WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Life as a PGA Tour golfer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. OK, sure. You’re playing for millions of dollars every week. You’re featured on television. You’re famous. You have all the equipment at your disposal you could ever want. You drive around in pristine courtesy cars. You’re the object of envy from every guy in high school who poked fun at kids on the golf team. Wait, what was the point again? Oh, right. Being a pro golfer is not always that great. There’s a lot of travel, often away from your family. If you don’t beat half the field, you don’t earn a paycheck. Injuries or swing problems or just plain bad luck can derail your career in a hurry. So there you go: It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Unless you’re Steve Stricker, that is. Then it’s even better than advertised. The Greenbrier Classic: Articles, videos and photos Stricker is working for just the eighth week this year – and yet he remains the world’s 18th-ranked player. He spends more time in deer hunting blinds than on driving ranges. He is “semi-retired,” but unlike most people in that position, he gets paid to play golf rather than the other way around. What a life. As if things couldn’t get much sweeter, Stricker decided only about 10 days ago that he’d play this week’s Greenbrier Classic. His regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, was already committed to another player, so he asked his former looper to take the bag – his wife, Nicki. They brought their two kids, turned it into a sort of working vacation here at what’s been deemed PGA Tour Summer Camp and through one round his name is already on the leaderboard. Stricker posted an opening-round bogey-free 4-under 66 to get himself into early contention. “I haven’t played that much,” he said after the round, “but I’m starting to get into the groove of things a little bit more and starting to play a little bit better golf of late. So it’s an exciting time for me to start playing and play this week and next week and see what happens.” What happens next is just another example of how good it is to be Stricker these days. Prior to the first round, he maintained that he would play the upcoming Open Championship only if his game was getting hot at the right time. That’s right – whereas most of his peers are gearing up for the year’s third major championship, Stricker hasn’t even decided whether he’ll play or not. He’s leaning toward the latter, though. Just 14 days from the opening round at Royal Liverpool, he doesn’t have a plane ticket or a hotel room and certainly hasn’t been working on his stinger off the tee. “I was thinking if I play well, maybe sneak out a win in one of these two or have a couple of high finishes, the British Open was a possibility.” Yes, despite being a part-time player and owning just a single top 10 this year and competing in only one of the previous four weeks and two of the previous six and three of the previous nine and four of the previous 13, he still came here thinking about a victory. He insisted that it’s all about keeping the right mindset. “You spend a lot of time at home practicing and the shots really don’t matter, you know what I mean?” he said. “You can hit one offline and you’re like, it doesn’t mean anything. Then when you come out here, every shot means something. You’ve got to try and erase that out of your mind and do what you do at home when you’re practicing. So that, I think, is the challenge. You’re playing for keeps. Everything counts.” So far, so good for Stricker. Then again, when you rarely play competitive golf and can still go out and get your name on the leaderboard, that’s a familiar refrain.
KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii – What do two world leaders do when they find themselves on the same Hawaiian island on Christmas Eve? If you’re President Barack Obama and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, you round up a few aides and make common cause on the golf course. Both vacationing this week in Oahu, Obama and Najib teed off Wednesday on a cloudy but balmy afternoon at a Marine Corps base, not far from where Obama is renting a home for his two-week stay. The two leaders seemed at ease together, smiling and laughing in casual clothes as they sized up their shots. Although Obama plays golf nearly every day while on vacation, he typically restricts his foursome to a small circle of longtime friends and advisers. But in recent years, his annual trip to Hawaii has allowed Obama to mix in a little diplomacy. Last year, he hit the links with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who owns a home in Hawaii. Media access to Obama’s golf games is typically restricted, but reporters and photographers were permitted to briefly watch the two leaders Wednesday about halfway through their game. Neither leader was having particularly good luck with their short game. Up first to finish the hole, Najib came up short with his putt. Obama crouched low to line up his shot, but the ball tilted left and evaded the hole. After another failed attempt, he picked up the ball and called it quits. Najib, too, missed his next shot, but a gracious Obama gave him a pat on the shoulder and praised his golf game just the same. “Merry Christmas,” Obama said as he waved to the media. Then he added a note of caution for reporters covering his Hawaiian getaway. “Be careful about those fruity drinks,” he said. “You never know – they might have a little kick to them.” Ever the statesmen, Obama and Najib also used their time on the course to discuss world affairs, including Malaysia’s rotating leadership next year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. “The two leaders took the opportunity to discuss the growing and warming relationship between the United States and Malaysia,” the White House said in a statement. Najib has served as Malaysia’s prime minister since 2009. In April, Obama paid the first presidential visit to Malaysia in nearly half a century, when Lyndon B. Johnson visited the Southeast Asian nation. During that visit, Obama met with Najib and pressed his government to improve its human rights and political freedoms. Obama is no stranger to Hawaii’s picturesque golf courses, and this year’s vacation has been par for the course. The president has played a round four out of the five days he’s been on the island so far.