Golf Buzz

Phil Mickelson
USA Today Sports Images
Phil Mickelson is making his first start of the 2015-16 season this week, and everyone's curious about the state of his game.
 
After two weeks in beautiful Hawaii, the PGA Tour returns to the mainland this week for the first of five straight weeks in California and Arizona. The CareerBuilder Challenge, in case you missed the announcement, is the new name for what used to be called the Humana Challenge and was for many years previously the Bob Hope Desert Classic.
 
The courses in the tournament's rotation this year are the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West (that's the host course), the Tournament Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club. These are all familiar Palm Springs-area layouts, and it'll be interesting to see if they play any differently this week after all the rain southern California has gotten in recent months.
 
 
So who will we be keeping our eyes on this week? 
 
5. Charley Hoffman 
Best finish in 2015-16 season: Missed Cut Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Reason to watch: Hoffman won this event the very first time he played it, back in 2007, and he's been a regular here ever since. Even more impressive is his recent trajectory: He tied for 10th here in 2013, tied for ninth in 2014 and then tied for second last year. This is his first start of 2016, so he's likely been focusing on desert golf for a few weeks now. And one other thing: His outgoing yet laid-back personality is a plus in a pro-am event like this.
 
4. Zac Blair 
Best finish in 2015-16 season: 3 Sony Open
Reason to watch: An overview of Blair's recent performance doesn't give a lot of hope – he's 45th in Driving Accuracy, 190th in Driving Distance and 216th in Greens in Regulation so far this season. But his putter was something to behold last week in Honolulu, where he finished third as he missed the Gomez-Snedeker playoff by a shot. He finished second in Strokes Gained Putting at the Sony, but is on my list this week because I'm eager to see if he can keep that flatstick firing.
 
3. Bill Haas 
Best finish in 2015-16 season: T18 Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: Haas is a Carolina guy born and raised, but something about the California desert really works for him. Of his six PGA Tour wins, two came right here – last year, of course, and in 2010. He also has six top-10s here, including a playoff loss in 2011. He's making his 12th straight appearance in this event, so he clearly likes it, and all his success has made him the tournament's all-time leading money winner.
 
2. Patrick Reed 
Best finish in 2015-16 season: 2 Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: Reed is a consensus favorite this week, and with good reason. He earned his PGA Tour card in the Q-School finals at PGA West back in 2012, and won this event in 2014 with a record-setting total of 28 under par. To go along with those great memories is his recent form: He's recorded seven straight top-10 finishes around the globe coming into this week. He also leads the PGA Tour in scrambling and is second in Total Strokes Gained.
 
1. Phil Mickelson 
Best finish in 2015-16 season: This is his first start
Reason to watch: Phil the Thrill tops our list not because he's a two-time champion here or because we necessarily think he's going make it three this week. No, it's because this is his first PGA Tour start of the 2015-16 season, as well as his first tournament after splitting with longtime coach Butch Harmon and teaming up with new swing guru Andrew Getson. Mickelson, 45, was disappointed not to win last season, and we're very curious to check out the state of both his game and his mindset as he begins another run at the majors – and potentially his 11th Ryder Cup team.
 
SLEEPER PICK: Ryan Palmer 
Best finish in 2015-16 season: T13 Sony Open
Reason to watch: I can't guarantee that the stats will back me up all the way, but it seems like Palmer is one of those guys who does much of his damage in the early and late portions of the PGA Tour schedule – his three wins have been in October, November and January. He's done well in this event, too, with a tie for sixth in 2013, a solo second in 2014 and a tie for 10th last year, and is coming off a solid tie for 13th in Honolulu. 
 
Here's how T.J. Auclair's five to watch fared last week at the Sony Open:
 
5. Russell Henley -- Cut
4. Brandt Snedeker -- Second
3. Zach Johnson – Tied for ninth
2. Matt Kuchar – Tied for 13th
1. Jimmy Walker – Tied for 13th
 
Rafael Cabrera-Bello
USA Today Sports Images
Rafael Cabrera-Bello can get the ball into the hole in many entertaining ways.
 
Rafael Cabrera-Bello is kicking off his 2016 campaign this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and it looks like he's been working on his short game during his offseason. The two-time European Tour winner from Spain has been showing off a couple of putting trick shots on the practice green.
 
In one of them, he takes his normal stance over the ball, then turns 180 degrees so he's facing away from the ball – but without moving his putter from its address position – and putts backwards between his legs. Nice.
 
 
The second one is even better. In this one, he lines up like he's going to putt but, instead of hitting the ball, he scoops it up with the flange of his putter and flips it over his shoulder – and right into the hole. Very nice.
 
Cabrera-Bello enters this week ranked No. 117 in the world. When it comes to entertaining us on the practice green, he's definitely in our top five. 
 
