|The defining shots of the major champions|
|Thursday, December 19, 2013 9:17 PM|
By DOUG FERGUSON
The putt that Adam Scott thinks about most wasn’t the one that won him the Masters. The best shot Justin Rose hit at the U.S. Open didn’t even stay on the green.
The majors were filled with great shots, even if they didn’t produce the obvious outcome.
Scott’s putt on the 18th at Augusta National ultimately got him into a playoff when Angel Cabrera answered with a great birdie of his own. Rose’s 4-iron into the 18th at Merion ran off the back of the green into a collar. It was a relatively simple up-and-down from there, though such a great shot deserved better.
Every major has a signature shot. Some are easier to define than others.
And with every major champion, there is another shot that is just as pleasing to them, even if it doesn’t get as much attention:
The putt that made Scott the first Australian in a green jacket was a 12-footer for birdie on the second playoff hole at No. 10. Scott, however, believes the defining moment of this Masters was the 20-foot birdie putt he made on the 18th in regulation.
Adding to the significance of the putt was his reaction. Scott, the image of GQ, transformed into WWF as he screamed with all his might, “C’mon, Aussie!”
“No matter what I do in my career from now on, I think it’s going to be the one I’m remembered for,” Scott said. “Even if I do happen to win other big tournaments or majors, it might not quite be everything that Augusta was.
“There’s no doubt, as I look back in my career, that’s going to be the one moment I’ll think of first as a far as a signature moment.”
He won’t forget the 6-iron, either, as good as any shot he struck all week.
On the second playoff hole, Scott had 191 yards from a hook lie in the 10th fairway. Cabrera already was on the green with a reasonable look at birdie.
“I didn’t want to sling a 7-iron in there,” Scott said. “It wasn’t the right shot. The atmosphere was heavy and I was jacked up but I had to hold a 6-iron. Somehow, I managed to hit such a beautiful shot. If you asked me to do it right now, I couldn’t. But I had it at that moment. Absolutely, it’s the best shot of my life right now.”
Rose had a 1-shot lead on the 18th hole at Merion. He was 229 yards from the pin and just 15 feet behind the plaque that commemorates Hogan’s 1-iron into the 18th during his 1950 U.S. Open victory. While it was not as historic as Hogan’s moment, it was the signature shot of his first major.
“It has to be the 4-iron into 18, given the poignancy of the hole, the iconic photograph we’ve all grown up with and the 18th hole of a major,” Rose said. “That was the one that put it away.”
Adding to the pressure was the wait. Luke Donald was taking a penalty drop, leaving more time for Rose to contemplate the consequences of the shot.
“I appreciated the situation I was in and relished it,” Rose said. “And luckily, the shot came off. I drilled it. It came off perfectly.”
He believes the 18th hole played a big role earlier in the week. Rain kept the second round from being completed on Friday, and Rose was in the last group that managed to finish without having to return Saturday morning. He watched Phil Mickelson ahead of him make birdie to share the 36-hole lead. Rose missed the fairway, hacked it out of rough and had 115 yards to a pin that was just over the false front, a shot that required close to perfection.
He delivered, hitting wedge to 7 feet.
“It was pretty dark by this time,” he added. “But I wanted to hit the putt. Even if I missed, the advantage was there to sleep in. It was a slippery, downhill, left-to-righter for a 69 to stay even par. From a momentum point of view, just finishing and giving myself time in bed for the rhythm of the week … that was big.”
Mickelson didn’t hesitate when asked for the signature shot of his British Open victory — the 3-wood on the par-5 17th that set up a two-putt birdie.
“Very simply put, there was no margin for error,” he replied. “If I miss it a little bit to the right, it goes in a bunker and I have a very difficult par. I have to go out sideways and try to get up-and-down for par. If I miss it left, it’s the worst rough on the golf course and I could lose my ball or have an unplayable lie. But if I hit it perfectly, there’s a good chance I could have a two-putt birdie. And that’s what happened.
