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Tour Rundown: Europe storms back, Kizzire takes trophy in a marathon playoff

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The second week of 2018 returned a number of tours to action around the globe.  The Hawaiian-stretch concluded on the PGA Tour, while Europe began its campaign in South Africa. The PGA Tour Champions and PGA Tour Australasia were also in action. And just for fun, the Web.Com Tour’s Great Exuma Classic in the Bahamas began on Saturday and concludes on Tuesday. At the halfway point, Dan McCarthy holds a 1-stroke lead over three guys named Matt, Mark and Rhein. Dash with us to the first Tour Rundown of this new year.

Eurasia Cup goes to Europe in a final-day comeback

Following the trace of the Ryder and Presidents cups, the Eurasia Cup pitted 12 golfers from the Asian continent against a dozen counterparts from Europe. The Asian hosts acquitted themselves well in team play, surging to a 3.5-2.5 lead after Day 1, and retaining the same margin after Day 2, 6.5-5.5. Unfortunately for the likes of Haotong Li, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Byeong Hun An, Day 3 belonged to Europe. The 8.5-3.5 tally over the final 18 holes gave the visitors a 14-11 win.

How Europe won

Alex Noren has played superb golf the last 24 months, winning five times in Europe. He led off on Saturday for Europe, made 5 birdies, and dispatched Nicholas Fung, 4 & 2. And the boys in blue were off in a hurry. Although Poom Saksanin would level the day’s tally with a second-match win over Paul Casey, Europe proceeded to win the following 7 matches and claim the challenge cup. The greatest win belonged to Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who etched 6 birdies onto his scorecard in a 15th-hole win over Gavin Green.

How Asia lost its lead

Although world top-10 golfers Rahm, Rose and Garcia were not in the lineup for Europe, the squad boasted five golfers currently ranked in the world top 20. The highest-ranked golfer from Asia, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, was absent; his presence certainly would have boosted Asia’s hopes on Sunday. Partner play in team matches is unpredictable, but the talent of a team rises on singles day. And so it was at Glenmarie in Malaysia. The Asian team, while dogged, could not ascend to the level of its opponent.

Kizzire outlasts Hahn at the Sony Open in Hawaii

I’ll confess that I still suffer from Woodsitis, where a front-runner was likely to win the tournament, but I’m in treatment. PGA Tour events are supposed to be competitive, and even go topsy-turvy from time-to-time. Such was the case on Sunday at the Waialae Country Club. Over the closing holes, the leader made double bogey and missed the playoff, the guy who shot 62 snuck into the playoff, and the fellow who played the final seven holes in 1-over won the tournament!

How Patton Kizzire committed trophy robbery on Maui

Maxie Patton Kizzire has yet to win on mainland USA, but he has two tournament titles in his two seasons on the big tour. Kizzire never looked like a winner on Sunday, with pars on his first nine holes. An eagle-birdie run at the advent of the inward nine caught our attention, but his finish was anything but spectacular. When Tom Hoge closed poorly, Kizzire found himself in a playoff with James Hahn. The Auburn alumnus never looked like a winner until he won. He missed shots here, there and everywhere, but somehow stayed afloat. On the sixth extra hole, Kizzire made par to Hahn’s bogey, and the trophy was Alabama-bound.

How Hahn and Hoge came up short

Hahn probably felt like the most fortunate guy in the islands. He birdied half of his holes during the final round, and added two more in overtime. Hahn certainly felt comfortable during extra time; both of his tour wins have come in playoffs. Putts on the first two playoff holes singed the edge but did not fall. The third time wasn’t the charm, but second-place money and points are a warm comfort. Hoge confessed that two bad swings did him in, at 8 and 16, but putts on 17 and 18 gave him a look at the title. Ultimately, his rags-to-riches story received a significant boost from his third-place finish.

Related: Patton Kizzire’s Winning WITB

European Tour opens season at South African Open

Chris Paisley had no business winning this tournament. Branden Grace, a native, had yet to win his country’s Open championship, and he was on a roll. Starting the round 1 behind Paisley, Grace began with birdie and eagle to take the lead. And yet, there was Paisley on the 18th green, owner of a 3-shot victory margin and his inaugural European Tour title. What gives?

