The Tour hits mainland America this week for a 5 week stretch, beginning with the CareerBuilder Challenge at La Quinta, California. The format this week is very different from the majority of tournaments on the schedule. The first 3 rounds are played over 3 different courses with the cut coming after 54 holes. The final round is played on one of the toughest courses on TOUR, it’s closing 3 holes consistently rated some of the hardest in the country.
The scene this week is Palm Springs at the amazing La Quinta Resort and Club which boasts 5 world class courses – 3 of which are utilized for the tournament. PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament course, La Quinta Country Club and the very difficult and controversial TPC Stadium Course at PGA West – with the final round again at the Stadium course. The general feeling is go low at Nicklaus and the Country Club and defend at the Stadium.
When Pete Dye was commissioned to design TPC Stadium Course, he was instructed to “build the hardest damn course in the world”. After the course debuted on TOUR in 1987, the pros were far from impressed. By way of a player petition and weight of criticism, it was removed from the schedule immediately. The Stadium Course finally returned in 2016 and with a slope rating of 150 and a stroke average of 76.1, it still plays pretty tough.
In the past the course has been described as spiteful, belligerent, unfair, a monster and that “Dye went too far’! Perhaps Lee Trevino summed it up best though when he said perhaps players should worry about hitting their drives straighter and playing good iron shots to the green. Don’t call the course “unfair”.
Headlining the field in Palm Springs this week are Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jhonatton Vegas. Mickelson might just be the best story on TOUR this year – he is on a journey, a quest to hit more fairways. He’s armed with the new Callaway Rogue and he firmly believes if he can at least post “tour average” driver (accuracy) figures, he will win. The player currently hitting them better than most though would have to be Patton Kizzire – he won last week in Hawaii, had his first win of the season at the OHL Classic in November and leads the FedEx Cup by over 400 points.
Australia is a little light on for representation this week. Matt Jones, Greg Chalmers, Rod Pampling, Geoff Ogilvy and Cameron Percy are on the sheet. Bruce Devlin is the only Australian to win the Bob Hope Desert Classic (as the tournament was known then) in 1970.
Hudson Swafford is looking to become only the 2nd player since Jonny Miller (1975,76) to defend his title. Check out our updates and tournament review Monday.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Last years winner, Tommy Fleetwood, launched his stellar 2017 year with a win here in Abu Dhabi. It will be that sort of start to the year that some of the best in the game will all be looking for.
Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar, Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and for his start in 2018, Rory McIlroy. Of course, Tommy Fleetwood is here as well and looking to go back to back.
There has not been a back to back winner here for 7 years. Martin Kaymer, who won here in 2008, 2010 and then 2011 is the player who loves this course the most, but McIlroy has the honour of finishing second here a few times as well. Paul Casey has also won here twice. The tournament has only been going since 2006, but has already become one of the must play destinations for golfers on both tours.
The Abu Dhabi golf club is a traditional par 72, 6934 metre course with plaenty of opportunity to make a score. Featuring 7 lakes and 90 bunkers, the course is always in magnificent condition and its always amazing to see just how green this oasis is in the middle of the desert city. Designed by Peter Harradine and opened in 2000, the incredible looking "Eagle" clubhouse frames an awesome looking 18th hole. Fairways of paspalum and bermuda usually run well, as do the bermuda greens that will be running fast.
For the Australians this week, Wade Ormsby leads the way. Ormsby leads the race to duabi after a great start to the 2018 season and he will be looking to consolidate his position in a tough field. Scott Hend, Sam Brazel, Andrew Dodt, Jason Scrivener and new to the tour Jason Norris will all be teeing it up as well. Good luck to them all.
Look for the American to do well here. Johnson and Kuchar will be ones to watch, but also keep your eye on Rory. He surely cannot be far away from starting to play at his best. Should be fun to watch!
