March 4, 2015 - 10:22am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Patrick Reed
USA Today Sports Images
Can defending champ Patrick Reed make it two in a row at Doral this week?

The PGA Tour is at Trump Doral this week for the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

The Doral stop on Tour has long been viewed as the unofficial start to the PGA Tour season since all the stars are out (minus Tiger Woods, who, believe it or not would not even have been eligible for this event based on his world ranking even if he weren't on hiatus right now) and it truly begins the lead-up to the season's much-anticipated first major, the Masters.

Patrick Reed returns to Doral this week as the defending champ, one-year removed from his much-publicized (and criticized) proclamation that he considers himself a, "top-5 player in the world."

RELATED: WGC-Cadillac Championship tee times | Amended Masters favorites

Well, Reed isn't top-5 quite yet, but based on his play since making those remarks, he sure looks well on his way.

Here are the five players I'll be watching closely this week at Doral.

5. Paul Casey
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open
Reason to watch: Casey, a top-5 player in the world himself not all that long ago, has dedicated himself solely to the PGA Tour for the 2014-15 season. He's looking healthy for the first time in a long time and -- perhaps just as important -- as confident as he's been in a long time. After losing in a playoff at the Northern Trust Open two weeks ago, Casey followed it up with a T3 last week at the Honda Classic. He's got great form right now and if he can keep it going, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him contend at the Masters. He's dying to get back to Augusta National having missed out on the last two Masters Tournaments.

4. Justin Rose
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open
Reason to watch: Rose hasn't exactly been on fire this season. His best finish in three starts is a T48 at the WGC-HSBC Champions back in early November. His other two starts -- the Farmers Insurance Open and last week's Honda Classic -- resulted in missed cuts. So, why then, you ask, do I like him at Doral? Because Rose isn't the type of player who stays in a funk for too long. He also won the event in 2012 and finished in a tie for eighth there in 2013. The course has undergone changes since Rose's last top-10 there, but this is an elite event and Rose is an elite player.

3. Dustin Johnson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open
Reason to watch: Sure, he missed the cut last week at the Honda Classic, but after a six-month layoff from the PGA Tour, Johnson has two top-4 finishes in four starts. That's a testament to the raw talent this guy has. Johnson has twice finished in the top-4 at Doral, including a T4 in 2014. I think he's going to win soon. Why not this week?

2. Bubba Watson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: The man is on fire. In four starts this season, the two-time Masters champ has three top-10 finishes. He's a contending machine, which has to be scary for his fellow competitors with the Masters right around the corner. Watson has twice been a runner up at Doral, including last year.

1. Patrick Reed
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: However you feel about Reed -- hero or villain -- there's no denying that he's great for golf. For better or worse, he's a personality. He's also one hell of a player. I'm looking forward to seeing how Reed does in his title defense of the most significant of his four PGA Tour wins.

5 players to watch at Doral
James Hahn
USA Today Sports Images
Only a week after celebrating his long-awaited first PGA Tour victory, James Hahn is now celebrating the birth of his daughter.
 
James Hahn's improbable journey to PGA Tour champion took more than a decade and included a stop as a shoe salesman. So when he finally won the Northern Trust Open in dramatic fashion a week ago, no one would have blamed him for running right through every door that opened before him.
 
But Hahn has decided not to take advantage of the first perk to come his way – a spot in this week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. He has withdrawn for a very good reason – the birth of his first child. She was born Sunday and he tweeted out a photo of her today (you can see her down below).
 
 
The baby apparently showed up a little early. In his news conference after the Northern Trust, Hahn said she was expected in three weeks (meaning next week), and that he would accept a spot at Doral if he got it. "Guess the baby's going to have to wait," he laughed.
 
But as all parents know, babies do what they want, and this one clearly was ready to say, "Hello world." So Hahn will happily sit out this week, and turn his golf focus toward making his first-ever start at the Masters.
 
One piece of unfinished business – we don't yet know the baby's name. Hahn joked after his victory that "Riviera" might be a good name. But, he noted, "we'll see what she says when I get home." 
 
