those that shaped the year.

DRIVER: Justin Thomas hit the longest drive at 414 yards on the 16th hole at Firestone.Dustin Johnson hit the most impressive drive on the 18th hole at Oakmont in the U.S. Open. But this club goes to Jim Herman, who arguably faced the most pressure.

Herman was among 12 players who won for the first time on the PGA Tour, and this wasn't exactly handed to him. He had a one-shot lead over Henrik Stenson on the 18th hole of the Shell Houston Open, with water down the left side and a large bunker ready to catch any shot played away from the water. Herman smoked it right down the middle, made his par and headed to the Masters.

FAIRWAY METAL: Needing an eagle on the par-5 18th at the Sony Open to get into a playoff, Zac Blair hit a 3-wood so pure that moments after contact, he smiled and said, ''Oh my gosh, that is SO good .'' And it was, settling 10 feet away. Alas, he missed the putt. But that's not the only reason Blair gets the nod for this club.

On the previous hole, he was just off the green when he chose to putt with a fairway metal. Because of the length of the club, it looked as though it might have been anchored against his chest. The ban on anchored strokes had been in effect for only one week. Blair had to review it with PGA Tour officials and was cleared.

2-IRON: Jason Day is among the few who carry a 2-iron, and there's a reason. He can rip it. The world's No. 1 player had no choice. He was in the 18th fairway at Baltusrol in the PGA Championship, two shots behind Jimmy Walker, when he hit 2-iron to 15 feet. The cheer was so loud that Walker backed off his birdie putt on the 17th twice. Day made the eagle, but only after Walker had made his birdie. Walker went on to win by one.

3-IRON: Stenson was one shot behind Phil Mickelson in the third round of the British Open when he came to the par-3 17th and hit what he described a ''flat-out 3-iron'' into the wind to 20 feet for birdie. Mickelson made bogey for a two-shot swing that gave Stenson the lead going into the final round at Royal Troon, and set the tone for one of the great duels in major championship history.

4-IRON: Rory McIlroy took a bow to mock the boisterous fans at Hazeltine after sinking an eagle putt to end his first day of the Ryder Cup. The shot that set up the eagle was a 4-iron on the par-5 16th that never left its target and landed pin-high, allowing him and Thomas Pieters to close out Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

5-IRON: Day was one shot behind Kevin Chappell with no realistic birdie chances over the final two holes at Bay Hill, except that Day can hit some unreal shots. The best was a towering 5-iron that settled 10 feet behind the hole for a birdie. Chappell bogeyed the 18th, and Day had his first victory of the year.

6-IRON: Johnson thought he was leading the U.S. Open, but having not looked at a leaderboard because of a potential penalty at the end of his round, he didn't know by how much. All he saw was the flag 190 yards away. He wanted to hit a cut 6-iron with the wind and pulled it off to near perfection. The ball plopped down next to the pin and settled 5 feet away for birdie. He got the penalty, and it didn't matter. He won by three.

7-IRON: Canadian teen Brooke Henderson rallied on the back nine of Sahalee to get into a playoff at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship against Lydia Ko, the No. 1 player in the world, who was going for her third straight major. Henderson stole the show with a 7-iron to 3 feet on the first playoff hole to win.

8-IRON: This wasn't about the club as much as it was the decision. Ko was trailing at the ANA Inspiration, unaware that Ariya Jutanugarn was in trouble on the 17th. She wanted to take on the water at the par-5 18th at Rancho Mirage until her caddie persuaded her that a miss would end it, and Ko could still make birdie by laying up. She laid up with an 8-iron, made birdie and won the first major of the year.

9-IRON: Jordan Spieth had a five-shot lead going to the back nine at the Masters until bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes. But the shot that gets replayed the most was his 9-iron at the flag on the par-3 12th that hit the bank and tumbled back into the water . That was the start of his triple bogey, and he never caught up.

PITCHING WEDGE: McIlroy was three shots behind with three holes to play when he holed out with a pitching wedge on the 16th hole at East Lake. That was the start of a rally that got him into a three-man playoff, and he won with a birdie on the third playoff hole to win the Tour Championship and capture the FedEx Cup.

SAND WEDGE: Jason Dufner had not won since the 2013 PGA Championship, and it looked as though he had squandered a chance at the CareerBuilder Challenge when his tee shot to the island-green 17th at PGA West called ''Alcatraz'' went over the back. But it hung up on the rocks, and Dufner took out a sand wedge and gave it a whack. It came out so perfectly that it rolled into the pin and led to a tap-in par. He wound up winning in a playoff.

PUTTER: Stenson said his 50-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole at Royal Troon felt like a slap shot. He scored. Every week, someone makes a big putt. Stenson's stands out because it was biggest putt in the final round of the British Open, the best major of the year.

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.