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Tour Rundown: Four winners make for a full TR!

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No matter how much the current crop of golf stars matters, the legends matter more. Annika Sorenstam made an LPGA tournament appearance (she was explicit in stating not a comeback) and Tiger Woods survived a frightening automobile accident. Those two stories stole our attention for different reasons, as we deservedly cheered both on.

Other stories unfolded as the week progressed, with four champions emerging from rigorous tests. It’s time to chase down the week’s story lines in another edition of Tour Rundown. Adjust your mirrors and have a look back with us.

World Golf Championship: Workday at The Concession

The new site for the opening WGC replaced the tree-lined fairways of Club de Golf Chapultepec. The Concession was a visual shift for the golfers and the viewers. Gone were the narrow corridors and overhanging arbor. In their place was a wider Nicklaus course, with some swamp and sand, and a few palmettos that would make a difference. After 72 holes, the story line was easy to see in reverse: the three young’uns stole the week.

On Thursday, we watched as Young’un number one, Matthew Wolff, hit his ball with his practice putting stroke, then withdrew from the event after opening with 83. On day two, we watched Viktor Hovland, Young’un number two, play a gorgeous round of golf through 17 holes. Seven birdies danced with ten pars, as the Norwegian comet moved quickly up the leader board. Just as precipitously, Hovland tumbled down the slope after measuring eight strokes on the par-four ninth, his closing hole. Those palmetto bushes came into play twice as bad swings, bad fortune, and bad decisions conspired to annul four of his hard-earned birdies. To his credit, Hovland would remain in the story line across the weekend, tying for second place with Billy Horschel and Brooks Koepka.

Young’un number one, Collin Morikawa, was the class of a classy field at The Workday. Morikawa avoided quads on day two and jumped into second place, behind Koepka, with 64. Over the weekend, Koepka was unable to return to the 60s, and reached 15-deep for his second-place tie. Morikawa burst from the tape on Saturday with six birdies on his opening nine. A pair of unsightly bogies on the two, back-nine, par fives, shrunk what should have been a sizable lead. On Sunday, the Californian played steady golf on the day, countering a hole-two bogey with four birdies coming home. Both Horschel and Hovland needed perfection on day four, and it lay just beyond their reach. Each counted a pair of bogeys on the inward half, giving Morikawa the cushion he needed for his first WGC title and fourth PGA Tour victory in a brief career.

LPGA: Gainbridge

The Gainbridge moved from Boca Raton to Orlando this year, and caught the attention of at least one champion. Annika Sorenstam has lived in the Lake Nona community for years, and decided that this year’s playing might be a good time to make an appearance, not a comeback (but just in case she ever wanted to consider a comeback, this was a great site). It was a turbulent week for the Swede, as she endured an inaccurate ruling on Thursday, a flirtation with the cut on Friday (she made it) and two banal weekend rounds that relegated her to a 74th-place finish among the 74 who made the cut.

On the other end of the leaderboard, many in the sub-thirty set were making noise. Lydia Ko (also a Lake Nonoan) had the halfway lead at 134, with Patty Tavatanakit and Nelly Korda a shot back at 135. Also close were In-Gee Chun, Chella Choi, and Lexi Thompson. Each had a chance to win over the weekend, but only one did. Tavatanakit and Jin Young Ko made Saturday moves with 66s, and Angel Yin did them one better with 65. Korda assumed the lead with a 68 as Ko dropped to a 72 on day three.

Sunday’s promise of a duel in the sun fizzled early. Korda jumped from the block with birdies on three of the first six holes. Saturday’s heroes lost their footing, with Yin, Chun, and Tavatanakit all moving into the 70s and out of contention. Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson jumped into a second-place tie with scores of 69 and 68, respectively. After her fierce start, Korda locked in on 12 consecutive pars, and won her fourth LPGA title (and first since 2019) by three shots.

PGA Tour: Puerto Rico Open

Puerto Rico’s Open is an interesting event. Until Viktor Hovland won at Mayakoba in 2020, none of its winners had been able to secure a subsequent tour title. It provides opportunity for those not in the WGC, to rediscover their game and bring it along the PGA Tour trail. Branden Grace found himself in an unwanted space this season, dealing with the recent passing of his father. Five years had passed since his inaugural PGA Tour win, at the Heritage in 2016. On Sunday, specifically in the last 45 minutes of the event, Grace discovered his own version of grace.

