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Tour Rundown: A Monday qualifier wins, major winner No. 1, and more

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In case golf fans found themselves looking past the first week in April, in anticipation of the year’s first men’s major championship, golfers around the globe made certain that all eyes remained focused on the goings-on this weekend. Something that had never before happened, happened. Make that two things. A third thing that hadn’t occurred since 2010, once again took place. For the weekend’s winners, April 6th and 7th were dates that they won’t soon forget. For the rest of us, the triumphs were well worth our time and attention. Have a look at all the events in this week’s Tour Rundown.

Conners becomes first Monday qualifier since Atwal to win on PGA Tour at Valero Open

I won’t lie: I picked Corey Conners to win today, in a random-someone’s Twitter poll. You’ll have to take my word for it. Conners wasn’t the 1st or the 2nd choice in the poll, but I had a hunch. A bit more than a year since giving up a 54-hole lead at Valspar, Conners made Canada proud as he surged ahead of 3rd-round leader Si Woo Kim, then held off Charlie Hoffman, Ryan Moore, and others for the win. He became the first Monday qualifier since Arjun Atwal at Greensboro, way back in 2010. The path wasn’t easy for the former US Amateur runner-up. He opened Sunday with four birdies in 5 holes, then bogeyed 6 through 9. Huh? Just as quickly, he returned to his early form, running in 6 birdies on the inward half, to close in 30 and win by 2. Kim got lost early, with a double bogey at the 3rd hole. He had far too few of the chirping numbers to mount a challenge, and closed with 72 for a 4th-place tie. Hoffman did nothing wrong on Sunday, with zero bogies on his card, but five birdies were 2 too few to catch Conners. Hoffman certainly buoyed his spirits for Augusta National next week. As for Conners, he’s headed back to Augusta for the first time as a pro, and for the first time as a PGA Tour winner.

ANA Inspiration opens major championship season with 1st for Ko

Jin Young Ko  had the commentators bubbling about her swing all week. They called it one for the ages, or one that will stand up for all time. One commentator threatened to quit if the young Korean professional ever made alterations to her back-and-through. With the pile of praise, it’s a fortunate thing that Ko made the putts and won her first major, at age 23. No one came at her all day, as -2 on Sunday was good enough for -10 on the week and a 3-shot win over Mi Hyang Lee. Holding off a challenge is one matter, but holding onto oneself is another. Ko had her share of stumbles on Sunday, with 3 bogeys to go with her 5 birdies. She never looked to be deep in trouble at any stage, but when bogeys at 13 and 15 sounded a call of hope to the competition. Ko returned birdies at 16 and 18 to clinch win #2 of the season, and #4 of her young career.

Bangabandhu Cup to unflappable Kaewkanjana

Sodom Kaewkanjana had a bit of a cushion after 54 holes of this week’s Asian Tour event. Midway through the back nine, as Ajeetesh Sandhu was working his way through a straight-fire round of 65, Kaewkanjana had one of those hiccups that champions overcome. He bogeyed three consecutive holes to lose his lead to Sandhu. When hope seemed lost, Sodom recovered from the holes 13-15 lapse with birdies at 16 and 17. With the latter, he made up 2 strokes on Ajeetesh, who bogeyed the par-five hole. Just like that Sodom had turned a 2-shot deficit into the single-stroke margin of victory he would claim, but not without a last bit of drama, as seen below. The win was the first ever for the rookie, so here’s to making an early splash!

Augusta National Women’s Amateur honored by top amateur’s Saturday performance

Jennifer Kupcho has done quite well over the last year. She claimed the individual title at last spring’s NCAA championship, and served as a rock on the USA’s triumphant, 2018 Curtis Cup team. This week, she added to that run with a victory for all time. On Wednesday, Kupcho was honored to hit the first-ever tee shot at the ANWA. On Saturday, having survived a great challenge from Mexico’s Maria Fassi, the pride of Wake Forest University hit the last shot of the week as well. The birdie putt at 18 gave her a 4-shot margin of victory over the runner-up, a differential that seemed very unlikely only four holes prior. Ten holes prior, in fact, when Kupcho suffered a 4-hole migraine. The Colorado native regained her vision and her composure, and made eagle at 13 to forge a tie with Fassi. The Arkansas Razorback bounced back with her 5th birdie of the day, at hole 14, to retake the solo lead. As happens so often at Augusta, the closing nine on the final day reveals the champion. Kupcho ripped another approach into 15, two-putting for birdie from just off the back edge. She birdied 16 as Fassi made bogey, establishing a two-shot lead. The 18th hole provided another 2-shot differential, with Kupcho at -10, and Fassi in 2nd at -6.

