Notes: Trophy oops; Karlsson's form; more
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
PLAYA del CARMEN, Mexico – Maybe it was the mariachi band serenading his victory. Maybe he was still in the zone from his six one-putt greens in a seven-hole stretch. But the only mistake Harris English made in winning the OHL Classic at Mayakoba occurred at the winner’s ceremony when he accidentally hoisted the FedEx Cup Trophy over his head instead of the OHL trophy of a ceramic iguana mounted on a wooden platform.
Afterwards, a Mexican reporter asked him in English without a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “Do you think that was a premonition?”
English smiled sheepishly. “I don’t know, but I did not mean to do that. I kind of blanked out there,” he said. “I barely missed out on the Tour Championship last year. (Top 30 qualify and English finished No. 31.) Maybe this will spark me and I’ll be in the race.”
To which the reporter, with a smirk, said, “Who knows, maybe we already have the photograph of the winner.”
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At the World Golf Championships Match Play, officials from the OHL Classic gave each of the 64 players in the field an iPad loaded with everything they needed to know about Mayakoba Resort and the tournament’s new standalone date after six years being played opposite the Matchplay. So how many of the 64 programmed the fall date into their calendars? Six of 64, which is about the same percentage you get from an old-school junk mailer or email spam blast, but who’s counting? The Mayakoba Six were Tim Clark, Robert Garrigus, Freddie Jacobson, Ryan Moore, Scott Piercy, and John Senden.
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Representatives of OHL, which maintains headquarters in Spain, were thrilled to have countryman Alvaro Quiros participate on a sponsor’s invite. Quiros made his first start in a non-major or World Golf Championships event on PGA Tour since the 2010 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Quiros, who underwent surgery a year ago to repair a damaged ligament in his right wrist and was sidelined for 4 months, gave his fans reason to cheer when he shot up the leaderboard with a 66 in the third round. Quiros was encouraged by signs of “the old Alvaro Quiros that I used to be,” he said, “somebody who has fun on the golf course and doesn’t worry too much about the score.”
Quiros shot 71 Sunday and finished T-16, but he is already his old self in more ways than one: He still has a smile that lights up a room and he can still crush it off the tee. He led the field in driving distance at 313 yards.
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Robert Karlsson’s comeback from the swing yips is inspiring. Even more impressive to me was his willingness to talk about it.
“A couple of years ago I didn’t want to put my feet on the golf course,” he said. “When you were where I was, first you have to see if you still want to play again.”
After shooting 63, his low round on Tour in the first round, he wanted to see if he could back it up, which he did quite well with a 67. He held the lead during Sunday's final round as a host of players including Justin Leonard, Justin Hicks and Brian Stuard mounted a charge. Karlsson rolled in an eagle putt from the fringe at the fifth and chipped in for birdie at the par 3, 8th hole.
When he chipped in, did he think it was going to be his day?
“You’re always hoping,” he said.
Mostly, Karlsson was hoping to hang on, but he couldn’t shake Harris English.
“Even though I was ahead, I felt like he was outplaying me,” Karlsson said.
Karlsson made his first bogey of the day at the 12th, another at the 13th, and after his drive sailed right into the jungle at the 14th, a resulting double bogey sealed his fate. He finished T-6 and still has never won on Tour. But rather than dwell on his shortcomings, Karlsson focused on the big picture, and another big step in his comeback.
“I’d rather finish sixth this way than second coming from behind. You learn so much more about yourself,” he explained. “The learning is more important in the long run than the money.”
Did he feel comfortable being in the lead Sunday, I asked?
“I never feel comfortable playing in the last group unless I’m really, really playing well. I hadn’t been there in a while. It was like re-learning. It was fun. It was good.
“Harris just didn’t do anything wrong. It was a tidy round and if you keep hitting greens you’re going to make a few putts. It didn’t seem like he was making everything. It just seemed like he did what he should do. And then he made some key putts at 11 and 12.”
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Want to win your next bar bet? Here’s the question: Who is the only Tour rookie with a top-10 finish so far this season? Answer: Chesson Hadley, who finished T-5 in Las Vegas.
Hadley missed the cut at Mayakoba and was killing time watching “Breaking Bad” on his phone before his flight to San Francisco to compete in the Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational this week. I asked him if it felt any different being in contention in a Tour event. No, he said. Being in the hunt and winning on the Web.com Tour had taught him that he could handle the pressure. He made the point that having what it takes to win a tournament isn’t something you’re born with; it’s a learned skill. Harris English echoed that sentiment in his winner’s press conference.
“My rookie year I was in the last group with Rory at the Honda Classic; I was in the second to the last group with Matt Kuchar at The Players, so I knew how they won the tournament and how they finished it off. I watched it in person,” English said. “I think the win in Memphis (at the FedEx St. Jude Classic) helped me from a comfort standpoint coming down the last nine holes of being within one or two, three shots of the lead and being comfortable out there and knowing I can pull it off and to hit the correct shots and really be confident in what I'm doing.”
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Mayakoba translates to the city built on water. If you ever go to the Mayakoba Resort, you must take a boat tour. The three resorts are connected by a series of navigable lagoons. Birds announce their presence at every turn. I liked the vivid yellow belly of the Great Kiskadee. I also liked the looks of the $12,000-a-night property you can rent on the water there. I’m told it’s already booked the week of Christmas. I bet the lucky occupants will have a merry old time.