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Tour Rundown: Thomas gains 14th tour title at Sawgrass, Rozner ignites victory

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The middle of March arrived with two professional events on the schedule. The European Tour celebrated the Qatar Masters, while the US PGA Tour hosted its flagship event, The Players Championship. One year ago, The Players Championship completed its first round on Thursday, then shut down for three months. This year, with limited spectator entrance, The Players completed all four rounds and reminded the US golf world that proper adherence to regulations will allow competition to continue.

With hope that the rest of the world will soon return to similar measures of competition, we invite you to join us as we run down this week’s pair of tournaments in Tour Rundown.

Thomas gains 14th tour title at Sawgrass

Justin Thomas has a habit of showing up at the big events. Of his 14 tour titles, two are World Golf Championship events, one is a major (the 2017 PGA) and another is a FedEx Cup playoff win. To that list can now be added the 2021 Players Championship by one stroke over Lee Westwood. As Sunday dawned near Jacksonville, a number of potential storylines lay in wait of a culmination. Here’s how each of them broke out.

Wily veteran completes biggest win – This one would have been Westwood who, at age 47, has found a calm on the course, including a win on the European Tour last year. The Englishman had come quite close over the years to sealing a major title, only to be outplayed by the eventual winner. This year, Westwood led the Players after three rounds, and stayed ahead of last week’s winner, Bryson DeChambeau. Unfortunately for Westy, he was chased down and surpassed, despite a 72nd-hole birdie of his own. We think that Lee will make the 2021 Masters his first major title, and we cannot wait to write that story.

Young upstart makes Players his first Tour title – Led by Talor Gooch, who posted a final-round 67 to earn a tie for fifth place with Paul Casey, a number of young stars-in-the-making made their presence known at this year’s Players. Will Zalatoris, the top player on the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour, fired four rounds under par to tie for 21st. Corey Conners, the hottest player without a win in 2021, had a 66 on Sunday to move up 15 spaces, into solo seventh spot. We predict that Conners and Zalatoris will have 2021 wins before June 1st.

Beleaguered pro earns victory with stellar play – Justin Thomas has had a difficult 2021. A hot microphone picked up an utterance that he regretted, apologized for, and suffered for. Since that episode in Hawaii, Thomas has lost sponsors, stayed away from the press, and struggled to find the game that elevated him to the number-one ranking in the world. This week, Thomas opened with a pair of 71s that snuck him inside the even-par cut line. On Saturday, Thomas opened his round with five birdies in the first six holes, then added two more early on the second nine. At the 16th hole, a short par five, Thomas nearly recorded an albatross. His approach from 204 yards settled seven inches from the hole, for a tap-in eagle. On Sunday, the Kentucky native posted another back-nine eagle, this time at the 11th hole. Four birdies and two bogies brought him to 68, four strokes better than the runner-up’s even-par effort on Sunday.

The Florida Swing finishes up its 2021 run this week at the Honda Classic, before the tour heads to Texas for the second WGC event of the year, the Dell Match Play championship.

Rozner ignites victory with explosive putt at 72nd hole

Antoine Rozner may be forgiven for one day constructing a replica of the 18th green at Education City golf club, in Qatar. The French golf professional made a pair of birdies there on the weekend, finishing off the tournament with a 60-feet monster to claim a one-shot victory over three runners-up. Rozner’s win was his second on the big tour in four months, after claiming two Challenge Tour titles in 2019. Here’s how the trio came up short, and how Rozner came up big.

Gaganjeet Bhullar – The pro from India made birdie at the 72nd hole, but two back-nine bogies did him in. Bhullar had 5s at the 10th and 14th holes, to crush any momentum he was building. To his credit, he bounced back after each one, but came up one slim shot shy of a playoff.

Darren Fichardt – The South African journeyman opened and closed his Sunday round with birdies. Unfortunately for him, he dug himself a hole with three bogies in five holes around the turn. Fichardt had the lead to himself on Saturday evening, but the pure round he hoped for on Sunday, did not materialize.

Guido Migliozzi – The Italian recorded the best score of the day on Sunday, with six birdies for a clean 65. Migliozzi moved up 16 stations in the final round, to post his best finish since 2019, when he won twice. All that he could have hoped for was one more birdie, but the seventh never found its way onto his card.