Jordan Mixed Open slips from Maclaren to Huizing

In a year when unique formats and new events are taking hold, the Jordan Mixed Open offered three tours competing against each other, playing from three sets of tees, but only one champion. England’s Meghan Maclaren held the lead into round three, after opening with a pair of 65s. On her heels was a Challenge Tour golfer named Daan Huizing, from The Netherlands, and Staysure (senior) golfer from Argentina, Jose Coceres. Maclaren couldn’t hold her lead, closing with 72 and finishing at -14. Coceres represented the senior set well, finishing in a tie for 4th at -11. The spoils of victory went to Huizing, who closed with 5 birdies for 68 on Saturday, for -16 and the 2-shot margin of victory. Maclaren was in top shape with 9 to play, but opened bogey-double on the home nine. Unable to make anything but pars coming in, her challenge came up just shy.

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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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Q2Q: Johnny gets a hand from Claude Harmon III

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In this episode of the Q2Q brought to you bu GolfWRX and Cobra Golf, Johnny and performance coach Nick Starchuk travel to West Palm Beach to see Claude Harmon III at his performance center. It’s a Golf IQ reality smackdown with CHIII breaking down the truth that the Arccos system has shown Johnny.
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Morning 9: Lowry leads | MJ on TW | The Tour’s secret cut-making machines

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

April 19, 2019

Good Friday morning on this Good Friday, golf fans.
1. Lowry leads
AP report…”The Irishman admittedly had started the year off on a strong note with a win in Abu Dhabi in the season-opener on the European Tour. But he simply hadn’t been able to build on that momentum – on either side of the Atlantic — in the weeks following his third career win”.
  • “In fact, Lowry hadn’t broken 70 in four stroke-play events on the PGA TOUR since he missed the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in February. He was a combined 24 over par in those tournaments and had only made the weekend once.”
  • “On a blustery morning at Harbour Town Golf Links, though, Lowry was back in control — firing a bogey-free 65 that earned him a one-stroke advantage.”
  • “Pretty much my whole game felt good,” Lowry said. “… I haven’t had that feeling in a while. So, it’s kind of nice.”
2. Augusta’d!
The Golf Channel Digital Team…”Beginning on the 10th hole Thursday, Spieth played his opening nine holes in 2 over par, with one double – after hitting his tee shot short, into the water at No. 14 – and eight pars. He recovered on the front side with three birdies compared to one bogey.”
  • “For the day, he hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation but needed 33 putts.”
  • “”I really got Augusta’d out here. What I mean is, I was still putting to the speed of Augusta. I haven’t fully made the transition away from that,” Spieth said after his even-par 71. “And as we are expecting high winds I’m sure the greens will slow down even more to make it fair. I’m really going to need to dial in my speed on the greens. Just tough out there coming off last week to this week, to get yourself to pop it harder than you really want to.””
3. Berger resurgent
Golfweek’s Roxanna Scott…
  • “After taking significant time off late in the year, Daniel Berger has to like what he sees in his game after an opening-round 5-under-par 66 in the RBC Heritage.”
  • “A finger injury forced Berger to take more than four months off after withdrawing from the BMW Championship in September. The 26-year-old Floridian was among a group of five tied for second Thursday, one shot behind leader Shane Lowry. Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the world rankings, shot 3-under 68 in the afternoon.”
  • “”It’s just been kind of touch and go here,” Berger told reporters after the round at Harbour Town Golf Links. “And finally got a full week of practice where I actually got to play golf every day. That’s just the biggest difference. When you’re going to a golf tournament and you’ve played one round of golf in two weeks, you don’t feel very good. To be able to put the work in and be rewarded it makes me feel like I’m ready to go when I get out here.”
4. Meanwhile, in Hawaii…
AP Report…”Eun-Hee Ji rebounded from a bogey on the par-4 18th with a pitch-in eagle on the par-5 first and shot a 7-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead over Nelly Korda on Thursday in the Lotte Championship.”
“Ji had a 15-under 129 total to break the tournament 36-hole record by five strokes.”
5. MJ on TW
Golf Channel’s Will Gray rounds up a few MJ quotes from The Athletic and expands…
  • “I took two years off to play baseball, but nothing like that,” Jordan told The Athletic. “I’m pretty sure he questioned himself, whether he could get it back, and he had to put a lot of work in. But he took it head-on. He had to change his game; he had to change his perspective a little bit. To me, it was the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen.”
  • “I never thought he’d get back physically,” Jordan said. “He didn’t think he’d get back physically. But he did it. No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He’s probably the only person who believed he could get back. To me, that’s a major accomplishment. To me, it’s unbelievable. Mentally, you always think you can. But you can’t answer to what your body has to deal with.”
6. USWO entries
Golf Channel’s Randall Mell…”Rolex world No. 1 Jin Young Ko and defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn topped the list of players qualified for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Wednesday’s close of entries.”
  • “Forty-seven of the top 50 players in this week’s world rankings are qualified for the event, scheduled May 30-June 2 at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). (Click here for the full exempt field)”
  • “Sectional qualifying begins later this month.”
7. Secret cut-making wizards
Shane Ryan, in the course of Tiger’s Masters triumph, got to thinking about the tour’s cut-making maestros, reaching out to Mark Broadie for data…
“Broadie disappeared into his secret temple of statistics (I imagine it looks like the House of the Undying in Game of Thrones), and came out bearing a bounty of figures. For the last two seasons, beginning in the fall of 2017, Thomas and Johnson were indeed the leaders, with Thomas in front by percentage points. But there were a couple surprises in the top ten”
Justin Thomas – 19/20 – 5.0% missed cut rate
Dustin Johnson – 17/18 – 5.6%
Tommy Fleetwood – 16/17 – 5.9%
Bryson DeChambeau – 24/26 – 7.7%
Hideki Matsuyama – 18/20 – 10.0%
Tiger Woods – 17/19 – 10.5%
Emiliano Grillo – 25/28 – 10.7%
T-8. Justin Rose 16/18 – 11.1%
T-8. Rafa Cabrera-Bello 16/18 – 11.1%
Rickie Fowler – 21/24 – 12.5%
“Grillo is the one of that group you might not expect, and there’s a couple more in the next 10, from An to Keegan Bradley to Charles Howell III. The inspiration for this post, Tony Finau, clocked in at 12th.”
8. Talking to a D, C & P finalist
Our Brendon Elliott spoke to Briel Royce, a finalist in the Drive, Chip and Putt.
So how cool was it driving Down Magnolia Lane?
  • Briel: “Driving down Magnolia Lane was awesome.  Usually, you do not get to experience the scenic ride unless you are a tour player or a member. Everyone got extremely quiet upon entry. There were tons of security along our slow ride. Seeing the beautiful trees and the Masters Flag at Founder’s Circle in the distance was surreal. Having earned the right and opportunity to drive down this prestigious lane was breathtaking. I would love to do it again someday.”
  • What was the coolest part of your time at Drive, Chip and Putt at Augusta National?
  • Briel: “Everything was cool about the DCP. Not too often do you see people taking walks in the morning with green jackets on. We were not treated like kids. We were treated like tour players, like we were members at Augusta. The icing on the cake was when they took us to the practice green and we were putting alongside Zach Johnson and Charl Schwartzel. Everyone was confused when we first got there because we weren’t certain we should be putting on the same green around the pros. Again, we were treated like we were tour players. Where else would I be able to do this? Nowhere other than DCP at Augusta. One of my favorite reflections is having Bubba Watson watch us chip and congratulating each of us for our efforts. He did not need to do that. He took time out of practicing for a very important week in his career to support the DCP players. I think his actions show what the game of golf is about: the sportsmanship, the camaraderie, and support.”
9. Trophy gallery
Here’s something interesting and easily digestible: a look at all the trophies handed out on the PGA Tour this season. Some are…interesting…
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Michael Jordan describes Tiger Woods’ comeback as the greatest he’s ever seen

