Tournament of Champions. Justin Thomas Day Three Leader.

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Justin Thomas is the day 3 leader of the SBS Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

FedExCup showdown set for Sunday

Justin Thomas/ getty

Justin shot a third consecutive round of -6 under 67 to have the 54 hole lead in the Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation course, posting -18 under par.

Sunday will be a shoot out between the FedExCup number 1 and 2, with Hideki Matsuyama just two shots back at -16 under par. He carded -7 under par 66 to move into contention, and has been the hottest player on tour lately.

Justin was happy to be paired with Hideki;

“If I’m near Hideki in the tournament, that’s usually, probably a pretty good thing on Sunday.”

“He’s obviously a tremendous player and he’s on an unbelievable run here the last five events.”

The last time the pair met on a Sunday Justin took the honors, Hideki knows he will have to go low to win;

“Justin doesn’t have any weaknesses at all in his game.”

“He hits it long, has a marvelous short game, putts well, hits the ball well.”

“We’ve got to go low tomorrow to be able to catch him.”

Two strokes further back, at -14 under par are Ryan Moore, -2 under 71 today, Jimmy Walker, -3 under 70, and William McGirt who carded -7 under par 66.

William is putting well, needing only 28 putts in the third round;

“I’ve hit it really well this week. Finally made some putts today. I struggled sort of the first couple days with the grain in these greens.”

“I think yesterday, I could have putted better blindfolded. It was ugly up until the very end.”

“It seems like all the greens and grain, once it starts breaking and starts losing speed, that it really goes at that point.”

“You’ve got to really keep the pace up on it.”

“That’s not the way I like to putt. I like to die putts in there, but you kind of have to change your approach this week and kind of bang them in.”

Jimmy Walker has not putted well;

“Just didn’t make the putts I needed to make. Hit it really good. Plenty of looks. Nothing went in. That’s just kind of frustrating, especially the finish.”

“Speed was a little off. Keeps coming up short a little bit. I feel like it may have slowed down a little but that’s just me.”

“I’m hitting the putts the way I feel like I need to hit them. They are just not going in.”

 Also struggling with putting is World number 1 Jason Day, currently T 8 at -11 under par, he carded – 3 under 70 today;

“It’s everything; I’m struggling to really start my ball on the line I’m picking.”

“It’s very difficult to know where I’m aiming and it’s difficult to hole putts.”

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas.

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Merry Christmas to everyone, and thanks for all the comments and questions from my followers, it has been great fun. Hope the pattern continues for 2017, especially lowering my handicap!!!

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New Zealand’s Greatest Courses.

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 New Zealand’s greatest courses, a report from Stuff, by Phil Hamilton that I am happy to pass on, Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club is at #2. This is a shortened post version.

Tara Iti Golf Club is the top course in New Zealand.

JOANN DOST/SUPPLIED

Tara Iti Golf Club is the top course in New Zealand.

New Zealand has among the most golf courses per capita in the world but until recently the quality of those courses, apart from a couple of notable exceptions, was pretty ropey.

Most magazine rankings use resistance to scoring as one of their main criteria but we prefer to concentrate on fun. Any mug can make a hard course (just lengthen and sprinkle liberally with water and sand), the real skill is to make a course that is challenging and enjoyable for both average and good golfers.

Instead we focus on the quality of the design and the most important factor – how keen are you to get back out there again?

Tara Iti was designed by renowned American architect Tom Doak.

JOANN DOST/SUPPLIED

Tara Iti was designed by renowned American architect Tom Doak.

 1. Tara Iti 

It is strange that New Zealand, a country with such a large coastline and so many golf clubs, has such a shortage of good links courses. Thankfully, we now have one that ranks with the very best in the world.

High praise indeed but Tara Iti (100 kilometres north of Auckland on the east coast) is already being mentioned in the same breath as Cypress Point by some architecture critics. This is a masterpiece and quite clearly it is New Zealand’s best course by some distance.

2. Paraparaumu 

The treacherous 17th green at Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club.

MARK ALEXANDER

The treacherous 17th green at Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club.

Until Tara Iti opened last year, Paraparaumu had been the country’s best course since it was rebuilt by Alex Russell in 1946.

Although crammed into a relatively small piece of land, Paraparaumu is a masterful example of how best to utilise the humps and bumps of the sand dunes.

