Column: Defining shots based on every club in the bag
Some of the defining shots on the PGA Tour this year were hit from the tee and fairway, from the bunkers and behind trees, and even from the driving range.
Two of them effectively clinched a first major. One of them introduced another young star.
One way to look back on 2017 is through every club in the bag. The shots weren’t necessarily the best, but they helped shape the year.
DRIVER: Moments after Dustin Johnson made a birdie putt to force a sudden-death playoff at the Northern Trust, he effectively ended it with one swing . CBS analyst Nick Faldo pointed to a bunker beyond the right side of the lake on the 18th hole at Glen Oaks as a target for Johnson’s powerful fade. Instead, he took it over the entire lake, a 341-yard blast. That left him a lob wedge to 4 feet for birdie to beat Jordan Spieth.
3-WOOD: ”Oh gosh, Jimmy, be good.” Justin Thomas was speaking to caddie Jimmy Johnson after launching a 3-wood from 310 yards to the elevated green on the par-5 18th at Erin Hills. It was perfect, landing softly and rolling out 8 feet to set up an eagle that tied one U.S. Open record (63) and broke another (9-under par).
HYBRID: Robert Streb was in the rough left of the fairway on the par-5 12th hole at the TPC Old White in the Greenbrier Classic. It looked as though he might lay up, but Streb chose hybrid and slashed it out. The ball tumbled onto the green and came within inches of an albatross.
3-IRON: Jordan Spieth hit the most memorable 3-iron of the year, not for the way he struck the ball, but from where he struck it in the British Open. On the wrong side of a dune, facing an impossible lie, Spieth wisely asked if the practice range at Royal Birkdale was out-of-bounds. Told it was in play, he took a penalty drop on the range, got free relief from the equipment trucks and hit a blind shot with his 3-iron just short of the green. He got up-and-down for bogey. He played his next four holes in 5 under to win the claret jug.
4-IRON: Patrick Cantlay already made a remarkable recovery from a back injury that plagued him for three years by making it to the Tour Championship in just 11 starts. And then he finished his year in a playoff in Las Vegas. In the rough blocked by trees, Cantlay saw enough of an opening to hit 4-iron that somehow made it through, ran through the green and set up an efficient up-and-down to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open for his first PGA Tour victory.
5-IRON: Dustin Johnson was on the verge of losing the last of a six-shot lead in the HSBC Champions when Justin Rose, in the group ahead of him, faced the tough par-3 17th at Sheshan International with a back pin. Rose hit 5-iron just left of the flag and watched it roll to 4 feet of the flag for a birdie that led to a two-shot victory, his first of the year.
6-IRON: The two memorable shots from Jordan Spieth’s victory in the British Open were the shot from the driving range and the 50-foot eagle putt. The most important shot was the 6-iron he nearly holed on the par-3 14th. Tied for the lead after his adventurous bogey on the previous hole at Royal Birkdale, Spieth’s tee shot plopped down in front of the hole and stopped 4 feet away. The birdie restored his lead, and he was on his way.
7-IRON: Justin Thomas took control in the final round of the PGA Championship with a par putt on the 16th. He sealed it with a 7-iron as good as any shot he ever hit. The pin was in the front on the par-3 17th at Quail Hollow, and Thomas had 221 yards over the water to the hole. It was so good that he let the club twirl through his hands as he watched it land on the front of the green to 15 feet. He made birdie for a three-shot lead and a most enjoyable walk to the final hole.
8-IRON: Sergio Garcia’s comeback at the Masters began with a par. He caught up to Justin Rose in the final round with two of the best swings he ever made under the pressure of a major. The first was a drive so powerful that it left him only 171 yards into the par-5 15th. His 8-iron landed inches in front of the hole and nicked the pin before it rolled 14 feet away. He made the eagle, and eventually got the green jacket.
9-IRON: Brooks Koepka put the finishing touches on a brilliant closing stretch to win the U.S. Open on the par-3 16th at Erin Hills. His 9-iron was just right, landing beyond the hole and catching the slope to leave him 10 feet away for a third straight birdie to keep his three-shot lead.
PITCHING WEDGE: Xander Schauffele’s name first surfaced at the U.S. Open when he tied for fifth. Three weeks later, he was part of a logjam down the stretch at the Greenbrier Classic when he reached the par-3 18th hole. He hit pitching wedge to 3 feet for birdie and a one-shot victory.
54-DEGREE WEDGE: Dustin Johnson faced charges by Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood in the Mexico Championship and found himself in trouble on the 18th hole at Chapultepec Golf Club. He was in a fairway bunker, his feet on the edge of the grass. He went with a 54-degree wedge that he hit to 20 feet to set up a two-putt par and a one-shot victory in his debut at No. 1 in the world.
LOB WEDGE: In a playoff against Daniel Berger at the Travelers Championship, Jordan Spieth came up short and in a bunker on the 18th hole at TPC River Highlands. He blasted out and watched it roll in for birdie, setting off a wild celebration. Spieth threw the wedge. Caddie Michael Greller threw the rake. Spieth raced out of the bunker and leapt into his caddie for a body bump usually seen only in football.
PUTTER: Jon Rahm showed a sense of the moment in his first full year as a pro. He was just off the back of the 18th green at Torrey Pines when he sent his 60-foot putt down the slope and watched it turned hard to the left and into the cup for eagle. He wound up winning the Farmers Insurance Open by three shots. He ended the year at No. 4 in the world.