Patton Kizzire is fast becoming one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour. In his 66 events, he has made the cut 41 times, had 12 Top 10 finishes, finished 2nd twice and won twice. He sits on top of the Fedex Cup rankings and has a cool $5.5 mil in the bank. It's little wonder that he prevailed against James Hahn in a 6 hole playoff at the Sony Open.
After the win, Kizzire was heard to say "It wasn't pretty", but a win is a win and although he had the chance to take the victory in regulation play, his up n down birdie attempt on the 18th just missed. What followed was a 6 hole playoff that both players just kept making the same score over and over. Hahn had his chances as well, but was not able to convert. It was surprising because earlier in the day he had shot an 8 under 62 with his final round and should have been running hot.
When the end finally came on the par 3, 17th, it was Hahn who failed to make par and the pain on his face was plain to see as his par putt lipped out. Kizzire had only a 2 footer to tap in and get the win in near darkness.
Tom Hoge started the day 1 ahead of Kizzire, but play was almost not going to happen after an early morning ballistic missile warning earlier in the tournament, which turned out to be a false alarm and a Sunday walk out of some of the video production crew. This left the coverage average at times, but "the show must go on."
Hoge ended up just one shot behind the leaders at -16 after an even par round. Webb Simpson, Brian Harman and Brian Stuard a further shot behind Hoge. Justin Thomas was tied 14th, Jordan Speith tied 18th with Aussie Cam Smith and Marc Leishman's run of great form halted a little as he finished tied 47th at -7.
As for the other Aussies, Matt Jones was tied 39th, Steve Allen was tied 69th. Badds and Greg Chalmers failed to make the weekend cut.
We head to the American mainland next week. To California and the PGA West Stadium Course. Can't wait!
The EurAsia Cup
Europe has taken out the 2018 EurAsia Cup with a great performance on the Sunday singles.
The Asian Team lead both the first 2 days of competition by a single point. Both Fourball and Foursomes matches were won by the home side in a slim majority each day, but the Sunday singles was where it was always going to be won. The home track in Malaysia was always going to favour the Asian team, but the Europeans got used to it after playing on it for 2 days and powered home to take the singles matches and win the EurAsia Cup.
Europe won 8 of the possible 12 matches on Sunday with Paul Casey losing his first match of the Cup, going down to Poom Saksansin, who it must be said, played some great golf all week. He was part of the team that beat Stenson/Levy 5&4 on day 1. Ross Fisher lost to Yuta Ikeda on the 18th and Hoatong Li, who was the player of the tournament in my opinion, beat Paul Dunne 3&1 after wins on 13, 14, 16 & 17 to close out the days play. Fitzpatrick and Kang halved their match.
Most of the other matches on Sunday were close and could have gone either way. Alex Noren finally got his game working and jumped out to a 3 up lead after 4 holes. He beat Nicholas Fung 4&2 and Rafa Cabrera Bello closed out his match against Asia's #1 Gavin Green on the 15th hole, 4&3. Green having his worst day. Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Bernd Weisberger and Tyrrell Hatton all won 2&1. Alex Levy birdied the tough 17th hole to beat Kiradech Aphibarnrat 3&1 and Thomas Pieters hung on to win on the 18th against Byeong Hun An with a par.
Hatton and Fleetwood went through the Cup undefeated and look to be strong chances to make the Ryder Cup team for Paris in September. Thomas Bjorn, who had a miserable look on his face after the first 2 days finally was given the chance to smile and enjoy the win, but the Asian team were strong all week and Europe will have to watch out next time this event is played.
Apart from the Ryder Cup, this tournament was a fantastic display of country represented matchplay golf and although I started the week thinking this would not be as good as say, The President's Cup, in the end, it turned out to be better.
BMW South African Open
Sitting at 289th in the world rankings, having no European Tour wins, just hanging onto your card through 2017 and with your wife on the bag for the first time, Englishman Chris Paisley would not have been super confident heading into the SA Open for this week. Combine that with the fact that you were playing with the home crowd favourite, Branden Grace in the final grouping of the day and hanging onto a one shot lead. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it?
