By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Robert Castro opened with a course record-tying 63 to take a three-shot lead on Thursday. Whether he still has that lead by the time he tees off Friday afternoon, who knows. Conditions appear to be good for scoring again and already a few players -- Tiger Woods among them -- have started to make a move. Here's a look at who and what to watch for this afternoon.
Roberto Castro (12:46 p.m. ET): A big reason Castro was able to go so low in the opening round was because he hit close -- six of his approach shots were inside 5 feet. That will be a tall order come the afternoon when the wind is expected to increase along with the temperature, making for a firm, fast golf course.
Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler (1:18 p.m. ET): After failing to break 70 in 16 of his last 17 rounds, which included a pair of missed cuts and two other finishes near the bottom of the leaderboard, Mahan was "stress free" with a 67 Thursday. Given his accuracy, he should fare well here (two years ago, he finished sixth). Fowler, on the other hand, struggled to a 73 and will have some ground to make up to make the cut.
Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell (1:28 p.m. ET): Both were 2 under on Thursday, and McDowell comes into this week having recently won at another Pete Dye course (Harbour Town).
Zach Johnson (1:49 p.m. ET): Perhaps lost in all the headlines Thursday was Johnson, who was superb with seven birdies and just one bogey. Johnson has played progressively better here the last three years, finishing 32nd, 22nd, 12th and second.
Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker, Adam Scott (1:49 p.m. ET): McIlroy finally broke par here with a sublime 66 in the opening round and he finally appears to be comfortable around this place. His last two wins have also come on Pete Dye courses. Stricker was nearly as good with a 67 and between the three the group made just two bogeys.
Prior to THE PLAYERS Championship 2013, Graeme McDowell talks about how the Stadium Course can yield some low numbers.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Unlike after the U.S. Open, there is no hangover for Graeme McDowell -- even after a few late-night beers at his new restaurant following his victory in Hilton Head last month.
“Sometimes wins are springboards for something,” McDowell said. “Sometimes they feel like the finish line.
“When I won the U.S. Open in 2010, there was certainly a checkered flag feel about that. When I won in 2008 chasing my first Ryder Cup team, it felt like a springboard to a big season. (Hilton Head) certainly feels the same way.”
TPC Sawgrass should also feel similar to McDowell. For one, it’s another Pete Dye track. For another, he was in contention here two years ago before a disastrous final-round 79 to tumble to 33rd.
“Hilton Head's obviously an unbelievable positional golf course,” McDowell said. “Sawgrass is not so obvious of a positional golf course as Hilton Head is, but at the same time there is a premium off the tee. You must be on the correct sides of the fairways to attack some of these greens.”
Given that McDowell ranks seventh in driving accuracy, he should feel just fine around here.
He’s also one of the game’s best putters -- McDowell is sixth in that category on the PGA TOUR.
Still, McDowell’s best finish in THE PLAYERS was a tie for 26th in 2010.
“Very difficult to compare it to Harbour Town, but I think Pete Dye designed a certain type of golf course,” McDowell said. “You can't really compare this golf course with anything, really. I always think you can stand on the 16th tee here on Sunday with a one‑shot lead and walk off winning by four, or you could walk off losing by four. It's intimidating.”
It could also be the start of something big.
TPC Louisiana yielded the second-most birdies on the PGA TOUR last season. (Graythen/Getty Images)
By Bill Cooney, PGATOUR.COM
Well, well, well. Looks like Graeme McDowell's scrambling, which we've touched on before in Inside the Numbers, has helped him break a victory drought. McDowell's short game was fantastic at Harbour Town and it helped him win the RBC Heritage. Afterward, McDowell admitted that it took him awhile to get comfortable with his own game again the past few seasons, knowing that he's not going to bomb it out there 300 yards. Instead, McDowell relies on a strong short game and clutch putting -- which we'll take a look at this week -- to produce low scores.
.911 Strokes gained-putting number for McDowell in 2013, which ranks ninth on TOUR. … This is just one reason McDowell is playing so well. In fact, he’s outperforming the TOUR average by 16 shots this season. In 2012, McDowell ranked 160th in SGP (-.299) and in 2011 he was 92nd (.081).
5 Number of major stat categories McDowell ranked in the top 10 in at the RBC Heritage. … That includes driving accuracy (75.00, fifth), greens in regulation (66.67%, T7), scrambling 79.17%, first), strokes gained-putting (+1.467 avg., sixth) and average distance of putts made (83’3”, sixth).
