Another Lefty Leads Memorial

By Associated PressJune 1, 2006, 4:00 pm
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Steve Flesch was one of the few players who had no issues with the bunkers at the Memorial, and for good reason. He wasn't in any of them Thursday, which might explain why he was atop the leaderboard.
 
Flesch made sure he kept his ball in the lush grass of Muirfield Village, playing his best golf of the year to reach 6 under par through 17 holes when the first round was suspended because of storms in the area. He was in the 18th fairway, typical of his day.
 
Jason Dufner in action during the third round of the Nationwide Tour 2006 LaSalle Bank Open at The Glen Club in Glenview, Illinois on June 10, 2006.Photo by Steve Grayson/WireImage.com
Phil Mickelson shot 3-under 69 in the opening round.
Sean O'Hair made double bogey from a bunker on No. 3, then responded with four birdies on his next six holes. He saved par the next time he was in the sand, birdied the 18th and finished one of his best rounds this year with a 5-under 67.
 
The large group at 69 included Masters champion Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Fred Couples and Nick Price, most of whom had one thing in common -- they could do without the furrows left behind by the gap-tooth rakes being used as an experiment this week.
 
'I don't like it at all,' Price said. 'It's a bit of pot luck, to be honest. You can get in there and have a perfect lie when it lands on top of a groove, then you can have another one that goes in the trough, and you've got no chance.'
 
Love didn't bother stopping to talk, perhaps because he would have said something that offended tournament host Jack Nicklaus. Mickelson, the most pragmatic of the bunch, was tied for the lead until hitting into a fairway bunker led to bogey on the 17th, and he failed to get up-and-down from short of the 18th for another bogey.
 
'Everybody has to play it,' Mickelson said. 'These bunkers are just a different variety than we're used to.'
 
Nicklaus is not playing the Memorial for the first time in its 31-year history. Tiger Woods, who has not played since the Masters, missed the Memorial for the first time since he turned pro. All that was forgotten when the first round got under way and the attention turned to the great debate over bunkers.
 
Does it require more skill to play a sand shot when the ball is nestled between the ridges? Does it negate the advantage of good bunker players who now rely more on luck?
 
It was a different test, for sure, although the end of the round was all too familiar in a tournament where rain delays are the norm. Thirty players failed to finish their round, and they were to return at 8:30 a.m.
 
All that mattered to Flesch was hitting the ball clean, which he did.
 
'I kept the ball in the fairway, and I was good with my irons,' he said. 'I made seven birdies, birdied all the par 5s. This is probably the best I've played in a year.'
 
But just because he kept sand out of his shoes didn't mean he was gloating.
 
'It was frustrating just to watch the other guys get out of them,' Flesch said. 'You about have to play bunkers as a water hazard.'
 
As expected, players complained as though someone took away their courtesy cars.
 
PGA TOUR rules official Slugger White said the only mistake might have been failing to alerting the players ahead of time. And he stressed this was only a test, not a policy.
 
'Everyone is a little bit stubborn when it comes to change,' he said. 'We'll see how this plays out.'
 
Love was poised to be among the leaders when he stood on the 18th tee at 5 under par. His tee shot went into the fairway bunker, however, and his next shot sailed some 20 yards to the right of the green in deep rough. He chopped it out some 60 feet beyond the hole and three-putted for a double bogey.
 
Mickelson showed far more energy than the last time he returned from a break.
 
Lefty took two weeks off after winning the Masters, but never got into contention at either New Orleans or the Wachovia Championship when he decided to take three weeks off. After spending the weekend at Winged Foot to get ready for the U.S. Open, he immediately got into the mix at the Memorial.
 
He also got some luck.
 
Mickelson was going for the middle of the par-5 fifth green with a 4-wood, pushed it slightly and watched with relief as it narrowly cleared the water and settled 6 feet from the cup for an eagle. On the par-5 seventh, he was buried in deep rough and trying only to carry it over the front bunker. It came out perfectly and set up a short birdie.
 
Only the final two holes marred his start, but he had few complaints.
 
'I'll gladly take it,' Mickelson said. 'I know there's a low round out there, with the greens being receptive. But there's three other days to get that.'
 
Defending champion Bart Bryant had a 70, and Colonial champion Tim Herron had to settle for the same score. Lumpy showed it wasn't only the bunkers that can cause problems at Muirfield Village, especially with some of the precarious pin placements. His approach on the 18th landed close to the hole, then spun off the green and into the fairway. His chip rolled back toward his feet, and he escaped with bogey by making an 8-foot putt.
 
The group at 71 included David Duval, who had six birdies and saw a good round slip away when a potential eagle turned into a shocking double bogey with five putts from 25 feet.
 
Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen each shot 74, while Jim Furyk had a 73.
 
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    Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

    The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

    For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

    There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

    “It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

    But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.



    Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

    “I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

    Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

    “No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

    It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

    Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

    The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

    You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

    How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

    “The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

    Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

    The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

    Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

    Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

    “If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

    It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

    Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

    The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

    That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

    Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

    From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

    Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

    She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

    She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

    Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

    With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

    The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

    She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

    The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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    One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

    Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

    Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

    Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

    Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

    Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

    Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

    Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

    David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

    The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

    ''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

    In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

    ''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

    The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

    ''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.