Nick Watney Out to Early Lead in Hawaii

By Associated PressJanuary 3, 2008, 5:00 pm
2007 Mercedes Benz ChampionshipKAPALUA, Hawaii --Opening day on the PGA TOUR was filled with oddities, starting with Nick Watney leading the Mercedes-Benz Championship on Thursday with a 5-under 68 that featured only one bogey amid a mixture of sunshine and rain.
 
Newcomers are supposed to be at a disadvantage on the Plantation Course at Kapalua with its mammoth greens and severe grain, but Watney kept it simple and poured in enough putts to take a one-shot lead over Daniel Chopra and get his 2008 season off to a good start.
 
'I think maybe they say that because the greens are very grainy,' Watney said. 'I think for me personally with the green, if I don't know what a putt is going to do, then I'll just play grain. So it worked out today.'
 
It didn't work out for most of the winners-only field.
 
Brandt Snedeker was in the lead most of the round until he hit what he thought was the perfect tee shot on No. 17. Imagine his surprise to see his ball in the waist-high native grasses, some 100 yards behind Steve Stricker. Turns out his driver had a hairline crack in the top of the face, which played a big part in his double bogey-bogey finish that sent him to a 71.
 
Scott Verplank was at even-par 73, rattled by a ruling he continued to dispute after his round that cost him a double bogey on the 13th and made him think more about his pre-shot routine than how to play the shot.
 
With his ball positioned on the slope of the fairway, the wind gusting some 30 mph in his face, his ball moved about a quarter-inch. Verplank did not think he had addressed the ball, but after a discussion with rules official Mike Shea, he was told he caused the ball to move. Verplank played a second ball in protest, but lost the argument after his round.
 
Tour officials were trying to find video evidence after the round.
 
'I don't agree with it,' Verplank said. 'I know right from wrong. I know what happened. If I felt I did anything to make that ball move, give me a penalty. At the time, I didn't think I did anything to make it move.'
 
Steve Stricker rallied from a rough start, playing the final 10 holes in 3 under for a 73. But he had a tough time with his new umbrella, which caused his hands to be too slick to grip the club. He wound up grabbing the umbrella by its shaft.
 
The craziest part of all was the weather.
 
Sunglasses quickly gave way to umbrellas as a mist sprayed the lower portions of the Plantation Course, and players had a tough time walking into the wind and up the hills. Worse yet, the damp weather continued to make the 7,411-yard course even longer, and it showed. Stephen Ames flushed his driver on the downhill, 550-yard 17th hole (a par 4), then had to hammer a 3-wood to clear the ravine. Paul Goydos had 215 yards left for his third shot on the 676-yard closing hole.
 
Some vacation this is turning out to be.
 
Goydos and Boo Weekley were the only players who failed to break 80, although Weekley saw this coming. He hadn't played much golf in the last month and figured he would be closer to shooting 82 and than 72. 'I was close,' he said as he walked inside to sign for an 80.
 
There were plenty of beautiful views, as always, including the surfers that could be seen from 11th green. Weekley, who much prefers a rifle or fishing rod to a surfboard, wanted no part of that.
 
'If I showed up out there, they'd think I was a whale that got beached,' he said, rubbing his belly.
 
U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera was among three players at 70, while Snedeker and Mike Weir were another shot behind. Only 10 players managed to break par in the wind and rain, and Vijay Singh wasn't among them. The defending champ opened with a 74.
 
Despite his bad break, Snedeker was pleased with how he played. He had a relapse of the flu when he arrived and was feeling so dizzy that he had a doctor prescribe some steroids -- drug testing doesn't start until July 8 -- to help him get better.
 
But the tee shot on No. 17 stunned him.
 
'I thought I hit it flush. I thought it was maybe a gust of wind,' he said. 'But when I got up to the next tee, I saw the crack. So I had to hit 3-wood, 3-wood and 8-iron on the 18th. It's a stinky way to end a round of golf.'
 
Verplank wasn't happy with how his situation turned out, especially since Rory Sabbatini didn't feel a penalty should have been called. They talked with rules official for 20 minutes after the round, although he kept his sense of humor.
 
'How many FedExCup points is that going to cost me?' he said.
 
Explaining the situation later, the Oklahoma State alum and close friend of football coach Mike Gundy said the penalty wouldn't affect him the rest of the week.
 
'I'm a man!' Verplank said, making fun of Gundy's famous rant from the season. 'I'm 43.'
 
There were a few other light moments on a tough opening day, and some poignant ones at the start. Clifford Naeole, the Maui cultural adviser at Kapalua, offered a traditional Hawaiian blessing on the season, which was followed by a stirring rendition of the national anthem on the ukulele by Jake Shimabukuro, one of the best in the world on an instrument that defines Hawaii.
 
Joe Torre, the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers who spends January in Kapalua, was the honorary starter. All he had to do was call out the lineup, not hit a shot, which was probably a good thing. The Plantation Course, which got 16 inches of rain in one week last month and about 4 inches this week, played longer than ever.
 
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  • Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

    The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

    The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

    In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

    Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

    Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

    Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

    By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

    RISING

    Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

    Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

    Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

    Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

    Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


    FALLING

    J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

    Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

    Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

    DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

    LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

    Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

    Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

    In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

    "Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

    Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

    "The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

    The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

    "Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

    Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

    Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

    By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

    We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

    God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

    We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

    Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

    There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

    It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

    Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

    Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

    BORN IN 1912

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
    May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
    Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

    Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


    BORN IN 1949

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
    Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
    Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

    Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


    BORN IN 1955

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
    Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
    Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

    Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

    Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
    Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
    Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
    Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
    Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

    A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


    EUROPE'S BIG 5

    Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
    April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
    July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
    Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
    Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
    March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

    The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
    Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
    May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
    May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
    June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

    Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


    BORN IN 1980

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
    July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
    July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

    Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

    Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.