Well, not to Chris Paisley. Even though Grace birdied the first and eagled the second to jump into the early lead, Paisley stuck to his game and put together a magnificent 66 on the final day to take out the SA Open by 3 shots over Grace whos momentum halted when he doubled the par 3, 6th. Paisley, with his wife Keri on the bag, made 3 birdies on the front and 3 on the back and played with a unbelievable calmness all day in the face of the home town crowd clearly all going for Grace. It was a fantastic way to win your maiden European Tour tournament and his 66, 65, 70, 66 (-21,267) earned him 160,000 Euros.
Grace finished second after a final day 68, followed by a fast finishing JC Ritchie, who shot a 65 that included 6 birdies and 2 eagles. Chase Koepka continued to show his pedigree and finished tied for 7th, while Hennie Otto had a chance for the course record, but finished bogey, par for a 64 and tied 12th. Tournament host, Ernie Els finished at -8 and tied 31st, while the only Aussie to make the cut, Brett Rumford, shot 75, 78 on the weekend to finish 74th.
The tour moves to Abu Dhabi next week for the HSBC Championship from Abu Dhabi golf club.
Sentry Tournament of Champions
The highly anticipated return of tournament golf for 2018 was promising to be spectacular. 34 of the winning pro's from last season all teeing it up at the magnificent Maui Kapalua Plantation course in sunny Hawaii. The result, however, was over by the turn of the final round.
Dustin Johnson literally blew away the competition with a show of brutal distance golf that no other could match. Not only could they not match it, they couldn't even get close to it. Johnson won by 8 shots in the end and smashed the field with his length and accuracy off the tee. He got better with each round as if he was warming into the year. His 69, 68, 66, 65 -24 total including 23 birdies and 3 eagles (2 of which were driving the green on the 12th, a 420 yard, par 4) was amazing to watch.
As good as the others played behind him, they were not in the hunt. Jon Rahm finished 2nd at -16 after a final round 69, Brian Harman could only manage a 72 on the last day to finish 3rd at -15, followed by a 3 way tie for 4th including Matsuyama, Perez and Rickie Fowler. Aussie, Marc Leishman finished tied 7th and was in the hunt for the win after 36 holes, but a 3 over 76 on Saturday cost him. Even though he rallied with a final round 67, he was too far back to get near DJ.
This is Johnsons 8th win on the PGA Tour in the last 3 seasons, the most from any tour pro and the way he did it, was extremely impressive. He really is in a league of his own when he is given the freedom off the tee to launch. All the other tour pro's better be warned, he's fit, he's long, he's accurate, he's hungry and he looks to be at fixed at number 1 in the world for a while yet. There were not many dominant performances in recent years that could match what DJ has done this week.
Of the others, Jordan Speith was 9th(-12), Cam Smith 17th(-8), Justin Thomas 22nd(-4) and Brooks Koepka was last at +13 with a mystery wrist injury that he says gave him pain all week.
The PGA Tour stays in Hawaii, but island hops over to Honalulu next week to the Waialae Country Club for the Sony Open. Justin Thomas is the defending champion. Head back here for our preview and review then.
We do not usually cover a lot of the Asian Tour, but it would be crazy to ignore what Justin Rose just did at this tournament. Not only did he start with a 10 under 62, but he finished with one as well. In fact, his 29 under par total was incredible and in the end, he won by 8 shots!
Thai sensation Phachara Khongwatmai was runner up, but there was daylight between Rose and the field. Here is a video interview with him after his win. Rose pockets a cool $135,000 USD for the win. Not a bad Christmas present.
Tour veterans Steve Stricker and Sean O’Hair have taken out the QBE Shootout by 2 shots from international pairing Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell. Stricker and O’Hair fired a stunning 57 in the opening round, Scramble format. A 2nd round 69 allowed Lowry and McDowell to draw level after they shot a 64 in the modified alternate shot format.
