Horschel and McDowell won each of the last two weeks on two very different golf courses -- Hilton Head is short and tight, while TPC Louisiana is one of the longest tracks on the schedule.
While Horschel has been pounding on the door of late with three top 10s, including a runner-up, in each of his last three starts prior to last week, it wasn’t so much momentum as it was an improved short game and the elimination of unforced errors that led to his first career victory Sunday in New Orleans.
“He’s always been a good driver and iron player,” said his coach Todd Anderson. “But he never got a lot out of his putting. In the offseason, we made a conscious effort to work hard on his putting, his short game, his wedges. That’s where he was losing strokes.”
In turn, he was also losing confidence and that led to a lot of mistakes.
Take the RBC Heritage. Horschel was in contention until becoming unglued with a final-round 74 on a windswept day at Harbour Town.
Too many three-putts and only one birdie on the three par 5s gave too many shots back to the field. “I told him he has to clean up some of those errors,” said Anderson, who talks to Horschel almost every night.
That can be easier said than done, but it also comes with maturity and knowing your game and believing in it, something that Horschel has done ever since he guaranteed at q-school last December that he was going to get his card back and was going to win this season.
“If he got off to a shaky start, he’d hit the panic button,” Anderson said of the old Horschel. “In the past he was trying too hard and got out of rhythm. Now he has the confidence in his game and knows the birdies are going to come.”
And they’ve come in bunches. Horschel is second in birdie average, 10th in scoring, third in the FedExCup standings. Now he has his first win, too.
THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Last week was the last chance for players not otherwise qualified to earn a spot in THE PLAYERS Championship by winning, being in the top 10 of the FedExCup standings or the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Horschel was the only one to earn a spot last week, thanks to his win. Meanwhile, Matteo Manassero fell out of the top 50. After Monday, the only way for a player not already in the field to punch his ticket to TPC Sawgrass basically is to win this week’s Wells Fargo Championship. The only other way a player can qualify is off the FedExCup list if it is needed to fill the field of 144. Luke Guthrie (No. 30), Brian Stuard (No. 44) and James Hahn (No. 51) are the next three players on the FedExCup list, not otherwise qualified.
2. Points’ first nine starts this season: Seven missed cuts, including four in a row at one point. His last four: A win and a second place. One of Points’ goals at the start of the year was to get in the top 30 in the Official World Golf Rankings. “I’ve still got work to do,” he said Sunday night. It’s possible now, however. Points moved to No. 48 after last week.
3. Speaking of guys who got off to abysmal starts, Bobby Gates missed his first seven cuts of the year. Sunday, he tied for fourth in New Orleans. Will he follow a similar path as Points?
4. What do Keegan Bradley, Justin Leonard, Mike Weir, Camilo Villegas, Charles Howell III, John Merrick, Aaron Baddeley, Ben Crane, Charley Hoffman and Charlie Beljan all have in common? Aside from each having won on the PGA TOUR, all of them were beaten by 14-year-old Guan Tianlang last week in New Orleans.
5. How fragile (and important) is confidence in golf? Take Hunter Mahan, who in his first eight starts this year didn’t finish outside the top 26, which included a runner-up at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. But here are his last seven rounds: 74, 71, 76, 82, 68, 76, 78. Twice he missed the cut, including at the Masters where he was 14 over, and the third time he barely made the first cut before missing the secondary cut.
6. James Driscoll, who was born in Brookline, Mass., and lives a couple blocks from where the Boston Marathon bombings took place, made another $6,000 for the families of victims, bringing his total contribution to One Fund Boston to $15,000. TaylorMade, which sponsors Driscoll, matched his Birdies for Boston effort with another $15,000. CNBC "Fast Money" contributor Mike Murphy of Rosecliff Capital also pledged to match Driscoll's contribution of $1,000 for every birdie he made over the last two weeks. You can contribute, too, by clicking here.
7. Stat of the Week I: Horschel’s run of six straight birdies on Sunday matched the longest such streak on TOUR this season (and came within three of Mark Calcavecchia’s record nine straight at Glen Abbey in 2009). Horschel leads the TOUR in birdies with 220 this season. As his coach Todd Anderson told me, Horschel has “a lot of offense.” As I noted earlier, he just had to eliminate the unforced errors.
8. Stat of the Week II: Maybe there’s something in the gumbo, but whatever it is the Zurich Classic has become a haven for first-time winners. Horschel became the 13th player to make the event his first victory on TOUR and six of the last nine champions there have done so.
9. Stat of the Week III: Lucas Glover made an early bogey Sunday and never recovered, losing his two-shot lead at the start of the day and eventually finishing fourth. Still, he’s an ATM in New Orleans. In his 28 rounds at the event, 25 of them have been at par or better. His last score over par there was in the second round in 2008.