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Tour Rundown: K-squared | 14 for Ko | A first-time win in Puerto Rico

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Weekend number one of March welcomed the PGA Tour to Orlando and Puerto Rico, the Champions to Arizona, the LPGA to Singapore, and the Asian Tour to New Zealand. There was high drama all around, as first-time winners took to the podium at two events, a defending champion defended at a third, and a grizzled veteran claimed glory at a fourth. It was high times this week across the golfers globe, so strap in and enjoy our Tour Rundown-March edition.

PGA Tour: Arnold Palmer Invitational sees first-time winner in K-Squared

From the Asian Development Tour, to the Asian Tour, to the DP World Tour, Kurt Kitayam has handled the pressure of a close event. His three prior wins in the professional ranks were all by two shots or less. It should have surprised no one when he played a smart tee ball away from the water on the 72nd hole at Bay Hill. His lie was less than enviable, but he managed to chop it onto the left portion of the boomerang 18th green, leaving a two-zip code putt between his blade and victory. With all the calm of a journeyman grinder, Kitayama hit a perfect putt that somehow defied gravity and remained on the lip of the crevice. After a mark, he tapped in from an immeasurable distance to secure his first PGA Tour title, by one slim shot.

Forget about the Rory McIlroys (2nd) the Patrick Cantlays, Scottie Schefflers, Tyrrell Hattons, and Jordan Spieths (4th). The fellow who should have won going away tied for 10th. After opening with 67, Cameron Young closed his second round four over par over the closing four holes. On Saturday, he played the same stretch in plus-two. Sunday saw him even par of the apparently-impregnable quadrilateral. Give Young those six shots back, and he finishes -11.

Back to Kitayama. Over the first two days, he kept damage to the minimum of one bogey per day. Saturday and Sunday showed a different side: a guy who could rebound from the big number. After a double on the par-five fourth on day three, he played the remaining 14 holes in minus-two. On Sunday, Kitayama was cruising along when he yanked a drive left on the ninth hole, and ended with a two-feet putt for triple. Most non-winners would have ceded passage to the name brands, but not the NoCal kid. Kitayama posted seven pars, then made birdie at the impossible 17th, followed by his heroics at 18.

 

LPGA: Women’s World Championship is 14th LPGA win for Jin

Jin-Young Ko had a three-year run from 2019 to 2021, when she was a threat to win every event she entered. Ove the past two years, her game has leveled but the ability to win has not gone away. This week in Singapore, Ko had the added pressure of serving as defending champion. With rain dropping from the skies, and tears from her eyes, Ko outKlassed the field with a 17-under total, edging Nelly Korda by two. The week began with three bogeys and a 72 for the eventual winner, not the jump-start one might expect. That even-par round seated her eight shots behind leader Elizabeth Szokol’s 64. As Szokol took up residence in the 70s for the rest of the week, finishing in a tie for eighth position, Ko found a new residence in zone 65.

Twin rounds of seven-under par on Friday and Saturday moved the Korean Komet to the top of the board, two shots clear of her closest pursuers. After the three-bogey start, Ko settled down to one speed bump per round; her fourth-round bogey  came at the 11th hole, but she erased it with birdie number four two holes later. Chasing closely was Korda, who shows all signs of complete recovery from last season’s health scare. The Floridian opened with a trio of 68s, but was never able to break into the mid-60s that she needed to track Ko down. Sunday brought her a five birdie-two bogey round of 69, enough to edge one putt past Ayako Furue and Danielle Kang for solo second.

PGA Tour: Puerto Rico Open welcomes a Colombia winner in Nico Echavarría

Back when the slogan of the PGA Tour was “These Guys Are Good,” it always stood open to interpretation. When opposite-field events like the Puerto Rico Open were not granted the same stature as other tournaments, the message rang like “Some of These Guys Are Good.” No longer the case, as guys like Nico Echavarría and Akshay Bhatia found glory in Río Grande.