The collection of par threes is the equal of any course in New Zealand with the most fearsome this country’s answer to the Postage Stamp, No 16. Just 130m it can ruin a score card with a misjudged tee shot into the small green, benched into a dune, leaving a golfer with few recovery options.

But it’s the par fours that are the real strength here. The eighth, 13th, 15th and 17th are all superb holes and the equal of any in New Zealand. The 17th demands a tee shot over bunkers to get the best angle into an angled green with a brutal drop-off on one side while the short eighth tempts the unwary into the direct route.

The 13th is a burly two-shotter with a drive to another rumpled fairway and then a long second uphill to a green benched into another dune.

An aerial view of Cape Kidnappers.

GETTY IMAGES

An aerial view of Cape Kidnappers.

3. Cape Kidnappers 

Tom Doak’s first course in New Zealand is a stunner. Built high above the ocean on a Te Awanga sheep farm in the Hawke’s Bay, it’s a subtle masterpiece despite the jaw-dropping views.

While it’s the holes along the cliffs that are most often photographed, the inland holes are easily their equal.

The long par-four 12th hole at Titirangi Golf Club.

SUPPLIED

The long par-four 12th hole at Titirangi Golf Club.

4. Titirangi 

The only course in New Zealand designed by the greatest course architect, Alister MacKenzie, Auckland’s Titirangi has stood the test of time.

The par threes are superb individually, although one mild criticism is that on some days three out of the four can require the same club.

The 13th, the Wrecker, is one of the best par fives in the country with a semi-blind tee shot across a gully that is used brilliantly through much of the back nine.

5. Kauri Cliffs 

The par-three seventh at Kauri Cliffs, high above the Pacific Ocean.

SUPPLIED

The par-three seventh at Kauri Cliffs, high above the Pacific Ocean.

 While the views are spectacular, the problem with cliff-top courses is the high winds that can make them tough without the respite provided by dunes. Sensibly the fairways are wide to allow for this and follow the lay of the land nicely. While being wide, the golfer who can hit to right part of the fairway is rewarded with better angles into the greens.

Impeccably conditioned, this is a fantastic experience although the quality of the holes doesn’t quite measure up to the views.

6. Arrowtown 

The par-three 14th at Arrowtown Golf Club.

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The par-three 14th at Arrowtown Golf Club.

Often under-rated because of it’s lack of length, Arrowtown is a unique course and certainly among the most fun in the country. The high-profile neighbouring courses may get all the publicity but they can’t match the charm of this gem.

The front nine is a delight, with one stand-out hole after another through schist-lined fairways, where driver is usually not the best option.

The back nine is not as good as the front, although it does have some highlights, particularly the par-three 14th and 16th holes, and the 18th is a fitting finish.

7. Jack’s Point 

The par-three 11th at Jack's Point.

SUPPLIED

The par-three 11th at Jack’s Point.

Jack’s Point is something of a flawed masterpiece. The course, near Queenstown, looks fantastic and fits the land beautifully. However, in places aesthetics seem to have been favoured over playability and the finish (long par four alongside a lake) could have been lifted from a modern template of resort courses, which is a pity.

The designer, John Darby, has said he likes his courses to look hard and play easy. Well, he got that right on the fine opening hole but the second looks hard and is hard. It’s the first of several uphill holes to plateau greens, a feature that is overdone, although given the hilliness of the course it’s understandable. The second is a good hole, if a bit narrow, but the best of these holes is the glorious 15th which is a version of the classic Cape hole but with a rock wall standing in for the usual lake edge.

The par-five fourth at Royal Wellington is a highlight.

MONIQUE FORD / Fairfax NZ

The par-five fourth at Royal Wellington is a highlight.

8. Royal Wellington 

The course was recently redesigned by Greg Turner and Scott Macpherson who have done a wonderful job. It now has some of the most interesting greens in the country and holes to match.

There are a great set of par threes beginning with the third, that has a tremendous green made up of two distinct bowls, with lots of scope for banking shots into difficult pins.

The par fours are equally good with the 299m 14th a highlight with those braving the right-hand hazard rewarded with a better angle into the green.

The Hills Golf Club is a fantastic looking course.

GETTY IMAGES

The Hills Golf Club is a fantastic looking course.

9. The Hills (Arrowtown) 

This is certainly among the most beautiful courses in the world, with the contrasting colours of the grasses and the astonishing sculptures spread along the way. It is a lovely walk and the quality of the holes is good, even if they don’t quite match the surrounds for interest.

