Arizona Artistry

By Rex HoggardFebruary 28, 2011, 6:38 am

2005 WGC Accenture Match PlayMARANA, Ariz. – Forgive Luke Donald if he appeared a tad flummoxed following his 3-and-2 victory over Martin Kaymer in Sunday’s final bout at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The Englishman hadn’t seen the 18th hole all week and had been pushed to Dove Mountain’s 17th hole just once, so the rocky road back to the Ritz clubhouse was a little unfamiliar.

Who would have thought that the Match Play winner, who must weather five days and six rounds, would play fewer holes (89) than the Bob Hope Classic champion (90)?

But the journey through the high Arizona desert was a Sunday stroll compared to the wilderness Donald has traversed since his last title on the PGA Tour.

The last time Donald hoisted Sunday gold, the economy was booming, Martin Kaymer was barely a blip on the European radar and Tiger Woods ruled the World Ranking with mathematical command. So if Donald seemed a bit overly relieved following his Draconian performance at Dove Mountain, it was for good reason.

“You always have doubts when you go five years without a win on the U.S. Tour . . . To come here and beat the top 63 players is very gratifying,” said Donald, whose last Tour victory was at the 2006 Honda Classic.

The way Donald performed at the year’s first World Golf Championship, he could have collected two Tour titles. For the week he birdied 32 of 89 holes, hit 74 percent of his greens in regulation, 66 percent of his fairways and one-putted a staggering 46 times. By any measure, a commanding performance.

But Donald’s greatest achievement, at least personally, was doing it against the game’s best – freshly minted world No. 1 Kaymer who completed his long-overdue ascension to the top of the World Ranking heap with his finals appearance.

“Everybody was sending me text messages saying they hope he plays Bubba (Watson) in the final, but I wanted him to play Kaymer and so did Luke,” said Pat Goss, the golf coach at Northwestern University and Donald’s swing mentor since he walked on campus in September 1997. “He wanted to play the best.”

Donald never trailed in six matches and opened a 3-up lead over the German through five blustery holes that featured a short stoppage of play on the fourth hole while officials waited for a hail storm to pass.

Not that Donald envisioned another early ending for the 18-hole final when he awoke Sunday morning to see an inch of newly fallen snow on the Dove Mountain track. For those taking early bets, Kaymer was a lock to win the WGC-Downhill Championship – no one tucks and turns like a German.

But the snow and hail melted, eventually. Donald didn’t.

Not even when Kaymer chipped away at Donald’s lead until the two were all square at the turn – the game’s two most consistent players going nine holes and accomplishing nothing – and the world No. 1 elect looked to take the lead when Donald went from a fairway bunker to a desert wash on the 10th hole.

Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald
Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald congratulate each other after Donald's 3-and-2 win over Kaymer the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. (Getty)
But Donald made a putt for par, “like he always did” sighed Kaymer, seemingly flustered for the first time . . . well, ever, and slowly rebuilt his advantage – first at the 11th when Kaymer missed a 5-footer for birdie and then at the 12th with a par.

By the time the two reached the drivable 15th the rout was on and when Kaymer failed to make birdie  – the first time all week he didn’t look every bit the world No. 1 – all that was left was the long drive through the desert back to the clubhouse.

Those who suggest Kaymer backed his way into the top ranking haven’t been paying attention. His Match Play runner-up was his seventh top-10 finish since last year’s breakthrough at the PGA Championship. He’s been the world No. 1 for some time, on Sunday the ranking caught up with that reality.

“Nobody can take that away from me,” Kaymer said.

Nor can anyone ignore the European dominance atop the world order. For the first time since October 1996 there are no Americans in the top 4 in the World Golf Ranking with Donald’s move to third. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but it is the definition of a new era.

Woods’ Round 1 loss at Dove Mountain, the second time he’s been one-and-done at the Match Play, and Phil Mickelson’s Round 2 exit may have robbed the marquee of its biggest names, but it’s hard to argue that the world’s best didn’t deliver bracket-ology gold.

Not that Donald was interested in Transatlantic power shifts. Not after five years of disappointments, not after being questioned in some circles for his apparent inability to close.

For those who mused that Donald was content cashing checks, not chasing titles, the Match Play is a game changer. It’s what drove Donald and Goss back to the drawing board late in 2007.

In simplest terms, Donald was trying to be something he wasn’t – a bomber, which in turn opened the door to bad swing mechanics. So after 2007, a year in which he made it to the Tour Championship and posted two runner-up showings, he and Goss went back to basics.

That process continued through an extended and well-planned off-season after 2010 when Donald spent a month working with Goss in south Florida. On Friday, Donald referred to his action as “a work in progress.” On Sunday, it looked every bit a work of art. That he finally ended his American victory drought was just the what, not the why or how.

“(Not winning) has been in the back of his mind consistently,” Goss said. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that he’s happy finishing second. He works harder now than he ever has and those close losses were heartbreaking to him.”

On Sunday, after the hail storms had moved out of the Oro Valley and with the sun once again illuminating the sprawling layout, Donald had the look of a man who was finally comfortable in his own skin and with his own DNA.