22 Consecutive cuts made for Billy Horschel, currently the longest streak on TOUR. … Not only has Horschel secured plenty of paychecks, he’s banked several large ones of late. Horschel is working on a streak of three straight top 10s, which includes a T9 at the RBC Heritage. The biggest reason? Birdies and putting. Horschel ranks first on TOUR in total birdies with 194 and 26th in strokes gained-putting at .546.
79.17 percent McDowell’s scrambling percentage at the RBC Heritage, which led the field. McDowell made par or better on 19 of 24 missed greens for the week. … McDowell also ranks first on the PGA TOUR in 2013 at 72.46 percent (100 of 138). That’s an incredible improvement from the last few seasons. McDowell ranked 177th last season at 51.83 percent and 160th in 2011 at 54.01 percent.
91 Number of players that made the 36-hole cut at the RBC Heritage. … That number matches a record for the most players to make the cut in a non-major championship since 1970 on TOUR. Ninety-one players also made the cut at the 1981 Travelers Championship. Jesper Parnevik missed a 5-footer on Saturday morning to move the cut to 2 over. Afterward, Parnevik tweeted, “Everybody in the field at +2, put your envelopes in my locker…”
106 Number of putts at the RBC Heritage for Charley Hoffman, who led the field in strokes gained-putting (2.625). (Mark Wilson led the field in total putts with 102.) Hoffman had just 22 putts in Round 1, then 30 in Round 2, before putting just 21 times on Saturday (he hit eight greens in regulation). But in the final round, Hoffman had 33 putts – which ranked T67 in the field. Just imagine what could have been for Hoffman, who finished T6 with a final-round 77. Of course, Hoffman still picked up more than 10 shots on the field average on the greens for the week.
1,738 Number of birdies yielded at TPC Louisiana during the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last season, the second-most on TOUR in 2012. … Only TPC Deere Run yielded more birdies in 2012 at 1,894. The course is known for low scoring, as it ranked as the 11th easiest course on TOUR last season at 1.002 strokes under par.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS ARCHIVE
Week 2: Sony Open/Humana Challenge
Week 10: WGC-Cadillac/Tampa Bay Championship
Week 12: Arnold Palmer/Shell Houston Open
Week 13: Shell Houston/Valero Texas Open
Week 14: Valero/The Masters
Week 15: The Masters/RBC Heritage
Graeme McDowell showed patience on his way to victory at Harbour Town. (Lecka/Getty Images)
By Mark Immelman, Special to PGATOUR.COM
Every year the players invited to The Harbour Town Golf Links for the RBC Heritage look forward to an easy-going week in the relaxing Southern surroundings of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Hilton Head Island is undoubtedly a pleasant change from the mental and emotional rigors of the previous week’s major championship.
Atmosphere of the town and the venue aside, Harbour Town Golf Links is a gem of a golf course that places a premium on shot location and accuracy. Its honor roll, which now includes 2013 champion Graeme McDowell, includes such accurate ball-strikers as Jim Furyk, Boo Weekley and Brian Gay. Year in and year out, it rewards players who have every department of their game on point.
McDowell put together one of the rounds of the day when he shot a final round 2-under 69. Perfect but for a three-putt bogey on the final hole, McDowell was in complete command in some very challenging conditions as winds gusted up to 30 mph and par became golden in many instances.
It certainly made for compelling viewing, and there are a couple of observations I would like to share ...
Don’t play until really ready: Fresh off a birdie that jumped him into the lead, McDowell flushed a tee-shot through the back of the par-3 17th hole. With the wind whistling across him toward the Calibogue Sound, he hit a neat pitch shot to about 4.5 feet beyond the cup. After reading the line he addressed the important par putt, but as he was settling into position, a gust of wind kicked up and unsettled him. He pulled out of the address and reset himself mentally and physically. He then readdressed the putt only to have the same situation occur as the wind increased in intensity. He reset himself again and waited for the conditions to settle. Finally, once he was convinced and ready, he addressed the putt and knocked it home for the par to retain his lead.
Not that I am advocating slow play, but I do want to stress that you must not play until you are completely ready and comfortable. McDowell’s actions were the perfect example of this very important key to consistently successful shots. So if you are doubtful or unconvinced, whatever you do, please do not just get up there and hit it anyway. As the legendary Gary Player advised me: “Treat each shot as if it was the most important shot in the world and the last shot you were ever going to hit.”