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In this week’s edition, Oakmont and next week’s U.S. Open looms, Tiger Woods’ absence from golf lingers and the PGA Tour laments the loss of a longtime sponsor in Houston. Made Cut All eyes on Oakmont. It’s a common assessment each year as the U.S. Open inches closer and players get a glimpse of that year’s venue. “Over par will win,” Daniel Berger said of Oakmont, which he played on Monday. “It’s a hard golf course. You don’t want to be in the rough there,” offered Brooks Koepka, who played the U.S. Open venue last week. Phil Mickelson’s take, however, may have been the most foreboding. “I’ve played Oakmont the last two days, and I really think it is the hardest golf course we’ve ever played,” Lefty said on Wednesday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Often lost in the U.S. Open hyperbole, however, is the fact that, at least in the Mike Davis era, officials have largely erred on the side of the players (last year’s greens at Chambers Bay not withstanding). “It’s a very fair test, even though it’s hard,” Mickelson added. Wild stories of ridiculously difficult golf courses are nothing new, but history suggests predictions of player pain and suffering are greatly exaggerated. Tweet of the week: @TigerWoods “You’ll always be The Greatest for more than just what you did in the ring. A champion to so many people in so many ways.” Muhammad Ali’s passing last week drew plenty of reaction, but Woods’ tweet was among the most poignant. Cut Line met the champion during the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla and remembers European captain Nick Faldo being speechless afterward. It was a common reaction. Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF) Silver lining. Tuesday’s announcement that Woods would not be playing next week’s U.S. Open or the Quicken Loans National as he recovers from multiple back procedures was not all gloom and doom. Woods did say via his website that he is “making progress, but I’m not yet ready for tournament competition.” Give Woods credit for clearing the speculation table before next week’s U.S. Open, if not a recovery that has now stretched to nearly 10 months since his last Tour start. Woods is also showing an impressive amount of patience, which hasn’t always been the case for the 14-time major champion and that might be the most encouraging part of this entire process. Low down dirty Shane. The turf war that cropped up this year between the PGA Tour and European Tour took its first casualty this week when Shane Lowry announced he would defend his title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and not play the French Open the same week. Lowry’s decision is notable only because the European Tour, unhappy with the scheduling of the Bridgestone the same week as the centennial celebration of the French Open, pulled its sanctioning of the World Golf Championship and offered double Ryder Cup points for those playing in France. “I’ve known for a while in my own mind that I wanted to defend in Akron [Ohio],” Lowry wrote in the Irish Times. “Any players I’ve spoken to have said I’m right, even though it won’t count on the European Tour this season and doesn’t have any Ryder Cup points.” It’s an even tougher choice for Lowry when you consider he’s currently well outside of qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team, but then he shouldn’t have had to make the choice to begin with. Missed Cut Shell games. It’s been a tough few months for the energy business and maybe this week’s news that Shell Oil Company, would be dropping its sponsorship of the Tour’s Houston-area stop after next year’s event shouldn’t have been a surprise. Still, the event has been a staple on the Tour since 1992 – only Honda and AT&T (Pebble Beach) have been title sponsors longer than Shell – and the work that Steve Timms, president and CEO of the Houston Golf Association, has done to improve the event and the field made the news something of a shock. The event moved to its pre-Masters spot in 2007 and despite a tough position on the schedule Timms and Co. regularly produced a solid field and plenty of exciting finishes. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem vowed to “begin the search for a new title sponsor right away and are confident we will be successful in those efforts.” Normally, those would be encouraging words, but after the World Golf Championship’s exit from Doral last week for Mexico City, that kind of optimism is in short supply. Guessing games. It’s a rite of summer and yet every year it seems that much more comical. Each June the USGA creates a “reallocation list,” which is essentially the list of alternates for next week’s U.S. Open based on the various qualifiers that are held around the globe. Although this reallocation list is likely based on a complicated formula, there’s no way to know for sure because the USGA doesn’t “make that known,” according to a spokesman for the association. Players can get a rough idea where they are on the list based on the relative strength of each qualifying field (the first replacement was pulled from the qualifier in Japan followed by players from the Memphis and England events, respectively), but the actual list – just like the lists that are published each week on Tour – remains a well-guarded secret. This leaves players to guess where they are on the alternate list, and the rest of us to guess why in the world the USGA would be so guarded over something that is so straightforward.
