Golf Buzz

May 8, 2014 - 2:34pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Justin Leonard
USA Today Sports Images
You can't really begin a round of golf any better than Justin Leonard did at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday.

What's better than starting your round off with a birdie?

Easy -- starting your round off with an eagle. That's precisely what Justin Leonard did on the first hole at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday in the first round of the Players Championship.

RELATED: Remember Fred Couples' hole-in-three? | Players Championship leaderboard

From the middle of the fairway on the 423-yard, par-4 first hole, Leonard -- the 1998 Players Champion -- faced a 147-yard approach shot. He hit as perfect a shot as one can, slam-dunking it into the hole for an eagle and destroying the cup in the process.

The cup was in such rough shape, the grounds crew had to fix it.

See the video here:

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May 8, 2014 - 12:32pm
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T.J. Auclair
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Fred Couples
USA Today Sports Images
We all know some pars are better than others. But there's never been one as good as the one Fred Couples made on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in the first round of the 1999 Players Championship.

Today's first round of the Players Championship marks the 15th anniversary of one of the craziest pars you'll ever see.

In the first round of the 1999 Players Championship (it was played in the month of March then and remained that way until switching to May in 2007), fan favorite Fred Couples stepped to the tee on the world-famous, par-3, island-green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.

Like many before him -- and countless thousands since then -- Couples splashed his tee shot into the water. Nothing special, unique, or crazy there.

RELATED: Players Championship leaderboard | Photos: Players Championship & more

But what happened next was amazing... arguably even more amazing than when Couples aced the same hole in 1997.

Couples re-teed and, playing his third shot, proceeded to knock that shot into the hole, on the fly, for the most unlikely of pars.

"I don't really know how hard I was trying on my third shot," Couples, a two-time Players Champion, admitted years later (he shot a 77 in that opening round, by the way). "If I don't make that shot, I think I shoot 80, 81 and probably miss the cut. Three days later, I was in fourth place."

Here's the video of that shot:

 

 

And how about the reaction from Couples? Cool as cool gets, just as you'd expect.

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Zach Guthrie
Luke Guthrie via Twitter
Zach Guthrie, who caddies for his brother Luke, took his cut on the island-green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass on Wednesday in the caddie contest won by Chris Callas.

One of the most fun parts of Players Championship Week is the one-hole caddie tournament – on the "island-green" par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.

It was held again on Wednesday, and this year's winner is Chris Callas, who lugs the bag for Shawn Stefani. He hit the winning shot to within 7 feet, 8 inches of the cup.

And the stat you really want to know: Of the 111 caddies to take a swing, a whopping 51 of them hit their shots into the water. (By contrast, 44 players went into the drink during the four rounds of the 2013 Players Championship).

For his victory, Callas received a cash prize (the amount of which wasn't revealed) and, perhaps even better, a VIP parking spot in the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse lot Thursday through Sunday.

Though it's all in fun, the caddie contest honors the memory of Bruce Edwards, the longtime caddie for Tom Watson who died in 2004 from Lou Gehrig's Disease. The PGA Tour players Players contribute to the prize fund and, to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Edwards' death, the PGA Tour itself matched the prize fund and donated that to the Bruce Edwards Foundation.

Here's the reaction from the winner:

 

 

May 7, 2014 - 3:01pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson Show
What would you do if Bubba Watson casually showed up to a golf store and challenged you to a long-drive contest?

While he's been away from the PGA Tour since winning the Masters for the second time in three years, Bubba Watson has been active on Twitter (@bubbawatson) promoting his new, web show, "The Bubba Watson Show."

It looks like there have been three already. But, this latest effort -- uploaded on Tuesday -- is pretty cool.

Watson shows up unannounced to a Golfsmith store, wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Once inside, he challenges staff and customers to a putting contest and then a driving contest on one of the store's simulators.

RELATED: Watson makes first PGA Tour start since winning Masters at Players Championship

While the staff is trying to dig up a PING driver for Watson for the long-drive contest, he encourages the gentleman he's facing to warm up.

"I already played this morning," the man says.

To which Watson replies, "Listen, you're old. You need to go ahead and warm up. You need to warm up. I can tell."

Impressively, the man hits a 250-yard drive. Then Watson, joking about the flex on the driver he's been handed, proceeds to crush one.

"Three-thirty-nine (yards) biggun," Watson brags.

After signing a couple of autographs and sinking a long putt with a hybrid, Watson buys the hybrid as well as a dozen Pro-V1 golf balls before taking off. All in all, a cool video.

Click here to see the video.

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May 7, 2014 - 10:23am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Sergio Garcia
USA Today Sports Images
Sergio Garcia won the Players Championship in 2008. Could he win it again this week?

The PGA Tour is in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., this week for its flagship event -- the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

There's trouble everywhere on this Pete Dye-designed gem, none more obvious than the treacherous -- even though it's short -- par-3, island-green 17th hole.

The tournament will be without its defending champion, as Tiger Woods remains sidelined after surgery on his back, but there are plenty of contenders who will be looking to claim the Tour's crown jewel.

