Which players enter 2013 with the most to prove?

By Will GrayDecember 29, 2012, 1:30 pm

As the calendar turns to 2013, the promise of a new season can hold a variety of meaning for players. For some, the new year represents an opportunity to build upon momentum garnered in 2012; for others, it serves as a chance to break through on the game's biggest stage.

For still another group, the promise lies somewhere in between. After solid campaigns in 2012, their names are well-established among golf's best, but questions still remain about whether they can find a place among the game's top echelon this season. Who, then, are the players with the most to prove in the coming year?

Nine months ago, Hunter Mahan was arguably the hottest player in golf. A winner twice in his first seven starts last season, Mahan entered the year's first major ranked No. 4 in the world and atop the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings. From there, though, his season faltered; Mahan would crack the top 10 only once in his next 15 starts (T-8, AT&T National), and a Ryder Cup berth that appeared to be a certainty in the spring never came to fruition.

As a result, a season in which Mahan took home more than $4 million in earnings and finished sixth in the regular season FedEx Cup points race was seen in many ways as a disappointment. Entering 2013, he will be eager to erase the pain of his mid-season slump and prove that the early successes of last year were no fluke.

Last season saw Rickie Fowler achieve an important milestone, as the 24-year-old claimed his first PGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship. Fowler followed that up with a runner-up finish at The Players and a T-5 showing at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in his next two starts, earning him PGA Tour Player of the Month honors for May.

Fowler struggled to maintain that pace across the second half of the season, though, as he was unable to record a top-20 finish in his next nine Tour starts and failed to break 80 on three separate occasions. Entering only his fourth full season on Tour, time is still very much on Fowler's side. Nevertheless, as 2013 begins, questions remain as to whether his game will soon match his prominent fashion flair on a more consistent basis.

Among those with the most to prove entering 2013 are a pair of Englishmen, both of whom played pivotal roles in sparking the European comeback at the Ryder Cup in September. Ian Poulter's already-impressive match play credentials reached an historic level with his 5-0 individual record at Medinah, and Poulter complemented that result with an equally impressive stroke-play effort in claiming the WGC-HSBC Champions two months later. As a result, he enters the new year ranked No. 12 in the world, his highest position in nearly two years.

Like Poulter, Justin Rose also won a WGC event in 2012, holding off Bubba Watson to win at Doral in March. To that result he added impressive showings at several other high-profile events: T-3 at the PGA Championship, and runner-up finishes at both the season-ending Tour Championship and the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour. Now fourth in the world, Rose has never been ranked higher and expectations have never been loftier.

For both Poulter and Rose, a place among the best in today's game has been established; what remains to be seen is whether either player can ascend to a truly elite level in 2013. For the Englishmen, along with players like Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, such ascension can only take place under one condition a major championship triumph.

Fair or not, major titles continue to be the most consistent measuring stick by which seasons can be evaluated; they are the ultimate means by which a good year becomes great. With only four such events to be won each year, the pool of players able to meet such lofty goals will inevitably be small. The question, however, remains as January nears: by season's end, which of these players will have proven themselves worthy of such expectations?

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Romo turns in even in PGA Tour debut

By Will GrayMarch 22, 2018, 3:00 pm

After stumbling out of the gates, Tony Romo has found his footing in his PGA Tour debut.

Playing in the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship on a sponsor exemption, Romo shot an even-par 36 for his opening nine holes in the Dominican Republic. The former NFL quarterback bogeyed his first two holes, but steadied the ship with three birdies from Nos. 4-8 while playing alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.

The early highlight of the round came at the par-4 fifth hole, where Romo drained a putt from across the green for his second straight birdie:

Romo has played as an amateur partner in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and has played individually in U.S. Open local qualifiers and mini-tour events as an amateur. But this marks his first attempt to gauge his game against the best players in the world who are not in Austin for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Romo, who plays to a plus-0.3 handicap, said earlier in the week that he expected some jitters once it came time to put a tee in the ground.

"You'll be nervous on Thursday on the first tee. Just going to be," Romo said. "I've got to get through the first three or four holes. If I can handle the nerves on the first three or four holes, I think that I'll settle in and hopefully just play the way I've been playing."

Click here to watch live first-round action on Golf Channel.

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Kim's missing clubs show up at sporting goods store

By Will GrayMarch 22, 2018, 1:58 pm

More than a month after they were lost on an American Airlines flight, the clubs I.K. Kim used to win last year's Ricoh Women's British Open turned up on the sale rack of a California sporting goods store.

Kim's clubs became lost in late January when she flew from Miami to San Diego, with the airline suggesting she simply rent a new set. A few weeks later, Kim shot a "What's in the bag" television segment which according to a Golfweek report caught the eye of three good samaritans in the San Diego area.

The three men recognized Kim's clubs for sale at a local Play It Again Sports, with the major winner's tools listed at $60 each. The store even had Kim's tour bag, complete with her LPGA player badge. Kim filmed the reunion with her bag - containing wedges and a few hybrids, minus the head covers - at the Carlsbad police station:

Kim was back in southern California this week for the Kia Classic, where she'll begin play Thursday morning at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad.

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New dad Garcia removes shoes, wins match

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:48 am

AUSTIN, Texas – In one of the day’s most explosive matches, Sergio Garcia rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to defeat Shubhankar Sharma, 1 up, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The duo halved just nine holes on Day 1 at Austin Country Club, with Garcia going from 2 up through four holes to 1 down with five holes to play.

But the Spaniard rallied with five birdies over his final eight holes and pushed his record to 20-17-1 in the Match Play. He also gave himself his best chance to advance out of pool play since the format began in 2015.

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The victory continued what has already been a memorable week for Garcia, whose wife, Angela, gave birth to the couple’s first child last Wednesday.

“I already feel like I’m a winner after what happened on Wednesday,” Garcia said. “Obviously, it's something that we're so, so happy and proud of and enjoying it as much as possible.”

The highlight of Garcia’s round on Wednesday came at the 12th hole when he took a drop on a cart path. After considering his options, he removed his shoes and hit his approach from 212 yards to 29 feet for a two-putt birdie to halve the hole.

“I have spikes. So if I don't take my shoes off, I'm going to slip. It's not the kind of shot that you want to slip,” Garcia said. “I had tried it a couple of times on practice swings and I was already slipping a little bit. So I thought I would just take my shoes off, try to get a little bit in front of the hole and it came out great.”