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Chipping In - PGA Tour excelling

By: Nick Bonfield | Wed 05 Mar 2014

Chipping In is a weekly column written by Golfing journalist Nick Bonfield

Season in full flow

Well, it appears the exhilarating events of the WGC-Accenture Match Play set a precedent. The closing stages of The Honda Classic - an event with a stronger field than the World Golf Championship - were absolutely enthralling, and embodied everything that's good about the game. Tension, pressure, excitement, nerves and skill were all in abundance as a succession of players stumbled over the treacherous back nine at PGA National before producing moments of brilliance. Russell Knox holed the biggest eight-footer of his career to secure a play-off berth, Rory McIlroy hit the shot of the season when it looked like his challenge was waning and Russell Henley stepped up at a career-defining moment to register the biggest win of his career. The young American showed impressive mental strength throughout the final round and fantastic resolve on the first and only play-off hole, banishing memories of a duffed chip during regulation to two-putt for a winning birdie. He's another youngster who seems to relish the big occasion, and another member of an ominously strong group of 20-something Americans on the verge of Ryder Cup qualification. Given how he conducted himself in extra holes, he could be a valuable addition to a US side already brimming with talent.

Best shot at the Honda?

After McIlroy birdied the par-3 5th at PGA National's Champion Course to open up a three-shot lead, a first PGA Tour title since August 2012 looked the likely outcome. But he dropped six shots over the next 12 holes, and looked a weak imitation of the player who'd dominated the field over the first three days. Great players, though, manage to produce their best shots with everything on the line. Knowing a closing birdie was an absolute must to earn himself a spot in extra holes, he produced one of the best fairway wood shots of all time. With the flag positioned perilously near the water and 245 yards remaining, he sent a 5-wood into the stratosphere, landed his ball on a tiny slither of green and somehow imparted sufficient spin to stop the ball pin-high. He missed the putt - something, you feel, Tiger Woods would never have done in his situation - and went on to miss out in the play-off, but that shot reinforced his reputation as one of the most gifted golfers of all time. He may not have won, and his collapse over the back nine was incongruous with the McIlroy of 2012, but his game looks in great shape. Put it this way: I know who I'll be putting money on for the Masters.

PGA Tour excels again

I’m a staunch supporter of the European Tour, but events at the Honda Classic again demonstrated just how far it is behind its American counterpart. No events in Europe attract such significant crowds, with declining European interest in the sport and lack of a golfing culture in places like the Middle East predominantly responsible for that fact. Throw a genuinely world-class field (again, something the European Tour can never replicate due to the dearth of top Americans) and one of the best golf courses in the world into the mix and you have a spectacle that simply can’t be replicated this side of the Atlantic. It’s a shame, but I’m afraid that’s the reality of the situation.

Woods’ woe

I’m not for one moment suggesting that Tiger Woods pulled a Rory McIlroy and walked off the course without a discernible injury, but I have to question whether the Woods of old would have done such a thing. Or perhaps I’m just being cynical. What is extremely concerning, though, is the fact his health seems to be deteriorating at an alarming rate. He’s been forced to withdraw four times in the last five years, and all with different ailments. His knees are about as healthy as Fred Couples' back and his body just doesn't seem to be able to deal with his strenuous golf swing like it used to. He also seems to be devoid of desire and determination, and whilst some will just dismiss this latest episode as early-season rust, I think the problems - both mental and physical - are more deep-rooted.

Fisher finds form

Ross Fisher played some fine golf at the Tshwane Open to record his first European Tour victory in almost four years. Fisher has been in the doldrums for the last couple of seasons, desperately searching for the form that saw him reach number 17 in the world rankings. But he's always been a talent, and someone capable of producing inspired golf when all facets of his game click into place. He's a past Ryder Cup player, and this result could well ignite his challenge for a space in Paul McGinley's side. 

Doral ready for world's best

It seems fitting that Trump Doral has been revamped in time to welcome the strongest field, anywhere in the world, since the 2012 PGA Championship. The top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking will be in action come Thursday, just a month after the renovated course and resort was unveiled. The old version was nothing more than a glorified resort track with a stand-out closing hole, so let's hope Donald Trump's changes have turned the layout into a venue that deserves to host the very best players on the planet.  

Related articles

Henley pinches Honda from in-form McIlroy

Video : McIlroy hits one of the best shots of his life to make the play-off at The Honda

Tshwane Open winner, Ross Fisher - in The Bag 


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Tags: wgc tiger woods ryder cup rory mcilroy PGA Tour european tour

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