RELATED: Players Championship tee times | Wrong-handed golf shots at Sawgrass | Remembering Seve

Here are five of them.

5. Sergio Garcia
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Third at the Shell Houston Open
Reason to watch: Making his first PGA Tour start since a missed cut at the Masters, the 2008 Players Champion has had a steller 2013-14 season. That missed cut at Augusta National was a blip in an otherwise impressive year where he's finished in the top 10 four times in seven starts. Aside from his win, Garcia has three other top-10 finishes at TPC Sawgrass and a bunch of others in the top 25.

4. K.J. Choi
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
T2 at the Farmers Insurance Open
Reason to watch: I'm taking a flyer on Choi this week. That tie for second at the Farmers Insurance Open in January was his lone top-10 finish in 12 starts this season. He's missed the cut three times -- most recently last week at the Wells Fargo Championship. I'm giving him a chance this week, though, because he won the event in 2011. It's got to feel good going back to the site of the biggest highlight of your career, no? Choi has been hit or miss at TPC Sawgrass through the years. I think this week could be a "hit."

3. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Playoff loss at the Honda Classic
Reason to watch: Broken record alert! Like the rest of you, I'm waiting for McIlroy to claim his first PGA Tour victory since way back (by his standards) in September of 2012 at the BMW Championship. Is this the week? One of these weeks has to be, right? McIlroy enters this week on the strength of three consecutive top-10 finishes. In each of those, it's been one round that's put a damper on his chances of winning -- a 74 in the third round of the Shell Houston Open where he finished tied for seventh thanks to a final-round 65; a tie for eighth at the Masters where he shot 77 in the second round, but bounced back on Sunday with a 69; and a tie for eighth on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he shot 76 in the second round, only to bounce back with an impressive 65 in the third round. It's a matter of time before McIlroy puts four rounds together.

2. Jim Furyk
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Second in the Wells Fargo Championship
Reason to watch: This is a home game for Furyk. And -- outside of winning -- he couldn't really be playing better at the moment. Furyk has made the cut in every one of his nine starts this season, including four top 10s, highlighted by the runner-up effort on Sunday. It's been a mixed bag for Furyk at TPC Sawgrass over the years, but he has three top-5 finishes overall: T5 in 2009; T3 in 2006; and T4 in 2003. Riding a nice little streak with three top-7 finishes in his last four starts, Furyk is definitely a player to watch this week.

1. Matt Kuchar
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Won the RBC Heritage
Reason to watch: With a victory this week, Kuchar could supplant Tiger Woods as the No. 1 ranked player in the world. That's a little incentive. Kuchar has been outstanding this season -- eight top 10s in 11 starts. That's crazy. Oh, and he also won the last time he teed it up, which was the week after the Masters at the RBC Heritage. He's on a stretch right now with no worse than a tie for fifth in each of his last four starts. Oh, and for good measure, he won the Players in 2012. His chances this week are better than most.

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May 7, 2014 - 8:44am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Seve Ballesteros
Getty Images
Has any golfer's display of passion ever matched that of Seve Ballesteros?

Three years ago today, the game lost a legend with the passing of Seve Ballesteros.

Arguably the most charismatic player with undoubtably the most uncanny knack to pull off the impossible shot that ever lived, Ballesteros died from complications of a cancerous brain tumor on May 7, 2011. He was 54.

In his prime, Ballesteros was among the best who ever walked the fairways. He won five majors over the course of his career -- the 1980 and 1983 Masters, as well as the 1979, 1984 and 1988 Open Championship.

A LOOK BACK: Tributes to Seve | Photos: Farewell to Seve | Your favorite Seve moments

Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, Ballesteros spent 61 weeks at No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. That's fourth-best out of the 16 players who have commanded the No. 1 slot since the Ranking's inception in 1986.

As good as he was individually on the course, the magician that was Ballesteros might be best known for his incredible Ryder Cup record. A member of eight European Ryder Cup teams as a player (and eight overall, when we was the winning captain in 1997 in his homeland), Ballesteros amassed an overall record of 20-12-5.

Partnering alongside countryman Jose Maria Olazabal, the duo was known as, "The Spanish Armada" when teamed up in the Ryder Cup. Paired together, the two compiled an amazing 11-2-2 record as teammates in the Ryder Cup. The pair -- with 12 points gained -- racked up more points as a tandem than any other European twosome in Ryder Cup history.

Overall, Ballesteros notched 91 wins worldwide and was a six-time European Tour Order of Merit winner -- second only to the eight held by Colin Montgomerie.

Ballesteros was also a passionate quote machine, with beauties like this:

On competing: "I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck, but I am thinking, 'I am going to bury you.'"

On the state of his game: "I'd like to see the fairways more narrow. Then everyone would have to play from the rough, not just me."

On the Ryder Cup: "As a player and captain, these are unforgettable moments where you are competing for your teammates, your country and for the people of your continent."

And, of course, Seve on his four-putt from 15 feet on the 16th green in the 1988 Masters: "I miss, I miss, I miss, I make."

Seve Ballesteros was the original trick-shot artist. Here are some examples:

Here is a well done tribute to Ballesteros that was posted the day of his death:

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.