Equipment game changers: Hybrids

By Matt AdamsJanuary 25, 2017, 12:30 pm

Was the most famous shot in golf history struck with a hybrid?

On the surface, the answer seems obvious: It’s well documented that Gene Sarazen made his “shot heard ’round the world” albatross at Augusta National with a 4-wood. Hybrids didn’t exist in 1935. They belong to the world of modern golf equipment – crosses between long irons and fairway woods that have become a seemingly permanent part of the golf landscape.

But let’s take a closer look at both the hybrid and the scenario that unfolded for Sarazen on the final day of the Augusta National Invitational, the tournament that would come to be known as the Masters.

First, consider the shape of many hybrids today – long, narrow clubheads, with a slightly more meaty depth just north of the epicenter of the club when viewed at address. This profile is almost identical to the first woods. In fact, at one time a couple of centuries back, irons as we know them didn’t even exist, for using iron to make a golf club instead of a sword or a plowshare would be looked upon as madness. Instead, golfers set out with bags full of wooden-headed clubs that looked very much like the hybrids of today.

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Back to Sarazen. He trailed leader Craig Wood by two shots when he came to the 485-yard, par-5 15th hole. As he and playing partner Walter Hagen walked up to their drives, they heard a roar coming from the 18th green. They assumed, and soon it was confirmed, that Wood had birdied the 18th and Sarazen’s deficit now stood at three strokes.

Sarazen knew he had to go for the green in two. His ball lay behind a small crest in the hill in a slight depression, 235 yards from the hole. He chose his new Wilson 4-wood, which featured a scalloped back, toed the clubhead in for more distance, and lashed at the ball with a swing that distinguished him as a power-hitter, despite his 5'4" frame.

In 1935, the green complex had less banking and a smaller body of water in front of it than exists today. Sarazen’s ball narrowly cleared the water, bounced onto the putting surface, then rolled from right to left toward the pin before diving into the hole. Among the witnesses was Bobby Jones, who had made his way down from the clubhouse to watch his friends finish.

Now tied for the lead, Sarazen parred the 16th and 17th holes. After an uncharacteristically weak drive on No. 18, he again called on the services of his 4-wood to reach the green. He two-putted for par and a place in a playoff. The next day, in the only 36-hole playoff in Masters history, Sarazen defeated Wood by five shots, 144 to 149.

Sarazen’s 4-wood was the bridge between his long irons and his other woods, just as a hybrid is today, when few Tour players carry 4-woods. Typically, 4-woods had lofts between 15 and 19 degrees – the same as many modern hybrids.

Hybrids are still primarily the province of amateurs, who often struggle with long irons. But they’re seen on Tour, too, with players including Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Martin Kaymer having carried them.

And if the late Gene Sarazen could have been transported to 2017, we might have added him to the list.

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Z. Johnson looks to end victory drought at Valero

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 10:45 pm

Nearly three years after his most recent victory, Zach Johnson has a chance to get back into the winner's circle at the Valero Texas Open.

Johnson started the third round at TPC San Antonio with a share of the lead, and he maintained that position after closing out a 4-under 68 with a birdie on the final hole. At 13 under, he is tied for the lead with Andrew Landry and one shot clear of Trey Mullinax as he looks to win for the first time since The Open in 2015.

"Different wind today. Misjudged some numbers, misjudged some wind, made some bad swings, all of the above," Johnson told reporters. "But truthfully, I mean my short game was actually pretty good, my putting was great. I missed some putts but I hit some really good ones, hit some lines and I gave myself opportunities, especially on the back side."

Johnson started slowly, making the turn in even-par 36, before carding four birdies on the inward half. It was a microcosm of his week at TPC San Antonio, where Johnson is even through three trips across the front nine but has played the back nine in 13 under while picking up more than six strokes on the field in strokes gained: putting.

Johnson won this event in both 2008 and 2009 when it was held at nearby La Cantera, but he has only cracked the top 10 once since it shifted venues in 2010. But facing off in the final group against two players who have yet to win on the PGA Tour, the veteran hopes to capitalize on his back-nine prowess this week in order to deliver career win No. 13.

"I've got to do exactly what I did on the back side, and that was give myself opportunities on every hole," Johnson said. "I'm putting great, I'm seeing the lines well, my caddie's reading the greens well. So it's just a matter of committing and executing down the stretch."

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Mullinax fires course-record 62 at Valero

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 9:01 pm

Trey Mullinax surged into contention during the third round of the Valero Texas Open, shooting a 10-under 62 that set a new course record on the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.

Mullinax started the day seven shots off the pace, but his sizzling round left him alone in third place through 54 holes, one shot off the lead. The former Alabama standout caught fire on the back nine, shooting a 7-under 29 despite a bogey after chip-ins for eagle on No. 14 and birdie on No. 16 to go along with an eagle on the home hole.

"It's probably one of the best rounds I've ever had," Mullinax told reporters. "To go out there and shoot 62 on a hard golf course is really good."

Mullinax appeared headed for a missed cut after a 74 in the opening round, but he bounced back with a second-round 68 to earn a weekend tee time and his third-round score broke the previous course record of 63 held by multiple players.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

The 25-year-old finished 137th in FedExCup points last season, leaving him with only conditional status this season. His lone top-10 finish of the year came at the Valspar Championship, where he survived a Monday qualifier and went on to tie for eighth, and this marks only his third start since the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.

"Obviously I would like to play a little more, but the tournaments I get in, I'm really excited about playing golf," Mullinax said. "I've loved every start I've gotten, and I'm very thankful to be in the position I'm in."

Mullinax holed a putt to clinch a national title for the Crimson Tide in 2014, and he finished T-9 at last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills. But success has been fleeting among the professional ranks, meaning Sunday's opportunity to notch a career-best finish or breakthrough victory is nothing short of enticing.

"I'm sure you'll be nervous," Mullinax said. "To have a chance to win or just go play good golf is what I came here for, so that's what I'm going to do."

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Quiros maintains one-shot lead through 54 in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 7:46 pm

RABAT, Morocco - A birdie on the last hole gave Alvaro Quiros a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Trophee Hassan II.

Quiros' birdie on No. 18 allowed the Spanish golfer to sign for an even-par 72 on Saturday to stay at 7-under par overall and clear of four players in second place.

South African pair Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, France's Alexander Levy, and Finland's Mikko Ilonen were just a shot behind at 6 under heading into the final day at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat.

Quiros is a seven-time winner on the European Tour, but went six years without a victory until last year with his triumph at the Rocco Forte Open in Italy.

Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II

He's seeking a wire-to-wire victory in Morocco after sharing the first-round lead with Bradley Dredge before taking it outright on Day 2.

Quiros had an on-off day in the third round - he said it was ''suddenly great shot, suddenly not so good'' - and carded four birdies and four bogeys to come out even and still hold on to his lead.

Van Rooyen shot 71, Bezuidenhout 68, Levy a 69, and Ilonen the best round of the week so far with his 6-under 66.

Ilonen had seven birdies and just a single bogey - on his first hole - to leap 23 places up the leaderboard and into contention for a first tour title since 2014 when he won the World Match Play Championship.

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.