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Ian Poulter Rises in the East

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There are those who claim with some justification that golfers are a rather boring bunch whose stars lack pizazz. Sure there’s Tiger, Rory and Phil, but beyond that there are a bunch of guys with superb skills but whose idea of shaking things up is wearing a visor instead of a hat.

And then there’s Ian Poulter. The English firebrand is mostly known for his bold talk and even bolder wardrobe. But Poulter has been hovering around the entrance to the elite echelon of golfers for he last five years, and with his win at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shenzhen, China last week he might have just put his name on the VIP list. Poulter secured both his second WGC championship and second PGA Tour sanctioned event over a sparkling field that included seven of the top 10 golfers in the world and two of the four major winners.

He came from fourth strokes back on Sunday with his second straight round of 7-under 65 to take the title, showing the same clutch putting that made him a hero in the Ryder Cup. At Medinah, Poulter displayed a velvet touch and nerves of steel that led the Europeans to victory. Golf fans around the world got a chance to become reacquainted with Poulter’s wild-eyed celebration as he drained seemingly a hundred yards worth of must-make putts while playing for his country. That victory alone would have been enough to make the year for many golfers, but Poulter felt strongly about the need to win a stroke-play event in 2012 and he got one this week.

The 36-year old Poulter has been his own biggest supporter and, at times, his own worst enemy. Poulter learned the game form his father and quickly became a single digit handicap player. But he couldn’t get a job at a private club that would have allowed him to take his came to the next level; when he did secure a job his boss insisted that he be docked his pay when he wanted to take off to compete in events.

Poulter learned a touring pro’s most important lesson; you have to believe in yourself even if no one else does. Poulter honed his game on the European Tour, rising to No. 5 in the official world golf rankings. It was then that Poulter began to get notice for what he was saying as much how he was playing. Famously, or rather infamously, Poulter declared in March of 2008 that, “I really respect every professional golfer, but I know I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”

While it was probably a case Poulter wanting to convince himself that he could share the rarified air that Woods inhabited at the time, the notion seemed either arrogant or silly or both to the game’s observers. Poulter came close to winning majors, but the fact that he didn’t added to the burden that he had initially saddled himself with. Shortly afterward, at Open Championship, the sartorially daring Poulter wore trousers that had the Claret Jug on them. The late Seve Ballesteros, who was doing commentary for the event, quipped “that’s the closest he’ll ever get to it.” It was a perhaps a tad strong, but it reflected the sentiments of many in the game.

But Poulter has never been on to stand don from a scrap. Unlike the congenitally likeable Darren Clarke or the gentlemanly Lee Westwood, Poulter is brash, outspoken and just a little bit crunchy around the edges. He’s not going to win a lot of popularity contests, but that’s not what he’s in it for. He once said, “If I ever get happy with myself for finishing 12th or 15th, someone needs to put my clubs away and I’ll take up tiddlywinks.”

After a historic Ryder Cup and an impressive win at Shenzhen, Poulter has put himself in position to get a lot of attention in 2013. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Podcasts

Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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