Valspar Championship 2016
Round 4 - Charl Schwartzel beats Bill Haas in a playoff
March 14, 2016
South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, parred the first playoff hole Sunday to defeat American Bill Haas and capture the US PGA Valspar Championship.
Schwartzel won his 15th professional title worldwide, his first since last month's European Tour Tshwane Open and his first in a US event since he birdied the last four holes at Augusta National to win his first major title five years ago.
Haas was right of a cart path with his tee shot on the first playoff hole, the par-4 18th, and found a bunker with his second shot while Schwartzel landed his ball in the middle of the green.
Haas, 33, blasted out to 25 feet with his third shot while Schwartzel, 31, left his birdie putt two feet short. Haas tapped in for bogey but Schwartzel tapped in for par and the triumph.
Schwartzel made the greatest last-day rally to win in tournament history, one better than the four-stroke comeback of Australian John Senden in the 2014 final round.
Haas and Schwartzel each finished 72 holes at the Innisbrook resort's Copperhead course on seven-under par 277 after 54-hole leader Haas shot a 72.
Schwartzel birdied three of the last six holes in regulation to fire a four-under par 67, the day's low round. He missed by inches on a 40-foot birdie putt at 18.
"That was a really good round," Schwartzel said. "I think everyone's goal was just to keep bogeys off the card. You were just surviving. It was just really tough."
American Ryan Moore, who parred the last 12 holes, was third on 279 with 22-year-old amateur Lee McCoy, the playing partner of world number one Jordan Spieth on Sunday, fourth on 280.
Spieth, the reigning US Open and Masters champion, faded quickly out of contention. He took a bogey at the second, birdied the par-5 fifth, but made double bogey at the par-3 eighth and a bogey at 11 to doom his title bid, shooting a 73 to share 18th on 284.
McCoy, whose boyhood home was near the first tee, sank a 28-foot birdie at the 12th and a tap-in birdie at the par-5 14th on the way to a 69 to finish on 280, becoming only the fifth top-five amateur finisher in a PGA event since the tour's last amateur winner, Phil Mickelson in 1991 at Tucson.
"Surreal to say the least," McCoy said. "I've just always dreamed of getting a tee time here. To be in contention playing with the number one player in the world was just unbelievable. I had to pinch myself several times."
Haas led at eight-under when the day began and sank an 18-foot birdie putt at the second. He stumbled with bogeys at the third and par-3 fourth and found a greenside bunker on his way to a bogey at the ninth, making the turn at six-under just one ahead of Moore with five others only two adrift.
Schwartzel sank a 64-foot birdie putt at the par-3 13th -- saying, "that was just perfect" -- to pull within a stroke but a tap-in birdie by Haas at 11 boosted the American's edge and an 11-foot Haas birdie putt at the 12th stretched his lead to three strokes.
But Schwartzel sank a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-5 14th to close within two again, and added a 24-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th to move within one stroke.
Haas sank a testy nine-foot par putt at the par-3 15th to stay in front but found a bunker at 16 and missed a 10-foot par putt, falling into a tie with Schwartzel.
Round 3 - Bill Haas edges ahead
March 13, 2016
Bill Haas was looking for a spark and knew just where to find it.
He called his dad.
Jay Haas is a nine-time PGA Tour and two-time Presidents Cup captain, and the only person Bill Haas trusts when it comes to golf. So he asked his father to come down to the Valspar Championship earlier in the week, hopeful ''he would have the magical touch.''
It appears to be working.
Haas worked his way through the wind on another tough day and chipped in for birdie one the par-3 15th hole on his way to a 4-under 67, giving him a one-shot lead over Graham DeLaet of Canada going into the final round at Innisbrook.
It was one shot on the fifth hole of a practice round Tuesday. Jay Haas suggested that his son use an abbreviated follow on his swing so that it would force him to get his hands through the ball quicker and avoid shots that were leaking to the right.
''He came up with the swing thought I've had for three days, and I'm leading,'' Haas said. ''Without him coming down, I might not even have made the weekend. It was very valuable.''
And if it doesn't hold up on Sunday?
''If it goes south, I can blame him,'' Haas said with a laugh.
Haas was at 8-under 205
DeLaet, now sporting a beard that would make Old Tom Morris proud, pounded a 3-wood out of the rough and over the water to 3 feet on the par-5 14th for an eagle that shot him up the leaderboard, and he finished with a 68 to get into the last group.
Haas is as honest as any golfer at the highest level. He realizes he can play a solid round Sunday and it might not be enough because of the players behind him - that includes defending champion Jordan Spieth - and the nature of the Copperhead course. This is the first stop on the Florida swing where no one has shot better than 66.
DeLaet, still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, sounds more determined than ever. This is a great chance to win. He wants to grab it.