SAMMAMISH, Wash. – When Lydia Ko won the last two major championships, she was the one lurking behind. On Sunday at Sahalee, the top-ranked Ko will take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. ”I can’t control what the other girls are doing,” the 19-year-old Ko said. ”So (I’ll) just try my best out there. We’ve still got a long 18 holes to go.” Ko shot a 1-under 70 on Saturday to reach 2-under 211. She won the Evian Championship in September in France for her first major title and took the ANA Inspiration in April in California, giving her a chance to become the fifth player in tour history to win three straight majors. ”It’s really cool to, obviously, have my name in those records among those amazing players. And I think that’s the really cool thing about it,” Ko said. ”But when I’m out there I’m not thinking so much about records and what could happen.” Ko used her deft short-game to save shots on the 16th and 17th holes, but couldn’t avoid dropping a stroke at the last when her third shot went to the back of the green and she missed a 15-foot par putt. KPMG Women’s PGA Championship: Articles, photos and videos Brittany Lincicome and Gerina Piller were tied for second. They each shot 71, with Lincicome also bogeying the 18th. Second round co-leaders Brooke Henderson and Mirim Lee each shot 73 to drop into the group at even par. Only three players were under par even as Sahalee played easier following overnight rain. Ariya Jutanugarn, the winner of her last three tournaments, was in the group at even par. Jutanugarn got back into contention with a 68. Amy Yang also was even after the lowest round of the week, a 66. Yang went out in 32 and was 6 under for her round after a birdie at No. 15, before dropping a shot on the 16th. Anna Nordqvist, the winner last week in New Jersey, and Chella Choi completed the group at even par. They each shot 69. Ko missed a chance to create some separation late in her round. She moved to 3 under with an 18-foot birdie putt on the 15th, then showed off her delicate touch around – and on – the green coming in. Ko put herself in poor position off the tee on the 16th, but a flop shot out of the rough to 4 feet allowed her to save par. On the par-3 17th, Ko’s tee shot found the green but in a position where a chip shot was the only way to get to the hole because of the fringe. The chip from green-to-green left her a 3-foot tap in. But her second shot on the 18th caught a large tree fronting the left of the green and was unable to save par. Lincicome, a two-time major champion, also dropped a shot at the final hole because of a three-putt. Along with Ko, Lincicome is the only other player in the field not to post a round over par in the tournament ”It’s easier to come from behind than be the leader,” Lincicome said. ”I feel like I’m in great shape.” Piller is hoping she can finally make a breakthrough after three years of progressively getting closer to her first career victory. She has finished in the top 10 six times this year, including a second-place finish at home in Texas when she was overtaken on the final day. She has risen to No. 16 in the world rankings and moving up one more spot before July 11 would earn her an automatic spot in the Olympics. ”I do feel like winning is definitely close,” Piller said. ”I definitely feel that my game is good enough and it’s just a matter of time when the pieces fit and it just comes together.”
OPELIKA, Ala. – Martin Flores, Cameron Tringale and Zac Blair shared the Barbasol Championship lead at 6-under 65 on Thursday when first-round play was suspended because of darkness. Flores and Tringale played in morning at Grand National’s Lake Course, and Blair finished his afternoon round after a rain delay of nearly two hours. Robert Allenby, Chad Campbell, Rory Sabbatini and Tag Ridings shot 66, and Richy Werenskialso was 5 under with two holes left. Steven Alker was 6 under after eight holes, then bogeyed two of the next five. He was 4 under with five holes to play. Jim Furyk opened with a 69. The 47-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain is playing the event after failing to qualify for the British Open. Davis Love III, at 53 the oldest player in the field, had a 72 – a stroke better than son Dru Love in their third tournament together.
