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Tour Rundown: Moli-Moli-Moli-Molinari!

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With the exception of Meghan MacLaren, third-round leaders did not fare well on Sunday the 10th of March. An overnight lead on any tour is like a wild animal: it wants to get away and you have trouble holding on. Matthew Fitzpatrick, Fran Quinn and Oliver Wilson watched the chaser become the chased in round fours this weekend, and three daring champions emerged. As for MacLaren, well, she has a liking for the New South Wales Open championship.

Time to run down the tours like a chihuahua at the poodle races.

PGA Tour: Arnold Palmer Invitational to Moli-Moli-Moli-Molinari

Remember those Ryder Cup chants in the fall for the inscrutable, undefeatable pair of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood? They’re back, at least for the reigning Open champion. Francesco Molinari made Orlando the Italian town its name implies for one weekend this year. He went one stroke lower than Rafa Cabrera Bello’s opening 65, and sneaked past Fitzpatrick by two slim strokes for his second stateside triumph.

Fitzpatrick had the misfortune of playing with Rory McIlroy, who finds any manner of struggling when in the mix these days. The Northern Irishman’s presence spurred Patrick Reed on to victory last spring at Augusta, but it didn’t work the same magic with Fitzpatrick. Fitzy was a steady presence this week, hovering around 70 in three of the four rounds. His Saturday 67 vaulted him up to the top spot, but he would always be low-hanging fruit for the mid-60s round that Molinari crushed on Sunday. How crushed? Eight birdies against zero others, including a three at the last. Fitzpatrick’s bogey at 15 was his undoing, despite a bounce-back birdie at the next. Forza, Francesco!

European Tour: Qatar Masters is Harding’s to hold

Part-way across the world in Doha, Oliver Wilson must somehow take success away from his nine-way tie for second spot in the Qatar Masters. The one-time winner and four-time playoff loser on the European Tour was relegated to 2nd Division last year. Two wins on the Challenge Tour returned him to the Premier Division, and he nearly pulled a Leicester on Sunday. Unfortunately for him, along came Justin Harding. Wilson battled all Sunday long, but came up two strokes shy, along with eight others, of Harding’s impressive, day-four 66. It wasn’t the low score, as that belonged to Jinho Choi with 64. Harding’s pair of sixes included birdies at three of the final four greens, including 17 and 18. After two victories in Asia, and seven on his native South Africa circuit, Harding offered a massive debut victory outside his homeland with his win in Doha. Here’s to more appearances across the world for the 33-year old with the long putter!

Ladies European Tour: young MacLaren defends title at New South Wales Open 

It’s only two dates, but Meghan MacLaren has developed an affinity for this part of Australia. The young English professional captured the NSWO in 2018 by 2 shots, for an inaugural tour win. 365 days later, she went one better, holding off Munchin Keh of New Zealand and Lynn Carlsson of Sweden by three strokes for win number two. The titleholder was tied with Carlsson through 54 holes, but the Swede went out in 38 to the Englishwoman’s 36. The golf wasn’t stellar quite yet, but a bold eagle from three feet at the 16th stamped MacLaren as the worthy heiress to, well, herself. Keh’s 67 was the second-lowest round of the day, and it brought the 26-year old her best professional finish to date.

Champions Tour: Hoag Classic is Triplett’s 7th on Senior circuit

Woody Austin’s combined playoff record from PGA and Champions tours was 4-1 until Sunday. Unable to birdie the closing par five, he went toe to toe with Kirk Triplett, he of the bucket hat. On the day’s third go at the finishing hole, Triplett made a spectacular eagle to dash Austin’s hopes for victory. The mercurial Austin had the oddest of rounds. A front-nine eagle, a back-side birdie, and 16 pars. His 68 equaled Triplett’s, as both went roaring past overnight leader Fran Quinn. The Bay State journeyman could not find any of the birdies that brought him to the top on Sunday. His three bogeys and one birdie etched 74 on his card, dropping him to a tie for fourth spot.