Echavarría played his college golf at Arkansas, then worked his way through the professional ranks on PGA Tour Latinoamerica, where he won twice in 2018. This week in the caribbean, Echavarría opened with a pair of 67s, but waited until Saturday to make his move. Carson Young had the 36-hole lead, but when he slipped to 71 on Saturday, Nico soared past with 65. On Sunday, it was a duel between Nico and the aforementioned Bhatia. After making the US Walker Cup side as a teenager, Bhatia eschewed university and went straight to the professional ranks. After beginning round four with a bogey, the Wake Forest, N.C. scion etched seven birdies into his scorecard for 65 and 19-under par. On this day, the Colombian was unstoppable. after an up-down front nine, Echavarría came home in 33, to secure a two-shot victory.

PGA Tour Champions: Cologuard Classic to Toms by a shot

Folks from another generation remember David Toms as the guy who denied Phil Mickelson a PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. When Toms reached the Tour Champions in 2017, he wasted little time reminding us that he had game. His 2018 US Senior Open title was followed by … very little. Toms next won on the senior circuit in 2021, then waited another two years to claim title number three.

Chasing him in Arizona were guys like Steve Stricker and Robert Karlsson. Stricker faded to 8th with a day-three 71, but Karlsson hung in quite well. The Swede played nearly-flawless golf on Sunday, with a bogey at the 11th his only blemish. Did that miscue cost him a playoff? Statistically speaking, yes. Toms had a bogey of his own on day the last, at the 13th, but he had enough birdies to hold off Karlsson … until his final drive. Toms’ cut faded just enough to drop into the hazard off the tee. He played two more shots to about five feet, then drained the putt for bogey and victory. As they say, it’s never how you do it; just how many.

 

Asian Tour: New Zealand Open trophy rests in hands of elder statesman Jones

Even a third-round 62 wasn’t enough for Brendan Jones to assume the top spot at the New Zealand Open. Shae Wools-Cobb and two other stood between him and the point of the pyramid. As fans know, following a nine-birdie effort with another, stellar round is way easier said than done. Fortunately for Jones, he had a little help from his competition.

After three stellar rounds, Cobb’s game went off the rails with 78 on Sunday. Christopher Wood and Terumichi Kakazu drifted to rounds of 72, which opened the door for a dozen challengers. Four golfers were able to reach 269 for 15-under on the week, highlighted by John Lyras’ 64, the second-low round of the day. After a one-under front nine, Jones was on no one’s marker sheet as title favorite, but that changed in one hour’s course. Four birdies from holes 12 to 17 elevated the 48-year old Aussie to his first Asian Tour win in 13 years, and his 19th professional win overall. As they say, the sun sets late on the career of the professional golfer!

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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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Forum Giveaway: TaylorMade P7CB “Proto” irons

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GolfWRX and TaylorMade Golf have teamed up for one of the most exciting giveaways in recent memory. We are giving away one (1) set (3-PW) of the P7CB “Proto” irons, built to order for one lucky forum member! These yet-to-be-released irons have recently made it into the bag for both Tommy Fleetwood and Collin Morikawa.

Collin Morikawa’s TaylorMade “proto” 4-iron

Do we really need to say more? Head over to the forum and enter now for your chance to win a set of irons that truly are 1 of 1.

Read more about the P7CB “Proto” irons

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CGOTY? It’s X at The Open at Royal Troon

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If golfers weren’t as humble as they are, they’d come up with trendy acronyms like G.O.A.T. and E.G.O.T #CGOTY would then stand for Champion Golf of the Year, the appellation that the Royal and Ancient confers upon its Open champion. As written, we are a humble lot, so there’s no need for such acronyms.

The Champion Golfer of the Year for 2024 is Xander Schauffele. He won his second major title of the year, having claimed the PGA Championship in May. The Open Championship is his third career win in a major, as Schauffele won the 2021 gold medal at the Olympics in Japan.