Aaron Wise asserts himself, Trinity Forest draws mixed reviews, Tiger Woods hangs out in Vegas, and somebody punches somebody else – maybe. All that and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble. Aaron Wise’s learning curve lasted exactly 17 starts. That’s how many events he had played as an official PGA Tour member before breaking through for his maiden win Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson. A kid plenty ready for the moment, the 2016 NCAA Division I individual champion entered the final round tied for the lead and ran away from Marc Leishman with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch. Once firmly in control, Wise made eight straight pars on his way into the clubhouse. Heady stuff for a 21-year-old. You need look back only a couple weeks for evidence that Wise was ready for something like this. Saturday at the Wells Fargo Championship, he could have melted down on the 18th hole. With his ball sitting on a steep bank inside the hazard line, Wise thought about taking a drop next to the green but ultimately chose after minutes of indecision to play it where it was. And he whiffed. He went right under it. He thinned his next shot over the green and looked as though he was going to throw away three days of fabulous play all at once. Instead, he steeled himself and chipped in to save his bogey-5. Although Wise couldn’t run down Jason Day a day later, his tie for second played a vital role in propelling him to victory just two weeks later. Wise said he felt “oddly calm” in the final round and that his experience at Quail Hollow had filled him with the self-belief he needed to close out his first win. Mark down Wise as yet another young force to be reckoned with, as if there was somehow a shortage of those on Tour. 1. Let’s go to the golf course. The Nelson’s move to Trinity Forest was met with plenty of skepticism from players, some of whom simply stayed away. The event’s OWGR winner’s points and strength of field dropped to 34 and 178, respectively, from 50 and 335 one year ago. The Nelson’s strength of field was the lowest for a PGA Tour event in 2018 (excluding the opposite-field Coarles) and looked more in line with what you might expect during the wraparound portion of the schedule. It’s certainly possible top players are taking a wait-and-see approach to the course, but if the Nelson does wind up sandwiched between the Wells Fargo and the PGA, Trinity Forest is not going to be any kind of warmup for a Bethpage Black or a Harding Park or an Oak Hill, not when Quail Hollow is a PGA Championship layout. 2. And if players are waiting on positive reviews to lure them to a venue that bares little resemblance to any other course on the PGA Tour schedule, they’re not going to hear anything positive from Matt Kuchar. Asked on Thursday about the layout, Kuchar answered, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” before adding, “I really liked Las Colinas. That place was great. I really, really enjoyed Las Colinas.” After missing the cut, Kuchar admitted his distaste for the layout negatively affected his play, leaving architecture enthusiasts surely enraged. Objectively, Las Colinas was an immaculately conditioned TPC devoid of character, and Trinity Forest is a rugged, minimalist tract with so much character it could border on caricature under certain conditions. The two designs have nothing in common, and Tour types are generally resistant to change, a sentiment summed up well by Adam Scott: “Majorities just don’t like different, do they? This is just different than what we normally roll out and play.” On the plus side, Jordan Spieth, a Trinity member, said that many of the guys who did show up enjoyed the course more and more after each round. Architect Ben Crenshaw is hoping good word will spread. There’s nothing wrong with Trinity Forest. It was actually nice to see something a little different on Tour. But the Nelson’s place on the schedule may prove an obstacle to attracting the game’s best regardless of where the event calls home. 3. As for the top talent who did show up, Spieth – say it with me now – was once again let down by his putter. The club that played such a pivotal role in his three major victories has abandoned him this season. Spieth entered the week second on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and 183rd in strokes gained: putting. When he walked off the final green Sunday at Trinity Forest he was third in the field in SG: off-the-tee, fourth in SG: tee-to-green, fourth in proximity to the hole and 72nd in SG: putting. Those numbers left him 12 shots behind young Mr. Wise. Remember when Spieth was a 21-year-old dusting the best in the world? Those were the days. In all seriousness, the putting will get better, and when he finally matches general competence on the greens with his elite ball-striking, he’ll finally capture his first trophy of the season. Don’t be surprised if it happens this week at Colonial in another hometown event, one he won in 2016. 4.The aforementioned Scott remains – by the slimmest of margins – unqualified for the U.S. Open. Needing to crack the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 60, Scott appeared to have done enough when he closed a final-round 65 with a birdie to pull into a four-way tie for sixth. Unfortunately, just moments later, he’d drop into a three-way tie for ninth, missing out by a single shot. Scott has played the last 67 majors in a row, dating back to 2001. It’s a streak bested by only Sergio Garcia. Having missed this week’s cutoff, he’ll need to either head to sectional qualifying on June 4 or be inside the top 60 on June 11. 5. I understand golf is different than basketball and football, but the concern over how gambling might negatively impact the game feels a little like pearl-clutching. Yes, some idiot with money on the line could yell in somebody’s backswing on the 72nd hole. That absolutely could happen. And yet, somehow we survive every Open Championship and every other tournament played in countries that allow gambling. Then again, fans outside the U.S. don’t yell mashed potatoes or baba booey. I take it all back. We’ve made a huge mistake. 6. You might not be familiar with the name Adrian Otaegui, but that could change in a hurry if he keeps up his current form. The 25-year-old Spaniard just backed up a runner-up at the Volvo China Open with a win at the Belgian Knockout. He’s finished in the top 20 in each of his last six European Tour starts and he hasn’t finished worse than T-40 in nine events. Both of his wins in the last year have come via match play (or something close enough in the case of the Knockout). With the victory, Otaegui is now up to 77th in the world, making him the fourth-highest Spaniard behind Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, and Rafa Cabrera Bello. 