Honda Classic. Mac Cracks. Henley Wins.

dragon logo darkThe Honda Classic LogoRussell Henley won The Honda Classic at PGA National on the fourth play-off hole Sunday, as Rory McIlroy cracked under the pressure of a wire to wire win.

Nike staffer Russell Henley won his second TOUR event on Sunday. (Greenwood/Getty Images)

Russell Henley / Getty Images

There was a four man sudden play-off for The Honda Classic title, and Russell Henley won it with a three foot putt for birdie on the first extra hole. He beat Rory McIlroy, Ryan Palmer and Russell Knox after they all finished tied at -8 under par for the tournament. Russell Henley seemed in shock, especially as he dumped his tee shot into the water on 15;

“It doesn’t feel real. I knew I was going to hang in there no matter what happened, I wasn’t going to let it bother me. The swing on fifteen, I didn’t really see coming, I looked up, and it was kind of fading, and I was a little bit shocked by that. This is not exactly what I was expecting at the start of the week.”

Rory admitted he did not play well enough to win;

“I didn’t play well enough at all to deserve to win this tournament. It was very disappointing, it was a perfect opportunity to win. It’s a tough course, especially when you’re in the thick of things. It’s hard to make birdies coming down the stretch there. Just got to pick myself up, get back at it and try get myself into contention at Doral next week and get the job done then.”

With five holes left to play on his final round Tiger Woods walked off the golf course, citing a back injury. Tiger is  chasing Jack Nicklaus’ all-time major record, and a back injury does not auger well for the future. This is not the first time Tiger has complained about a tweak in his back, and it must now always be on his mind. Not a good omen for playing competitive golf. Whatever the real reason was we will never know for sure, Tiger refused to meet the press after the game.

Tiger Woods was 5 over after 12 holes Sunday at PGA National.

Tiger Woods, +5 over  par after 12 holes on Sunday at PGA National / Getty Images

The Honda Classic. McIlroy Makes His Mark.

dragon logo darkThe Honda Classic LogoRory McIlroy makes his mark at the Honda Classic on the PGA National course at Palm Beach Gardens, taking a first round lead.

The Upshot: Rory roars

Rory McIlroy / Getty Images

 Rory carded a -7 under par 63 opening round, taking just 25 putts after hitting 14 greens in regulation in the opening round. Scoring birdies on the last two holes at PGA National giving him a one-shot lead, after the first round of The Honda Classic. By contrast,  he was +7 over par through eight holes last year when he became so frustrated with mounting expectations and a slumping game that he walked off the course in the middle of the second round. He said it was a mistake he would never repeat;

” It’s not something I really thought about out there. Coming in this week, I knew that I was playing well and I just wanted to try and get off to a good start. Regardless of what happened last year or where it is, it’s always nice to shoot a round like this and get yourself in the mix early.”

“You can’t fake it around here, you have to play well to shoot good scores, and I was able to do that today. I’ve reached a point now where I’m very comfortable with everything in my game and my swing. I’m seeing shots the way I want to see them. When I do that, I feel like the scores are just a byproduct of all the hard work and making good swings. I’m in a great place I couldn’t be happier.”

Russell Henley is in second place at -6 under par with a round of 64. He  opened with five birdies in six holes before cooling off. He put his good start  down to his career at the University of Georgia, which prepared him to face some of the more difficult venues on the PGA Tour;

“I think college golf may have something to do with that. Most courses you play are pretty difficult, at least the ones where you play the best teams and all of the highest-ranked tournaments. They’re pretty tough courses. Getting off to a good start here is pretty important, every hole is challenging, and you have to decide what to do with the wind and where it’s coming from.”

Rory Sabbatini, William McGirt and Jamie Donaldson are all tied in third place at -5 under par after their opening rounds of 65.

Phil Mickelson is not too familiar with this course, and it showed with his first round of even par 72;

“I’m a little uncertain at times where I want to go because I’m not as familiar with the course, but you should be able to pick that up quickly with the yardage books and I’ve got a great caddie. So those things are not as important as the execution, hitting the right shot and pulling it off. I really like this golf course, I think it’s a wonderful test of golf. I think it’s a very difficult, hard golf course but when you hit good shots, you get rewarded with birdies opportunities.”