In an eerie replay, Triplett’s eagle putt came on the same line and distance as the birdie putt he made in regulation, to force the playoff. If that’s not a run down, well, we’ve done our best!

 

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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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Morning 9: DJ: I’m as close as I have been pre-2017 Masters form | How much should a Tour pro pay his/her teacher?

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

March 21, 2019

Good Thursday morning, golf fans.
1. DJ: I’m as close as I have been to pre-2017 Masters form
A scary thought for the competition: Dustin Johnson feels he’s as close to his pre-2017 Masters slip-and-fall form as he has been since the unfortunate tumble down the stairs that derailed the green jacket hopes of the then Masters favorite.
  • Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Johnson has won plenty of tournaments in the two years since, and he’s spent much of that time as the top-ranked player in the world. But with victories already this year in Saudi Arabia and Mexico and coming off a T-5 finish at The Players Championship, Johnson believes heading into this week’s Valspar Championship that his game is as strong as it’s been since his ill-fated week in Augusta.”
  • “Now is the closest I’ve been to that. I mean, back then that was probably the best form I’ve ever been in, and getting injured it’s taken a while to get back to that form,” Johnson said. “Obviously, I played very well in that stretch, but I wasn’t as comfortable as I was then, kind of throughout the whole bag. But it’s getting, it’s definitely the closest I’ve felt to that stage of my career.”
  • “Johnson’s result last week was his first career top-10 finish in 11 trips to TPC Sawgrass, and his dominating run to the title last month in Mexico was reminiscent of the one he offered up two years ago during his strong run of form. When asked if he believed the performance he authored in Mexico City would be good enough to win his first green jacket next month, Johnson didn’t back down.”
2. #DriveOn
Golf Digest’s Keely Levins on the LPGA Tour’s new initiatie…”The LPGA is enjoying a time of growth. Purses are bigger than ever, and more companies are partnering with the LPGA than at any other time in the tour’s history. It was in part looking at why this is that led the LPGA to its new campaign, Drive On.”
  • …The campaign itself is about more than the LPGA or golf, it’s about empowering people of all ages and genders to pursue what they are passionate about, regardless of what others may think of them. As the tour explains in its press release, “Drive On isn’t just about golf and it isn’t just about women. For girls and boys, women and men. It’s about the fire that burns inside you when you discover your passion. It’s about the motivating power of big dreams and the resolve to defy convention and stereotypes. It’s about finding the vision to see beyond what has already been done and to believe something greater is possible.”
3. More Akshay
PGATour.com Staff report on a few of the 17-year-old phenom’s pre-Valspar Championship remarks.
  • …”In 2014, he participated in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National, the weekend before the start of the Masters. He was among 88 juniors who advanced their way to the finals, and his family was there to enjoy the moment.”
  • “So humbling and such a great experience,” dad Sonny told the News and Observer.
  • “He’s had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at a Walker Cup event – and heard Nicklaus say, “You know, when I went to college, I didn’t learn much.” Said Akshay: “Which is funny, because you know, arguably the best player in the golf.”
  • “At the recent Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship, Akshay shot a tournament-record 10 under at TPC Myrtle Beach en route to winning the event. Afterward, Akshay said Johnson “is a mentor of mine. It was an amazing week.”

Full piece.

4. Meanwhile, in Malaysia…
European Tour report…”Matthias Schwab was pleasantly surprised after opening his Maybank Championship account with a 66 on Thursday.”
  • “The Austrian, making his first appearance at Saujana Golf and Country Club this week, carded seven birdies and a solitary bogey on day one to sit a single stroke behind co-leaders Marcus Fraser and Nacho Elvira.”
  • “On a morning of low scoring, Schwab recovered from a bogey at the tenth – his first – with birdies on the 13th, 14th and 17th to avoid falling too far behind the early pace-setters.”

Full piece. 