Standing on the 10th tee Sunday, nothing separated Stricker/O’Hair and Lowry/ McDowell. A clutch eagle on 17 from O’Hair saw the US pair take an unassailable 3 shot lead into the last. McDowell birdied 18 but it wasn’t enough to deny Stricker and O’Hair victory. Pat Parez and Brian Harman started the final round 4 shots off the pace and needed to go very low if they were to contend. They carded 5 birdies on their closing 9 which saw them move into 3rd place.
Gary Woodland and Daniel Berger combined for an 8-under 64 on Sunday to move into a tie for 4th with 2 other teams. Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley fell out of contention with a 3rd round 67, 2 costly bogies on holes 3 and 4 doing the damage. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau also finished T4 on -21 after a final round 66. The pair had 3 bogies Sunday which didn’t cost them a win, but it did deny the pair a possible 2nd place finish.
The PGA TOUR breaks for Christmas as of this week, returning on the 4th January for the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua (Plantation Course), Hawaii. Patton Kizzire leads the FedEx Cup into the break with 1 win, 3 top 10’s and 659 points. Pat Perez is hot on his heels just 13 points behind, Perez has 1 win and 1 top 10 under his belt. Other notables in the top 10 include Justin Rose (6) and Justin Thomas (7) both with 1 win and a top 10.
The fields grow stronger as we move into January with the world’s best prepping for the bigger events on the calendar. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am and the WGC - Mexico are the “big 2”scheduled for early February and March respectively. Expect the TOUR guns to saddle up for these.
Shubhankar Sharma is not a household name, but he is an up and coming 21 year old star now on the European Tour after getting his maiden victory at The Joburg Open in South Africa on Monday. Yes, Monday, because the event was stopped on the Sunday after a huge storm. Sharma's ball was marked on the 8th green.
On Monday, when the rain had stopped, he went out and started where he left off. He made a birdie on the 9th to get to -23 and then calmly proceeded to par in the back nine to finish the tournament 3 clear of Erik Van Rooyan. Speaking after the win, Sharma said he almost was not coming this week, but decided to at the last minute. It ended up being a great decision, because not only did he win this week, but has booked a place at Carnoustie for the 2018 Open Championship. Second placed Van Rooyan and third placed Shaun Norris also will be at The Open.
As for the Aussies, Jake Higginbottom finished with a final round 69 to finish tied 27th at -9 and journeyman, Terry Pilkadaris, finished tied 63rd at -3. They were the only 2 Aussies to make the cut.
A break for Christmas now and then we are back on the European Tour and back in South Africa for the SA Open on January 11. We'll see you back then. Merry Christmas!
The World Hero Challenge
Rickie Fowler lit it up at Albany Golf Club shooting a course record 61 in the 4th round of the Hero World Challenge to win by 4 shots from Charley Hoffman. Fowler opened with 7 straight birdies then added another on 9 to be out in 28. He fired 3 more on the back half to card one of the rounds of the year and clinch his 2nd worldwide win for 2017. There appeared to be no weaknesses in Fowlers game; he was solid off the tee, approaches were dialed in, if he did miss greens Fowlers short game was sublime and his putting was phenomenal.
Over-night leader Charley Hoffman was gunning for his 1st win of the year, but shooting par in the 4th round was never going to enough – and it wasn’t. Hoffman opened with a birdie on the 1st but gave 2 back on 4 and 5, another birdie on 9 and he was out in 36. Nine straight pars on the back 9 meant he finished on -14 – right where he started the day. Tommy Fleetwood carried his Race to Dubai form into this week and finished T3 after firing a final round 67. Jordan Spieth also finished -12 (T3) closing with a 3-under 69. Last year’s winner Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Justin Rose rounded out the “top 5” at -11.
