If you’re a golf fan, the past month didn’t exactly adhere to the old adage. March pretty much came in like a lion and went out…well, like a lion. More wintry weather prevailed over much of the continent, but a lot of compelling professional golf played in relatively good climates.
The month began with a thrilling final-round pursuit of the trophy at the Honda Classic. The late afternoon turned into a bloodbath as a number of players had great chances to win, only to falter over the Champion Course at PGA National’s many late hazards. One of those players was Rory McIlroy who, after sleeping on the 54-hole lead, shot a final-round four-over par 74 to fall into a four-way playoff at eight-under par for the tournament with Ryan Palmer, Russell Knox and Russell Henley. Henley birdied the first playoff hole, the par-5 18th, earning his second-career PGA Tour victory.
South Florida once again played host to the PGA Tour’s best players the following week for the World Golf Championships – Cadillac Championship at Trump National – Doral’s Blue Monster course, freshly reopened after a year’s renovations by Gil Hanse. Heavy winds battered players all week and only three players broke par: Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Bubba Watson at three-under and wire-to-wire winner Patrick Reed, who edged them out by a single shot with a final-round 72. Afterward, the 23-year old Reed, declared himself one of the top five players in the world in an interview that reminded some of Richard Sherman’s post-NFC Championship declarations.
The same week, an opposite-field PGA Tour event, the Puerto Rico Open, gave The Donald two professional events in the same week. At Trump International Golf Club, Puerto Rico, Chesson Hadley shot 21-under for four rounds and prevailed by two over Danny Lee, collecting his maiden Tour win.
West went the tour, to the Valspar Championship held at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course in the Tampa, Florida area. There, another tough course greeted the players, with only 19 players breaking par for the week. The top finisher, returning to the winner’s circle for the first time since 2005 and the second time in his career, was journeyman John Senden. The Australian, long known for his excellent tee-to-green game, harnessed his putter for the week and finished at seven-under, good for a one-shot win over Kevin Na.
The Florida Swing continued the next week as the Tour headed north and east to the Orlando area for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, held at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. As always, The King served as a gracious host, greeting players as they concluded their rounds. The last one he greeted on Sunday was Matt Every, who used a final-round two-under par 70 to make a 13-under par total for four days, good for a one-stroke win over 2011 PGA Champion Keegan Bradley. Third-round leader Adam Scott had a chance to take over the Official World Golf Ranking’s top spot with a win but faltered to a final-round 76 to finish two shots back of Every. Every became the second alumnus of Golf Channel’s “Big Break” series of shows to win a PGA Tour event—Tommy Gainey became the first after winning the McGladrey Championship in 2012.
March’s PGA Tour slate concluded with the beginning of a two-week Texas mini-swing at the Valero Texas Open, held at the Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Another tough track and another final-round 76 by an Aussie marked the final day, but in this case, 76-shooter Steven Bowditch came away with the victory at eight-under par, with Will MacKenzie and Daniel Summerhays sharing second place a shot back. The victory was Bowditch’s first on Tour and marked something of a career renaissance. Bowditch previously battled alcoholism and nearly quit the game a few years ago before rediscovering his swing, confidence and focus.
The Tour begins April with the Shell Houston Open and then heads to Augusta, Georgia for the Masters. Stay tuned for more drama and the crowning of 2014’s first major golf champion in next month’s installment.