Over on TwitterX, I’ve made the claim that Royal Troon identifies one-off major champions better than any other course in the Open Championship rotation. Of its ten previous winners, seven never claimed a second major title. I suggested that Thirston Lawrence, Billy Horschel, and Russell Henley were as likely to win the jug as the other pursuers. Lowry, Schauffele, Rose, and others already held major trophies aloft. For most of the day, it looked as if another first-timer would join the ranks.

Before we get to that news, let’s chip away at some of the sub-headings.

The Silver Medalist

Eponymy’s Calum Scott (of Scotland) will recall the third week of July, 2024, with a special fondness. The Texas Tech (same school as Ludvig Aberg) earned a silver medal as the low amateur (LAGOTY?) at Royal Troon. Scott finished on eight over par, tied for overall 43rd place.

Spain’s Luis Masaveu came fourth among the wageless, posting +18 on the week. Tied for 2nd among the paupers were Amateur champion Jacob Skov Olesen of Denmark, and Tommy Morrison of the USA. Morrison had the day’s low round among the quartet, posting a 73.

There were plenty of highly-ranked amateurs at Royal Troon when the week began. One by one, they fell away. A tip of the cap to the winner of the silver medal.

The Weather

Essentially, it was a non-factor on day four. There was wind, but there’s always wind. There was zero rain, and after the first two hours in the early morning, the warmth arrived.

The Postage Stamp

Here’s the rub: if you’re playing well and with confidence, it’s a non-issue. It’s a wonderful little hole and, at 100 yards, it gave enough pause to consider going for the stick. Where the hole was on Sunday, there was no sense. Flight the shot between Coffin bunker and the hole, and take your chance with the flat stick. On day four, only Billy Horschel among the top six made bogey. Rose and Lowry had birdie, and the others made par. For Horschel, the four was just enough to throw him off his game, and even his closing burst would not prove to be enough.

The Chasers

Hats off to Justin Rose and Billy Horschel. They posted five birdies over their combined closing three. Rose found birdie at 16 and 18, to keep the pressure on his partner. Horschel closed with even more fire, reclaiming three shots for a career-best, runner-up in a major.

At day’s start, either one might have taken the 67 (Rose) or 68 (Horschel) and said that shall be enough to win. Horschel etched the same number of birdies (six) onto his card as did the winner, but he had those three crucial bogeys, at three, eight, and ten, to delay his progress just enough. As for Rose, he hoped to add a silver jug to his silver medal from 1998, as well as become the first qualifier to claim the crown in some time. Rose posted five birdies against one bogey, and could not have played much better golf. Trouble was, he ran into all that is formidable in his playing companion.

And there were others with admirable Sunday performances. Ryan Fox had 67, to move inside the top 25. Thriston Lawrence took the lead at the turn, held steady with 68, and earned a solo 4th finish for his labor. With the exception of Scottie Scheffler (72) all inside the top ten posted scores under par. On this day, it took 65 to stand out from the crowd.

The Champion

That 65 mentioned above, well, it belonged to the CGOTY.

Who knows when the switch flips? Ever more, who knows how to do it? When Xander Schauffele claimed Olympic Gold in 2021, it was anticipated that another major title would follow soon after. 2022 and 2023 went by with no such result. At Valhalla in May, Schauffele found something and went from best to never win a major to won a major. Now he has two. Here’s how he got there.

Eerily similar was the tally: six under par. The only difference between May and July, was the bogey at the par-five tenth in Kentucky. Schauffele rebounded with three birdies coming home, including one at the last, to hold off Bryson DeChambeau by a single stroke. At Royal Troon, Schauffele was flawless. He posted six birdies against zero bogeys on day four. He drove the ball long and true, and putted for birdie on 16 of 18 holes. The California native was able to avoid the many sand pits that freckle the Royal Troon championship layout, ensuring that a pair of chip shots would be the only concerning moments.

With his second major of the year, Schauffele enters the conversation for golfer of the year. Scheffler has six wins on the year, including a major. If Xander can medal in Paris, and win once or twice on the PGA Tour, he just might add that recognition to today’s laurel.