Tiger Woods was one shot worse than Phil, carding a +1 over par round of 71; Tiger said he did not make too much;

“Well, I didn’t make much, it certainly wasn’t together today. I had four good looks early and didn’t make any of them. Then I made three good saves in a row at 16, 17, 18, which was nice, and then didn’t really hit the ball that well on the back nine. Then I started putting better. Figures.”

“We were talking about it out there today in our group, how different this golf course played this year compared to last year. They were as slippery as can be last year where now they are sticky and slower.”

Sony Open. Sang-Moon Bae has 1st Round Lead

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Sang-Moon Bae carded a -7 under par 63 to take a one-shot lead in the opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

 

Sang-Moon Bae / Getty Images

Sang-Moon Bae leads the way at the Sony Open in Hawaii with opening round of 63, giving him a one-shot lead over Chris Kirk. The pair were together all Thursday morning, playing in the same group and taking the top two spots on the leaderboard. Chris taking second spot alone with his -6 under par 64.

Chris admired Sang-Moon’s lightening start, but was happy to catch up on the back nine;

“He was off to a great start, at one point he was four under and I was still two over. It took some catching up for me on the back nine. But it’s always nice to see putts falling.”

Sang-Moon said he had played well the week before, but had trouble reading the greens, but practice makes perfect, he arrived here early and worked hard;

“I think I played well last week, but really tough greens, very hard to read. I couldn’t read any right-to-left putts, any putts,  so I missed a lot of puts last week. But this course is more shorter than last week, so easy read, and I can make good speed, too. I practiced a little bit and I had fun, go to beach, go swim, everything. I like it here.”

Sharing third place at -5 under par are Brian Stuard and Ryan Palmer, but the leaderboard is tightly packed so anything could happen. It is exciting to be able to watch it all unfold. The next group all at -4 under, seven of them, includes Retief Goosen and Big John Daly.

Big John, who has recovered from elbow surgery commented;

“The arm feels good, the greatest thing is, I can hit three-quarter shots again, I haven’t done that in six years. That was my bread and butter; that was my game. I need a little more practice. I’m rusty,”

There are then twelve players recording -3 under par.

The defending champion Russell Henley played Wednesday in the Pro-Am, but food poisoning stopped him in his tracks on the 11th hole. Two trips to the hospital for IV fluids and medicine helped Russell make  his opening round 12:20 p.m. tee time. His +3 over  par 73 opening round didn’t come close to the 63 he fired off in last year’s final round.

Russell said he was still not feeling good;

“I’m not operating at 100 percent, I’m feeling a lot better than yesterday, but I made two bad swings, two really bad holes. Other than that, I played a pretty decent round, a couple putts didn’t fall. I think I’ll be feeling good tomorrow and hopefully will play well.”

Would love to know what Sea Food Restaurant he was at, and I bet they are praying that he does not mention them.

The Greenbrier Classic. Matt Makes A Move.

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Matt Every makes a move on the leaderboard at The Greenbrier Classic, his second round of -8 under par 62 propelled him to the summit, at -9 under par. The Old White TPC course has surrendered another 62, this could be a record breaking winning score here this weekend.

The Greenbrier Classic

Matt Every / Getty Images

Matt’s bogey-free round gave him sole possession of the top of the leaderboard at -9 under par, he said making some putts really helped him;

” I played really well tee-to-green, finally made some putts. I haven’t made anything all year and it  just finally happened today. Been waiting for it.”

On an extremely tightly packed leaderboard there are five players tied in second place, all at -8 under par for the tournament. it reads like this; Daniel Summerhays, Bill Lunde, Steven Bowditch, Russell Henley and one of the first round leaders Johnson Wagner.

Johnson fell back with his disappointing second round effort of even par 70, a long way from yesterday’s 62. The other first round leader Tommy Gainey fared even worse, with a second round +1 over par 71, leaving him in the next group of players at -7 under par for the tournament.

In a strange statement Tommy said the course played really tough today. The stats prove something different, it played easier on Friday than it did in the first round with a scoring average of 69.668 to 70.096. I guess Tommy never saw Matt at the top of the board with his 62;

“You have to give credit to the golf course. The golf course, it gave up some low scores yesterday, but what’s the lowest score it gave up today?  I mean really, in any other tournament besides the majors, everybody’s shooting 7, 8, 9 under on the first or second rounds. The golf course hung up pretty good today, it played tough.”

