Oct 20

Huge eagle propels Ben Martin to first PGA Tour win in Vegas

In Vegas, go big or go home. Ben Martin did just that to notch his first PGA Tour win on Sunday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin.

Neck and neck with Kevin Streelman and defending champion Webb Simpson, Martin made a 45-foot eagle putt at the par-5 16th to regain a lead that was two shots at the start of the day and as high as four on the back nine. After a textbook tee shot and approach to 20 feet at the par-4 finisher, the Clemson product calmly drained the birdie putt for a two-shot win. 

"It was an awesome way to finish," said Martin, who also birdied the 15th hole in a fierce final stretch. "I didn't feel like I had much going all day. Four under on my last four to cap my first win was just awesome."

Not only did the eagle give Martin the advantage again, it may well have stymied Streelman's great run into contention. The Duke product has stuck his approach to the 18th to five feet as Martin hit a gutsy 6-iron over water from 197 yards. Martin drained his unexpected eagle putt from beyond the hole. Streelman missed his birdie putt.

"I saw I was 1 up on the 18th green, and then I saw I was 1 down," Streelman said.

Martin, who posted 20-under 264, gets a second trip to the Masters in April. He was last there in 2010 when he qualified as runner-up in the prior year's U.S. Amateur.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Oct 19

Jack Nicklaus hates to see critics ‘hammering’ Jameis Winston

Jack Nicklaus doesn't believe Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is getting a fair trial in the court of public opinion. The 18-time major winner, thinks the beleaguered signal caller deserves better.

“I just hate to see them hammering a 20-year-old kid,” said Nicklaus, whose grandson Nick O'Leary is a teammate of Winston's. “Has he made mistakes? Maybe. But you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, I think. Not charged and convicted and sentenced."

Winston had made more than his fair share of mistakes in his time at FSU, ranging from not paying for crab legs at a supermarket, to yelling out a sexually explicit phrase made popular during the World Cup in a school cafeteria. He was accused of sexual assualt in Dec. 2012. While he wasn't formally charged in the case, the school has informed Winston he'll face a disciplinary hearing and possible code of conduct sanctions pertaining to those allegations.

In the past week, over 2,000 Winston-signed items appeared on a memorabilia authentication site. The school cleared Winston of any wrongdoing in the matter, including if Winston was paid for signing the items.

Nicklaus, who is generous with his John Hancock in infrequent public appearances, didn't seem to think that 2,000 number was all that high. 

“I wonder how many autographs I have out there. Every game I go to I sign, probably 20 or 25 (people) and four or five each," Nicklaus said, according to the Palm Beach Post. "Start adding that up. And he’s a lot more available than I am. He’s not the only kid with a couple thousand out there. A bunch of those kids have to have a couple thousand.”

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Oct 19

81-year-old Pennsylvania man makes 3 aces in 3 straight days

Dom DeBonis already got his hole-in-one, back in 1969. But, at 81 years old, the Pennsylvania man had gone longer waiting for his second than he had for his first. That all changed last week in an incredible span where he made four aces in a 33-day span, including three in consecutive days in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

On Sept. 3, DeBonis made an ace at the par-3 fifth on one of the many courses where he lives in The Villages, Fla., sinking a pitching wedge from 101 yards.

A few weeks later, DeBonis went to Myrtle Beach on a golf trip with 11 buddies. He made his first ace of the trip at Farmstead Golf Club in Calabash, N.C., when he used a 9-iron from 112 yards at the par-3 17th. Awesome. 

The next day, DeBonis did it again. On the 129-yard, par-3 sixth at the Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, N.C., he jarred a 7-iron for another one on the card.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Mr. DeBonis, who is from Sharpsburg, Pa., according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The guys were going bananas. They said we got to buy lottery tickets, so we went and bought a bunch of lottery tickets.”

The odds of an ace in one round are about 12,000 to 1. Then the odds get exponentially higher for each successive ace.

Of course, on the third day of the trip, DeBonis fininshed the trifecta at Blackmoor Golf Club. This time, it was an 8-iron from 118 yards. No one in the group saw the ball go in the hole. Then again, after the last couple of days, they couldn't be faulted for figuring it was good.

"One of the guys said, ‘I think it’s in.’ So we walked up to the hole and there it was," DeBonis said. "I just couldn’t believe it. It was the most memorable week.”

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Oct 18

Justin Thomas one-upped Phil Mickelson from a hospitality tent

Justin Thomas needed a couple of late birdies to make the weekend at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. He came to the driveable par-4 15th, hoping to get all he needed at once. Unfortunately, he nuked his drive behind the 15th green -- and into an empty hospitality tent at TPC Summerlin.

Undeterred, Thomas had a clean shot to the hole from the outdoor carpet, so he decided to play the ball from a fairly clean lie back toward the hole location. He got the ball within 10 feet and then made the putt for an unlikely birdie. 

Of course, it's hard not to think about Phil Mickelson's turns in the hospitality tent at a different driveable par 4 during The Barclays in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Mickelson didn't get a circle on the card in either opportunity to play amid the fans. 

Thomas couldn't find another birdie in his final three holes, however, and missed the cut.

But the trend of PGA Tour players choosing to play among the people continues.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Oct 18

Jack Nicklaus defends Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup captaincy

Jack Nicklaus believes the formation of a Ryder Cup task force is going overboard in a search for answer to U.S. woes in the biennial matches.

The 18-time major champion also subtly lamented Phil Mickelson's verbal outburst and subsequent reporting that amounted to the venting of players' frustration with outgoing captain and Nicklaus close friend Tom Watson.