“I’m not a modern player, I don’t hit the ball that far,” he said. “It was frustrating to me . . . There were times where I was very disappointed and very upset that I hadn't broken through, and I can forget about that now.”

What he is is a throwback. A ballstriker with distance control and the ability to move the ball in both directions with an all-world short game. What he is is the world’s third-ranked player with more grit than he’s ever been given credit for. What he is is a three-time Tour winner who is finally out of the victory desert. Now if only someone would show him where Dove Mountain’s 18th hole is.

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Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 6:30 pm

Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.

On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.

In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids

Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.

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Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below:

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Bubba gets to drive dream car: K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider'

By Grill Room TeamMay 25, 2018, 4:42 pm

Bubba Watson is a known car aficionado.

He purchased the original General Lee from the 1980’s TV show “Dukes of Hazzard” – later saying he was going to paint over the Confederate flag on the vehicle’s roof.

He also auctioned off his 1939 Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk custom roadster and raised $410,000 for Birdies for the Brave.

He showed off images of his off-road Jeep two years ago.

And he even bought a car dealership near his hometown of Milton, Fla.

While recently appearing on the TV show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the former “Tonight Show” host surprised Watson with another one of his dream cars: K.I.T.T.

The 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was made famous in the ‘80s action show “Knight Rider.”

Though, Bubba didn’t get to keep this one, he did get to drive it.

Bubba Watson gets behind the wheel of his dream car—the KITT from Knight Rider from CNBC.

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Cut Line: USGA readies for Shinnecock 'mulligan'

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 3:26 pm

In this week’s Memorial weekend edition, the European team adheres to the Ryder Cup secret formula, the USGA readies for the ultimate mulligan at next month’s U.S. Open and a bizarre finish at the Florida Mid-Am mystifies the Rules of Golf.

Made Cut

Cart golf. When the U.S. side announced the creation of a Ryder Cup task force following the American loss at Gleneagles in 2014, some Europeans privately – and publicly – snickered.

The idea that the secret sauce could be found in a meeting room did stretch the bounds of reason, yet two years later the U.S. team emerged as winners at Hazeltine National and suddenly the idea of a task force, which is now called a committee, didn’t seem so silly.

To Europe’s credit, they’ve always accomplished this cohesion organically, pulling together their collective knowledge with surprising ease, like this week when European captain Thomas Bjorn rounded out his vice captain crew.

Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald (a group that has a combined 47-40-13 record in the matches) were all given golf cart keys and will join Robert Karlsson as vice captains this year in Paris.

Perhaps it took the Americans a little longer to figure out, but Bjorn knows it’s continuity that wins Ryder Cups.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The USGA’s mulligan. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and with it one of the most anticipated returns in recent major championship history.

The last time the national championship was played at Shinnecock Hills was in 2004 and things didn’t go well, particularly on Sunday when play had to be stopped to water some greens that officials deemed had become unplayable. This week USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked about the association’s last trip to the Hamptons and, to his credit, he didn’t attempt to reinvent history.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

Put another way, players headed to next month’s championship should look forward to what promises to be a Bounce Back Open.

Tweet of the week:

Homa joined a chorus of comments following Aaron Wise’s victory on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which included an awkward moment when his girlfriend, Reagan Trussell, backed away as Wise was going in for a kiss.

“No hard feelings at all,” Wise clarified this week. “We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was.”

Missed Cut

Strength of field. The European Tour gathers this week in England for the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and like the PGA Tour’s marquee stop, The Players, the event appears headed for a new spot on the calendar next year.

As the PGA Tour inches closer to announcing the 2018-19 schedule, which will feature countless new twists and turns including the PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players shift back to March, it also seems likely the makeover will impact the European Tour schedule.

Although the BMW PGA currently draws a solid field, with this week’s event sporting a higher strength of field than the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour, it’s likely officials won’t want to play the event a week after the PGA Championship (which is scheduled for May 16-19 next year).

In fact, it’s been rumored that the European Tour could move all eight of its Rolex Series events, which are billed as “unmissable sporting occasions,” out of the FedExCup season window, which will end on Aug. 25 next year.

Although the focus has been on how the new PGA Tour schedule will impact the U.S. sports calendar, the impact of the dramatic makeover stretches will beyond the Lower 48.

Rules of engagement. For a game that at times seems to struggle with too much small print and antiquated rules, it’s hard to understand how things played out earlier this month at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship.

In a story first reported by, Jeff Golden claimed he was assaulted on May 13 by Brandon Hibbs – the caddie for his opponent, Marc Dull, in the championship’s final match. Golden told police that Hibbs struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

The incident occurred during a weather delay and Golden conceded the match to Dull after the altercation, although he wrote in a post on Twitter this week that he was disappointed with the Florida State Golf Association’s decision to accept his concession.

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Because of the conflicting statements, it’s still not clear what exactly happened that day at Coral Creek Club, but the No. 1 rule in golf – protecting the competition and the competitors – seems to have fallen well short.