Spieth, McIlroy, Fowler and Stenson
European Tour via Twitter
Henrik Stenson took the early lead in the "Rider Cup," but could he and Rory McIlroy defeat Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler?
 
Pace of play was definitely not an issue at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship as four of the world's top players faced off in "the Rider Cup." Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler of the United States squared off against Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson of Europe in a one-hole race to get both of their team's golf balls into the cup – while riding GolfBoards.
 
After hitting their tee shots, the boys boarded their boards and made their way – speedily and also somewhat gingerly – down the fairway, laughing the whole time. Spieth and McIlroy even bumped into each other at one point, but neither fell.
 
 
They hopped off the boards to hit their shots and, of course, didn't drive on the putting surface. 
 
We're not gonna give away the ending here – you'll have to watch the video below to find out. But one thing was for sure – a good time was had by all, even the losers. And with that experience behind them, we're wondering whether merely walking the fairways the rest of the week will prove anti-climactic.
 
Take a look at this race recap:
 
 
USA Today Sports Images
Jamie Donaldson with European Captain Paul McGinley and the Ryder Cup in 2014.

Jamie Donaldson, who hit the Ryder Cup-clinching shot in 2014, had a nasty run-in with a chain saw over the weekend which luckily left him with only some gruesome-looking stitches on the pinky finger of his left hand.

Donaldson tweeted a photo Monday -- which if you're into that sort of thing, you can view it here -- with this comment: "So folks in my time off decided to have a fight with a chainsaw and lost! Oops!! C u in Dubai."

If you'd rather not see what's a very graphic image, Donaldson has multiple stitches near the base of his little finger, which is quite swollen. But it's still attached and he appears to have full mobility, which is a good thing.

Donaldson's approach shot on the 15th hole during Sunday's singles match against Keegan Bradley in the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles was the stuff of legends. Here's the video to refresh your memory:

 

 

Donaldson's not the first well-known golfer to lose a battle with a chainsaw. Greg Norman nearly severed his left arm at the wrist in 2014 when trimming bushes at his Florida home, but has since regained full use of his hand.

All the best to Jamie, and glad he'll be able to play so quickly after the incident.

 

 

Fabian Gomez
USA Today Sports Images
Fabian Gomez clinched his second PGA Tour victory in the span of 15 starts thanks in large part to a pair of clutch shots on Sunday.
 
When a guy closes out a tournament with 10 birdies in his final round and then adds an 11th in sudden death, you know he's had a great day – and hit a lot of fantastic shots. That's what Fabian Gomez did on Sunday to capture the Sony Open in Hawaii.
 
A couple of shots in his final-round 62 stood out, though. One was his tee shot on the par-3 11th hole. He stepped onto the box having birdied five straight holes, so he was clearly red-hot. His swing on the 195-yard hole was, as you might suspect, almost perfect – his ball wound up a foot from the hole and he tapped in to keep his birdie train steaming right along.
 
 
The other came on the final hole of regulation where, despite all his heroics, Gomez needed one more big shot to extend his day. Just off the green on the 532-yard, par 5 in three, he was 22 feet away from the flag. The putt was fairly straight, but it had to transition from the collar onto the short grass – and it was the final hole of regulation.
 
But Gomez's putt was true, and the ball marched directly into the heart of the cup. That birdie – his 10th of the day at that point – gave Gomez the outright lead at that moment and forced Snedeker to make a clutch putt of his own to get into the playoff.
 
Here are those two shots, plus an overall highlights package in case you missed anything:
 
 
Royal Troon
Royal Troon via Twitter
The scene at Royal Troon was breathtaking on Sunday, but few golfers were around to take it in.
 
Today's been a nice, mild winter day across most of the United States – even the weather in Charlotte and Denver was pleasant for the two big football games. Over in Great Britain, however, today was pretty wintery – and, in some cases, both pretty and wintery.
 
Exhibit No. 1: the snow that blanketed Royal Troon, as you can see in the photo above and the tweets embedded below. That is just gorgeous. And coincidentally, the snowfall comes six months to the day of the final round of this summer's Open Championship (July 17) right there at Royal Troon.
 
 
Troon is somewhat overlooked in discussions of great Open Championship venues, and hasn't hosted the Open since Todd Hamilton's shocking playoff victory in 2004. But its previous champions include Tom Watson, Tom Weiskopf, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Locke, Justin Leonard and Mark Calcavecchia – and, interestingly, the last six Opens at Troon have all been won by Americans. Jordan Spieth, did you know that?
 
Here are some shots of the shots of the snow at Troon. Freshen up your hot toddy and enjoy:
 
 
John McGregor, by the way, is the Chair of the Joint Championship Committee at Royal Troon. And one final note: Down at the Joburg Open in South Africa, three players qualified for the Open today. 
 
 
 
 
 
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