 
 
 
James Hahn withdraws from Doral after birth of daughter
Paula Creamer
HSBC via YouTube
Paula Creamer drained another huge putt, under very different circumstances, in her return to the scene of her 75-foot eagle putt to win the 2014 HSBC Women's Champions.
 
UPDATE: "One-putt Paula" has struck again. During the gala to kick off the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore, defending champion Paula Creamer – decked out in full make-up, party dress and sky-high heels – took a shot on a miniature golf putting green set up for the occasion. She gave her ball a thump and watched it roll and roll – so long that she seemed to give up hope.
 
But just as she began to turn away, the ball took a carom off the wall and headed straight for the hole. Her eyes widened as it neared the cup, and everyone around her exploded when it jumped right into the hole.
 
The crowd clamored for her to take another shot, but she smartly declined, saying, "I'm done, I'm done."
 
Good call, Paula – save that putting mojo for the tournament.
 
Here's the video of her "party putt," and my original post about her return to the scene of her 75-foot eagle putt is right below it:
 
 
Of all the shots in golf over the past year, the one that many of us remember the most is Paula Creamer's snaking 75-foot eagle putt to win the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore. No doubt you've seen the highlight dozens of time by now – and for good reason. 
 
It remains one of the longest putts anyone has ever made in a big tournament, and perhaps the longest anyone has ever made to clinch a victory. The highlight made not only sportscasts, but newscasts, all around the world, and Sensota Country Club put a plaque out in the fairway to commemorate the spot from which she hit the shot that led to the putt (you can see it at the bottom of this post). And her dramatic victory, the LPGA said, generated 68 million impressons on Twitter.
 
Creamer and her LPGA Tour sisters are back in Singapore this week and, sure enough, the Pink Panther took a few minutes to try to recreate that putt. As if cementing its  status as a once-in-a lifetime achievement, she tried it several times and never came real close to making it again.
 
 
"I putted to about three, four feet," she said on Tuesday. "I remember this last year, trying to hope that it would stay on the green."
 
She also got a look at the plaque, which she called "neat to see," and said she enjoyed walking up to the green and just "remembering the moment of that going in." 
 
At this time last year, she hadn't won in nearly four years and found herself on the second hole of a playoff with Azahara Munoz. She hit the green on the par-5 hole with a 3-wood, but couldn't have been happy to be so far from the cup. But after her putt finally finished its meandering journey to the cup, Creamer – in obvious disbelief – ran off the green, fell to her knees, laughing and pounding the grass.
 
 
"It's one of those putts where if you just get it in the right spot, it's going to fall," she said afterward. "But I could stand there all day long and putt that and I don't think get it within six, seven feet."
 
A full year later, she says the memory remains very strong in her mind.
 
"I hadn't won for so long [since the 2010 U.S. Women's Open, with several near-misses in between], and that drought and the fashion that it went down, just a playoff, and that long putt, the reaction, everything that came about," she explained. "I just think that it was definitely a moment that I will remember, more in a personal way."
 
That being said, she's not eager to face the same putt to defend her title this week. 
 
"I would take a tap-in to win," she admitted.
 
Here's the putt. Watching it never gets old:
 
 
 
 
Paula Creamer tries to recreate her amazing 75-foot putt
March 3, 2015 - 11:40am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Rory McIlroy, Jason Day
USA Today Sports Images
Are these two players running 1-2, respectively, when it comes to the list of favorites to win the 2015 Masters? T.J. Auclair seems to think so.

Just after the new year hit, I offered up my five early favorites to win the Masters along with three honorable mentions. You can read that piece here.

Knowing what we know now -- stuff like Tiger's struggles, Dustin Johnson's return, Patrick Reed's continued solid play, etc. -- there are a few amendments I'd like to make to the list.

RELATED: Masters coverage | Masters field | Past winners

So, here's my new -- and certainly not "last" Masters favorites list -- before that first full week in April that we all long for finally arrives.