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Former NBA star Michael Jordan is no stranger to legendary comebacks, but according to the six-time NBA champion, there has been no greater comeback in the history of sport than that of Tiger Woods.

Jordan, who was speaking to The Athletic, talked about the monumental journey which Woods, who Jordan is a close friend of, traveled to reach this point, of which perseverance and self-belief played a significant role.

“I took two years off to play baseball, but nothing like that. I’m pretty sure he questioned himself, whether he could get it back, and he had to put a lot of work in. But he took it head-on. He had to change his game; he had to change his perspective a little bit. To me, it was the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen.”

Three years ago, Jordan told ESPN that he thought Woods’ best days were behind him,  with the golfer’s ailing back contributing to much of that belief. Mentally, Jordan never doubted the 81-time PGA Tour winner, but the basketball legend admitted his surprise at his friend overcoming his chronic back issues.

“I never thought he’d get back physically. He didn’t think he’d get back physically. But he did it. No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He’s probably the only person who believed he could get back. To me, that’s a major accomplishment. To me, it’s unbelievable. Mentally, you always think you can. But you can’t answer to what your body has to deal with.”

As for what’s next for Woods, Jordan believes the sky is the limit, firing this warning to the 43-year-old’s rivals.

“They got problems. His confidence is only going to build from here. The unknown is the biggest thing. He’s won a Tour event, he’s won the Masters, he’s won a major.”

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