Antoine Rozner – Rozner wasn’t perfect on Sunday (he ended a three-birdie run with a bogey at the eighth) but he was darned close. Rozner teed off in the penultimate group in round four. His playing mates, Jamie Donaldson and Joachim B. Hansen, fell away, but Rozner stayed the course and gave himself a chance at the win. No one expects to make a twelve-meter putt at the last, but Rozner’s was fairly straight, and his pacing was impeccable. Just like that, Rozner had a second European Tour title on his resume.

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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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The Wedge Guy: Avoiding 3-putts

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Since you all seemed to enjoy my foray into putting last week, I thought I would follow up on that subject.

I think we would all agree there is hardly anything more frustrating in this game than to hit a good drive and approach, then 3-jack to put bogey on the card. I always think, “Two shots to cover 400 yards, and then three to finish the last 30-50 feet. What a waste!” Even the pros three-putt occasionally, but most of us amateurs do it way too often. So, let’s examine some things that cause three-putts and figure out how to eliminate most of them, at least with greater frequency.

There are three main causes of three-putts, and for most golfers, one of the three is the major nemesis. Which one is yours?

Missing short second putts. To avoid three-putts, you have to be efficient in converting the second putt of 2-5 feet. Even tour pros don’t make all of them, but if you are missing short putts too often, it is demoralizing. So, if missing short putts is your weakness, here are some things to try:

  • Lighten your grip. We tend to squeeze the putter too tightly when faced with a short putt. Particularly lighten the pressure in your thumbs and forefingers, as that is where tension sets in first. Feel the putter in the last three fingers – or even the fingertips – of each hand.
  • Slow down. Make your practice strokes very s-l-o-w-l-y. This sets up a good tempo – it’s a stroke, not a hit! I see golfers make these quick back and forth practice strokes – what kind of tempo is that setting up?
    Stare down the hole. Your eyes are the key to putting, so pick a small target at the back of the hole (for a straight putt) or on either side (if a little break is to be allowed) and focus intently on that spot.

Bad distance control. Probably the main cause of 3-jacks is poor distance control on the approach putt. This is a feel thing, so let’s start with the first two tips I outlined above – a light grip and slower tempo. Those are imperative fundamentals to good putting – of any distance. Then, take some time to really analyze the putt’s probable speed. Is it uphill or downhill? It helps to walk to the hole and back to get a good feel for the distance. Finally, make your practice strokes while visualizing the path of the ball tracking toward the hole. Make them while looking at the hole, not at the ball. You are not rehearsing technique, but the speed the putter has to be traveling at impact to roll the ball the correct distance.

Misreading the break. When you are playing a course that has large sweeping breaks, it is not hard to miss the hole 6-10 feet on either side on a long approach putt. One of my favorite techniques is to analyze the putt from the hole backward. Start with the last ten feet and determine what direction the ball will need to approach the hole from. Then back up another ten to “see” where the ball will need to be in order to get to that spot. Then back up another ten to see how that segment of the putt will break. Once you see the putt in pieces, you can visualize the entire putt and choose your starting line and speed.

Let me know if these tips help you get some three-putts off your card.

 

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Tour Rundown: Tavatanakit takes ANA, Spieth ends victory drought

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It’s a splendid fortnight in golf. The first weekend of April brings the first major championship of the year, on the LPGA Tour. It also shines a light on the finest female amateurs in the game as they compete at the Augusta National Golf Club. The PGA and Korn Ferry tours make their final stops before a week off for the men at Augusta. Spring has touched down in most of the lower 48 of the USA, and we are ready to run down more results in this week’s Tour Rundown.

LPGA: ANA Inspiration welcomes Tavatanakit as 2021 champion

Patty Tavatanakit should make the UCLA faithful forget about recent close calls. She is a major champion on the LPGA Tour, and the former Bruin closed out her first win on tour in style. The 21-year old tapped in for par at the 72nd hole for an 18-under total. Tavatanakit was the only golfer to post four rounds in the 60s this week, and she held off a ravenous Lydia Ko, who came charging fast and nearly caught the third-round leader.

Once upon a time, Lydia Ko was the darling and the face of the LPGA Tour. Her teenage years were spent raising trophies and causing all to wonder, how many will she win? From 2012 to 2016, Ko won 14 times on tour; since then, she has one victory, which came three years ago. Ko changed everything in her game, from caddie to instructor to clubs. Now, in 2021, she appears poised to challenge for a place on the podium that once seemed so familiar.