Homeland hero Rafael Campos was in contention all week long, and ultimately settled into a tie for third with fellow, 54-hole leader Grayson Murray, at 16-under par. Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas surged on Sunday with 65, but a 14th-hole bogey was his undoing. Grace played a game of cat-and-mouse on Sunday, with three birdies and no blemishes through 16 holes. Not spectacular, but not damaging, either. On seventeen, the Pretorian took advantage of a following wind and drove into a greenside bunker at the par-four trace. His bunker shot touched down, released, and rolled properly into the hole for eagle. At the closing hole, where Vegas had made birdie some time before, Grace found a greenside bunker in two, and hit another marvelous pitch from the sand, to within three feet. His putt dropped, he assumed the lead, and earned a second tour title for his efforts.

PGA Tour Champions: Cologuard Classic

If Puerto Rico is a place for ignition of careers, the Champions Tour is filled with stories of redemption. Mike Weir came to Tucson in search of that precise medicine, and he nearly filled the prescription. Unfortunately for him, the least-likely guy to have five CT wins (Kevin Sutherland) chose Sunday to make a charge and enter the fray.

At the beginning of the week, a carrot was dangled in front of Phil Mickelson: no player in golf’s history had ever won the first three starts, on any tour. Lefty had two of them in the pocket, and this week’s course was precisely where he had won his first tour event, as an amateur, decades back. Well, Lefty played like a righty this week, so that story fizzled.

Through two rounds, Mike Weir played like the lefty that won the 2003 Masters and had plenty of game, before injuries and an ill-timed attempt at designing golf courses derailed his train. Sunday was a tale of two cities for the Canadian. The first eight holes were business as usual: three birdies for a four-shot lead. The final ten holes brought three bogies, the kind of finish that bleeds slowly and painfully. Two of those bogies came in the final three holes, just as Kevin Sutherland posted birdies at 16 and 17. The about-face was so sudden, it was hard to consider plausible. In the blink of an eye, Weir’s chance at victory had drifted away on the wind, as Sutherland lifted a Champions Tour trophy for the fifth time.

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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: Smith reels in first-round lead | Ko going low again | IOC won’t require vaccs

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Good Friday morning, golf fans.

1 Career-low 62, first-round lead for Cam Smith

AP report…”Cameron Smith birdied the difficult 17th and 18th holes at Harbour Town to shoot a 9-under 62, his career low on the PGA TOUR, and take a one-shot lead over Stewart Cink at the RBC Heritage on Thursday.”

  • “Cink finished his 63 around lunchtime and no one appeared likely to beat that score in overcast, breezier afternoon conditions. Yet Smith played his best down the challenging stretch.”
  • “The Australian chipped in for birdie on the par-3 17th, then stuck his approach to the lighthouse finishing hole within 5 feet to take the lead. Smith surpassed his previous low of 63, accomplished three times on TOUR.”

Full piece. 

2. Lotte Championship: Another low one from Ko

AP report…”Lydia Ko went low again, shooting a 9-under 63 at Kapolei Golf Club on Thursday to take a 3-stroke lead midway through the second round at the Lotte Championship.”

  • “Ko, a two-time major champion who’s seeking her first win since 2018, is 24 under par her last three rounds. She nearly caught Patty Tavatanakit with a final-round 62 last week at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration.”

Full piece. 

3. Austrian Open: Canizares ahead

AP report…”Alejandro Canizares defied chilly and windy conditions to shoot a 5-under 67 Thursday for a one-stroke lead after the opening day of the Austrian Open.”

  • “The Spaniard carded an eagle and four birdies to sit in front of a quartet of players, which included former No. 1 Martin Kaymer and John Catlin, a two-time winner in 2020.”

Full piece. 

4. Hideki’s first interview since Masters win

Cameron Morfit for PGATour.com…“In his first interview since winning the Masters and returning home to Japan, Hideki Matsuyama said becoming the first from his country to win the coveted Green Jacket…was almost too overwhelming to think about as he navigated the course Sunday.”

