New Year New Questions

By Associated PressJanuary 4, 2005, 5:00 pm
04 Mercedes ChampionshipsThe grandstand surrounding the ninth green was packed, and it was only a quiet Monday afternoon at Kapalua, with no more than a dozen players on the Plantation Course.
Everyone anticipates a blockbuster season on the PGA Tour.
Vijay Singh starts the year at No. 1 for the first time in his career. Tiger Woods showed signs of recovering his game late last year, while Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen could make it crowded at the top.
Singh knows his nine-victory season that took him to No. 1 was old news when the calendar changed.
'Everybody is going to be starting level,' Singh said. 'You've just got to get in front as quick as possible and see if you can stay there. That's the way I've always thought, and hopefully I'm going to start that way again.'
And that leads to seven questions about the 2005 season:
What does Singh do for an encore?
Singh is curious how he will handle the expectations, although they won't be as great as when Woods tried to follow up on his nine-win season of 2000. Woods went 10 weeks at the start of the '01 season without winning and had to face questions about a slump. Then he won three straight, including the Masters for his fourth straight major.
Keep in mind that Singh won only one time through the Masters last year, and no one questioned his game. That won't be the case in 2005, and he can take a load of pressure off by winning at least once on the West Coast Swing.
Odds are against him winning nine times again, although if he plays the same schedule - his 29 starts last year matched his career-high - there is no reason he can't win a half-dozen times.
Was the end of the year a mirage for Tiger?
Woods gained renewed optimism by winning his final two tournaments of the year with a game that looked vaguely familiar. Still, no one will take the Dunlop Phoenix (Japan) or the Target World Challenge (silly season) too seriously. Still, it was enough to raise expectations.
Woods is playing two of the first three tournaments, and he might face more scrutiny than Singh.
The real test will be the majors. If Woods fails to win the Masters, it will be the longest stretch without a major in his career. Another question is whether Woods' cut streak (133 tournaments) can survive another year.
Will the majors haunt the Big Easy?
Els will remember 2004 as the year the majors got away - all four of them. He had three putts on the 72nd hole to either win or get into a playoff, and missed them all. He shot 80 in the final group at the U.S. Open.
He might have found the secret to getting sharp for the four biggest weeks of the year, but four close calls in one year creates a lot of scar tissue. The Masters is what he wants the most, only Els might be the next in a long line of players who felt Augusta National owed them one (Ken Venturi, Tom Weiskopf, Greg Norman, David Duval).
His best bet might be the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, which should feel like a U.S. Open.
What will Phil do next?
That 8-inch vertical leap at Augusta National is the most vivid reminder that Mickelson no longer is hounded as the best player to never win a major. Coming within five shots of winning all four was a statement that Lefty has these majors all figured out.
Still, his magical year ended after the PGA Championship. The Ryder Cup was a disaster, and his 59 at the Grand Slam of Golf doesn't count. Memories being short, he'll probably have to prove himself again the first three months of the year to be considered a major force going into the Masters.
Will anyone in their 20s emerge as a legitimate star?
Assuming Woods is an old man at 29, golf still is searching for a player in his 20s to emerge as a rival for the next decade. Adam Scott became the youngest winner (23) of The Players Championship, but the best bet is Sergio Garcia. He already has won five times on tour and, unlike Scott, is becoming a regular contender in the majors.
Other possibilities are the English trio of Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Paul Casey. Charles Howell III is too young (25) to be forgotten. Even though he has won only one tournament, he has never finished lower than 33rd on the PGA Tour money list.
What about the old guys?
Tom Kite once advised Jay Haas to keep playing on the PGA Tour as long as he could, because once someone goes to the Champions Tour, it's hard to go back to regular golf. Haas has made the Tour Championship the last two years, and at 51 will be trying to make the Presidents Cup team.
Kite, meanwhile, is using a career-money exemption to return to the PGA Tour. But if he fails to compete, he might be a victim of his own advice.
Can Tim Finchem work magic on another TV deal?
No one will be pulling harder for Woods than the PGA Tour commissioner, who will start negotiating the next television contract this year. The last two times Finchem sat across from the networks were in 1997, when Woods won the Masters by a record 12 shots, and in 2001, when Woods won the 'Tiger Slam' - four majors in a span of 294 days.
It's all about timing.
And the tour is positioned to provide some drama that will have everyone watching.
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    Report: Augusta may lengthen par-4 fifth hole

    By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:18 am

    One of the more difficult holes at Augusta National Golf Club could be adding some teeth in time for the 2019 Masters.