“I hit it dead perfect at the time I needed it most. If I made birdie, I felt like I would win.”
Mickelson’s closing 66 at Muirfield is considered the best round of the year and one of the best final rounds in any major. He made birdie on four of the last six holes. As much attention as that 3-wood receives, Lefty was equally pleased with a 5-iron into 8 feet for birdie that started his big run.
It was on the 13th hole, 190 yards and dead into a strong wind to a narrow green.
“If you miss it at all, the ball gets blown off sideways and you saw it with just about every player behind me,” Mickelson added. “I hit it so solid and perfect through the wind the ball just soared. It was the prettiest shot.”
Jason Dufner had a 2-shot lead with three holes to play. Leads like that can disappear quickly at a major, especially with the tough, two closing holes at Oak Hill.
Jim Furyk hit his approach to 10 feet on the 16th, easily birdie range. Dufner followed with a sand wedge from 105 yards that spun back to a foot, which stands out as his signature moment at the PGA Championship (though a case could be made for the love tap he gave his wife when it was over).
“I was trying to take it a little bit past the pin on the right,” Dufner said. “Obviously, with a wedge in hand, I was thinking it could be a makeable birdie effort. Inside a foot is great for me because I struggle with the putter.”
Not so obvious — except to Dufner — was how he played the par-3 11th hole for the week. At 226 yards, it was the sixth-toughest hole at Oak Hill. Dufner never had a birdie putt outside 20 feet in all four rounds, and he played the hole in 1-under par for the week.
“It was one of the tougher holes and I made it easy for me,” he added. “The 16th is the shot people are going to remember. The one people will forget about is to play that hole (No. 11) in 1 under and never sweat a bogey. That’s a pretty good deal.”
Westwood finishes a year driven by change
This has been a season of big change for Lee Westwood,and his debut last week in the Shark Shootout was an example.
He typically is on the other side of the world this time of the year, having won the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa in 2011 and 2012, and the Thailand Golf Championship two years ago. But this marks one year since Westwood moved his family from England to Florida to take it easy on the jet lag and allow for more practice in warm weather.
He ended the year without a win anywhere in the world.
Westwood, a 2-time Order of Merit winner on the European Tour, attributed his results to change, though that entails more than location. He also began working with Sean Foley. He had a new caddie for most of the year until reuniting this month with Billy Foster.
Asked what held him back this year, Westwood chalked it up to the “lack of continuity.”
“So many changes, really,” he replied as he headed into the final month of his season. “It’s impossible to quantify the effect that has. Starting with a new coach, changing tours, changing caddies the end of last year, all of it has an effect.”
He also said there were struggles with consistency in his swing. Westwood had a close call at Quail Hollow and had the lead going into the final round of the British Open, which was won by Mickelson more than anyone lost it.
“I haven’t been settled in a swing all year,” Westwood said. “When you’re a professional, you can have good results without hitting it well. I haven’t had a week where I hit it properly. I didn’t even hit it well in the Open. I just know how to get around and I putted well.”
Westwood turned 40 this year and while he dropped to No. 25 in the world after starting at No. 7, he believes that will turn. More changes are planned for 2014 but only as it relates to his travel schedule. Instead of starting in the Middle East, he doesn’t expect to play regular European Tour events until May.
He is thinking of playing Torrey Pines, the Phoenix Open and Riviera on the West Coast swing.
FATHER & SON: Except for having the 54-hole lead and contending at the British Open, one of the best moments for Westwood this year was playing with his father in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Graeme McDowell will experience that in February.
McDowell and his father, Kenny, will be partners at Pebble Beach. It’s the first time they have been there since 2010, when McDowell won the U.S. Open and his father said to him on the 18th green that Sunday, “You’re something, kid.”
Asked for his favorite memory of his father, McDowell went back to his roots in Northern Ireland when he was too young to play the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush.