Aside from Fowler, the biggest news to come out of the Bahamas’ was Tiger Woods’ successful return to competition golf. After back fusion surgery 10 months ago, Woods carded 3 sub-par rounds with a 3rd round 75 in very difficult conditions being his only “hiccup”. On Sunday Tiger was out in 31 which included 3 birdies and an eagle and despite closing with a 37, it was the Tiger of old. His swing looks to be fast and full of power and at several times we saw the famous Tiger "recoil" swing, when he was seeking a little extra. He was frustrated and angry with himself on missing a few little putts on Sunday, but that is just showing, that he is taking this comeback seriously, which was great to see. We’re not likely to see Woods again until late January at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open, his next scheduled appearance.
This week sees us remain on the east coast for the QBE Shootout in Naples, Florida. It is the last PGA event for 2017 before most take a well earned break for Christmas.
The Australian PGA
Cameron Smith has taken out the PGA Championship of Australia in a playoff victory over Jordan Zunic. Both players could not be separated after 72 holes after finishing at -18.
Zunic, who had carded a magnificent 64 the day before, could only manage a -1 round on day 4. Smith, in comparison, shot a 4 under 68 and after both players made par down the first playoff hole, it was Smith who rolled in his par on the second to win the Joe Kirkwood Cup. He takes home the winners cheque of $237,500 and an exemption onto the European Tour, as it is a co-sponsored event.
Adam Bland was a further shot back at -17, followed by Marc Leishman and David Bransdon who all shot final round 68's. Defending champion, Harold Varner finished 6th at -12 in a very good defence of his 2016 title.
For Smith, it was his first solo win. He had won previously at the pairs event, The Zurich Classic with Jonas Blixt, but this is his first. We are sure it will not be his last. It's great to see a first up winner overcome with emotion when interviewed, it just proves what it means to them to get validation. Congratulations Cam!
The Australian Open
There are many different ways to win a golf tournament, some conventional and some well…. not. In the end though it doesn’t matter how you do it, so long as you have the lowest score Sunday afternoon, it’s your name etched on the trophy. On Thursday, Cameron Davis shot the lights out carding an 8-under 63 and lead a field that boasted a host of PGA Tour players. On Friday and then again Saturday, Davis looked like a struggling 2nd tier tour player unable to break par. With Jordan Spieth looming, Jason Day the 54-hole leader and Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith on fire early, Cameron Davis kept his calm and carded a blistering 7 under 64. Two great rounds were good enough to be crowned the 2017 Australian Open Champion.
PGA Tour players Matt Jones and Jonas Blixt finished a shot back on -10. Jones had one of the more interesting days on course. Out in 38 with 4 bogies and a birdie and home in 30 with 6 birdies to sign for a 68 and T2. Blixt was in the process of putting himself in contention until he dumped his approach on 9 in the water and made a double. He fought back hard with 4 birdies in 5 holes to start his back 9 but pars on 15-18 weren’t good enough and Blixt finished -10 with Jones.
Cameron Smith had opened with 3 consecutive 69’s and was sitting 4 shots adrift after 54 holes. Another 69 wasn’t going to get the job done and after birdies on 1 and 2 Smith looked set to lay down a serious challenge. Out in 32, a birdie on 10 and with the leaders struggling Cameron Smith had his chances. Bogies on 13 and 15 stalled his charge and Smith finished 4th at -9.
Arguably the biggest story of the day was Jason Day’s inability to close the deal after holding the 54-hole lead. Day played the first beautifully, made birdie and it looked like Jason Day by how far – not to be. An untidy bogey on 3 then an awkward double on 9 and his lead was gone, further dropped shots on 11 and 13 and Day was done. He eagled the 14th but it was little consolation and he finished 5th on -8.