    A recent report from the Augusta Chronicle details preliminary site plans from the Augusta Planning and Development Department. Chief among the proposed changes is a lengthening of the par-4 fifth hole, which currently measures 455 yards.

    According to the report, a new tee could be constructed across Old Berckmans Road that could lengthen the hole by 20-30 yards. The change would alleviate congestion between the tee and the nearby fourth green and includes plans to curve the road – which has been closed to public traffic since 2015 – around the new fifth tee.

    At last year’s Masters, former club chairman Billy Payne highlighted the area as a possible site for minor changes.

    “We are always looking at certain holes, certain improvements to the golf course,” Payne said. “We have a great opportunity now in that we now own the Old Berckmans Road. It gives us the ability, as it touches certain holes, it gives us some way to expand or redesign – not redesign, but lengthen some of those holes, should we choose to do so, and all of them are under review.”

    Should the new tee be built, it would mark the first club-enacted course changes since six holes were lengthened in 2006. According to the preliminary plans, construction would start on approximately May 1, following this year’s tournament, and would conclude by early November.

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    Thomas: Raucus crowds becoming 'completely unacceptable'

    By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 12:53 am

    LOS ANGELES – After spending the first two rounds of the Genesis Open caught amid the traveling circus that accompanies tournament host Tiger Woods anytime he tees it up, Justin Thomas relished his third trip around Riviera with fewer bodies – and voices – in the crowd.

    Thomas was part of this week’s marquee early-round grouping, playing the first 36 holes alongside Woods and Rory McIlroy. McIlroy suggested that the chaos of a Woods gallery costs the 42-year-old half a shot per round, and it’s a sentiment that Thomas supported after climbing into the top 10 with a third-round 67.

    “Yeah, it was pretty wild this first couple days. It was all right for a little bit today, but there at the end it got a little out of hand,” Thomas said. “I guess it’s a part of it now, unfortunately. I wish it wasn’t. I wish people didn’t think it was so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots and play.”

    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

    Thomas enters the final round four shots behind Bubba Watson as he looks to win for the second time this season. While the crowds at Riviera are a fraction of the size encountered two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, Thomas recalled a couple of unfortunate incidents from that event when fans spoke up and snapped mid-swing pictures while he played the first two rounds alongside Jordan Spieth.

    “I don’t know - I guess they just think it’s funny,” Thomas said. “It might be funny to them, and obviously people think of it differently and I could just be overreacting. But when people are now starting to time it wrong and get in people’s swings, is just completely unacceptable really.

    “We’re out here playing for a lot of money, a lot of points, and a lot of things can happen. And you would just hate to have, hate to see in the future something happen down the line because of something like that.”

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    Durant leads Stricker, MAJ into Chubb Classic Sunday

    By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 12:50 am

    NAPLES, Fla. - Joe Durant birdied five of the last eight holes for a 9-under 63 to match Steve Stricker's Saturday finish and take the second-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Chubb Classic.

    Durant rebounded from a three-putt bogey on the par-4 10th with birdies on the next two holes and also birdied Nos. 15-17. He had a 14-under 130 total on TwinEagles' Talon course for a one-stroke lead over Stricker.

    ''You're going to laugh at me when I tell you this, but it was actually a par I made on my first hole,'' Durant said. ''I pulled my tee shot left, went into a bush and had to take an unplayable, had to drop back and hit an 8-iron about 15 feet and made par and it was kind of like, 'OK, well, maybe the putter is going to work today.'''

    Stricker had nine birdies in a bogey-free round.