How Paisley dumped the monkey

He made 6 birdies and 12 pars on Sunday. Simple, really. Paisley didn’t twitch when Grace blazed early. He kept playing the game that had given him the lead through 54 holes. Paisley spread his birdies out, three on each nine, never consecutively. He forced Grace’s hand, demanded that he play better quicker. On Sunday, Paisley looked more the part of the veteran winning for a 5th or 10th time, and not a 32-year old on the cusp of his first, prime-time title.

How Grace lost his chance at the win

As quickly as the South African golfer grasped the lead on Sunday, he gave it away. Facing a similar bunker recovery to one he had on Saturday where he had to play the ball away from the hole into the fringe, Grace flinched. He pulled it off on Saturday, but left the ball in the sand on Sunday. The resulting double bogey was the only non-par he had from third to the 11th holes. A bogey on 12 was followed by eagle and birdie on the next two holes. For a golfer who prides himself on consistent play, Round 4 was an oddity for Branden Grace.

Champions Tour opens unofficially at the Diamond Resorts Invitational

What better way to start the season than with an unofficial, modified stableford event? Add non-golf athletes and LPGA stalwarts to the field, and the fun really kicks in. Scott Parel held a 1-point advantage on Saturday evening, but felt the weight of expectations throughout the final day. Meanwhile Scott Dunlap made a move with 34 points on Sunday, including a birdie on the last hole. When the dust had settled, two Scotts were tied at the top.

How Parel persevered

Scott Parel last won on the Web.Com Tour in the early part of the decade. He came to the 16th hole 3 points behind Dunlap, but made bogey. His 17th-hole birdie brought him into a tie for the lead, guaranteeing that a closing par would get him the final point he needed for the win. Well, that’s not easy to do, especially after your playing partner shanks his tee ball on the par-3 closer. Parel fanned on his tee shot, left his pitch well short, and made another bogey to finish tied with Dunlap. On the playoff hole, Parel acquitted himself better, two-putting from fairway short of the green for par and the victory.

How Dunlap dunked

It’s unfair to ignore what Scott Dunlap put together on Sunday, and focus solely on the wretched way he played the sole, sudden-victory hole. Dunlap shot the equivalent of a 64 in Round 3, with birdies on his final three holes. Much like Kenny Perry in the 1996 PGA Championship, Dunlap may not have expected to go to extra holes, and may not have prepared for the playoff as expected. What is known is this: he dunked his tee shot, left his par pitch 30 feet short, and left his bogey putt 3 feet short. Ugh.

PGA Tour Australia visits New Zealand for the REBEL Sport Masters

Auckland and its Wainui Country Club hosted the opening event of 2018 on the PGA Tour of Australasia. A full field of hungry young golfers did battle, but in the end, it was a few wizened veterans who held court at the REBEL Sport Masters.

How Millar scaled the mountain

Matthew Millar had as clean a card as one could desire over his closing triumvirate of 67s. One bogey and one double were all that marred his stellar play over the final 54 holes. The result was a 5-stroke triumph and his second career Australasian tournament title. Even Millar’s opening 72, 1-over par, was a thing of consistency. His 15 pars and 1 birdie simply needed a few more of the later; he obliged over the next three days.

How Smail and Fowler locked in their top-3 finishes

David Smail was brilliant over the first six holes on Sunday. Birdies on five of them brought him into the title picture, but he could not maintain the pace. To his credit, not a single bogey soiled his card on the final day. Unfortunately, after birdie at the 6th, it would be nine consecutive pars before closing with birdies at 16 and 18. Nevertheless, his mighty 64 shot him past a host of competitors into solo second. The ageless Peter Fowler led on Day 1 with 66, but would not crack 70 the rest of the way. His veteran guile allowed him to overcome bogeys on 2 and 3 on Day 4, and steady the rudder. With 5 birds against 2 bogeys over the remainder of the course, Fowler came in under par on Day 4, 1 behind Smail and 5 back of Millar.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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Tour News