The start is solid but unspectacular with the first real highlight the fifth, a delightful short par four with a wicked push-up green that can give the unwary fits.

The back nine builds to a tremendous finish with the highlight a par-five 17th through a canyon, although the 14th and 15th are both also good. The par-three 16th is great fun too, with it’s punishing false front and much of the green hidden from the tee.

10. Kinloch 

The 14th green at Kinloch Club's golf course.

SUPPLIED

The 14th green at Kinloch Club golf course.

Kinloch, near Taupo, is a fantastic looking course, full of interest with rumpled fairways, crazy greens and in impeccable condition.

Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the promise of its appearance. While it has some good holes, with the fourth and fifth the pick of them, too many are over-bunkered.

Despite the over-bunkering, there are stretches of holes that aren’t particularly memorable or, in some cases, memorable for the wrong reasons.

There are also too many forced carries off the tee, particularly for a course that gets its fair share of wind.

While fun to play, you are left with the feeling it could have been a lot better

Hong Kong Open. Sam Brazel Has Maiden Tour Win

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Sam Brazel. from Australia, has his Maiden European Tour win at the Hong Kong Open, at Hong Kong Golf Club.

Hong Kong Open

Sam Brazel / getty

Sam is no spring chicken, at 38 years old, so where has this cool-headed, competent player been, this is only his ninth European Tour appearance. He won here with a totally smooth performance, sinking a birdie putt on the last green for victory.

Sam carded a final round -2 under par 68 for a Hong Kong Open winning total of -13 under par, and now has full status on the European Tour next year;

“It’s been a long time coming.”

“I’ve been playing good. It’s just been a bit of a struggle with the old irons and my man, Adam, set me up with a new set of bats, and it’s all sort of turned around. This is the fruit.”

“I’d love to come over to Europe. It will be a great privilege.”

 “I was very lucky. That wasn’t the greatest second shot in there but it ended up good and the rest is history.”

“It was a thrill to be out there the last few days. I hope that continues.”

Rafa Cabrera Bello, looked for a long time that he would easily walk away with a victory here, stumbled to a -1 under par last round, giving him second place at -12 under par;

“If you look at it overall, it’s a great week finishing second.”

“Just a little disappointed today. I managed to start good again but then struggled halfway through the front nine.”

“At the end, 16 and 17, they were two great putts that did go in. The one on 18th, almost, as well. In the end, it’s a good week.”

“It’s just a bitter taste finishing runner-up.”

“Sam has played solid golf and been very patient and shown lots of maturity. He’s a well deserved winner.”

Tommy Fleetwood, -2 under 68 today,  and Andrew Dodt, -4 under 66,  tied for third place at -11 under par.

Tommy sadly carded a double bogey seven at the par 5 third, or he would have been right there at the end;

“Today was more of a battle than I wanted it to be, I had four drivers and today I hit three sort of dodgy shots and one of them was the third, made double. From there it was a scrap.”

“But still happy with myself in the end for the way we handled it and the way we played and the way we battled out there. It was great really. Couldn’t ask for much more.”

Andrew played some more good golf, last week he finished second at the Australian PGA Championship;

“It’s been a really solid week, I followed on where I left off from last week. Made a lot of birdies. Made a few mistakes, which you’re going to do around here.”

“I wanted to get off to a good start. That was the goal, to put 2016 season behind me.”

“It wasn’t my best. I wanted to hit the ground running at the PGA and I followed it on up here.”

UBS Hong Kong Open. Two Tied at the Top.

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There are two players tied at the top of the UBS Hong Kong Open leaderboard, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Spain,  has been joined by Sam Brazel, Australia.

UBS Hong Kong Open

Rafa Cabrera Bello / getty

Rafa could only manage a third round of even par 72 in the UBS Hong Kong Open, which allowed Sam Brazel to catch him at the top of the leaderboard. Sam carded -3 under par 67 to be tied at the top with a -11 under par total, at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

Rafa admitted it had been a colorful round;

“Today my score has all colors of the rainbow in it.”

“There’s been a lot of positives and a lot of negatives.”

“I was trying to find a stable day where I was just playing solid like I had these past two days. Staying patient, waiting for the birdies to come and I end up going up and down all day.”

“The best thing is I’m still in it. I’m still leading.”

“Of course it would have been nicer to have a few to spare but I still would have needed to play great tomorrow and I’m still in a position.”