Ko posted five birdies and an eagle on the front nine and turned in 29. Two more birdies at 10 and 11 brought her to nine-under on the day and had fans thinking 59 and another major title. Alas, Ko’s raging run slowed, and she managed one more birdie coming home, at the 15th. She reached 16-under par, but Tavatanaki gave little evidence of capitulation.

The former UCLA Bruin from Thailand debuted on the LPGA Tour in 2020. Her first campaign was one of learning and patience, and she entered the week ranked 103rd in the world, and 17th in the Race to CME Globe. In her first tour around the Mission Hills course, PattyT posted a total of four bogeys on the week. She counter-balanced them with two eagles on the week, one coming at the second hole on Sunday. No bogeys came her way on day four, and she added two birdies to the eagle and remained composed throughout the round. It’s a rare feat for a veteran to play bogey-free golf under the bright klieg lights of a major championship. To do so, essentially, as a rookie, is nearly miraculous.

Amateur: Augusta National Women’s Amateur to Japan in extra time

The first playing of the ANWA, in 2019, featured a two-woman showdown between winner Jennifer Kupcho and runner-up Maria Fassi. The two did battle the entire third day, until Kupcho separated on the back nine, for a four-shot win. The 2021 edition tossed a different twist into the young history of the event: a playoff. Tsubasa Kajitani of Japan made par at the 18th hole, the first in extra time, to defeat the USA’s Emilia Migliaccio, who stumbled with a bogey.

The first 36 holes of the event took place at the Champion’s Resort, in nearby Evans, Georgia. Five players tied for the 30th spot, necessitating a five-for-one playoff at plus-seven. Emilie Paltrinieri made birdie on the first extra hole to earn a spot in the final 18 holes, at Augusta National. On the other end of the leader board, Rose Zhang and Ingrid Lindblad shared the lead at one-under par. Nearly every one of the thirty competitors had a shot at the win, especially when Zhang and Lindblad struggled on day three.

Lindblad had five bogeys on the final day but nearly snuck into the playoff with a birdie at the 17th. She was unable to make three at the final hole and tied for third with five others at plus-two. Zhang had a tenuous lead until the 13th hole, where she hit two balls in hazards and scratched a triple-bogey eight onto her scorecard. She bounced back with birdie at the difficult 14th but made bogey at 17 to join Lindblad in third position.

Making moves on day three were Kajitani (even par) and Migliaccio (two under). Migliaccio was bidding to become the second consecutive Demon Deacon from Wake Forest to win but missed a four-foot birdie at the last, which would have won the tournament in regulation time. Kajitani stood two-under on the day on the 17th tee in first place and proceeded to make double bogey at the penultimate hole. Her par at the last matched her with Migliaccio, and then they waited for the field to decide their fate.

In the playoff, Migliaccio missed the 18th green right and was unable to save par from a dicey position. Kajitani tapped in for par, and the seventeen-year-old lifted the champion’s trophy in delight.

PGA Tour: Valero Texas Open is Spieth’s 12th tour title

Four years ago, Jordan Spieth won the Open Championship in England. It was his third unique major championship, and many expected that he would soon add a PGA Championship to his tally. The Texan went into a tailspin brought on by a chase for more distance (and a previously undisclosed injury), and players like Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Justin Thomas jumped up and claimed his place among the winners.

Spieth went through many trials during the ensuing three years, struggling with all facets of his game. He showed signs of a return to his lofty, mid-2o10s stature in early 2021, but was unable to put four rounds together for a title. That changed this week in his home state, as Spieth took the 54-hole lead, then held off a fast-charging Charley Hoffman for a two-shot victory.

When he needed it most, Spieth’s drive came through. Averaging less than fifty percent fairways hit on the week, Spieth nailed 71 percent of the short grass on day four. His lone bogey came at the fourth, where he missed right and was forced to pitch into the fairway. Seven birdies on the day made up for the one miscue, and the UTexas alumnus posted the second-lowest score on the day, a 66.

