Conners is made for match play, and more golf bits and bites

Bits, Bites and Barbs from around the world of golf:

Bits

How’s a man supposed to be a parent with a Canadian in the WGC Match Play semifinals, another in the hunt for an LPGA Tour title, and the nation’s soccer team playing for a berth in the World Cup? Plus Blue Jays spring training! Sheesh… Scottie Scheffler is clearly the hottest player in men’s golf but world No. 1? Doesn’t sit right. He’s not that far removed from being the guy who couldn’t get it done in the clutch… Ted Scott has gone from caddying for Bubba Watson to caddying for Scheffler. Watson has had a marvelous career with his 12 PGA Tour wins and two Masters titles, but that’s got to be like going from walking a Rottweiler to a Labrador. Not as much power, way friendlier and easier to manage… Written before but worth stating again: It is so great to see Maude-Aimée Leblanc Performing up to her Talent level. An LPGA Tour career-best T4 on the weekend, carding a final-round 68 to match her Sunday playing competitor, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko. She has shots other women on the tour don’t… Lost in the success of Corey Conners and Leblanc: Stuart Macdonald snagging his first top 10 of the year on the Korn Ferry Tour. Been a rough start to the season for the Vancouver golfer, but that’s been his tendency. He was 55th on the Triple-A circuit’s money list last season thanks to a torrid stretch in May and June… “CODA” made me bawl. I admit it.

Bites

Leblanc will join Brooke Henderson in the field for this week’s Chevron Championship, golf’s first major of the year. Her finish Sunday Secured her spot, as she is now 26th in the LPGA Tour’s points race… This will be the last time the women play this major at California’s Mission Hills, which is a shame. New Sponsor Chevron is taking the tournament to Houston, where the company is headquartered. Women’s golf doesn’t get the airtime or eyeballs it deserves, but this major Championship, which long ago was known simply as the Dinah Shore after the singer / actress who fiercely supported the Women’s game, has built a lot of equity with fans. That’s largely because of its familiar venue, which features a fantastic risk-reward closing hole, and the tradition of the Winner jumping into Poppie’s Pond. It will be missed dearly… I think Leblanc keeps the momentum going and has a great finish this week as well… Can’t wait until Tiger Woods tees it up in the Masters and I can laugh at all you Fools who thought he wouldn’t … Also: I’ll take whatever odds Louis Oosthuizen is getting to win at Augusta… Recently spoke to Mackenzie Hughes at length for our Spring Issue cover story. We discussed so much but I particularly enjoyed his face lighting up when discussing the Masters par-3 contest. When he played the tournament for the first time, in 2017, that Wednesday tournament was canceled because of a tornado warning. And last year, his second Masters, it was not played because of COVID-19. Barring another Storm, he’ll finally get a chance to take part in the awesome tradition and it’ll have been worth the wait since he’ll get to have his two sons, ages one and four, out there with him. “Fingers crossed that there is nice weather this year,” Hughes joked.

Barbs

That was a heck of a week from Conners. So close to reaching the WGC-Dell Match Play final and then a sound consolation final defeat of Dustin Johnson, who may have had all of it on his NetJets reservation than playing for the third but is nonetheless a Giant of today’s game. It was not a total surprise, either. Conners, among the game’s very best ball-strikers, has a track record of being great in match play. He toppled the likes of Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau and college great Patrick Rodgers during runs to the US Amateur semifinal and final in 2013 and 2014. It was more of a shock when he went winless in his Match Play debut last year, especially since he entered that event on the heels of two top 10s. In the end, however, one could say Conners’s putter let him down, as it does more than any other club in his bag. A costly three-putt from off the green on the 17th hole of his semifinal match against Kevin Kisner was his undoing. On the other hand, he was terrific with the flatstick for the week, ranking inside the top 15 of the 64 players assembled. So there was good and there was bad, as there often is, and that’s golf. To me – and of course I was just watching on TV – the putter has never looked more comfortable in Conners’ hands than it did last week. The cross-handed grip they adopted in the summer of 2020 has improved his Strike. That’s what he’s got about the switch – that his contact with the ball is much better, leading to purer rolls. That seems clear. But putting is so mental. It’s about line and pace and center contact, but it’s also about belief. Which is a hard thing to practice. Rather, it mounts with each clutch putt made in competition. Conners’s Fundamentals with the putter look great. He – a tour Winner – just needs more Conviction when it counts, which will come. Or not. Because golf is a hard and fickle game. And not everyone is great at everything.

Obscure thought of the week: Will Smith was never going to break the character until he got that Oscar.

Jason Logan is the editor of SCOREGolf Magazine and is based in Toronto. He is a contributor to the Star’s Sports section. Follow him on Twitter: @jasonSCOREGolf

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