In amongst those who will not play at the weekend is Phil Mickelson, who got his first sub-par round at The Old White TPC but missed the cut at The Greenbrier Classic for the third straight year, a first in the World Golf Hall of Famer’s career. Joining Phil on the early bus ride home are  2010 Greenbrier Classic champion Stuart Appleby; Roberto Castro, who finished second at last week’s AT&T National; Charles Howell III, Brian Gay and former major champions Lucas Glover, Mike Weir, Trevor Immelman and Vijay Singh.

Humana Challenge, Three Tied at the Top

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There are three players tied at the top of the leaderboard at the Humana Challenge event at PGA West ,  La Quinta California, the event that was formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic.

Jason Kokrak, Roberto Castro and James Hahn share the top of the leaderboard at -9 under par with rounds of 63.

Jason said he was concentrating on getting the ball in the fairway;

“I just tried to put it in the right spots, put it in the fairways, out there, that’s key. They’re tighter fairways and if you can be in the fairway, you’ll have a good opportunity for birdie.”

Roberto Castro had nine birdies at PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Private Course, and James Hahn had nine birdies on PGA West’s Arnold Palmer Private Course. 

James said he was happy with his day, especially the two chip-ins;

” It was a great day, chipped two in. Hadn’t done that since I was 9.”

Russell Henley, who won the Sony Open in Hawaii last Sunday, shot a round of -8 under par, 64 on the Nicklaus Course, he said it was a perfect day;

” It was a perfect day, the weather is perfect, the greens were true. So, it’s just trying to stay patient and let the birdies come to me.”

Phil Mickelson made his first tournament start since tying for second in early November in the HSBC Champions in China, the only event he played in after the Ryder Cup, he finished at even par, after a miracle shot at the par three twelfth. His tee shot flew to the left, leaving him behind a  tall tree blocking his path to the green.  A full blooded swing flop shot climbed miraculously nearly straight up and over the 25-foot tree and stopped 2 feet from the hole. It helped him salvage his par on the hole and eventually his round. Phil spoke later about that shot;

“That was one of my better wedges, but, as I was telling my partner, `You hit it there as much as I do, eventually you’re going to learn how to hit those shots.'”

Referring to the tee shot that lead up to it, Phil just said;

” It was just very bad timing, quick from the top, lower body fast, just a bad swing. I did the same thing on the next par 3 with the same club. Only it went the other way. I made par both times, though.”

I just wish I could get away with a bad shot and make par, my bad shots are usually terminal.

Mike Weir,  opened with a -5 under par round of 67, the 2003 Champion has unfortunately missed 16 consecutive cuts,he was pleased to get of to a good start here;

“I drove it well and putted well and everything was pretty good. It was a nice solid round to get off to a good start.”

 

Sony Open, Rookie Russell Rips Up the Record Books.

Smashing debut

Winning Rookie Russell Henley / Petersen/Getty Images

The Sony Open was won by rookie Russell Henley on his Tour debut, and doing so he ripped up the standing records for just about everything.

Russell  finished at -24 under par and a total score of 256, breaking by four shots the Sony Open in Hawaii scoring record, last set by Brad Faxon in 2001. Russell relegated Tim Clark into second place by three shots, Tim was himself on fire, he birdied seven of his last eleven holes and actually only made up one shot on Russell, the rookie from the University of Georgia.

Russell is now tied at the top the FedEx Cup standings in the company of Dustin Johnson on 500 points. The win was the second-lowest score for a 72-hole tournament in PGA TOUR history, two shots behind Tommy Armour III in 2003 at the Valero Texas Open. He also  set tournament records for the low 36-hole score after his 63-63 start, he shared the 54-hole record with Scott Langley and also set another tournament record with the lowest final round by a Champion.

Add to that he became the first PGA TOUR rookie to win his debut since Garrett Willis did at Tucson in 2001, and he will be going to the Masters in April, a local tournament for the boy from Macon, Georgia.