Brooks Koepka, a machine built to win majors

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Brooks Koepka is your 2018 PGA Champion. Of his 4 PGA Tour victories, 3 have come at major events, all of which have come in the past 14 months. He has won a U.S. Open that played like a PGA (Erin Hills), a U.S. Open that played like a British Open (Shinnecock) and now, a PGA that played like a PGA, at Bellerive in St. Louis. What do we make of this 28-year old, born and bred Floridian, who doesn’t appear to win often, but makes it count when he does? That depends on the units with which you choose to measure his performance. Have a look at his most recent performance, a 2-shot win over Tiger Woods at the 2018 PGA Championship.

  • Birdies: 22 in total, 13 on the front nine
  • Bogeys: 4 total, 2 on each nine
  • Double Bogeys: 1
  • Eagles: 0

Out of 72 holes, it might be said, Koepka made 5 mistakes that counted. That’s not a lot. He made two consecutive mistakes on the front nine on Sunday, but countered those two holes later, with three consecutive birdies. Koepka also bogeyed consecutive hole in round three, on the inward half. Similarly, he made a birdie soon after, to regain momentum. On Thursday, when he made double bogey on the par-3 5th hole, he made all pars before and after, until the 11th. From that point on, it was 3 birdies and 5 pars. What we see from him is an incredibly precise performance, where mistakes are minimized and opportunities, maximized.

Koepka is no fool. He knows his initial strength is distance off the tee, and he utilized it to perfection at Bellerive. After round two, he commented,

“I like the way the golf course sets up. People talk about it turns right-to-left, but you’ve always got a bunker on the inside of the turn, but I can carry most of them, so it’s not really a big deal that the holes turn right-to-left, you can kind of get away with it with my length.”

Yes, Brooks, you can, but only if you are accurate when the ball returns to Earth. After three performances where he outplayed the best from two generations, we might become believers. During the same interview, Koepka revealed a bit more about who he is, and what he does, during a major week:

“More attention to detail. More mentally focused, more every shot really, really means something. You drop a shot or two, it’s, you really put yourself back. There’s a lot more focus that I have in the Majors, the preparation, I mean everyone on my team even says I act a little different, the way I approach it. It’s very down to a routine this week and other weeks sometimes, not saying I vary from the routine, but it’s much more disciplined. Eating right, going to the gym, it’s almost timed perfectly.”

None of those things is impossible to emulate. I’m certain that Rickie Fowler does them, and I’m positive that Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, and Tiger Woods do so as well. None of them hoisted the Wannamaker trophy this week, so something that Koepka does, or has, or know, continues to pay off.

It might be absolute comfort in his skin. Koepka told a story about a workout he had with perennial partner, Dustin Johnson, this week at Life Time Fitness in St. Louis. In his words,

“Today I was in there with Dustin and everybody wanted a picture with Dustin. They were talking about him as we left and I was just standing there laughing. They were like, did you see that No. 1 player in the world was here. It’s like, yeah, okay. I don’t know what to say to that. It was like, all right.”

I’d certainly be tempted to jump in and tell the ogglers who I am, but that’s not Koepka. He doesn’t have the DJ beard, the DJ bent wrist, the DJ wife/daughter of a hockey legend. It’s only about Brooks Koepka, albeit not in an egocentric way. The egotist approaches the ogglers and tells them who he is. Koepka focuses on self: I’m just focused on me. I feel like, if I do what I’m supposed to, I should win the golf tournament. That’s not arrogance, that’s not delusion. He is good, good enough to win each time he tees it up. Is he proud of his first tour win, at the Phoenix Open? For sure. Is he prouder of the three that came next? Without a doubt. The stakes continue to increase, and Koepka rises to the occasion.