  • “I was filled with nerves from the first hole to the last…I never felt there was a time for me to let up even a little bit and relax.”
  • “…Matsuyama, who spoke Sunday of inspiring kids back home, said in his press conference in Japan that he hopes his daughter will be among them…”
  • “Now comes the question of what’s next. More history? Perhaps. Asked about capturing the remaining three major titles, he said he’ll have to draw up some new goals…”

Full piece. 

5. “Fried” Zalatoris marches on

Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…”Coming off his runner-up showing at the Masters Tournament, the 24-year-old Zalatoris got right back on the saddle Thursday for his first round of the RBC Heritage. He carded five birdies as part of an opening 3-under 68, which had him five shots off the early lead set by Stewart Cink.”

  • “I thought I did a nice job today of kind of staying patient knowing that I probably wasn’t going to be as mentally fresh,” said Zalatoris, who despite his world ranking (27) and dream showing at Augusta National remains a special temporary member on the PGA Tour, with only a victory qualifying him for this year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs.”

Full piece. 

6. IOC won’t require vaccinations

Tom Schad for USA Today…”The International Olympic Committee has said it will not require athletes to be vaccinated prior to competing this summer, though IOC president Thomas Bach has strongly encouraged athletes to take them.”

  • “(We’ve) made it clear from the very beginning that we would not impose any obligation for vaccination,” Bach said last month. “And we have also from the very beginning stated that we will work with the (national Olympic committees) to get as many as possible of the participants being vaccinated – but always within the relevant national guidelines.”

Full piece.

7. $600 million win?

Our Gianni Magliocco…”Hideki Matsuyama’s victory at Augusta National has taken the golf world by storm, and it could pave the way for monstrous endorsement deals for the 29-year-old, according to a Sports Marketing Expert.”

  • “Speaking to Sportico.com, Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising, revealed that the win could earn Matsuyama up to $20 million a year in endorsements over the next 30 years, thanks to the longevity in careers golfers enjoy.”
  • “Barring any career-ending injury or scandal, I’d say a Masters win is easily worth $600 million for Matsuyama. He’ll be an icon in his golf-mad country.”

Full piece. 

8. Cam Smith WITB

A look inside the bag of the RBC Heritage leader.

Driver: Titleist TSi3 (10 degrees)
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Smoke Yellow 60 6.5 TX

3-wood: Titleist TSi2 (15 degrees)
Shaft: UST Mamiya Elements Platinum 8F5 X

7-wood: Titleist TSi2 (21 degrees)
Shaft: UST Elements Red 8F5 (X)

Irons: Titleist U500 (4), Titleist T100 Black (5-9)
Shaft: KBS Tour 130 Custom Matte Black X

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (46-10F, 52-08F, 56-08M), WedgeWorks 60T
Shafts: KBS Tour 130 Custom Matte Black (46), True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue Onyx X100 52, 56, 60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron 009M Prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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Interesting photos from the RBC Heritage – Part 3

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The first round of the RBC Heritage gets underway today and with that, we have an unprecedented part 3 of our most interesting pictures from the event. As a refresher, the field of 134 is battleing on the tight treeline Pete Dye designed course, for the $7.1 million purse with $1.28 million going to the winner.

In part one of this week’s “most interesting photos”, we covered putters, for part two we covered some of the action around the course, and for part 3 we have a little bit of both.

Don’t forget you can check out all our image galleries in the GolfWRX Tour Equipment forum.

Snedeker with that “new driver” look

The 2012 FedEx Cup champ is quietly one of the biggest driver testers on tour, and he was looking thirsty at a couple of TaylorMade SIM2 drivers on the range. Also noted his Miura CB-301 irons.

Build your own training aid

Path board – check, digital level – check, alignment rod – check, extra club – check. Why spend all kinds of money when you can just build your own simple training aid?

Its armlock – but backward

Matt Kuchar brought the arm-lock style to the PGA Tour and it looks like he might be changing course again since he was spotted testing a “reverse” arm-lock Bettinardi on the practice green of Harbour Town links. This is a reverse style because the grip rests against the trailing arm versus the lead one.

Maybe graphite is the new steel

We’re not sure whose caddie this is, but the interesting thing in this photo is the graphite shaft in the putter. Although Bryson wasn’t the first, he certainly has opened the door for more players testing and putting ultra-stiff graphite shafts into their putters for stability.