Hoffman was perfect on the day, posting six birdies and zero bogeys to match Spieth’s number. He simply ran out of holes, but the runner-up finish casts the Californian as an interesting foil for this week’s Masters. Hoffman typically plays well at Augusta National, and riding a wave of great play at the Valero portends possible success for the San Diego native. Spieth would like nothing more than to add a second green jacket to his 2015 model, and his play this year certainly places him in the top five of pre-tournament contenders.

Korn Ferry Tour: Emerald Coast Classic playoff goes to Jaeger

Andrew Novak played the Sandestin course like no other this week. He didn’t win, but goodness, he amassed a passel of birdies. Novak staked himself to a three-shot lead over David Lipsky, courtesy of 14-under play over the first three days. On Sunday, the North Carolina native and Wofford College alumnus scribble six birdies on his scorecard. Unfortunately for Novak, a pair of front-nine doubles and three bogeys joined those birdies. His plus-one was not the kind that anyone wants, and Novak ended the week in solo third position.

No one escaped Sandestin without a bogey on Sunday. Stephan Jaeger, a Korn Ferry Tour legend, posted a 66 and reached 14-under par, one better than Novak. Jaeger once shot 58 on the Triple-A tour, and had completed five prior victories on the prep circuit. David Lipsky had spent years honing his game in Europe, and joined Jaeger at 14-deep with a pair of closing birdies. The duo returned to the watery finishing hole, and each reached the green in regulation. Jaeger was able to two-putt for par, but Lipsky needed three putts to get home. Jaeger earned a return trip to the PGA Tour with his sixth career triumph on the developmental circuit.

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Valero Texas Open Tour Truck Report: Stenson back in Diablo, Rickie’s limited-edition driver, latest AutoFlex-er

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With the Masters next week, players who have punched their tickets to Augusta National will be making the proverbial “final tune-ups” to gear and games at TPC San Antonio.

Those who are without an iconic Masters invitation card have but one path into the field of the first major of the year: a Valero Texas Open victory.

Accordingly, there’s a whiff of desperation blowing in the Texas wind. Even players who can count themselves among the fortunate next week are searching—such as Henrik Stenson, who is returning to his beloved Callaway Diablo Octane Tour 3-wood.

As a reminder, you can check out all our photos from the Valero Texas Open here

Callaway

Phil Mickelson is testing a new prototype version of the PM Grind wedge. Unfortunately, Callaway is mum on any further details!

Also on the Phil phront: Mickelson put a Fujikura Ventus Black 6 TX shaft in his Mavrik driver.

As mentioned in the introduction, Henrik Stenson has shelved his Mavrik 3-wood in favor of his immortal beloved, Diablo Octane Tour 3-wood.

Stenson is also gaming an Odyssey 2-Ball Ten putter.

Branden Grace is testing an AutoFlex shaft.

Titleist

Bernd Wiesberger is testing a new TSi2 13.5-degree fairway wood with a TPT Hi 14 shaft (he’s currently gaming a 15-degree TSi2).

Lanto Griffin moved into a TSi3 (10 degrees, D4 SureFit setting).

Chesson Hadley is testing a TSi3 (10 degrees). He’s seeing better control and increased ball speed. (Hadley is currently in a 10-degree TSi2).

An update, of sorts—and an aesthetically pleasing one—on Byeong Hun An’s 60-T

 

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A post shared by Aaron Dill (@vokeywedgerep)


Cleveland/Srixon

Graeme McDowell is testing Mitsubishi MMT iron shafts.

Cobra

Rickie Fowler has the limited edition Cobra Palm Tree Crew (PTC) RadSpeed XB in play.

Jason Dufner is testing Mitsubishi MMT iron shafts in his King Cobra Forged CB irons.

Scott Garrison (SEG Golf)

Brian Gay had a KBS Hybrid shaft installed in his TaylorMade SIM2

KJ Choi added a LAGP shaft to his Cobra RadSpeed driver.

Gary Woodland had new KBS Hi-Rev 2.0 Black wedge shafts installed

Sam Bennett’s Bettinardi BB8 raw putter got a LAGP putter shaft and SuperStroke grip.

Free agents

Charl Schwartzel has his old Nike wedges back in the bag.

Equipment free agent extraordinaire Ryan Moore swapped out his Mizuno MP-18 irons for Ping Blueprint.

As a reminder, you can check out all our photos from the Valero Texas Open here

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