“When I had teams and guys had problems, we went back to the team room and talked about it. That’s where the conversation should be," said Nickalus on Friday at PGA National in Florida, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Nicklaus was captain of a pair of American Ryder Cup teams, on the winning side in 1983 and the losing side at his own Muirfield Village in 1987.

"I feel the same about the task force thing," he added. "That’s sort of overkill. We’ve had 70 years of the Ryder Cup and it’s gotten along just fine. The pendulum will swing back without making a monumental thing about it.”

In Nicklaus' assessment, Watson did a good job as captain, but was helpless to overcome a superior European side.

“(The Europeans) just played better,” Nicklaus said at a ceremony to mark the reopening of the Champion Course, to which he made some design tweaks. “It doesn’t make any difference how much planning you do, if the other team plays better, they’re going to win.”

Nicklaus credited Watson, who had been labeled as underprepared and out of touch with his players, with extensive preparation.

“He went to I don’t know how many tournaments — he knew he was older, so he had to get to know the kids, who he was going to pick, and what to do. Tom, Raymond (Floyd), Andy North and Steve Stricker made the selections and pairings, did what they thought was best, and probably did a pretty good job.”

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Oct 17

Henrik Stenson wins at Volvo Match Play with walk-off eagle

In match play, you're always supposed to assume your opponent will make the putt, or the chip or the sand shot. But from the fairway? No. 

It's reasonable, then, if Thongchai Jaidee was rather shocked when he lost his Friday match at the Volvo World Match Play Championship. He lost to Henrik Stenson on a walk-off eagle from the 17th fairway.

Stenson was 1 up, then hit his second shot after Jaidee had missed the green to the left at the short par 4. The ball lands a couple of feet past the pin, sucks back right into the hole for an eagle 2 and the 2-and-1 win.

The win left Stenson 2-0-1 in pool play at London Golf Club and into the single-elimination draw over the weekend.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Oct 17

Webb Simpson: Ryder Cup was a ‘terrible experience’

Webb Simpson didn't play much golf during the Ryder Cup. After bombing with Bubba Watson in the opening session on Friday, Simpson, one of captain Tom Watson's wild-card picks, was relegated to the bench until he had to play in one of 12 singles matches on Sunday.

Needless to say, Simpson wasn't all that pleased with the Gleneagles experience.

"The golf side was a terrible experience because I only played in two matches," Simpson said Thursday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. "I showed up in Scotland really ready to play and excited to play, and when you sit through three matches in a row, it's tough."

Simpson would have been on board if the U.S. had won. He added, "I mean, if I said the golf was great, you could call me a liar, and we didn't win. If I sit three matches and we win, I'll have a different answer."

For all of the talk about Watson's decision making and, as Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said, his "bedside manner," Simpson boiled down the week's enjoymen to one thing: winning.

"I think all of our team would agree that to an extent, the golf part did stink," he said. "We lost. We lost the Ryder Cup, and nobody likes that."

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Oct 17

‘Draw in the Dunes’ is an exceptional story of Ryder Cup nobility

Draw in the DunesYou know, there's little that's more tiresome in golf than hearing fans of a certain age complaining about how things used to be better back when, how Jack and Arnie and the rest of their ilk weren't in it just for the money or the fame or the diner waitresses. It's a myth, of course; the golfers of yesteryear were every bit as greedy and self-interested as those of today, it's just that they didn't have checks with extra zeroes or media broadcasting their every twitch.

But then you see what happened at the Ryder Cup recently, with the United States going into full meltdown mode, and you read about what happened at the same event in 1969, and you think that maybe there's a little something to these crusty old tales of better-back-when. "Draw in the Dunes," a new book from Neil Sagebiel, tells the story of an astonishing act of sportsmanship at the Ryder Cup, and does so in compelling fashion.

There's an old saying that the smaller the ball, the better the writing about it. That no longer holds true; much of the most vibrant sportswriting of the 21st century focuses on basketball. (Volleyball and kickball, alas, have seen no such boost.) What's undeniable is that there remains a literary allure to golf writing; if you're of a certain mindset and willing to lose yourself in the pages of a sports book, good golf writing can transport you from  your couch right to a faraway windswept green or tension-wracked tee.

The story: for decades, the United States had owned the Ryder Cup competition. (I know, seems like forever ago, right?) But Great Britain had mounted a serious charge in 1969, and at this particular Ryder Cup, the entire tournament came down to a singles match between Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin. How did it end? Well, golf historians already know, and you can probably guess by the title. But Nicklaus' explanation of why he did what he did, an act that angered many of his teammates, is an exemplary demonstration of good sportsmanship, the best of what golf wants to believe it is.

Sagebiel had to work without the benefit of complete telecasts in setting his stage, and he does so magnificently, from the varying personalities to the varying locales charted in the story. He draws on the recollections of the participants, and even got Nicklaus and Jacklin to write a foreword for the book. Simply put, this is the definitive account of one of golf's great stories of sportsmanship and honor.

If nothing else, Sagebiel deserves to stand as a beacon for all aspiring sportswriters. He continues to update his Armchair Golf Blog nearly every single day, and he's parlayed it into two nationally recognized books, as well as an association with golf's greatest luminaries. The Internet is the U.S. Open of literary ventures; everyone can enter, but only a very few can succeed. With "Draw in the Dunes," Sagebiel proves he's cracked the code ... and delivered another great book besides.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.