He said of his record breaking day that he had never been so nervous, you would not have imagined that watching him coming down the stretch on Sunday. He played the last nine holes superbly.

“I don’t really know what happened, honestly, this is the most nervous I’ve ever been. That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s been my goal to make it to the Masters my whole life. I’m kind of speechless right now.”

With the results  of his Web.com Tour season last year and this win Russell Henley has already made it into the world rankings inside the top fifty.  That ranking will get him into the Accenture-Match Play Championship for the top 64 in the world, the qualifying date is only a month away, and he should also be in line for the other WGC at the Cadillac Championship, and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, not forgetting the PGA Championship. All in all quite a PGA TOUR debut, I look forward to watching Russell this season, it will be interesting to see how far he can go, he obviously has the talent.

 

Sony Open, Rookies Rule The Roost, Tied at the Top

 

Russell Henley of the U.S. (L) practices his putt swing as Scott Langley waits to putt on the 18th green during the third round of the Sony Open golf tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii January 12, 2013. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

 Russell Henley and Scott Langley / Hugh Gentry Reuters

The two first year rookies, Russell Henley and Scott Langley are tied at the top of the leaderboard of the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, at the conclusion of the third round on Saturday. They share the lead at -17 under par, a three shot lead over Tim Clark who is alone in third place, at -14 under par.

Russell  fired a three-under-par 67 third round, while Scott carded a 65, to level the scores for the tournament for these two friends.

Apart from leading the tournament the pair now share the course lowest 54 hole record, at 193. Russell is still amazed at the experience he and Scott are enjoying;

“A month ago I was at orientation, and Scott just done with Q-School, and I gave him a ride to the airport. We had lunch and I was telling him how awesome it was I was on the PGA Tour. This is kind like a dream, it’s weird. It’s like I’m not awake, very weird. Whatever happens tomorrow, I’m going to learn from it. I’ve played great golf and I feel like I can compete out here. Win this tournament or not, it’s already been a very successful week.”

Scott was calculating the odds on him winning, and is happy the pair will together again tomorrow for the final round;

” The Vegas odds on me winning were probably not very good, I hope somebody bet on me and I make him a lot of money. I never imagined that, it’s certainly odd, but you know, if there was a guy in the field that I would love to do it with, it would be Russell because we play pretty similar games, and we’re kind of the same guy on the course. We play pretty quickly and pretty easy going, kind of feel our way around, not too technical. So there are a lot of guys that I enjoy playing with, but Russell is definitely one of them.”

A victory for either player on Sunday would emulate the achievement of fellow American Garrett Willis, who was the most recent rookie to win on his debut as a PGA Tour member, at the 2001 Tucson Open.

Tim Clark is happy with his golfing progress since coming back from injury, he would love to win this tournament, but is sure neither of the rookies will be worried about leading;

“I’m sure they won’t be too intimidated, that’s going to be fun to see them play. There’s all these young guys coming out these days, and they’re ready to go right from the start. So it’s going to be a fun battle.”

There are two players tied in fourth place at -13 under par, Scott Gardiner and Charles Howell 111, or Chucky three sticks, as he is known as on the Tour. At four shots back these guys must still feel they are in with a shout.

At -12 under par are a host of players, most notably for us in New Zealand, one of them is Danny Lee. It is good to see the Kiwi contesting on the final day. But as I said yesterday, if  Russell and Scott are paired together for the last round, one of them will be the winner.

Sony Open, Russell Henley Hijacks the Lead

Russell Henley / Hugh Gentry/Reuters

Russell Henley hijacked the second round lead in the Sony Open in Hawaii, from his friend and first round leader Scott Langley, with another round of -7 under par 63. The two rookies continue to defy all the odds and dominate the leaderboard between them. Russell, who is just  two days into his PGA Tour career is already in the record books, breaking the 36-hole tournament scoring record by two shots, at -14 under par and a total of 126, the previous 36-hole record at the Sony Open was 128, shared by five players, most recently John Cook in 2002.

Russell said it all seems a bit unreal;

” It’s pretty surreal.”

The two Scotts, Langley and Piercy are now tied two shots behind on -12 under par, Scott Langley followed his opening round 62, with a second round of 66, and Scott Piercy had another round of 64, both players total 128.