    ''I look forward to playing with Steve,'' Durant said. ''He's a class act, one of my buddies out here, and obviously he is playing well and he had a great round today. It will be a shootout tomorrow, no question, but it will be fun.''

    The 53-year-old Durant has two PGA Tour Champions victories after winning four times on the PGA Tour.

    The 50-year-old Stricker is making his first start of the year on the 50-and-over tour after playing six tournaments last year - a runner-up finish in his debut and three third-places ties but not a victory.

    ''That's why I'm here, to try to win the golf tournament,'' the 12-time PGA Tour winner said.

    He played the last two weeks on the PGA Tour, tying for 31st in the Phoenix Open and tying for 26th at Pebble Beach.

    ''You can be a little more patient on the big tour because pars sometimes are good scores,'' Stricker said. ''Out here you need to make some birdies and when you see guys running away, that's when you lose your patience, at least I did yesterday.''

    Playing alongside John Daly, Stricker birdied three of the last four on the front nine and birdied the last two for a back-nine 31.

    ''Yesterday, I wasn't very patient and I let a couple slip away that I should have had,'' Stricker said. ''On the par 5s on my second nine yesterday, I walked away from a couple pars, and that was frustrating. So I kind of let that get to me. Today, I was a lot more patient, and I felt it on the greens. When you're patient on the greens, you tend to roll the ball a little bit better, and I rolled a lot of nice putts.''

    First-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez was two strokes back. He birdied three of the last four in a 68 after opening with a 64.

    ''Tomorrow is going to be a fight,'' Jimenez said. ''It's going to be nice. As long as you are around the lead, one shot behind, one shot ahead. A lot of golf to come. Just play golf, let everything come.''

    Lee Janzen (67) was 11 under, and Kevin Sutherland (68) and Scott McCarron (68) were another stroke back. Daly was 8 under after his second 68. Three-time champion Bernhard Langer had a 70 to get to 5 under.

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    Watson takes one-shot lead at Riviera

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 17, 2018, 11:49 pm

    It's an even-numbered year, so we shouldn't be surprised that Bubba Watson is leading at Riviera. Here's how things shake out going into the final round of the Genesis Open:

    Leaderboard: Bubba Watson (-10), Patrick Cantlay (-9), Cameron Smith (-8), Kevin Na (-8), Tony Finau (-8), Graeme McDowell (-8)

    What it means: Watson won the Tour's Los Angeles stop in 2014 and 2016, first shooting 64-64 on the weekend to come from eight shots back and beat Dustin Johnson by two strokes, then edging Jason Kokrak and Adam Scott by a stroke two years later. On Saturday, after a Friday night spent playing in a celebrity basketball game that was part of NBA All-Star Weekend (and getting a shot swatted into the stands by 6-foot-8 Tracy McGrady), he eagled the par-5 first hole, hitting a 200-yard approach to 18 inches, and kept his foot on the gas the rest of the way, adding five birdies against one bogey.

    Round of the day: Dustin Johnson moved up 45 spots with a 64. Like Watson, he eagled the first hole, then added four birdies to make the turn in 29. His back nine was an exercise in treading water, with eight pars and a birdie, at the par-5 11th.

    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

    Best of the rest: Watson's 65 was matched by Cameron Smith, who moved up 12 spots to T-3 by making an eagle and four birdies.

    Biggest disappointment: At 49, two-time former U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen was just four shots off the lead after 36 holes, but a Saturday 75 dropped him to a tie for 51st. Goosen's round was a matter of slow bleeding, with three bogeys and a birdie on both sides.

    Shot of the day: Derek Fathauer eagled the par-4 third hole, holing his approach shot from 120 yards.

    Quote of the day: "You've got to know that this golf course is going to make you mess up." - Bubba Watson

    Biggest storyline going into Sunday: Although Watson has won twice at Riviera, he hasn't won anywhere since his 2016 victory in L.A. His 2016-17 season finish of 75th in the FedExCup standings was the worst of his career. His closest pursuer, Cantlay, is just one stroke back after closing with a 54-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.