From bunkers and behind trees, memorable shots from 2018
By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
Tiger Woods hit a shot he thought would lead to his 15th major. Keegan Bradley made a putt he thought would be worth a trip to the Tour Championship.
Just about every player has one shot that stands out above the rest in 2018.
“For how I viewed it at the time — this is in the moment — the shot I hit down 10 at The Open Championship out of that bunker,” Woods said.
He was talking about the final round at Carnoustie, his ball in a fairway bunker with a burn between him and the green. Woods considered his pitching wedge one of those all-or-nothing moments. If it hits the lip of the bunker, he loses. If he pulls it off, he’s going to win.
He pulled it off — and tied for sixth.
“There are moments in a tournament where you know this is the shot that’s going to win or lose the event,” he said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t win it, but at the time to know it and pull it off, that gave me a lot of confidence going forward, to be honest with you.”
Justin Thomas considered a pair of wedges before settling on a lob wedge on the 72nd hole at the Honda Classic that he hit to a foot for birdie that got him into a playoff. He holed a gap wedge for eagle on the 72nd hole in Mexico City that ultimately got him into a playoff, but Thomas wasn’t in the last group. And he wound up losing in the playoff, anyway, so the nod goes to the Honda Classic.
Tony Finau says his was a 5-iron on the 17th hole in the final round at the Masters for his sixth consecutive birdie. This wasn’t an ordinary birdie.
“I missed it in the right trees and it kicked back about 40 yards,” he said. “I had a 190-yard shot and I had like a 60- to 70-yard slice, and I hit it to about 3 feet. I missed about a 12-footer on 18 to make seven birdies in a row (the Masters record). To be able to finish that way at Augusta was really cool, and that shot is the one that stuck out of all the birdies that I made.”
As for Bradley?
He made a 7-foot par putt on the final hole Saturday in the BMW Championship, and that meant everything. With so much rain in the forecast, it looked as though the tournament could be cut short to 54 holes. The par putt meant Bradley was alone in sixth place, and with no more golf, that would give him enough points to finish in the top 30 in the FedEx Cup and get to East Lake. Miss it, and he would fall into a five-way tie for sixth.
“I knew in my head this was the last putt, and I had to make it to get into the Tour Championship,” he said. “That was a good feeling when it went in.”
Alas, the fourth round was played Monday. Bradley wound up winning for the first time in six years. He’ll be in Maui next week for the Tournament of Champions.
SABBO THE SLOVAKIAN
Don’t be surprised to hear these words at the Sony Open: “Now on the tee, from Slovakia, Rory Sabbatini.”
The South African-born Sabbatini last week became an official citizen of Slovakia, according to Slovak newspapers SME and Novy Cas. Sabbatini’s wife, Martina Stofanikova, is from Slovakia.
The Slovak Golf Association says it is sending proof of citizenship to the International Golf Federation, which would allow the 42-year-old Sabbatini to play under the Slovak flag. It also would make him eligible to play for the Eastern European country in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Sabbatini is No. 203 in the world ranking. The Olympics takes no more than two players from each country — four if they are among the top 15 — until the field size is at 60 players. Currently, the No. 60 player in the Olympic ranking is Daan Huizing, who is No. 340 in the world ranking.
“I believe that I will be successful for Slovak golf and will be a source of inspiration for Slovak youth,” Sabbatini said Wednesday at the Consulate General of the Slovak Republic in New York.
Rastislav Antal, vice president of the Slovak Golf Association, said he was proud that Slovakia will have its first PGA Tour player. Sabbatini is fully exempt from finishing 97th in the FedEx Cup last year.
“We believe that Rory will be able to achieve successful results for Slovak golf and can raise the interest of our public and our children to become actively interested in golfing,” Antal said.
THE GAP WIDENS
The European Tour was at its strongest in the weeks leading to the only major championship not on American soil. Otherwise, the gap widened again in world ranking points distributed to the winners on the PGA Tour and European Tour.
PGA Tour events in 2018 offered an average of just under 57 points to the winner, compared with 41.3 points to European Tour events. That’s an average difference of 15.7 points, up from 15.1 points a year ago.
Throw out the four majors and the four World Golf Championships that are part of both tours’ official schedule, and the gap gets wider.
The PGA Tour offered an average of 50.4 world ranking points for its regular events (not including opposite-field tournaments). That’s more than all but three European Tour events — Abu Dhabi, the BMW PGA Championship and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. It’s worth noting that the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth is a flagship event and automatically gets 64 points, though it had a weaker field than Colonial the same week, and was more on line with the Sony Open or Canadian Open.
The European Tour average, minus the majors and WGCs, was 31.73 points for the winner. The PGA Tour had only three tournaments that offered fewer than 32 points to the winner — the John Deere Classic, Safeway Open and RSM Classic at Sea Island.
Europe had seven tournaments that offered more world ranking points that week than the PGA Tour, three of them in the summer between the U.S. Open and the British Open — the French Open, Irish Open and Scottish Open.
One big setback for the European Tour was when two PGA Tour fall events, Las Vegas and Mayakoba, had stronger fields than the Turkish Airlines Open and Nedbank Challenge, part of the Rolex Series that leads to the Race to Dubai conclusion.
Meanwhile, the eight Rolex Series events offered an average of 45 world ranking points to the winner, down from an average of 48 points a year ago.
“PGA Tour Live” will be available next year for Amazon customers in the U.S. through Prime Video. … Of the top 10 players in the world at the end of the year, Tony Finau played the most tournaments at 29, not including the Ryder Cup. … Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els are among five players who are using a one-time exemption from being in the top 50 on the career PGA Tour money list. Els used his exemption from top 25 last year. Steve Stricker is using his one-time exemption from top 25 in career money. …
STAT OF THE WEEK
Eddie Pepperell at No. 35 is the highest-ranked player who is not a PGA Tour member.
“I’ve never been a negative person. My family has done a good job of always trying to look at the glass half full and never getting down.” — Rickie Fowler.