Si Woo, and Charles Howell talking putters

Everyone knows Charles Howell loves to talk gear, and here he is chatting with Si Woo Kim about a couple of putters—just imagine the nerd level conversation being had.

Na continues to test the new Callaway Epic

Kevin Na is one of the last holdouts on tour with an original Epic driver in the bag, and again this week we spotted him testing one of the new Epic Speed drivers. Considering his chances this week based on the course length, it will be interesting to see if he officially made the switch.

 Maverick’s unique Toulon

Maverick McNealy’s slant-neck San Diego has a very different shape from the retail version and looks to be both longer heel to toe and also shallower—it reminds this writer of the classic Ping Anser 4.

Davis Love III has a full bag of familiar sticks

Davis Love has won the RBC Heritage 5 times (yes, 5) and this past champion has a full bag of Titleist gear including 718 AP2s and SM8 Vokey wedges. You can get all his full WITB here: Davis Love III WITB RBC Heritage

Who has 2 thumbs and loves to test putter? Matt Wallace

Matt Wallace was working with a number of Toulon putters Tuesday, and although they all had something a little different to offer, the one thing that stayed the same is his preferred 2-Thumb grip.

The grind doesn’t stop for Furyk

Did you know Jim Furyk is 3rd all-time on the PGA Tour career money list with over 71 million buckeroos banked. Crazy right? So imagine the drive it takes to continue to work your butt off week in and week out on both the PGA Tour and Champions Tour to find every edge.

Speaking of edge, Jim was seen on the range working with Callaway tour reps on a Callaway Epic Speed triple diamond to hopefully gain a few mph of ball speed. Gotta respect the grind.

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Morning 9: Sports book cometh to TPC Scottsdale | Zalatoris’ unique position

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Good Thursday morning, golf fans. A smattering of odds and ends this morning as the golf mediaverse nurses its collective Masters hangover.

1. A sports book is coming to TPC Scottsdale

David Purdum at ESPN…“The PGA Tour is putting a retail sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale, one of golf’s most raucous environments.”

  • “The PGA Tour announced Wednesday that DraftKings will operate the first-of-its-kind sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale and become the exclusive sports betting partner of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.”
  • “Three locations at TPC Scottsdale are being discussed for the “19th hole” sportsbook, which will be open year-round and include in-person betting windows. The goal is to open the sportsbook by the Super Bowl in 2023.”

Full piece. 

2. Zalatoris’ unique position

Golfweek’s Steve DiMeglio…“Despite all the heady stuff going on in his world, Zalatoris remains level-headed. His meteoric rise – he was ranked 1,514th in the Official World Golf Ranking in April of 2019, was 483rd in April of 2020 and now rests at 27th after nearly becoming the first rookie to win the Masters in 42 years – hasn’t changed his good nature and calm demeanor.”

  • “He’s still the same guy who was Monday qualifying for Korn Ferry Tour events two years ago, the same guy who won his lone pro title at the TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes on the Korn Ferry Tour last July.”
  • “Then again, he’s not the same guy inside the ropes and he might just be on the USA Ryder Cup team. Since winning in Colorado, he’s made 22 starts on the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour and finished in the top-10 10 times and the top-25 18 times. He tied for sixth in the U.S. Open and fell one shot shy of Hideki Matsuyama in the Masters – the only two majors he’s played as a pro.”

Full piece. 

3. More thoughts on the possible coming surge in golf, equipment sales in Japan

Mike Stachura for Golf Digest…“Because as challenging as closing the deal on becoming the first Japanese-born male golfer to win a major championship clearly was during Sunday’s frenetic finish, now the shy, workman-like Matsuyama stands at the forefront of what one long-time Japanese golf business observer called “an epoch-making event.” Japan may comfortably stand as the world’s second largest golf market, accounting for a fifth of the global golf business all by itself, but it is long removed from the country’s golf boom of the late 1980s and ’90s. With the last decade seeing flat revenues and declining play and players, Matsuyama’s win is an opportunity to inject new life in a nation that has been waiting for a golf moment like this for more than half a century.