7. While we’re on the subject of the Belgian Knockout, two notes about the format. First, credit again goes to Keith Pelley and company for being unafraid to try something other than 72 holes of stroke play. The rechristened Belgian Open, which had been dormant since 2000, featured 36 holes of normal stroke play qualifying before giving way to nine-hole, head-to-head stroke play in the knockout rounds. Considering how divisive the WGC-Match Play’s round-robin format has become, early-stage stroke play does seem like an easy enough solution when it comes to both cutting the field and protecting the game’s biggest stars from a Day 1 exit. 8. For the second time in as many events, the LPGA shortened an event due to weather. At least the circuit was able to finish three rounds this time. Two players actually got in 56 holes, with Ariya Jutanugarn defeating Nasa Kataoka in a playoff. The victory is Ariya’s first of 2018, but the Jutanugarns’ second, following Moriya’s breakthrough last month in L.A. 9. The Most Interesting Man in the World, Miguel Angel Jimenez, captured his first senior major at the Regions Tradition, but how about Steve Stricker’s start to his PGA Tour Champions career? He’s gone T5-1-1-T2-T2. Look out, Langer. Didn’t mean to shortchange Jimenez there. Just figured this image summed up the moment. 10. It never ceases to be amazing, by the way, the fine line between the wilderness and a PGA Tour card. Michael Arnaud had made just one Web.com start this year, and he shot an 81. He made only two of five cuts on the Web all last year. On Tuesday, he was in Oklahoma preparing to play an Adams Tour event when he was informed that he had been moved up to first alternate at the BMW Charity Pro-Am. So he took his chances and raced to South Carolina. He was the very last man into the field. And now he’s a Web.com winner, inside the top 25 on the money list. All it takes is one great week to rejuvenate a career. Our Ryan Lavner normally writes this column, but he’s on NCAA duty the next couple weeks. That said, he is checking in with this story about an alleged fist fight at the Florida Mid-Am! Here’s a little taste: In a one-paragraph post on its website, the Florida State Golf Association declared Marc Dull the winner of the 37th Mid-Amateur Championship on May 13 after his opponent – in a tie match with two holes to go – was unable to return because of an “unfortunate injury” sustained during a lengthy weather delay. Left unreported was what allegedly happened. According to a police report (see below) obtained by GolfChannel.com, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office received a call that afternoon from Dull’s opponent, Jeff Golden, who claimed that he’d been assaulted in the parking lot at Coral Creek Club, the tournament host site in Placida. In a statement provided to police, Golden said that he was sucker-punched in the face by Dull’s caddie, Brandon Hibbs. You know you want more. Click here. This week’s award winners … A master class in big timing: Hosting his annual Tiger Jam event at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Tiger Woods “challenged” World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a showdown, but rather than wait and see who won, Woods got up on the tee, unleashed a drive, and simply walked away, going full mic drop. This may have been a savvy play by Tiger, considering Mullins won a WLD event last summer with a drive of 374 yards. Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last: We compiled a photo gallery of some of Woods’ best celebrity interactions at Tiger Jam over the years, but this image tops them all: Who needs local knowledge? Tip of the cap to Hideki Matsuyama and his caddie for this read. “I think we start this a good 10 feet left, let it funnel right, and then it should take a hard left at the hole.” Kuchar should have just done that. Belgian Wave: Is this the opposite of a Belgian Dip? New rule: Backstopping is absolutely fine as long as we stop marking balls altogether. And finally: I like to think we have a lot in common, as I randomly pick up this column, quickly put it back down, and then try to (not-so) casually slip away. Cheers, buddy.
EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France – Chasing a first major title for herself, and a first for American women this season, Amy Olson fired a bogey-free 65 to take a two-shot lead after the Evian Championship third round on Saturday. Olson broke clear to post a 14-under 199 total after twice being in a four-way share of the lead at the sun-soaked Evian Resort Golf Club. An eagle at the par-5 9th first took her clear, and she added three birdies on the back nine to stretch her lead over Sei Young Kim. ”I really enjoyed (the nerves), that means I care, right?” Olson said. ”It was fun to start solid with a birdie on the first hole.” Kim carded 64, flashing the form that set a U.S. LPGA Tour record 31-under winning total at the Thornberry Creek Classic in July. ”The big goal is to win a major tournament. I wish I could,” said Kim, a seven-time winner on tour. Mo Martin, a former Women’s British Open winner, was two shots back on 10 under. Full-field scores from Evian Championship Evian Championship: Articles, photos and videos A further shot back was a group of three players including Georgia Hall (68), who was a homegrown British Open winner last month. Five Americans are in the top 10, seeking a first major at the fifth and final try this season and a winner’s check of $577,500. The year’s major winners have come from Sweden, Thailand, South Korea, and England. Olson aims to learn from her previous majors experience playing in the last group on Sunday. In April, a 72 turned second place into tied for ninth at the ANA Inspiration. Still, she said she learned then from watching playing partner Pernilla Lindberg win a three-way playoff after letting slip a three-shot lead. Olson is also flourishing with her brother, Nathan Anderson, on the bag as caddie. ”Most of my golf memories do involve him,” she said. ”Having a sibling be part of it is very special.” The American challenge at Evian includes Ryann O’Toole, who made the biggest move on Saturday to be 8 under, tied for seventh. Her 63 was the lowest round this week. Tight pin positions offset otherwise perfect playing conditions on a still, 24-degree (75 F) day on the hillside course overlooking Lake Geneva. While her South Carolina hometown Seneca is at risk of flooding from Hurricane Florence, Austin Ernst (69) joined the four-player group on 8 under with an eagle on the par-5 15th. ”Praying for my friends & family back home in SC/NC in hurricane Florence’s path. Y’all be safe!!” Ernst has tweeted from south-eastern France. Puerto Rico’s first-ever LPGA Tour player, Maria Torres, tied for the lead after each of the first two rounds and briefly shared the lead on Saturday. Torres dropped shots at the two closing par-4s and a 72 left her tied for 11th, seven shots back. The 16-year-old Rachel Heck carded a 72 to be 2 over in her second major. The high-schooler previously tied for 33rd at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open.