Scott Langley admitted it was hard to match his amazing first round 62;

“It’s never easy to back up a really good round, I kind of got off to a little slower start, but it was certainly nice to finish the way I did and kind of get back in it with Russ. He played so well, and I was just trying to keep pace as much as I can. To finish that way was really good.”

Scott Piercy had to admit he knew very little about the two new rookies;

” It’s Russell something and Langley?  I think Russell won when he was in college, right? Hey, they’re playing well. I think I played in five final groups as a rookie and didn’t come through. There’s a learning curve, but maybe their curve is quicker than mine.”

Matt Kuchar is in fourth place alone on -11 under par, with his second round score of -7 under par, 63. Matt was real happy with the conditions here at the Waialae Country Club in  Honolulu, coming from last weeks windy weather in Maui;

” Coming from last week, it feels really easy out there, this course, is not as simple as it seems, it’s one of the tougher courses on tour. If you’re not playing well, you’re going to make some bogeys. I understand the wind is supposed to really die down over the weekend, so I certainly expect low scoring. The course is in great shape, greens are beautiful, so there’s going to be a lot more birdies and your foot has definitely got to be down on the pedal.”

One sad note today, Dustin Johnson who won last week at Kapalua, withdrew after nine holes today, suffering from the flu. Dustin will now not  get a chance to match Ernie Els as the only players to sweep the two Hawaii events.

He said of his malaise;

” I feel like I’m coming down with whatever my caddie’s got, just not feeling well. Stomach hurts, headache, tired.”

I think that as long as Scott and Russell are paired together one of them will win this tournament  they are helping each other and are not too bothered about the rest of the field. But if they are split up for the last round, competing against a seasoned Tour professional, then the going will get a little tougher coming down the stretch on Sunday.

Sony Open, Hawaii, Rookie Scott Langley Leads

SONY OPEN

on the left is Scott Langley/ Getty Images

The Sony Open in Hawaii at the Waialae Country Club.had a surprising first round leader in Scott Langley, in his first start as a rookie on Tour. Scott fired in a first round 62, -8 under par, with some wonderful stroke play and nerveless putting. Scott said he was excited about the coming days of this tournament;

“I’m a young guy, but I’m old enough to know that we have a lot of golf left. We’ve barely started, and I’m excited about the next few days.”

Just one shot behind the leader in second place is another rookie, Russell Henley, with his opening effort of -7 under par 63. Russell was pleased he got friends Scott and Luke Guthrie as his playing partners in the first round;

“I think there was a lot of nerves for me the first few holes and I think playing with Scotty and Luke was huge for me, and watching them play well kind of gave me a goal to try to keep up with them, so it was definitely fun feeding off them.”

Unfortunately Luke Guthrie did not fare so well, finishing at +1 over par, tied in 88th place.

A year ago Scott and Russell two were playing in a Hooters Tour event in Florida, Russell missing the cut and Scott just making it to proceed, walking up sixteen today the pair reminisced, Scott said;

“We were on the range trying to help each other find it. We were just walking up 16, you could see the ocean behind, PGA TOUR signs everywhere. We looked at each other and realized this is pretty cool. To look back one year ago and to know that we weren’t here, we were in a far different place.”

Tied in third spot at -6 under par are Scott Piercy and Tim Clark, Scott Piercy had a 64 in the morning, with Tim Clark matching that score in the afternoon session. Tim spent most of last year suffering from a mystery elbow injury, and came into this tournament with fairly low expectations;

“It’s going to be an exciting year for me because I do feel like I’m healthy again and can play a full schedule. I’m obviously doing a lot better than I was last year.”

Scott Piercy, the RBC Canadian Open champion, was among 20 players in the field who started their season last week on Maui, at the weather wrecked Hyundai Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course, he recalled the terrible putting performance he endured;

” Seven three-putts and a four-putt last week. The wind wasn’t even blowing today compared to last week. I just played solid today, hit it in a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens, made two fairly key putts and took care of the par fives.”

Seventy players in the 144-man field broke par, they included a pair from the Champions Tour. Russ Cochran, who won the Senior British Open in 2011, he had a first round of 68 and Fred Funk who shot an even par round of 70.