Golf Capital – Watson wins again, Thompson looks for redemption in California

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes. Bubba Watson completed an impressive Match Play triumph in Austin for his second career WGC win in what was his 11th PGA Tour crown. Elsewhere Brice Garnett won the secondary PGA Tour event for the weekend as the Missouri native won by four strokes in the Dominican Republic. In California Eun-Hee Ji won her second LPGA event in six months after a two-stroke victory in the KIA Classic. It’s major time in the coming weeks but before Georgia California is the focus with the first women’s major of 2018, the ANA Inspiration, taking place at Rancho Mirage this week.

wgc dell final 20

Opening drive

Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson picked up his second win in five weeks when he blitzed Kevin Kisner in the WGC Match Play final 7&6 in Austin. Watson won in Los Angeles and the Floridian is now well and truly in Masters calculation after the Volvik embarrassment that was most of 2017.

 

It wasn’t quite the level of excitement of the prior week at Bay Hill but the match-play event had some big scalps with players like world number one Dustin Johnson and world number three Jon Rahm not making it out of their groups plus some exciting knockout matches.

 

A career-best start of a nine-under 63 helped Brice Garnett immensely in his quest for a first PGA Tour win as the Dominican Republic debuted at the top level as a host nation of a tournament. The weather in the eastern Caribbean nation certainly made things hard for Garnett and co but one tour rookie had a tough start at this level. Last week we noted Tony Romo, of NFL Dallas Cowboys fame, got in on a sponsor exemption. Unlike NBA All-Star Steph Curry in a Web.com event last year Romo couldn’t beat anyone and ended up six shots adrift of the second-last player after rounds of 77 and 82 missing the cut.

 

The PGA Tour event this week the Houston Open will see a host of players roll the dice to try to qualify for the Masters but also sees a surprising amount of big names the week before the first men’s major of the year. With Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth amongst the names taking part at the Golf Club of Houston.

 

South Korea’s Eun-Hee Ji posted consecutive rounds of 67 to grab her fourth LPGA Tour victory with Americans Cristie Kerr and Lizette Salas finishing in a tie for second. A week out from a major a few of the big names were well off the pace with the like of Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn finishing outside the top 30 which makes for an interesting opening women’s major of 2018.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes related to capital investment if that’s your thing. After the controversy of 2017 the ANA Inspiration which saw So-Yeon Ryu prevail over Lexi Thompson in a playoff the South Korean returns having also placed T3 in the US Open later in 2017. The Rancho Mirage venue, located in the Coachella Valley, has hosted the tournament since it commenced and was elevated to major status in 1983.

 

Under 20: Inbee Park. A winner of this event five years and T3 last year Park won under a fortnight ago in Arizona so is showing form early in the year.

 

Under 20: Lexi Thompson. The 23 year-old has won twice since the shambles last year here but also lost out in another playoff (now owns a concerning 0-3 record in extra holes) but the Florida resident is still suited  by the course having won her only major here in 2014.

 

20 to 50: Jessica Korda. Korda’s T11 here last year was the American’s best result in a major since 2014. Korda’s recent win coupled with the story of her jaw surgery means she is in a much healthier position to perform better.

 

20 to 50: Brittany Lincicome. Lincicome has a great record at the Dinah Shore Tournament course at Mission Hills having won twice (2009 and 2015.) The American was also T10 last weekend and won to open the year in the Bahamas. Elsewhere Charley Hull and defending champion Ryu are top hopes.

 

Greens in regulation

Garnett, 35, may have thought a chance to push on at the top level had passed him by since qualifying the Fed Ex Cup playoffs in 2014 but he showed on the weekend in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship he could be in the mix in higher level PGA Tour events.

 

With the WGC event on and PGA regulars missing judging the win is hard but after an opening round of 63 Garnett didn’t drop away as second-tier players might but instead closed out the tournament in the final round in the Caribbean on a windswept, rainy Sunday after a blip on Saturday. Garnett slid in the third round but such was his margin after three late bogeys he still led by three heading into Sunday. Garnett’s victory gets him into the PGA Championship later this year and secures him a tour card until 2020

 

Tap in

The anticipation for Augusta has been building for some time. Before the start of the year the jury was still out on Tiger Woods return, Bubba Watson was a non-factor ranked outside the top 100 plus major winners Jason Day and Rory McIlroy didn’t win in 2017 at all. Now the later three of that quartet have all won thus far in 2018 and Woods almost did so.

 

This is before we consider the prospects of world number four Jordan Spieth and second-ranked Justin Thomas, both the winners of the most recent majors – the Open and PGA championship, respectively.

 

Who else am I missing? One player has finished in the top six in the last three years at Augusta. England’s Paul Casey who was also the sole person to see off Woods recently.

 

With more thoughts to come next week a final note as we pivot back to the rankings world number three Jon Rahm and top-ranked Dustin Johnson are chasing their first and second majors respectively.

 

And I haven’t even mentioned Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren or Patrick Cantlay. Confused? Don’t worry. Strap in and enjoy this fortnight of golf majors.

 

Image via Austin-American Statesman

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