“Until you’re 15 years old or have a 15-handicap, you play the Valley Course,” he replied. “I remember sneaking out with my dad on a summer’s evening on the Dunluce course when I was not eligible to be out there, sneaking out there for a few holes one summer evening and feeling like I was literally at Augusta National. Those are special times.”
THE GULBIS PRANK: In the January issue of “Golf Digest,” Michelle Wie writes a series of tales that includes her first Kraft Nabisco Championship at age 13. And it shows why there’s always more to Natalie Gulbis than might appear.
Wie said that on the fifth hole, she put a new golf ball into play. She mentioned this to Gulbis on the sixth fairway.
“She stops me and gives me a look of shock,” Wie wrote. “‘You can’t do that out here,’ she says. ‘That’s a 2-stroke penalty. You need to go back to the tee.’ I was speechless, on the verge of tears. Just as I turned to start walking back to the tee, Natalie said, ‘Just kidding’.”
OH, BROTHER: Dustin Johnson took his younger brother, Austin, to Scotland twice as his partner in the Dunhill Links Championship. He brought him to China last month for the HSBC Champions as his caddie and Johnson won his first World Golf Championship.
Now they’ll be spending a lot more time together.
Johnson has decided to keep his little brother on the bag for next year, replacing Bobby Brown. Austin Johnson played basketball at Charleston Southern before transferring to the College of Charleston to finish his degree.
“I was getting my resume together,” Austin said.
Big brother jokingly said he never bothered to look at the resume and “probably wouldn’t have believed it, anyway.”
“Having my brother on the bag has been cool. I love it,” Johnson added. “He’s my brother. I like having him out here. And we do good.”
SNEAD AUCTION: The second part of the Sam Snead Collection at Heritage Auctions brought in more than $750,000 this month in Dallas, with the biggest item his 1949 Masters Trophy that went for $143,400.
Snead’s captain’s trophy from the 1969 Ryder Cup sold for $131,450, while his Wanamaker Trophy from winning the 1949 PGA Championship and his championship medal from winning the 1946 British Open at St. Andrews went for $101,575 each.
Among the more intriguing items was a collection of 3,545 signed personal checks. That drew $34,058. The first auction in July was held in Chicago by Heritage Auctions and brought in $1.1 million. Those lots included his 1954 Masters trophy and the claret jug from St. Andrews.
DIVOTS: More than a year after Europe’s stunning comeback to win the Ryder Cup at Medinah, McDowell still has not watched video of the final day. “That might be on my to-do list,” he said. “I need to sit down and watch that in real time.” … This year wasn’t the first time a qualifying tournament was held exclusively for the Web.com Tour. According to the PGA Tour, four weeks before the launch of the Ben Hogan Tour, 132 players competed in Florida over 72 holes with the low 35 players and ties getting cards. The medalist that week? John Daly. … Kevin Tway received a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Phoenix Open. … Vijay Singh is shopping for a new equipment deal after nearly 15 years with Cleveland Golf. … Ernie Els has signed an endorsement deal with Ecco. He was wearing the shoes for most of the year without a deal. … Anthony Kim, who last played in the 2012 the Wells Fargo Championship, ended last year at No. 300 in the world. He ends this year at No. 1,488.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Rose, Scott, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were the only players who stayed in the top 10 in the world ranking the entire year.
FINAL WORD: “The beauty about golf is it takes all shapes and sizes. But it’s a hell of a lot more of an athletic game than it used to be 10 years ago.” — McDowell.
Stenson selected European golfer of year
LONDON — Henrik Stenson has been selected European golfer of the year after winning the money title and the U.S. PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup.
The 37-year-old Stenson, who succeeded McIlroy, is the first player from Sweden to win the award.
In addition to his 6-shot victory in the season-ending World Tour Championship to clinch the Race to Dubai, Stenson also won the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship in Atlanta to seal the FedEx Cup.
Another highlight was his third in the U.S. PGA Championship.
Stenson’s most consistent year started at the end of last season, when he won the South African championship.