GOLD COAST, Australia – Next year’s Australian PGA Championship will precede the Australian Open so it can accommodate the Presidents Cup in mid-December at Royal Melbourne. Officials said the 2019 Australian PGA will be played at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, a week ahead of the Australian Open (Dec. 8-11 at The Australian in Sydney) and the Presidents Cup (Dec. 12-15). This year, the Open, won by Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, preceded the PGA by two weeks, with the World Cup of Golf at Metropolitan in Melbourne in between. The World Cup team event was won by Belgians Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry, with Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, representing Australia, tied for second. This year’s Australian PGA begins Thursday with defending champion Smith and Leishman among the entries. Also entered are Geoff Ogilvy, who was named as a vice captain on Sunday by captain Ernie Els for the Presidents Cup, England’s Andrew (Beef) Johnston and American Harold Varner III, who has won, finished second in a playoff and finished sixth in three Australian PGAs at Royal Pines.
This week’s post-Masters edition applauds Augusta National officials for a proactive break from tradition, Ernie Els’ preemptive team building for this year’s Presidents Cup and the PGA Tour’s peculiar compromise for world ranking points at the Tour Championship. Made Cut Prudence prevails. At Augusta National traditions mean everything. From arguably the largest group of people disconnected from the rest of the world via the club’s no cell phone policy, to the ceremonial first tee shots by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, the Masters is defined by tradition. But on Sunday, officials drastically broke from convention for all the right reasons. With a thunderstorm approaching and the possibility of a Monday finish looming, officials sent threesomes off the first and 10th tees for the final round for the first time in tournament history. The result was one of the most memorable finishes in Masters history thanks in large part to Tiger Woods. Those traditions are what makes the Masters so special, but it’s decisions like Sunday’s finish that makes the tournament the standard in major championship golf. Golf Central Highlights: Tiger (70) closes out fifth Masters title BY Golf Channel Digital — April 14, 2019 at 2:25 PM Tiger Woods entered the final round of the Masters just two shots off the lead, and thanks to a final-round 70, he walked off Augusta National’s 18th hole with his 15th major title – and first in 11 years. International endeavor. Next week’s field for the Zurich Classic won’t be official until Friday afternoon, but a glance at the run down reveals an intriguing trend that’s no accident. The two-man team event in New Orleans will feature 14 groups with ties to the International Presidents Cup team, including Jason Day playing with Adam Scott and Branden Grace teamed with fellow South African Justin Harding. In fact, six of the top 10 players on the International points list are in next week’s field and paired with a potential partner for this year’s matches in December, just as captain Ernie Els designed it. “We needed to take this opportunity and try some stuff,” Els told GolfChannel.com this week. “We couldn’t do all of them because some of the guys were already paired with other partners. We got a nice couple of groupings going. We’re just trying a couple different options. We’ve already started that process. Even in practice rounds, we’re getting guys playing together and allowing them to get to know each other.” Els, who is also playing next week’s event with one of his assistant captains Trevor Immelman, may not be able to stem the U.S. victory tide at Royal Melbourne, but if he does come up short it won’t be from a lack of trying. Tweet of the week: There were many who took to social media to recognize the greatest comeback of our generation on Sunday but McIlroy’s was noteworthy because of what a green jacket would mean to the Northern Irishman. Even in the grips of ultimate disappointment it was impossible not to appreciate the moment. Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF) Finding the point. The new strokes-based format for this year’s Tour Championship will likely take some time for fans and players to embrace, but the World Golf Ranking has finally gotten on board. Well, sort of. The World Ranking board approved a proposal that will award ranking points based on where players would have finished without the new staggered start, which will feature the FedExCup points leader beginning the week at 10 under par followed by the player second on the list at 8 under all the way to No. 30. Had the new format been used last year at East Lake, Woods, who won the event, would have finished second, three strokes behind Justin Rose. This secondary leaderboard will be kept but not published, and World Ranking points will be based on where players would have finished in a normal stroke-play event. The problem with this compromise is that the “one tournament, one leaderboard, one trophy” concept that has been touted by the PGA Tour will now come with a World Ranking asterisk. Schedule snag. This week’s RBC Heritage has arguably its best field ever thanks in large part to RBC’s savvy move of signing