Lucas Herbert started the 4th round a shot behind Day and like Day birdied the 1st setting up a potential shootout. Herbert turned -2 for the day and in the lead but it went south and he dropped 4 shots on the back half and finished T6 at -7. World No. 2 Jordan Spieth couldn’t buy a putt for three days and was hanging around par. A fine 67 Sunday and Spieth jumped up the leaderboard to 8th at -6.
Once again The Australian Golf Club showed why it’s one of Australia’s premier tournament venues. A tough but fair course where big numbers are easy to find. Congratulations to Cameron Davis, a worthy winner in the process of fulfilling his enormous potential.
Tigers back this week hosting his tournament The Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. It promises to be a riveting week, check in Thursday night for our preview.
Hong Kong Open
The new season started this week for the European Tour and has brought up a new champion. Happy to say it's an Australian. Wade Ormsby has claimed his first win on the European Tour with a one shot victory and gets $333,000 euros and the title of Hong Kong Open champion.
S.S.P Chawrasia held the lead for the majority of the tournament, but his Sunday round was less than perfect. he made 3 birdies in the first 8 holes and looked to be cruising, but a triple bogey on the 9th, followed by 4 back nine bogeys saw him finish tied for 7th after a final round 2 over 72.
Round of the week went to the most interesting man in golf. Miguel Angel Jiminez shot a bogey free 63 to storm up the leaderboard and finish tied 7th. Justin Rose finished -7 and tied 10th, Matt Fitzpatrick & Sergio Garcia both -6 and tied 19th. Tommy Fleetwood had a 69 on the last day to finish 6th.
Rafa Cabrera Bello and Alex Bjork both had chances to tie the Aussie for the tournament lead, but both had 72nd hole bogeys and that left Ormsby alone at the top on -11 and the winners trophy. A fantastic start to the new European season for Wade and he now leads the Race to Dubai rankings for the 2018 season.
Next week we are in Australia for the PGA from Royal Pines on the Gold Coast. Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Sergio Garcia and defending champion Harold Varner will all be playing.
The RSM Classic
Austin Cook had 1 goal coming into the 2017/18 PGA Season, winning Rookie of the Year. After taking out the RSM Classic in style at Saint Simons Island this weekend, he has taken a giant step towards realizing his goal. The 26 year fired a final round 67 for his 1st TOUR win in just his 14th start. Cook didn’t have a bogey until he played his 50th hole – the 14th in his 3rd round but he bounced back immediately with a birdie on 15. After a self-confessed “sleepless night”, Austin Cook went out in even par but then closed with 3 birdies in his last 4 holes to put the result beyond doubt. It was second round 62 at the more difficult Seaside course that set up his win.
J.J. Spaun was Austin Cook’s only real challenger. A 3rd round 62 set up a Sunday charge and it looked to be on the cards after birdies at 6,7 and 9 then another at the 1oth. He moved to within a shot of the lead, but a bogey on 11 stalled his charge and his run was done and he finished 2nd. Spaun’s form has been solid over the last 6 weeks, his first win is not too far away.
Golf giveth and golf taketh…that about sums up Brian Gay’s tournament. 11-under through 36 holes and just 1 bogey to his name, Gay had 4 bogies, 7 birdies, 2 doubles and 2 eagles in his final 36 holes – what could have been, he finished 3rd at -14. Brian Harman, in-form Kevin Kisner, Andrew Landry and Chris Kirk finished T4 at -14 but were never realistically in it.
It’s been sometime since an Australian has been in the winner’s circle, actually it been sometime since we’ve had an Australian in serious contention. Cameron Percy was the only Aussie to make the cut, he was -5 after 54 holes, but a final round 77 saw him fall to T70 and even par. The cut was -3, so there was no easing into the action.
Austin Cook is off to The Masters next year, another goal attained - though this one he kept to himself until now.
The long anticipated return of Tiger Woods is scheduled for this weekend at his event, The Hero World Challenge. After what his body has been through, it will be awesome to just see him walking the fairways again. Imagine if he……
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