Remember, too, that Koepka lost a sizable chunk of this season. He shut his game down after injuring his wrist. A late-2017 surgery kept him out of action through the Masters, an event that now seems tailored to his style of golf. Not a large muscle that heals quickly, but a part of the body with so many moving parts. A part of the body so essential to the execution of every golf shot. If that threat doesn’t give one pause, and later, gratitude, then one has missed the point.

In 1986, Greg Norman and Severiano Ballesteros were the two best golfers in the world. Jack Nicklaus was not, a relic from another era, whose most recent win had come six years prior. When the Golden Bear began to make noise at Augusta National, Norman and Ballesteros folded. Fast forward 32 years, to the footsteps of another forest creature, Tiger Woods. Woods posted 8 birdies for 64 on Sunday at Bellerive. He reached the number (-14) that I suggested yesterday would be enough to win, except it wasn’t. Why not? Koepka, unlike Norman and Ballesteros, rose to the challenge.

Brooks Koepka has joined a small group of golfers with three major victories. He now has two distinct major titles on his resume, and will certainly be one of the favorites at all four majors next year. From 1903 to 1905, Willie Anderson was the only man to raise the unnamed trophy. In 2019, Koepka might join him at at Pebble Beach. He might put on a green jacket in Georgia, in April. He also might grasp a trophy named for a specific wine, at Royal Portrush, in Northern Ireland.

See Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB

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Photos from the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur

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GolfWRX is live from the U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs, a venue which most recently hosted the 2006 Tennessee State Open.

The USGA fielded a record 1,468 entries for the competition, in which Kristen Gillman, Kaylee Benton, Laren Stephenson, and Jiwon Jeon are still alive in match play.

From WITB looks to shots of the superb Fazio course to some high art calligraphy (see below) we have it all.

Friday’s photos

Related: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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Tour News

Tommy Fleetwood is down to his last set of Nike irons

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If you’ve seen any recent Tommy Fleetwood WITBs, you’ve seen Nike VR Pro Blades in the Englishman’s golf bag.

Fleetwood, a Nike staffer, has been working through the sets VR Pros the company made him before it left the hard goods business in 2016.

Now, according to a Golf Channel report, Fleetwood is on his last set of Nike-made clubs. So, while it’s unclear how long the irons will last, it is clear Fleetwood is close to needing replacement weapons.

“It’s not that big a deal if I do happen to break a club this week, then I will be one club down for the week. So I’ll have to be careful. But it’s not like a massive concern.”

Interestingly, Fleetwood damaged the hosels of his 7 and 8-irons at the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this year, which compelled him to put his last set of irons into the bag at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

While it’s unclear exactly what kind of hosel damage would be irreparable, the point remains: Fleetwood needs to figure out his next move.

He doesn’t seem worried, however.

“Once this set goes, I’ll quite happily change into something else,” he said. “It’s just that I have the ability at the moment to play with a set of irons that I’ve loved and played with for so long. [But] absolutely playing a different set of irons would make life easier in terms of all the trucks that are out on Tour every week, and it’s easier to get one fixed or easy to get one sent out.”

Adding an interesting wrinkle to the story: Fleetwood’s countryman and former Nike staffer, Paul Casey, has a new set of VR Pro Blades in his possession, which he is unwilling to part with.

Per a PGA Tour report, Fleetwood said

“[Paul’s] got a brand new set and he won’t give them to me. Shame on Paul. He’s pretty set in his ways, so I don’t think I’ll be getting those.”

Casey, for his part, said, “They are as rare as rocking horse poo. And I will not sell them to him. Or put it this way, he hasn’t offered me enough money. They look beautiful, by the way, and I haven’t used them. They’re the kind of clubs you could hang on the wall. I love the fact that Tommy is running around telling everybody. But I haven’t found any gifts in my locker or handwritten notes. He’s gotta try harder.”

Regardless of whether he can purchase Paul Casey’s irons, Fleetwood will soon need new weaponry. Maybe he’ll give Mike Taylor and Artisan a call? Or maybe he’ll opt for one of the major OEMs and the associated convenience of a tour truck?

We’ll keep an eye on the World No. 11’s bag.

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