Adam Hadwin entered Sunday’s final round at the Valspar Championship with a four-shot lead, looking to earn his first PGA Tour win. His playing partner and nearest competitor was Patrick Cantlay, the former phenom whose career had been derailed by injuries and personal tragedy, making just his second start in the last 24 months.
At the turn, Cantlay had only picked up one shot on Hadwin before the two put together quite the show. Cantlay birdied four of the first five on the back nine. Hadwin matched two of the birdies, but his lead was cut to just one shot with four to play. Cantlay’s bogey on 15 put it back to two shots, but then Hadwin made a big mistake on the tough par-4 16th, rinsing his tee shot and opening the door for Cantlay, who erased the deficit with a par to Hadwin’s double bogey. After trading pars on the 17th, the two headed to the 18th tee in a deadlock. Both found the dead center of the fairway on the 72nd hole. Cantlay was first to play, finding the greenside bunker. Hadwin responded with a good shot that ran just over the green onto the collar. Cantlay’s below average bunker shot left 15’ for par, and Hadwin calmly used the blade of his wedge to putt the ball within two feet, putting the pressure back on Cantlay. Cantlay wasn’t able to respond, giving Hadwin his first win and a spot in the Masters. Full scores
What it all means
A new Canadian star is born
It’s been a breakout season for the 29-year-old Canadian, Hadwin, who has steadily improved throughout his career. In an era of youthful bombers, it’s nice to see a player like Hadwin succeed doing things in a different way without 320-yard drives.
I’ve been quite excited about Patrick Cantlay’s return since his name was in the field for this year’s AT&T Pro-Am, and it’s great to see the talent is still there. Cantlay was the game’s most promising prospect in the early 2010’s and even overshadowed players like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Following his solo second performance, he has earned enough money to satisfy his major medical exemption and return to the PGA Tour full time. For Cantlay, I’m happy to say that the conversation has shifted from what could have been to what lies ahead, and the future is still very bright.
This year’s crop is off to a hot start, and while Cody Gribble and Mackenzie Hughes have been the only two to find the winner's circle, here are three who impressed this week.
Dominic Bozzelli - He has the game to go along with his memorable Italian name. Bozzelli shot a stellar final-round 67 to move into a tie for third, the second top-five finish in his short PGA Tour career. Bozzelli’s strong play should come as no surprise, the former Auburn star won and finished seventh on last year’s Web.com Money List.
Wesley Bryan - The 2016 Web.com Tour Player of the Year notched his third consecutive top-ten finish after a final-round 68 moved him into a tie for seventh. Bryan is making a name for himself and has moved to 72nd in the world rankings. Look for Bryan’s hot play to continue at next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational as he continues his mission for a spot in the top 50 of the world rankings and a spot in the Masters field.
JT Poston - The recent guest of No Laying Up’s TrapDraw podcast continued his solid play with a t14th finish, his third consecutive top 30. Much like Hadwin, Poston is a breath of fresh air. Under-recruited out of high school, Poston played college golf at the small Western Carolina, where he was able to earn All-American honors.
A new putting method (arm-lock) and a t27th finish were a step in the right direction for the polarizing Bryson DeChambeau. The self-proclaimed scientist played himself into contention on Saturday but struggled to finish out the tournament strong. Upon further examination, the majority of DeChambeau’s best performances have come at demanding setups similar to Copperhead. As an amateur, he won the NCAA and US Amateur Championships, and as a professional, his lone win came at the Web.com Tour Finals DAP Championship where only 27 players finished under par. Couple that with his strong finishes at last year’s US Open, Masters and Heritage, and it's clear that Bryson’s best showings come at the season’s most demanding tee-to-green setups.
Year in and year out, the Valspar produces one of the most balanced leaderboards of any tournament, and Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course is to thank. It allows for all styles of play, and length isn’t a prerequisite for success. This year’s event’s top five saw one of the world’s best putters take the title, a couple of tee-to-green tacticians in Cantlay and Herman, along with bombers Finau and Bozzelli. Golf is more entertaining when leaders are playing different styles of golf, but unfortunately, courses like Innisbrook are hard to find on the PGA Tour schedule.
Defending champion SSP Chowrasia entered Sunday’s final round of the Hero Indian Open holding a two-shot lead over the field. Chowrasia continued to avoid bogeys at the difficult setup and watched as his competition vanished from contention, making big numbers and failing to put pressure on the defending champion. By the end of Sunday, SSP was seven shots clear of his nearest competitor, Galvin Green, and completed his title defense. Chowrasia is clearly comfortable playing on his home turf. Prior to last year’s triumph, he had finished runner-up at the event four straight years. Now it appears that the floodgates are open.
Closing in on championship season
College golf’s spring season is hitting its stride, and conference championship season is only about six weeks away. The weekend’s preeminent tournament was the General Hackler Championship in Myrtle Beach, with powerhouse programs Virginia, Kent State, Wake Forest and LSU competing. Rain shortened the championship to only 36 holes and gave Wake Forest the clean sweep as their star player and potential Walker Cup participant, Will Zalatoris, shot rounds of 68-67 to win the individual title and lead the Demon Deacons to a ten-shot victory over Kent State.
Meanwhile, down in Florida at the Seminole Intercollegiate, Penn State pulled the upset, topping host Florida State and Georgia Tech by three shots. The Nittany Lions can thank their star, Cole Miller, whose eagle on the 16th hole gave the team some much needed breathing room and helped him earn the individual crown.
One of the destinations I am most excited about going back to this summer is Sand Valley, the brand new Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw course in Nekoosa, WI. I checked out 13 of the holes during preview play last summer, and it was spectacular. Kemper Sports is hosting a contest to win an opening day foursome, two nights lodging, travel expenses, and the opportunity to meet the legendary architects. Check it out here.