5. Patrick Reed
This spot was previously occupied by Matt Kuchar (more on him later). Reed has earned a place in my five to watch because he has put his money where his mouth is plenty of times over the last 12 months when he easily could have put his foot there instead. Reed has established himself as one of those players where the rest of the field takes notice when his name appears on the first page of a leaderboard. He's a winner already this season, having won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in a playoff over 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup teammate Jimmy Walker. Along with that, Reed just finished in a tie for seventh at the Honda Classic, where he just as easily could have won. He's also looking to avenge that missed cut in his first Masters from a year ago. I'm not saying he'll win this time around, but all indications are that he will be a factor.

4. Bubba Watson
Jordan Spieth was here in January, but moved up leaving this spot open for two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson (who, in all honesty, should have been among the top 5 on the last list). Watson's four starts in the 2014-15 season include a win at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and a tie for second at the Waste Management Open. He's proven himself to be a force at Augusta National and should be a factor there for as long as he's one of the game's longest hitters and most creative shot-makers.

3. Jordan Spieth
Yes. This guy is still firmly among my top-5 to watch at Augusta National. He was No. 4 when I made these predictions a couple of months back, but has propelled to No. 3 after a strong start to 2015. Five starts this season and Spieth has already got himself three top-10 finishes, highlighted by a T4 at the Northern Trust Open. He nearly became the youngest ever to win the Masters in 2014.

2. Jason Day
The Aussie was holding down the No. 3 spot last time around, but has moved to No. 2 (Rickie Fowler, who occupied this position previously, has moved on to an honorable mention) with three top-10 finishes in four starts this year, including a win at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open. I love Day at Augusta National too -- he tied for second in 2011 and finished third in 2013. It's only a matter of time before he wins a major. Since he started playing the majors in 2010, Day has snagged a top-10 finish at least twice in the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. He has yet to crack the top 10 in the Open Championship.

1. Rory McIlroy
Forget the missed cut last week in the Honda Classic -- his first appearance of the 2015 PGA Tour season. McIlroy is still the guy to beat at Augusta National as he looks for his third consecutive major championship victory. His position on my list hasn't changed since December and, unless someone else does something otherworldly before April, it won't.

Honorable mentions: Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson
Honorable mentions from January were: Tiger Woods (who knows when he'll play again?); Henrik Stenson (hasn't played competitively on the European Tour or PGA Tour in a month); and Ernie Els (three missed cuts in four starts this season on the PGA Tour).

Why Kuchar?
Just always one of the most consistently solid players out there. Loves Augusta National, evidenced by three consecutive top-8 finishes there. He's won seven times on the PGA Tour, including the Players, a World Golf Championship and a playoff event. The only thing left to do is win a major. In my next rendition of this list, I suspect Kuchar will have worked his way back into the top 5.

Why Fowler?
I just want to see how he backs up 2014 in the majors, which will be nearly impossible. He top-5'd in all of them a year ago. Fowler hasn't finished any better than a T41 in his last three starts. That's not of much concern, however. He really didn't turn it on in stroke-play events until the beginning of April in 2014 (he finished third at the WGC-Accenture Match Play held in February a year ago).

Why Johnson?
A sixth-month layoff doesn't seem to have impacted Johnson's game negatively. The booming hitter has four starts on Tour already and two of those resulted in missed cuts while the other two -- impressively -- resulted in a T4 at Pebble Beach and a playoff-loss the following week in the Northern Trust Open. The Masters is the lone major in which Johnson has yet to top-10, but that's going to change. It's too much of a bomber's paradise for it not to. 

Amended favorites to win 2015 Masters
March 3, 2015 - 9:05am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Dude Perfect, Callaway
YouTube
Three-pointers (golf style); smashing fruits, action figures (see above) and candy; and jet skis are all a part of this unique, fun to watch trick-shot video.

We've had no shortage of trick-shot videos in this space over the last 12 months.

But here's one that really stands out, which is saying something since we routinely give you the likes of the Bryan Brothers and, just last week, the ladies at San Diego State.