''Every time in this position I kind of say the politically correct things,'' he said. ''I'm going to go and win this golf tournament tomorrow. That's my plan.''
It's still up in the grabs on Sunday because of Innisbrook, which takes shots away more often than it gives up birdies. Six players were within four shots of the lead, and even Spieth believes he is still in the mix.
Spieth, who opened his title defense with a 76, made the cut with one shot to spare on Friday and moved into a tie for ninth on Saturday with a bogey-free 67 in which he holed a long eagle putt and made a pair of key par saves coming in.
''To think after the first round that I go Saturday night be able to sleep with a chance to win the golf tournament, I'm very pleased with that,'' Spieth said.
Charley Hoffman (67) and Ryan Moore (69) were three shots behind.
Charles Howell III had a 70 and was four shots behind, though still has a reasonable chance to win and earn a return to the Masters, which motivates the Augusta, Georgia, native this time of the year. He was amazed to still be this close to the lead.
''This course continues to surprise me in that it just doesn't give up good scores,'' Howell said. ''What am I? Tied for fifth? I would have thought the lead would be 10 or 12 under, and more than one guy there. But maybe that's just me getting my head beat in.''
In the group with Spieth was Lee McCoy, the Georgia senior who ran off five straight birdies around the turn and was headed for a rare low score at Innisbrook until he put his tee shot in the water on the 16th and took double bogey. He still shot a 66 and was six shots behind, and he gets to play the final round with Spieth.
McCoy knows the course better than anyone. He grew up near Innisbrook, describing his house as a par 5 away from the course. He played Saturday with Gary Woodland, and McCoy told him that he was in the gallery when Woodland won five years ago.
They will be chasing Haas, who is coming off a big moment in his career last October when he won the decisive point in the Presidents Cup with his father as captain. It hasn't carried over, at least not yet. Haas has a pair of top 10s this year, though he has not seriously contended.
''Half of it is these guys are really good,'' Haas said. ''I'm trying to beat some really good players and they're beating me right now. I just haven't been sharp. When the Presidents Cup was won, being in the last match and handling some pressure, that was a great stepping stone for me. Hopefully, it will lead to better things. But I've still got to play well tomorrow.''
Round 2 - Steve Stricker and Will MacKenzie top leaderboard
March 12, 2016
Jordan Spieth holed three shots from off the green and made the cut with one shot to spare Friday in the Valspar Championship.
Now he has to figure out how to catch up to Steve Stricker and Will MacKenzie.
Stricker, playing for only the fifth time this year, holed out from the 10th fairway for eagle and made a 60-foot birdie putt across the fourth green for a 5-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with MacKenzie, who had a 67.
They were at 5-under 137, one shot ahead of Bill Haas (67), Graham DeLaet (66) and Daniel Berger (68).
Spieth is just happy to be joining them. He opened with a 76 and was in danger of missing the cut, especially when the wind began to pick up just as he was starting his second round on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook.
And then he hooked his tee shot on the par-5 opening hole into a bush, had to take a penalty shot and made bogey on the easiest hole on the course.
''I'm walking off that green going, 'Oh, boy. We can either somehow flip this one around today or ... I don't want that to be the key of me not being able to be here for the weekend.' I thought it was really strong what we did after that,'' he said.
Nearly five hours later, after he nearly holed a bunker shot on the 17th to save par, Spieth exhaled on the 18th tee and said with a smile, ''This was grinding today. I've got some good stuff coming on the weekend.''
He wound up with a 68 and was at 2-over 144 to make the cut by one shot. That's all he was thinking about until he chipped in from behind the green on the 15th for a birdie, and his tee shot on the 16th narrowly cleared the water.
It was hard work, and there is plenty left.
More than just trying to make up seven shots on the weekend, he had 42 players in front of him.
Stricker began to cut back on his schedule a few years ago, and he had back surgery at the end of 2014 that limited his playing even more. But the strength is starting to return to the 49-year-old with the pure putting stroke, and he has looked solid for two days.
Stricker was tied for the lead early on Thursday until three straight bogeys late in his round. This time, he took the eagle and keep running, adding a short birdie putt on the par-5 14th and a 10-foot birdie on the 16th hole to catch MacKenzie.
''There are times I escaped with a few good breaks,'' Stricker said. ''Holing out on 10, you don't expect to do that. And that putt at No. 4 was going pretty quick, and that ended up going in. So some things evidently went my way. I'm starting to play a little better. Definitely putting better. And slowly, things are coming together.''
The large group at 3-under 139 included Justin Thomas, who hit a sharp slice to escape the trees on his first hole of the day (No. 10) and turned potential bogey into birdie on his way to a 67. Also at 139 were Augusta, Georgia, native Scott Brown (69), who has yet to play the Masters; past champion Retief Goosen and Charles Howell III, another Augusta native who had a 72.
Only eight shots separated the top and bottom of the leaderboard, leaving the weekend wide open.