a handful of top players (ambassadors) to sponsorship deals, but not every tournament has that luxury. Those who can’t or won’t sway players with sponsorship deals are left to attract fields the old fashioned way and this year’s condensed schedule, which was particularly crowded in the run up to the Masters, proved to be a difficult market. Numerous tournament directors who gathered last week at Augusta National lamented the new reality, with one tournament organizer observing, “something is going to have to give and it’s not getting any easier.” The new schedule was all part of a larger makeover for the Tour to escape football’s long shadow in the fall, which will make the game stronger in the long term. But that notion doesn’t make things any easier for events impacted in the short term. Missed Cut Fifth element. Changes at Augusta National are normally subtle and often go unnoticed, but last week there was one makeover that drew plenty of attention. The fifth hole was lengthened by 40 yards for this year’s Masters, transforming what was already a difficult stop on the outward loop into the week’s most demanding test. No. 5 was the toughest hole last week with a 4.336 stroke average, bumping the 11th hole, which has traditionally been the hardest hole during the tournament, to second, with a 4.247 stroke average. The hole was particularly hard on Woods, who bogeyed it all four days, and when asked his thoughts on the fifth hole Bubba Watson only offered a sheepish grin, “it’s a golf hole.” In golf, even major championship golf, we’ve learned that longer and harder isn’t always better. Augusta National’s fifth hole is certainly longer and harder, but it remains to be seen if it’s better.
Lee Westwood keeps proving ’em wrong, Andrew Landry blows a big lead (but still wins!), Brooks Koepka eases into action, Tiger Woods returns and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble: Getty Images 1. Lee Westwood closed with 67 to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the 25th European Tour title of his career. TAKEAWAY: With the victory Westwood, 46, has now won in four different decades, a remarkable achievement for a player who two years ago was drifting toward irrelevance. Instead, Westy is back among the game’s elite, a top-30 player and now a lock to play in all of the majors and WGCs this season. Oh, and there’s something else on his radar, too: The Ryder Cup. Having been a vice captain for the home matches in 2018, Westwood admittedly thought he’d end his career with 10 cups played, but he’s rising in the standings. He grew emotional when reflecting on his late-career resurgence. “It’s just nice to come out and keep proving that you’ve still got it,” he said. Getty Images 2. In his first action in more than three months, Brooks Koepka tied for 34th in Abu Dhabi. TAKEAWAY: It was a surprising result only because of how his week began, with a bogey-free 66 that put him just two shots off the lead. But Koepka struggled to break in a new driver, tumbled down the leaderboard and eventually finished in the middle of the pack. Koepka said that his left knee still isn’t 100 percent – and might not be for a while – and so it was understandable that he reported some soreness as he walked 18 holes for the first time since October. Koepka will tee it up again next week, in Saudi Arabia, but he might not do so as the top-ranked player. If Rory McIlroy wins this week at Torrey Pines, he’ll supplant Koepka and rise to No. 1 for the first time since 2015. Getty Images 3. Andrew Landry earned his second PGA Tour title in dramatic fashion, blowing a six-shot lead before making birdie on the final two holes. TAKEAWAY: As a 5-foot-7-inch grinder on a bomber’s tour, competing against young stars who seemed destined to be great, Landry realistically expects to contend only one to three times a season. The key, then, is to capitalize when he does. That’s what made his back-nine collapse at the American Express so difficult to watch. Five shots clear with six holes to go, Landry bogeyed three consecutive holes and watched as Scottie Scheffler and Abe Ancer made furious charges. All square as he stood on the 17th tee, the watery par 3 on PGA West’s Stadium Course, Landry hit a choked-down 8-iron to 6 feet. Birdie. Then he pured a drive on the visually intimidating home hole, leaving only a wedge that he – once again – stuffed to 6 feet. Another birdie. Afterward, Landry sounded more relieved than happy. And for good reason. “I don’t want to be a part of something like that ever again,” he said. Getty Images 4. In her 2020 debut, Inbee Park lost in a playoff at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. TAKEAWAY: Park usually starts her year in late February, but she opted to tee it up in the season opener for the first time since 2016. That wasn’t a coincidence. This year, like 2016, is an Olympic year, and Park, 31, is determined to defend her gold medal. It won’t be an easy task. Among the uber-talented South Koreans, Park, the LPGA’s Player of the Decade, is currently the second alternate, so she’s planning an ambitious schedule in an attempt to earn enough points to leapfrog her compatriots and earn a coveted spot on the four-player team before the June 29 cutoff. The TOC was a squandered opportunity, as her putter went cold in the final round, dropping her into a three-way