Players Get Rude Welcome to the PGA Tour Season

By Associated PressJanuary 9, 2006, 5:00 pm
04 Mercedes ChampionshipsKAPALUA, Hawaii -- Justin Leonard took a quick shower and was headed to the airport for a flight home to Dallas when he saw David Toms at his locker and, in his own sarcastic way, wished him well at the next stop in Hawaii.
 
'I hear it's supposed to blow even harder next week,' Leonard said.
 
That was the last thing Toms needed to hear after getting kicked around in a PGA Tour season-opener that was played in paradise and felt, uh, much warmer.
 
It was only three years ago at the Mercedes Championships that players were begging for a challenge after Ernie Els set a PGA Tour record by winning at 31 under par in fast, calm conditions.
 
Now they're saying it's too hard.
 
The new greens on the Plantation Course at Kapalua were firmer and smoother than ever, so pure that PGA Tour rules official Jon Brendle thought there was a chance someone could go lower than Els. Then it kept raining overnight, the fierce trade winds arrived, and a working vacation became all work.
 
'I think they've blown it,' Kenny Perry huffed after a 77 in the third round. 'It's a little unfair. Everyone has to play it, but I don't think it's golf, in my opinion. Who wants to shoot 75 or 76 when that's the average score? I tell you what, it's shot my confidence.'
 
Beauty -- and in this case, a beast of a course -- was in the eye of the beholder.
 
Stuart Appleby brought his best golf to the Mercedes Championships and walked away with his third straight trophy by breaking par all four days to finish at 8-under 284, then beating Vijay Singh on the first playoff hole. Singh finally kept mistakes off his card and closed with a 66, nine shots better than the average score.
 
But it raised questions how the PGA Tour season should begin.
 
With quick greens that demanded the utmost precision, and gusts up to 40 mph, it felt like a U.S. Open at times. Most of the players were rusty from their time off, whether that was two weeks or two months. Appleby was the first to concede that no one was at his best last week.
 
'I walked off the second green and told people they need to go watch football,' said Toms, who was one shot out of the lead going into the weekend until rounds of 79-75 left him in a tie for 13th. 'Obviously, some guys are playing good. But to see pros in the teens over par starting the season? That's not a lot of fun.'
 
But no one wanted to see a winners-only tournament turn into the Bob Hope Classic, where 65 means losing ground.
 
'I think it's great,' said Brad Faxon, who opened with an 82, closed with a 74 and tied for 23rd at 17 over. 'A lot of people thought this course was too easy. I would think Mercedes would be a competitive tournament, not a 30-under romp. If 2 or 3 under is leading, you can have a handful of guys who can win.'
 
Even par would have been good enough for seventh place this year.
 
Carlos Franco shot that a year ago and finished last.
 
'Somebody is always going to play good,' said Fred Funk, who whose best round was a 76. 'The guys that complain are guys like me who aren't playing well, or not scoring well. You feel like you're hitting good shots and not getting rewarded. Right now, I feel like I'm not a good player. I shouldn't feel that way.'
 
Brendle, who was in charge of setting up the golf course, has heard this all before.
 
He empathizes with the players, but only to a point. It was obvious why the scores were so high, starting with wind so strong that Jim Furyk had a hard time standing up over his tee shot. The best story belonged to Perry. While hitting a provisional shot on the 12th hole, the wind blew his ball off the tee during his downswing. Unable to stop, he did his best to make contact, and dumped that 100 yards into the weeds.
 
Thankfully, he found his original ball and made par.
 
The Plantation showed a rare quality of allowing 31 under when it's calm, 8 under when it blows.
 
With new greens, Brendle had several options for pin placements, but he didn't use many of them because of the wind and tough conditions. He kept the speed of the greens slightly slower.
 
'I don't think it had anything to do with the golf course,' he said. 'It had to do with the weather. When the wind blows, it shakes these guys up. Jason Gore played bad. Stuart Appleby played good. Happens every week.'
 
Still posted late Sunday night on the PGA Tour's web site was a teaser that said, 'How could you not be excited at the start of 2006?' Next to that was a picture of Funk, who was excited to be done.
 
'There's a lot of pride out here,' Funk said. 'You don't expect this golf course to play that hard. It used to be that if you weren't playing well, you could always make some birdies. I've made two birdies all week.'
 
He said that on Saturday. He birdied the last hole Sunday to make it three.
 
Vaughn Taylor doesn't have much to say, but he seemed to have the right answer after steady improvement at Kapalua -- rounds of 74-73-72-71 -- left him tied for fourth.
 
Should the first event of the year be kind and gentle, or a test of survival?
 
'Playing well is a good way to start the year,' Taylor said. 'Hopefully, this will sharpen me up a little bit.'
 
Perry was so flustered that he said he would consider not returning next year if he was eligible. Mark Calcavecchia thought that was a little severe. After all, they're in Hawaii being treated like royalty. Last place paid $70,000. Every player got a free room at the Ritz-Carlton.
 
'I don't think anybody was expecting this kind of battle the first week of the year,' Calcavecchia said. 'It's a lot of work. But it's a great place to be. I'd love to be back next year.'
 
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - Mercedes Championships
  • Full Coverage - Mercedes Championship

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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”