Bunker Mentality

Horschel gives life to Zurich Classic with antics

Bunker Mentality

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Billy Horschel reacts after making a putt for birdie on the 18th hole Sunday. (Getty)

Last year at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, the uber-mellow Jason Dufner registered his first career win and showed us all just how implacable, stoic and detached a human being can be from his environment.

This year at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, the human adrenaline surge that is Billy Horschel registered his first career win, and showed us all how PSYCHED and FIRED UP and WOOOOO!! I JUST WON!!! a player can be in the moment.

Horschel may stop fist-pumping by Wednesday.

If you added up Dufner and Horschel, and divided by two, I think you’d come out with the average of a normal human being’s emotional range.

And how much fun was that to see? In this post-Masters, pre-Players Championship stretch of golf, it helps to see potential stars born, especially ones that pile up birdies as frequently as visceral exhortations. Horschel leads the entire Tour in birdies (his 220 top Jimmy Walker’s 189), and tore off six in a row on Sunday in his sweet final-round 64.

None was finer than Horschel’s 72nd hole work on the par-5 18th at TPC Louisiana, when he was actively engaged in hand-to-hand combat with D.A. Points for the win. Remember, Points clipped Horschel by a stroke in Houston last month. While that stung, it signalled Horschel as a comer, part of three consecutive top-10s for the hot 26-year-old. So Horschel owed Points one. Probably the mere sight of the ‘LEGO’ belt buckle worn by Points had Horschel ready to chew nails.

A couple of things were at work: One, Horschel was in a bit of trouble 27 feet from the hole, while Points was six feet from the hole, and Horschel was barely clinging to a one-stroke lead. Two, the omnipresent US Tour weather delay had added to Horschel’s body tension, with the weather siren blowing when the two players were in the 18th fairway (!) for about a 40-minute delay.

(By the way, enough with the weather on the Tour. It’s damn near apocalyptic. The whole scene down in NOLA felt that way, with the gators at TPC Louisiana reportedly crawling around the golf course, and play halted one day for a swarm of bees on the course. It’s like they were filming the sequel to ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ on Tim Finchem’s dime.)

Anyway, back to the 18th green. Horschel needed a big one to fall and when his golf ball traversed 27 feet exactly, expiring in the cup for the birdie that clinched the win, well, his reaction was one of the year’s best – filled with whoops and hollers and happiness, over and over.

It all makes for an easy metaphor, since Horschel has been charging like a thoroughbred all year. He currently holds the longest cuts-made streak on Tour (23) and his 2013 had been filled with everything but a win: tie-10th at the Humana Challenge; tie-11th in Phoenix; the runner-up in Houston to Points; a tie-3rd in Texas; a tie-9th at Harbour Town.

The scarlet letter on Horschel’s game was ‘S’ for Sunday. He toted the Tour’s 108th-ranked Sunday scoring average into the final round in Louisiana, and as if to prove it wasn’t a fluke, had recently wrote down ‘74’ on his card after Sunday’s round at Harbour Town last week, when he had a chance to win. Could this Florida Gator close it out, finally, in front of a bunch of real live gators?

The Sunday 64 spoke as emphatically as one of Horschel’s fist pumps or war whoops. Not a bad weekend, either, considering he shot 66 on Saturday. Horschel has a buzz about him, a Keegan Bradley-like intensity that makes for fun watching. Even his ride in a golf cart is enjoyable, as he opted to go ‘Ben Hur’ on the back of the cart that carried him away during the weather delay on 18, hardly the look of a stressed-out player.

After the win, he hugged darn near everyone in sight, got a congratulatory tweet from fellow Gator Tim Tebow and is now a player you should think about when it comes to this fall’s President’s Cup team.

This is who Horschel is. In his days as a decorated amateur, Horschel’s in-your-face emotion spurred a young Rory McIlroy to uncharacteristically woof back in a tense Walker Cup match. McIlroy got him that time, and felt good about it. Years later, Horschel’s battle cries are saying: I’m still here, and this may only be the start of something good.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

67-70-67-67 – 13-under 271, Inbee Park, winner, LPGA North Texas Shootout, Las Colinas Country Club, Irving, Texas.

Remember when Stacy Lewis took over the No. 1 spot in the women’s golf world rankings last month, and American golf fans stood proud for Old Glory here in the U.S. of A.? Lewis was a great story, overcoming scoliosis and a fused spine and was a dynamite player to have atop the world rankings.

Yeah. Not so much anymore.

It’s not Lewis’ fault. She’s still good. She just has to live in Inbee Park’s world.

Inbee Park is a baller, and backed up her Kraft Nabisco major from three weeks ago with a birdie on the 72nd hole in Texas for a one-stroke victory – her third win of the year, and fifth in her last 18 starts.

She’s No. 1, and with that many wins in that few starts, who does this 24-year-old think she is, Tiger Woods? Oh, wait. She has a major in the last five years. Never mind.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

D.A. Points wasn’t kidding around when he won Houston last month. It was the first D.A. Points sighting in over a year, and after he received all the necessary plaudits and praise – remember how he used his mother’s putter to win? – we all moved on to the Masters and Adam Scott and 14-year-old Chinese kids.

But since hooking up with new swing coach Gary Gilchrist, Points is fired up, and ready to wear the ‘LEGO’ belt buckle for the foreseeable future on a TV near you.

A 66-68-70 start in New Orleans landed Points alongside Horschel in the penultimate grouping, two shots behind third-round leader Lucas Glover. By the time Points and Horschel reached the 71st hole, it was theirs for the taking. Horschel had a one-shot lead and hit a strong tee shot, leaving him 20 feet for bird. He’d make par.

But Points’ tee shot? Ouch. He fanned it, and never had a chance at birdie. He missed the green entirely to the right, and actually had to pull of a delicate and luscious chip shot to save par.

Point is, the drama was set up for Points to stick it close on 17, inside of Horschel and ramp up the adrenaline. His missed green sort of killed his momentum, and he couldn’t have been happy with the swing he made.

So, in an effort to make an already-entertaining Zurich Classic even more so, let’s go back to the 17th tee box, remind Points to take dead aim and . . . give that man a mulligan!

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

It’s on to Quail Hollow, and for those of us obsessed with Rory McIlroy’s golf game (raising hand), we’re all excited. Rors is lined up to play the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, and there’s history here. He won in 2010 with that final-round 62, and lost in a play-off last year to Rickie Fowler (with D.A. Points in that play-off, too.)

So for a kid who’s scuffling along in 2013, looking to gorilla dunk on all the haters who have wondered what happened to his game (raising hand), here’s a perfect chance for McIlroy to turn the ignition on his golf season.

He’ll have company – 10 of the world’s top 25 are playing, including Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson. No Tiger Woods, though. Rumor is, he doesn’t like the greens at Quail Hollow. Also, he was photographed attending Michael Jordan’s wedding this past weekend, so he’s got other things going on.

After all, partying with M.J. is not exactly the ‘Breakfast of Champions’ when playing tournament golf within the next week.

Brian Murphy

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