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1. Consistent aims
Every week since Billy Horschel had a tie for second at the Shell Houston Open in late March, I've been saying that he was going to win soon.
Horschel's one-shot victory over D.A. Points on Sunday in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans -- his first PGA Tour title -- marked his fourth straight top-10 and tour-leading 23rd consecutive made cut.
|Zurich Classic winner Billy Horschel is working on a streak of four straight top-10s on the PGA Tour.|
It's nice to see a player rewarded for consistency. There aren't too many surprises on tour. Seldom does a player miss six or seven cuts in a row, and then come out of nowhere to win a tournament. But it does happen occasionally.
When Points beat Horschel in Houston, he had missed seven of eight cuts. Realistically with that kind of record, a player is usually just trying to cash a check -- any check -- to stop the bleeding.
Horschel, a 26-year-old former Walker Cupper out of the University of Florida, didn't have that problem.
In Houston, he told me that he was sure that he would get more comfortable on the leaderboard the more chances he got in that position.
All the fidgeting, rushing and anxiety would trickle out of his system with each trip into contention.
On Sunday at the TPC Louisiana, the Grant, Fla., native shot an 8-under 64 that included nine birdies and just one bogey. He has never played a better round of golf under the circumstances.
"This is something that I've wanted since I've turned pro, and I've always felt I was good enough to win out here," Horschel said on Sunday. "I just felt I had to check every box. Some guys get out here and win right away and then they struggle.
"Other guys, it takes longer for them to get to that process. You know, I've had some injuries that hurt me and some other stuff and then I had to deal with my emotions a little bit better, but to finally get the first victory means a lot to me."
Yet Horschel is just in the beginning of his journey, and the perfectionism that he brought to this current spurt of good play should encourage him to aim for the next hurdle.
He didn't qualify for the Masters in April. But he will be in Augusta next year and likely in this season's three remaining majors, the Players and a few other select events.
The most fulfilling aspect of his breakout year could be if he can continue this run of top-10s for two, three, or four more weeks.
He wants to be rested for the Players in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., near where he and his wife recently bought a home. So he's not in the field this week at Charlotte.
Last year, I ran into Horschel at the Players. Not in the field, he had just dropped by TPC Sawgrass to see friends. Now after his win in the Big Easy, he will be one of the favorites to win one of the game's most prestigious titles on another Pete Dye course.
2. The sideshow
At the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Guan Tianlang made the cut. It's noteworthy because he is a 14-year-old Chinese eighth-grader competing against some of the best players in the world.
The 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur champion headed to the weekend at TPC Louisiana following a 3-under 69, but he went 7 over on his final 36 holes to finish 71st.
It's undoubtedly a great story, but it was largely a sideshow to the real tournament going on with Billy Horschel, D.A. Points and Lucas Glover.
|Former LSU star Ken Looper, making his first PGA Tour appearance, entered Sunday's final round in New Orleans four shots off the lead. He ended up tied for 21st.|
As much as it was a joy to see the kid back up his performance at the Masters with a nice showing in New Orleans, I still wasn't completely comfortable with him being in the field.
Years of covering the sport have made me sensitive to the plight of those pros struggling for years to just get into one tour event.
So I was happy that while the Guan show was happening there was another good story on the course: one that if everything worked out a young man could have a job now on the PGA Tour.
The player's name was Ken Looper. The 24-year-old former LSU star and Greater New Orleans native had won the Monday qualifier to get into the field, his first tour event.
As an NGA Hooters Tour player, Looper had no status on the big tour. He had earned just $2,490 on the year. But after going 73, 66, 67 in his first three rounds at TPC Louisiana, Looper was four shots off the lead heading into the final round. A win or a top-10 would change his life.
When he eagled the par-5 second hole to get to 12 under on Sunday, he looked as if he might get for sure that top-10. But he couldn't keep pace with leaders, and fell to a tie for 21st with a 1-under 71.
Still, Looper was a very prescient reminder of what's at stake on a weekly basis for the average player with aspirations of a life on tour. And that Guan's dreamlike ride through the Masters and New Orleans is a distant reality for most guys.
Greg Norman has never been bashful about sharing his views with golf's governing bodies or professional tours. In 1994, the Great White Shark famously began a very personal feud with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem when he tried to start a World Golf Tour.
Now the 58-year-old Australian is calling for blood testing in the sport. In comments published on Monday in The Australian newspaper, Norman called the game's anti-doping procedures "disgraceful."
"How deep it is [the problem], I have no idea because we only do urine analysis instead of blood testing," Norman said. "If you really want to be serious about it and find about what's really going on, we need to do blood testing. I think it's disgraceful, to tell you the truth. The golf associations have to get together and step it up.
"It's a pin prick for a player and you find out what's going on. If you're the head of golf or any sport, if you're the commissioner for a sport, it's your responsibility to make sure your sport is clean … that should be your No. 1 priority."
In January, Major League Baseball announced that for the first time it would conduct in-season blood testing for human growth hormone. The NFL still doesn't have a blood-testing protocol in place, despite the league and the players' association agreeing in 2011 that players should be tested for HGH.
The PGA Tour began drug testing in the summer of 2008. And in 2009, the tour suspended the journeyman Doug Barron for one year for testing positive for supplemental testosterone and beta blocker, but his suspension was lifted after he showed that the drugs were for therapeutic use under the supervision of a doctor.
Norman made the case for tougher drug testing by citing the case of Vijay Singh, who has admittedly used deer antler spray, which contains a banned substance. Singh is awaiting a ruling on his fate by the tour.
Neither the Barron nor the Singh case points to a major drug problem in golf, but Norman's call for blood testing does point to a suggestion that Tiger Woods made in 2006 that the tour be "proactive instead of reactive" on testing policy.
Had Norman polled current players on all the major tours, he would have discovered that few believe that there is a performance-enhancing drug problem in the game. That doesn't mean that it's not happening, but it does speak to the lack of support that there could be for blood testing within the player ranks.
The NFL plan has been stalled by disagreements between the league and the union over what constitutes a positive test.
Tour players don't have an organized union, but they might start one over this issue, which if Norman has his way soon will be high on the agenda of golf's major tours.
4. Good Points
For a guy who a couple of months ago couldn't make a putt or a cut, D.A. Points is doing a great job these days of making up for lost time. At New Orleans, the 36-year-old winner of the 2013 Shell Houston Open battled Billy Horschel all the way to the 72nd hole, finishing a shot back in second place after shooting a 65 on Sunday for a 19-under total.
Points' year hasn't been one of consistency -- his only two top-10s in 13 starts have been at Houston and New Orleans -- but the point of the game is to win, and with his mama's hot putter he's confident he can close the deal when he's in contention.
5. Sore winners
Brad Faxon and Jeff Sluman won the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf on Sunday in Savannah by a stroke over two other teams.
But no one in the Champions Tour two-man better-ball competition was happy with the 23-under final total, which was the highest since 2008.
Better ball is supposed to be fun. Birdies are the whole point of the format, almost at every level. Faxon and Sluman shot a measly 7-under 65 on Sunday at the Club at Savannah Harbor, which plagued the players with confusing crosswinds, tough pin placements and firm greens.
"I don't think anyone would have thought four pars would have won the tournament coming in like that," Faxon said.