RELATED: Bryan Bros. trick shot gone wrong | Tricks shots using a GoPro camera

In the video you're about to see -- a promo from Callaway Golf -- long-drive master Jamie Sadlowski teams up with Dude Perfect, a sports and comedy team (a while back, we brought their hilarious video of "golf stereotypes").

 

That video was terrific, but I especially loved the "What will the XR driver do to this" portion. 

Lots of crazy in this trick-shot video
March 2, 2015 - 4:13pm
mark.aumann's picture
Padraig Harrington
USA Today Images
The second time was the charm Monday for Padraig Harrington at PGA National's daunting No. 17 hole.

When Padraig Harrington stepped up to the tee at PGA National's daunting par-3 17th hole Monday for the first time, he was holding a one-shot lead. All he needed to do was make solid contact, put the ball on the green and walk away with par.

After all, he had put together a string of four consecutive birdies earlier in the round to put himself in that situation.

Instead, he blocked a 5-iron into the lake and wound up carding a double bogey. A clutch birdie putt on No. 18 got Harrington into a playoff with 21-year-old Daniel Berger -- and after both players parred their first playoff hole, Harrington found himself once again staring across the water at the 17th green.

And this is what happened:

 

 

So how did Harrington put the memory of that terrible first shot aside to hit the shot that won the Honda Classic?

[wide_search_instructor]

PGA Professional Christian Czaja of Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., said it's a matter of believing in yourself and your abilities -- and that comes from having mental toughness. If you've been in that situation before -- and had a positive result -- you can draw on that.

"If I'm Padraig Harrington, I'm thinking 'I'm a major champion, I've been there, I can do this,' " Czaja said. "Drawing upon his previous experience has got to be helpful. Even if you haven't won for awhile, you never forget how to win. That really gives you that belief in your ability."

You may never face that kind of shot to win a tournament, but Czaja said you can hone your own mental game -- both on the range and the course. There's no reason one bad shot should snowball into a bad day, if you learn how to eliminate it from your mind before you step up to hit your next one.

"The mental part of the game is so important, and it's often overlooked," Czaja said. "When you're practicing on the range, or especially when you're on the course, it's more important to focus on the process -- what you're supposed to do and how to do it -- rather than focusing on only the results. You should be thinking about what you need to do to create a good swing, not on what went wrong the last time."

And that's what separates the professionals from the recreational players, Czaja said. Sure, they have caddies and coaches to settle them down and help them refocus. But staying in the moment -- especially when it comes to developing a consistent routine -- is part of why they're able to shake off a shank or worry less about the water.

And that was never more evident than in the final round of the Honda Classic, when it seemed like everyone who grabbed the lead at some point ran into serious trouble. 

"The best players in the world can have these poor shots, but almost always they're able to regroup and come back on the very next shot," Czaja said. "Even after hitting it in the water at No. 17, Harrington had enough composure to get a ruling on the very next shot.

"That's something players have to work on. And that's training yourself to go through a routine to prepare yourself for the next shot rather than worrying about what's already happened."

 

 

Czaja suggested a great pre-shot routine using these three steps:

1. Have a positive mental picture of the shot you want to hit

"Without question, you always visualize the shot in a positive light. Jack Nicklaus was one of the best at it. You want to see that successful shot in your mind first -- because it clears away any negative thoughts carried over from the previous one."

2. Prepare yourself by knowing the situation

"Before you hit a shot, you have to have a plan in mind of what you want to do. Look at the yardage. Check the conditions. Look at the lie. For pros, it's automatic. But what it does is puts you back in the moment. You're no longer worried about what happened in the past. Get in the habit of doing a checklist with every shot and you'll gain confidence in pressure situations."

3. Step up to the ball and execute

"The more you practice the routine, the more it becomes automatic under pressure. You go into autopilot. You'll know when to pull the trigger, because you've practiced it so much in your mind."

Czaja said any PGA Professional will be happy to help teach you more about the mental game, as well as assist you in improving your physical one.

Christian Czaja has been named PGA Teacher of the Year for South Florida. To reach him, visit his website at http://www.christianczaja.com or call (844) 236-8465.

 

 

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Tip: Redeem yourself after a bad shot