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5 Things We Learned: Day 3 at The Open Championship

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It’s like being a parent. You know what will happen, but you still need to let the circumstances play out. Once the idea of rain coming into the picture for Saturday afternoon was established, posit after posit came out. Get out early and post a number was the most popular and logical one. No matter how well the leaders start, the coming home will be merciless was a less-common one, but no less accurate.

Shane Lowry made birdie at the 4th hole to reach eight-under par. At that point, he had a three-shot advantage over his playing companion. He would get no farther. A tugged tee ball at eight led to a double bogey, and five more bogeys came his way. The most gutting came at number 18, a hole that he had played in six shots through two rounds. You might think that 77 on day three of a major championship would be a death knell, but Lowry is just three shots behind the leader. He’ll have a legitimate shot on Sunday, as will 13 other golfers.

Fourteen golfers are within five shots of Billy Horschel, the third-round leader. He’s at four-under par, despite weathering the worst of the weather. At least one of those fourteen will post a 65 on Sunday. It may not be enough. The 2024 major tournament season will end on Sunday, and should feature high drama. With that in mind, let’s sumarize Saturday in, oh, five things that we learned. How does that sound?

1. No one went away

As I alluded in the intro, no one in contention at the start of the day has gone adrift. Seven-under par had the lead after 36 holes, and four-deep (also alluded) is the new standard. I’ve been conservative in suggesting that five shots out is the most to be overcome. Circumstances dictate that someone six or seven back, with the correct mergin of fate and execution, could hoist the Claret Jug come Sunday evening, even if he has to play from the opposite side of the ball.

2. Billy Ho says Yo!

Why not Billy Ho? Why not, indeed! Horschel is a fit, focused, and talented golfer. He grabbed four shots from par on the outward nine, turning in 32. He shed grit and gravel coming home, finding a way to manage the inward side in 37 shots. Horschel has never held the solo lead in a professional major championship on the eve of decision day, so he’ll sleep differently tonight. Ultimately, how he and Micah Fugitt (his caddy) come to termsn with the reckoning, will decide his fate in the tournament.

3. Can Sugar Shane Lowry rebound?

2019 was a different set of circumstances for the 36-hole leader. He held a large lead through 54 holes, and he managed to claim a six-shot win over Tommy Fleetwood. Tonight, there might be some doubts. More likely, there will be frustration, followed by gratitude. Frustration at the shots that got away, most importantly the tee shot at Postage Stamp. That’s where the sweater began to unravel, as a visit to Coffin bunker led to his inglorious double bogey. Gratitude should follow, that he is but three in arrears, with a spot in the fifth-last game, paired with the affable Adam Scott. Look for Lowry to figure in the outcome.

4. This guy is due for a run

Justin Thomas has lit the front nine better than any other golfer this week. Wait, scratch that. He made five birdies heading away on both Thursday and Saturday. Friday was a different story, where he played the opening half as you or I would. What makes the difference? Who could possibly know. Will Justin Thomas make a run on Sunday afternoon? No, but Jason Day will. The Malbon Man will turn in six-under par 30. His problem is that he is eight shots back of Horschel, and has zero chance on Sunday. What his score will paint, however, is a picture of what might be, and that will serve to inspire those behind him.

5. How do you pick just one?

You don’t. Sam Burns and Thriston Lawrence posted 65 on day three, to move to three-under par. Russell Henley wasn’t far behind on the day, posting 66 to also reach 210 after 54 holes. Justin Rose and Daniel Brown had 73s but, like Lowry, they are still in the running. Xander Schauffele, the first-time major champion at the 2024 PGA Championship, is at three-deep as well. Oh, and the Masters champion, he of the fancy footwork, is but two off the lead. This is as deep and talented a group of challengers as we’ve seen in more than a minute. I won’t pick a winner today (I made my choice yesterday) but I do promise you that you will see more than one person’s share of fun shots like this one.

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