That includes Spieth, the defending champion, whose first goal was get to Saturday. It wasn't easy, but he settled into his round with a 6-iron over the water to 5 feet on the third hole. He used the blade of his sand wedge to hole a birdie putt from the collar the par-5 fifth - the first time he has used that shot in competition - and putted one from off the green on No. 7 for another birdie.
He lost an easy birdie opportunity on the par-5 11th when he barely got out of a greenside bunker and was in deep rough. But he holed a 4-foot par putt that could have sent his momentum in the other direction, and despite missed birdie chances on the next three holes, the chip-in on the 15th was key.
''Today it was all about the cut,'' he said. ''All of a sudden I'm over the green on 15, kind of sitting down in the bluegrass rough just trying to hope to chip that one to tap-in range. ... Then all in all, we get finished and we're back in the tournament.''
Among those missing the cut were Keegan Bradley, who followed his 67 with a 79. It was more critical to Harris English and Webb Simpson, who were outside the top 66 in the world and will not qualify for the Dell Match Play in two weeks.
Round 1 - Trio lead as Jordan Spieth struggles
March 11, 2016
Charles Howell III saw a news blurb that the Masters is a month away, and the Augusta native played Thursday like he wants to be there.
In strong gusts that didn't subside until the final few hours of daylight, Howell played bogey-free and picked up two big birdies on his way to a 4-under 67 and a share of the lead with Keegan Bradley and Ken Duke in the Valspar Championship.
''I was impressed I got away with no bogeys,'' Howell said. ''It was nice to get off to a good start here on a place like this. I'm not sure what the rest of the week will hold, but to actually play a nice round on a tough golf course is good for my confidence.''
Jordan Spieth wasn't sure what to make of his day.
The defending champion had to get up-and-down to save bogey four times on his opening seven holes, and he never recovered. Spieth made only one birdie, played the final 11 holes with 10 pars and a bogey and wound up with a 76. He was nine shots behind and in danger of missing the cut for the second time in three tournaments.
''I got off to a poor start and I was behind the eight ball with gusty winds on a tough golf course,'' Spieth said.
Duke also played bogey-free and made birdies on the two par 3s on the back nine that were into the wind and over the water. Bradley was the only player to reach 5 under on a day that featured 25 mph gusts, which seem stronger because the Copperhead course at Innisbrook is demanding in no wind at all.
Howell was in the penultimate group, and the wind laid down for most of the back nine. His play was solid throughout, however, particularly the 4-iron into a left pin that settled a foot from the cup on the par-3 eighth. He picked up another bonus birdie on the par-5 11th with a 45-foot putt.
Howell, perhaps more than any other player from the Augusta area, is linked to the Masters.
He hasn't played the Masters since he tied for 19th in 2012, and Georgia is on his mind as the first major of the year gets closer.
''Always this time of the year, the Masters' carrot looms,'' Howell said. ''When April comes around it has a different feel - at least for me - than the other majors. So when the Masters comes around and I'm not in it, then it's a bit of a wake-up call or a kick in the rear to somehow make one last push to try to get in it.''
It's not his desire alone, and Howell realizes that.
He was happy to see Augusta resident Vaughn Taylor qualify by winning at Pebble Beach, and Kevin Kisner (Aiken, South Carolina) qualify through a sensational 2015. He knows that the Masters means as much to Scott Brown (Aiken) as him.
''It's not like it's more special to me than anyone else. Everyone feels that way about it,'' Howell said. ''But yeah, it's such a great event. It would be nice to somehow find a way to get there.''
Howell likely would have to win a tournament because he is No. 128 in the world, though he did consider one alternate route.
''I may send my application in for the Drive, Chip and Putt,'' he said with a laugh. ''Maybe I can find a spot in Tampa to try to qualify. Just to get on the grounds with golf clubs in my hands would be great.''
Bradley also needed a round like this. He has missed the cut in four of his five starts this year, and recently switched to a new swing coach. Bradley's last victory was at Firestone in August 2012. He has fallen to No. 88 in the world.
''It's been tough,'' Bradley said. ''It's no fun playing poorly out here. I see all my buddies up there doing well and it feels not fun to feel like you're on the outside looking in. So I've been working the hardest in my career.''
It was hard work at Innisbrook, especially in the morning when the wind was at its strongest and only four out of 72 players managed to break 70. Several players took advantage of calmer conditions late in the day.
Chesson Hadley was one shot behind with a 68.
Chez Reavie was bogey-free and joined Charley Hoffman and Greg Yates in the group at 69, while Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson were among those at 70.
Only two dozen players broke par, while five players failed to break 80.
''Just keep hanging on,'' Howell said. ''This golf course is so difficult and there's trouble everywhere, and I don't expect tomorrow to be a bogey-free day. Pars are good scores.''