Thomas Pieters is two back at 5 under.
5. Fair price to pay a teacher?
The Undercover Tour Pro (with Max Adler) tackles the question of a fair price for a pro to pay a golf instructor.
  • A few morsels…”I pay my guy 40 grand a year. He’ll hop on a flight and cover his expenses whenever I need him, but neither of us wants that happening often. Usually, I can send him a swing video and we can talk on the phone for five minutes, and that’s plenty. Our deal used to be 20 grand annually, plus a bunch of percentages that kicked in for top-25s and top-10s, but then I had my best season. The number I was supposed to pay him was ridiculous. I said, “Whoa, buddy, I’ve barely seen you. How ’bout here’s a check for 40 grand and we call it square?” He didn’t say no.”
  • “I know one famous teacher whose deal is $150,000 per year. Even if you pay that, you’re on his schedule, because he might have four or five players to visit before you at any given tour event. He had one student who was a major champion, a veteran who’d made more than $20 million in his career. But this player had some real dry seasons in his 40s. His decision to stop working with said teacher was purely financial.”
6. Back back to OK, Day trying not to push it
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Showing no signs of issue during Wednesday’s pro-am at the Valspar Championship, Day explained that his back feels “good” and that he has required no further cortisone shots since the initial dose.”
“It seems like every time my back goes out I get the questions for about two or three weeks, and then they slowly go away,” he said. “It’s coming along. I’ve just got to not push myself too hard. But I feel good about it.”
7. Monday Q
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols on the rigors of Monday qualifying–on the Symetra Tour, no less–through the eyes of Cheyenne Knight. In short, just like on the mens’ circuit, you better be ready to circle some numbers on your scorecard.
  • ‘”That first one is always the hardest,” said Knight, who knocked in a 25-footer on her 15th hole. Birdie putts from 6 feet followed on the next two holes and on the closing par 5, she hit the green in two with a 3-hybrid and poured in a 30-footer for eagle.”
  • “Knight thought for sure that she’d be safe with an 8-under 63. Cheyenne Woods, playing two groups ahead, posted a 64. When Csicsi Rozsa turned in a 63 of her own, Knight headed to the range.”
  • “Could it really be possible that 63 wasn’t enough to get in?…Turns out it was – both Knight and Rozsa advanced out of the field of 72. But it took some red-hot golf….”You hear about Monday-qualifying and how hard it is on the PGA Tour and web.com,” said Knight, “but it’s hard out here too. It’s really difficult.”‘
8. Stairs fell another Johnson
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”This week at the Valspar Championship it’s his brother and caddie, Austin, who’s suffering. Austin Johnson was sporting a black cast on his left wrist Tuesday on the driving range, and he added a sling while carrying the bag during Wednesday’s pro-am.”
  • “Dustin Johnson explained that his brother broke a bone in his hand Sunday night, slipping while going up some stairs as the two were packing up their house near TPC Sawgrass following Johnson’s T-5 finish at The Players Championship.”
  • “He had a bit of a run-in with a pair of stairs, kind of like I did,” Johnson said. “Those stairs, man. They’ll get you.”

Full piece

Indeed, they will.
9. Russell Knox’s one-off Bettinardi
Great reporting by PGATour.com’s Andrew Tursky, getting the inside scoop on a very interesting flatstick…
  • “Every week on the practice green at a PGA TOUR event, you can find Arnie Cunningham, TOUR representative for SuperStroke grips, standing beside a SuperStroke staff bag. Propped up against the bag are a dozen or more putters from different manufacturers, each equipped with the newest versions of SuperStroke putter grips. The putters are there mostly so TOUR players interested in changing grips can see how the grips feel with a putter head and shaft on them. If the player likes a grip, Cunningham and team will build that player’s gamer head with the new grip on it.”
  • “One of the putter heads that Cunningham uses to show off the new grips is his old gamer putter that was custom-made for him by Bob Bettinardi prior to 2009, when Bettinardi still had a partnership with Mizuno.”
  • “I brought that [putter] out more as a novelty item because back in about 2007, Bob [Bettinardi] made me a SeeMore copy, let’s call it, with a red dot, that was on a Tomahawk head; there was an old putter company called Tomahawk back in the 60s and 70s,” Cunningham explains. “So I ask [Bob Bettinardi] to make me a Tomahawk head with a red dot and a straight-in putter… it is a one-off Bettinardi [from] back in the Mizuno-Bettinardi days, it has both names on the putter.”
Read the full piece for how Knox ended up with the wand.