playoff with Gaby Lopez and Nasa Hataoka. Park exited on the third extra hole, but it’s clear that she’s on a mission in 2020. Lopez came back Monday morning and finally bested Hataoka – on the seventh playoff hole. Getty Images 5. After an impressive end to the fall, Tiger Woods makes his 2020 debut at Torrey Pines, where he’s won eight times as a pro. TAKEAWAY: Expectations have ratcheted up significantly for Woods, who claimed his record-tying 82nd Tour title at the Zozo Championship before going 3-0 as a playing captain at the Presidents Cup. Prepare accordingly for an onslaught of “Chasing History!” promos, but it seems unlikely that he’ll pass Sam Snead this week, even at one of his personal playgrounds. Since 2013, Woods hasn’t finished better than 20th at Torrey Pines, and there are various theories why. Perhaps Woods, a single father now in his mid-40s, isn’t quite as ready to go in his first start of the new year. Or maybe the cool San Diego mornings don’t allow his surgically repaired body to warm up. Or the brutish South Course is simply too demanding a test to start. That said … the way Woods was swinging in Japan and Australia, anything seems possible right now. THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS … Getty Images Tough Look: Cameron Smith vs. PGA Tour. Golf Digest reported that the Australian was warned by the PGA Tour that another public attack on a fellow player could result in disciplinary action, per the guidelines in the Tour handbook. That’s technically true, but the optics here are horrible. The Tour is seemingly protecting Reed while trying to silence those who called him out for an egregious rules breach. Hundreds of NFL and NBA players are fined each season by their respective leagues; they decide that speaking their mind (about the refs, management, teammates, whatever) is worth the financial repercussions. Here’s hoping Tour players feel the same, because the sport needs their candor. His Time is Coming: Scottie Scheffler. The 54-hole co-leader at the AmEx, Scheffler battled his swing all day and could only manage a 70 in the final round, dropping to solo third. It was his fourth top-7 of the young season, and he’s gaining valuable experience. Something to Watch: Rickie Fowler. PGATour.com reported that Fowler recently switched swing instructors, from Butch Harmon to John Tillery, who coaches, among others, Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown. Harmon is looking to lighten his workload in retirement, and Fowler is trying to use his lower body more effectively in his swing. Fowler has top-tenned in each of his two starts this year. The WTH? Moment of the Week: Hosung Choi. His act wore thin a long time ago, but Choi was back in the news again, this time for hitting his playing partner with his thrown driver. This was a missed opportunity – just “accidentally” take a step forward and snap that shaft in half. More of the Same: Phil Mickelson. In what will likely be a recurring theme this year, Mickelson’s pledge to hit bombs and go on a tear didn’t materialize at PGA West, where his increased driving distance only added up to a 3-under total through three rounds and a missed cut by six. He’s now 82nd in the world and dropping fast. Well, That’ll Change Things: Abel Gallegos. The 17-year-old Argentine was preparing to turn pro, but now he’ll have to wait a few more months. He shot 67 in the final round of the Latin America Amateur Championship, earning spots in the Masters, The Open and also sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open. Tweet of the Week: Brooks Koepka. Twas an epic clap back at Bryson, who violated the golden rule of social media with his claim that “Body Issue” Brooks lacks six-pack abs: You come at the king, you best not miss. Getty Images Big Easy Vibes: Ernie Els. It seems like a perfect fit, Ernie Els and the over-50 circuit, and he nearly had a perfect debut in Hawaii, where he closed with rounds of 65-65 to lose in a playoff to Miguel Angel Jimenez at the PGA Tour Champions opener. Unlike so many former Tour stars who hit the senior tour, Els seems committed to a full schedule – and that’s bad news for all of the regulars. Stand up: John Smoltz. We’ve seen these self-standing putters, but we haven’t seen anyone use one in competition, celebrity or otherwise. Then we watched John Smoltz light up the field at the LPGA’s Tournament of Champions as he defended his title in the celebrity division. Who knew? Early Returns, Not Good!: Bryson DeChambeau. It’s still a small sample size, and this week’s return to Dubai (where he shot 24 under and won by seven last year) will be a better gauge of his game, but Beefy Bryson’s play is continuing to raise eyebrows. Swinging out of rhythm, almost as if to prove that he’s longer off the tee, DeChambeau shot a second-round 77 in Abu Dhabi and missed the cut, continuing a run of uninspired play that included a 15th-place finish at the 18-man Hero and then a semi-benching at the Presidents Cup, where captain Tiger Woods used him only once in team play. Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charles Howell III. Not since 2004 had one of the game’s most consistent performers missed a cut in the desert, and he was coming off a T-12 in windy conditions at the Sony. But he couldn’t find a spark at the AmEx, shooting 6 under and missing the cut. Sigh.