  • …”Over the last 25 years, the number of golfers has decreased by nearly half, from more than 12 million to now around 6.5 million. The country’s 2,500 golf courses of a generation ago, while likely overbuilt, have seen several hundred shuttered. Sales of golf gear in Japan still account for well more than $2 billion annually, but those numbers have largely been unchanged for the last decade. According to the World Golf Report, a joint research project of the global golf business produced by Golf Datatech and the Yano Research Institute in Japan, Japan accounts for 22 percent of the world’s golf economy, second to the U.S. at 45 percent. Still, golf equipment sales, which rebounded somewhat in the second half of 2020, finished the year down 5 percent, and over the last five years, they are down 1 percent while worldwide sales were up 11 percent.”

Full piece. 

4. Boo’s comeback bid

Brian Wacker for Golf Digest…”Boo Weekley hit a small bucket of balls on a driving range last week, yellow ones to be precise. He was wearing a mesh trucker’s cap, wrinkled tan shorts and a faded, loose-fitting gray t-shirt with the image of a large deer head and a tree screened on the back between the words “Save a tree, Harvest a buck…”

  • “In January, Weekley underwent surgery to have his left hip replaced after it was discovered that the cartilage that serves as a cushion between the hip socket and the femur, or thigh bone, had worn out, leaving the two bones in excruciating contact with one another. Had it been a decade ago, it would have been career over for the former three-time PGA Tour winner. Advances in modern medicine being what they are, the man born Thomas Brent and nicknamed after a fictional character (Yogi Bear’s sidekick Boo-Boo) instead has a chance to author one final chapter in a career that most would find hard to believe.”

Full piece. 

5. LPGA hoodie

Brittany Romano for Golf Digest…“Piggybacking off the WNBA’s wildly popular logo hoodie launched last fall, Michelle Wie has teamed up with the LPGA to release a golf version that is expected to create a lot of buzz. The tie-dye hoodie officially launches next week, but we got a sneak peek of the LPGA logo sweatshirt when Warriors guard Damion Lee was seen wearing it while traveling. The image was tweeted by the LPGA Twitter account and the hoodie almost instantly sold out on the LPGA merchandise site. The hoodie is expected to be restocked over the weekend”

Full piece. 

6. Matsuyama’s pre-Masters putter change

Our piece for PGATour.com…”As Hideki Matsuyama brushed in his winning putt at Augusta National on Sunday evening, the setting Georgia sun glistened off his 2012 Scotty Cameron Newport 2 Tour Prototype as he carried the wand with him off the famed Georgia course’s 18th green.”

  • “While most viewers who have seen the Masters champion in action over the past two years likely assumed from the finish and shaping it was the same flatstick Matsuyama has been stroking putts with all season, Japan’s first men’s major winner actually only put this particular putter in play at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago.”
  • “Matsuyama consulted with Scotty Cameron TOUR rep Drew Page and had a Lamkin Deep-Etched Cord Full Cord installed as well as a stepped putter shaft.”
  • “And while Hideki’s exact specs are under lock and key, Page and company dialed in the same loft, lie, and head weight as the Newport 2 GSS Timeless Matsuyama has played since the 2020 BMW Championship.”

Full piece. 

7. Simpson’s strengths

Justin Ray of the 15th Club writing for PGATour.com…“While Simpson has flashed strong approach play consistently over the last several seasons, it’s far from the only reason he is among the best players in the world. Simpson essentially does everything well.”

  • “Let’s look at the top 20 players in Strokes Gained: Total from last season on the PGA TOUR. As you might expect, many players see their biggest advantages come from one, or two, particular sets of skills. For example, Collin Morikawa ranked 14th on the PGA TOUR last season in Strokes Gained: Total. Seventy-two percent of his strokes gained came from approach shots alone. Matsuyama, who ranked 17th in Strokes Gained: Total, also made more than 70% of his gains with his approach play.”
  • “On the flipside, Matt Fitzpatrick, who ranked 16th in Strokes Gained: Total, gained 76.5% of his strokes on putts and shots around the green. Patrick Reed followed a similar trend, gaining 70.7% of his strokes in the same manner.”
  • “That brings us back to Simpson, and the balance within his game. Of those top 20 players in Strokes Gained: Total in 2019-2020, only one player gained more than 40% or more of his strokes on approach shots – and 40% of more of his strokes on putts and shots around the green combined: Simpson.”

Full piece. 

8. Billy’s apology for returning club to bag with great authority.

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