UBS Hong Kong Open

Sam Brazel / getty

Sam is looking for his maiden Tour victory;

“It would mean the world to win.”

“But there’s 18 holes to go and I’m just going to approach it one shot at a time and try and enjoy the moment. Just learn from the experience.”

“I started a little nervous on the first but I guess that’s the situation you’re in. I felt the nerves a little bit at lunch time and just sort of grounded it out and it was fun out there.”

Tommy Fleetwood, from England, is in third place, he scored a third round -3 under par 67, to be at -9 under for the tournament;

“It would be great to win tomorrow, I haven’t won for a long time and it almost feels like I have had a year out of the game because I was playing dreadful from mid-2015 to the middle of this year.”

“I’ve sort of been on a path since August, if you like, getting my game back. I was just playing dreadful. Just rubbish. My game’s been coming back and I’ve had some good results towards the end of the year.”

“I went back to my old coach and I’ve had one of my best mates on the bag since July. Things have just turned around. I’ve worked hard.”

“We had to make some changes and we had to put a lot of hours into it. It began to show and I’ve been having a nice time on the course.”

“Caddie and coach have made the biggest difference and I’ve been enjoying my job again.”

UBS Hong Kong Open. Rafa Remains at the Top.

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Rafa Cabrera Bello remains at the top of the UBS Hong Kong Open leaderboard at Hong Kong Golf Club.

UBS Hong Kong Open

Rafa Cabrera Bello / getty

Raffa, from Spaincarded -5 under par 65 today to still be leading the UBS Hong Kong Open, with a -11 under par total, and will take a three shot advantage over the field into the week-end.

Rafa has yet to win on Tour since 2012, but has the confidence he will do it soon;

“I know I will win again, I’ve won before. I just need to keep giving myself chances.”

“I have been working on some mistakes that maybe I have done on other occasions.”

“I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong not to get the win, so it will happen. Hopefully it will happen in two days’ time.”

“I managed to play well again, I played solid and put myself in very few risky positions. I felt in control again and just managed to keep up the good work like yesterday.”

“I felt I paid my dues here other years as well, from not knowing the course and not playing it smart enough.”

Sam Brazel, from Australia holds second place at -8 under par, signing for a second round -4 under 66.

Sharing third place at -6 under par are, Tommy Fleetwood, -2 under 68 today, Justin Walters,-3 under 67, Paul Peterson, -2 under 68 and Danny Willett -4 under 66.

Masters Champion Danny had given his aching back a rest recently;

“It’s nice to be in this position after the last few months, but it was nice last week, after DP World we obviously took a couple of weeks off because of the back and stuff and rested it well.”

“Actually took some proper time off, which I’ve not been able to do for a while. That was really nice.”

“Then came out here, probably as fresh as I’ve been for a month and a half, which is nice, and it’s probably showed mentally more than anything. The frustrations, even when you hit bad shots, you don’t let it get to you as much as I did probably in the previous couple of months.”

“We played pretty well yesterday and didn’t take loads of chances and played just nice and steady again today.”

“It’s a golf course where you’ve got to put your ball in position off the tee. You can take a few things on but as soon as you get in the rough around here, you’ve not got much control of your golf ball.”

“The greens are a bit firmer this year and obviously then with a few tight pins, it makes it more difficult.”

Australian PGA Championship. H.V.3 Is Champion.

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H.V.3, Harold Varner the Third, is the Australian PGA Championship 2016 Champion at the Gold Coast in Australia, his maiden Tour victory.

Australian PGA Championship

Harold Varner 111 / getty

Harold shot -7 under par 65 in the final round of the Australian PGA Championship, to cruise to victory with a -19 under par total, and a two shot win. Last year he lost in a play-off, this year he returns in glory to claim the title;

“That was pretty awesome, I had a lot of fun out there today.”

“I’ve thought a lot about losing the play-off here last year, it was the closest I came to winning last season so it’s been playing on my mind a little bit.”

“I’m now a much better, more mature player than I was 12 months ago and this win is big for me.”

“Winning is hard, I don’t care where you tee it up, so to get it done feels great.”

Andrew Dodt was looking for a wire to wire win, but could not keep up with the leader over the closing nine holes, -3 under par 69 last round for a -17 under par total, and second place.

Adam Scott, who has won this title before had to settle for third place, at -15 under par, a last round -5 under par 67 not good enough to mount a serious challenge.