Understand aerodynamics: Remember that your golf ball operates just like an airplane does. In other words, the laws of aerodynamics apply and you must be cognizant of them when playing in the wind. The best advice you can apply is a little ditty I learned a long time ago and one that I pass on often to players of all skill levels: “Swing easy when it is breezy.”
That said, to get a little more in-depth, you must consider that your ball spins, and it is backspin coupled with the ball’s velocity that elevates the ball. Think of the velocity as the plane’s engine and the backspin as the plane’s wings.
A couple of playing examples: if your plane was taking off into the wind, it would be more apt to climb upward and slow down. So when you are hitting into the wind you must strive to reduce the spin to avoid the “stand-up effect." Conversely, if your plane was taking off downwind it would need more lift to climb into the air. Similarly your golf ball will need more spin to stay airborne and take advantage of the downwind assistance. Finally, if your plane was turning – to the right or the left – into the wind, it would slow down. If it was turning in the same direction as a cross-wind, it would go faster. So if you draw the ball against a left-to-right breeze it would hold up and go shorter; if you draw the ball with a right-to-left breeze it would go further. On the flip side, a fade against a right-to-left wind will die, and a fade with a left-to-right wind will accelerate.
So take your time and treat each shot with the respect it deserves and apply the laws of flight. I am sure that you will play more consistently in variant conditions.
Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.
Graeme McDowell hit quality knockdown shots during his win at Harbour Town. (Lecka/Getty Images)
By Travis Fulton, Director of Instruction, PGA TOUR Academy
Another great finish at the RBC Heritage this week as Graeme McDowell got it done at Harbour Town. Certainly, it was not a surprise to see the Irishman play so well in tough, windy conditions on Sunday as the sporty little knockdown shot he hit during the first playoff hole turned out to be the difference.
I love to watch the PGA TOUR when the wind is blowing because it really separates the guys who are controlling their ball flight. In windy conditions, there is a premium on controlling the impact condition because any small issue can be greatly exaggerated.
Often times, I will take many of my students and teach them how to hit a knockdown shot early in lesson plans. This allows students to shorten their swing frame and begin to control the club shaft, club head and club face at impact. At the TOUR Academies, we call these the “Big 3” and each is critical when trying to hit that 6-iron through the wind like Graeme McDowell did late on Sunday afternoon.
Club shaft: The significance of the club shaft when hitting a knockdown shot is to lean it forward at impact. If you are a player that leans the club shaft away from impact, then you are more than likely going to struggle in the wind. In order for the club shaft to lean forward you must learn to keep the trail wrist bent through impact -- learning how to do this in a smaller setting like a knockdown shot is highly recommended because it will teach the importance and value of this critical fundamental in the golf swing.
Club head: With the club shaft forward, the club head can now be moving down. This is another key piece of a knockdown shot because the club head needs to be moving down through impact. Again, if the club shaft is leaning away from the target, then the club head is more than likely moving up through impact. However, what’s key here is most of you don’t need to steepen your overall swing shape to hit down. If you get too steep with your swing shape then you run the risk of the launch angle being too high, so continue to make your same swing shape with high emphasis on forward lean in the club shaft with a club head moving down, creating a nice shallow divot.
Club face: With the club shaft forward, the club face will be delofted. This is critical because the club face has huge value to the overall launch angle of the ball. If it’s delofted then the ball will launch at a more penetrating angle – thus knocking it down. In addition, it’s important that the lead hand squares the club face up through impact. Be careful that when keeping the trail wrist bent through impact you don’t “hang on” to the club face. This means the lead hand knuckles are too much to the sky. This creates an open club face and usually higher shots to the right. Instead, feel the back of the left hand “turn down” – knuckles to the ground. This closing effect to the club face is needed not only for trajectory but overall direction as well.
Travis Fulton is the Director of Instruction at the TOUR Academies at TPC Sawgrass and the World Golf Village. For more information on the TOUR Academy, click here.
Greame McDowell made only one bogey on the final round at Hilton Head. (Lecka/Getty Images)
By Gregg Steinberg, Special to PGATOUR.COM
Inspiration flows from many places. Graeme McDowell, the RBC Heritage champion, was inspired from his failure. According to McDowell, missing the cut at this year’s Masters got him extremely motivated to excel on the Harbor Town Golf Links. Good came from the bad.
