Clarke leads Johnson, Fowler heading into Sunday

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2011, 2:20 pm

SANDWICH, England – Darren Clarke escaped the worst of the raging weather Saturday in the British Open, leaving him far less traffic on his unlikely road to a claret jug.

Clarke was dressed in full rain gear when he walked to the first tee for a third round that had been crowded with contenders.

When he walked off the 18th green in short sleeves, he was blinking in the bright sunshine over Royal St. George’s after a 1-under 69 gave him a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson. The majority of the field was still drying out from the brunt of such harsh conditions.

There were 44 players within five shots of the lead going into the third round.

Now there are 12.

“If somebody had given me 69 before I was going out to play, I would have bitten their hand off for it,” Clarke said. “Saying that, we did get very fortunate with the draw. Sometimes to win any tournament, the draw can make a big difference. But in The Open Championship, it makes a huge difference. We got very lucky.”

He also was very good.

Clarke missed only two greens in regulation, and was one of only three players who managed to break par. It was his third round in the 60s, and it put him at 5-under 205 and into the final group of the British Open for the first time since 1997 at Royal Troon.

Fewer contenders doesn’t make it any easier.

Johnson, the powerful 27-year-old American, managed to make six birdies on his way to a 68 that puts him in the final group for the third time in the last six majors. The other two aren’t exactly glorious memories – an 82 to lose a three-shot lead at the U.S. Open last year, a two-shot penalty on the last hole of the PGA Championship when he didn’t realize he was in a bunker.

“I’m going to be pretty comfortable out there tomorrow because I know what to expect, I know how to approach it, and I know what I do in those situations,” Johnson said. “So hopefully, I can go out tomorrow and play some solid golf like I’ve been doing the last few days.”

Only four other players were under par, and while U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy isn’t one of them, in his place is another 22-year-old who plays without fear and makes it look fun. And no one played better than Rickie Fowler on this wild day of weather.

Fowler was soaked, zipped up in a cream-colored rainsuit for two-thirds of his round, yet it never seemed to bother him. He hung around par during the worst of the conditions – a remarkable feat – and when the rain went away, he took off to higher ground. Fowler made three birdies over the last six holes for a 68 and was two shots behind, along with Thomas Bjorn (71).

Lucas Glover, a U.S. Open champion who played in the final group Saturday, made 10 straight pars early in his round only to lose his way, but not his hopes over the final hour. Glover missed two birdie putts inside 6 feet on the back nine, and made two bogeys. He shot 73, but still was within four shots. He was tied with Miguel Angel Jimenez, who didn’t make a birdie in his round of 72.

Also still in the mix is Phil Mickelson, who has only contended once in the British Open. He rallied when the sun began to break through the clouds and salvaged a 71, leaving him five shots back in a group that included Anthony Kim (68), PGA champion Martin Kaymer (73) and Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who tied for fourth at Royal St. George’s in 2003 and had a 72 to stay in range.

But it starts with Clarke, a 42-year-old from Northern Ireland who has been watching the youngsters from Ulster celebrate golf’s biggest events, from Graeme McDowell at Pebble Beach last summer to McIlroy at Congressional last month.

Is it his turn at this stage in his career?

“Did I ever doubt I would get myself back in this position? No,” Clarke said. “Did I know it was going to happen? No. Did I hope it was going to happen? Yes. But did I ever doubt? No.”

Once he finished his own Q & A, Clarke headed to the home of agent Chubby Chandler to “stuff his face” and try not to have too much to drink.

A big day awaits Sunday, perhaps the biggest of his career.

And the forecast isn’t very friendly.

Typical of the weather in this part of the world, anything goes. There’s supposed to be a mixture of sunshine and passing showers that could be heavy but won’t stick around for long. The constant is the wind, which again is likely to gust upward of 30 mph at times. A one-shot lead is nothing on Royal St. George’s in calm conditions, and anyone at par or better figures to be in the mix.

No other major championship depends so largely on the weather, and that was never more clear on Saturday.

Those who played early, such as five-time Open champion Tom Watson, caught the worst of the nasty stuff – gusts so strong they flipped umbrellas inside-out, a light rain that soon turned into a driving rain, and scores that soared through the gray sky.

Of the first 41 players who teed off, no one could even match par. Trevor Immelman had one of the better rounds at 72, and his strong effort left him nine shots behind.

“It was like going 18 holes with the heavyweight champion of the world,” he said.

Watson, the 61-year-old magician on the links, must have been smiling inside when he saw how bad it was. He worked his way around the front nine in wind so strong that he twice had to hit driver for his second shot, yet he didn’t make a bogey and was drawing a huge crowd looking for a repeat of Turnberry two years ago, when he nearly won.

He, too, had a 72 and most likely is too far behind.

“We got lucky,” Mickelson said. “I think the guys that played late got really lucky, myself included, that it went away right around the turn for me. And we went from really fighting for pars on every hole to thinking about birdies on some.”

Until Fowler broke through with his 68, the 41 players before him had an average score of 76.36. The next 29 players after him, who played most of the round without the rain, had an average score of 72.96.

“The way I was playing, I would have loved to have seen the weather stay the same throughout the day,” Fowler said. “But that’s the beauty of the playing in The Open Championship. It’s not always the same all day. It can change any minute.”

It wasn’t just the weather. Clarke and Johnson stood out against the others, keeping their mistakes to a minimum. Clarke might have done even better if he could have made some more putts. After a 15-foot birdie on the opening hole, he had good looks at birdie on the next six holes without making any of them. But he never lost the lead, either.

Now he has to keep it together for one more round. It’s only a one-shot lead, but it’s not a bad place to be.

“Nineteen times I’ve failed to try and lift the claret jug, and tomorrow I have an opportunity,” Clarke said. “But at the moment, it’s just an opportunity because the weather is going to be very windy again tomorrow, and there’s a long way to go still in this championship.”

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PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.

Amen.

The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.



Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.