 

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Stairs strike the Johnson family again, this time getting brother/caddie Austin

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Two years after Dustin Johnson slipped down a staircase in his rented home in Augusta forcing him to withdraw from the event, another Johnson has now suffered a similar fate, with his brother and caddie Austin causing himself harm falling up a staircase.

Austin felt the wrath of the stairs late Sunday after the final round of the Players Championship, slipping while going up the stairs in their rented house. Austin suffered a broken bone in his hand, and his arm is now in a cast, but he will still be on Dustin’s bag this week as he tees it up at the Valspar.

Speaking before his opening round at Innisbrook, Dustin Johnson had this to say on the incident

“He had a bit of a run-in with a pair of stairs, kind of like I did. He was carrying the stuff in the house after TPC on Sunday night and slipped going up the stairs. Those stairs, man, they’ll get you.”

Back in 2017, Johnson was in imperious form heading to Augusta, winning three successive events before taking the drive down Magnolia Lane. Though we’ll never know what would have happened had he not injured himself on that staircase before the Masters that year, on Wednesday, Johnson sent this ominous warning to his competitors as the years first major looms large, saying he’s now the closest he’s been to that form since the accident.

“Now is the closest I’ve been to that. I mean, back then that was probably the best form I’ve ever been in, and getting injured it’s taken a while to get back to that form.

Obviously, I played very well in that stretch, but I wasn’t as comfortable as I was then, kind of throughout the whole bag. But it’s getting, it’s definitely the closest I’ve felt to that stage of my career.”

Dustin Johnson is the betting favorite this week and tees it up alongside Gary Woodland and Paul Casey in the opening round at 18.03 ET.

 

 

 

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Ernie Els announces final 3 Presidents Cup vice-captains – which includes 2 previous Masters champions

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Ernie Els has revealed that Mike Weir, K.J. Choi, and Trevor Immelman will take on the role of vice-captaincy for the 2019 Presidents Cup.

The trio joins Geoff Ogilvy, who Els named as one of his vice-captains back in November, in what is a truly international team of captain’s assistants.

Both Choi and Weir have experience with the vice-captaincy role, with Choi being a part of Nick Price’s team in 2015, while Weir was an assistant captain under Price in 2017. Immelman will be making his debut as a vice-captain.

Speaking concerning his choices for assistant captains, Els cited the importance of his vice-captains coming from all corners of the globe and stressed how a “new formula” was needed to previous regimes to help the International side defeat the U.S. team for just the second time in the event’s history.

“We’ve got almost every continent covered with these four guys. So that’s basically why I chose these guys, and we really need to change things up from previous Cups. And I wanted them to buy into this new formula and make them take this formula forward.”

The South African also mentioned how he would be approaching the pairing process for the event at Royal Melbourne differently than his predecessors, and that he would be leaning heavily on statistics and science before the biennial team event kicks off in December.

“I’ve seen what other captains have done in the past. In this instance, I really wanted to try and start a new thinking process around the pairing system. I’m using a lot of data, a lot of science into what we’re going to be doing in December in Australia, and I wanted to get guys who have played a lot of Presidents Cups like myself.”

U.S. captain, Tiger Woods, has thus far appointed three vice-captains — Fred Couples, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker. Woods has the option to choose one more captain ahead of the event.

The 2019 Presidents Cup gets underway on Dec. 12 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the site of the International team’s sole victory in the event back in 1998.

 

 

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