Inspiration can greatly influence our play on the course. To the field of sports psychology, inspiration impacts our intensity level. When you are inspired, your intensity level is high. You are motivated and extremely focused on the task. Whereas, being uninspired will cause low intensity levels. Or in other words, being uninspired feels as if the “fire in the belly” has burnt out.
Given, we are all unique, and we are all inspired by different motives. I am inspired when I play a new and difficult course. However, when I play my usual golf course that I have played 1,000 times, my play can fall flat. When I feel flat, my golf suffers.
As G-Mac proved this week, your best golf will be played when you are inspired. However, if you are having difficulties getting inspired for every shot, here are a few recommendations to boost your inspiration:
1. Pump up your intensity with a gentle hit to your thigh. At the start of your routine, hit your thigh -- not hard enough so that it hurts, but just hard enough so that you feel like you are pumping up your intensity level prior to your shot.
2. Get a catchphrase. Many of the players that I work with have a catchphrase like “find the fire”. They say this catchphrase at the start of the routine to feel that pump in emotion. Get a word or sentence that will give you a needed pump in desire prior to your shot.
Finding that fire in your in belly for every shot does not have to come from failure. The right words and actions can kindle the fire inside so that you can play your best golf every day.
Dr. Gregg Steinberg is the author of the best selling golf psychology book, MentalRules for Golf. He is a regular guest every Tuesday on “Talk of the Tour” heard on the Sirius/XM PGA TOUR radio. Dr. Gregg is a tenured professor of sports psychology and has worked with many PGA tour players. You can see more about him at www.drgreggsteinberg.com, and you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graeme McDowell led the field in scrambling, converting 19 of 24 missed greens into par or better.
||Winner: Graeme McDowell
|Driving Distance||274.5 (51st)||Jason Day (300.0 yards)||T30
|Driving Accuracy||75.00% (T5)||Jerry Kelly (82.14%)||5th|
|Strokes Gained-Putting||1.473 (6th)
||Charley Hoffman (2.625)
|Greens in Regulation||66.67% (T7)||Webb Simpson (70.83%)
|Proximity to Hole||34'-11" (T32)
||Greg Owen (30'-2")
WEEKLY PERFORMANCE STATS ARCHIVE
Week 2: Sony Open in Hawaii
Week 4: Farmers Insurance Open
Week 5: Waste Management Phoenix Open
Week 7: Northern Trust Open
Week 8: The Honda Classic
Week 9: WGC Cadillac & Puerto Rico Open
Week 12: Shell Houston Open
Week 13: Valero Texas Open
Week 14: The Masters
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- On a day when more players shot in the 80s than in the 60s, a player who grew up playing in the wind in Northern Ireland stood alone Sunday at the RBC Heritage.
Graeme McDowell beat Webb Simpson on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff between former U.S. Open champions at Harbour Town.
After McDowell bogeyed the final hole of regulation to let Simpson back in the picture, he made par on the same hole to defeat Simpson, who ran his 6-foot putt past.
The win is the first of the season for McDowell, who moves from 50th to sixth in the FedExCup standings, his highest ranking since January 2011.
Through the first 17 holes, it looked like there wouldn't be a need for a playoff.
Despite Harbour Town playing nearly three strokes over par on a windswept afternoon along Calibogue Sound, McDowell was flawless, making three birides and no bogeys to reach 10 under and a one-shot lead with one hole to play.
But McDowell's approach to the difficult 18th was slightly long, leaving him 44 feet to the hole.
The 2010 U.S. Open winner ran his first putt 12 feet by and missed the par save coming back.
That kept Simpson's hopes alive.
Playing two groups behind McDowell in the day's final pairing and standing on the tee, Simpson split the fairway and hit his approach to 20 feet.
His birdie attempt came up just short and he tapped in to force a playoff.
Both men found the fairway in the playoff, but Simpson missed the green right on his approach, while McDowell left himself 12 feet from underneath the hole.
Using his putter, Simpson nearly holed his next shot before the ball tumbled 6 feet past.
"I never thought a putt was in more than that one," Simpson said. "With a foot to go it was in."
McDowell's birdie try came up just short of the hole, leaving Simpson a chance to extend the playoff.
Simpson missed the putt, however, running it by the right edge.
Graeme McDowell carded a 2-under 69 and then defeated Webb Simpson in a playoff in windy conditions to win the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town on Sunday. It is McDowell's second PGA TOUR win (2010 U.S. Open).
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