Signs of Improvement on the PGA Tour
As the season draws to a conclusion, the tour can report at least some progress.
According to the latest data available, through the 84 Lumber Classic, the average time for the first and second rounds on the PGA Tour is about 4 hours, 37 minutes - nearly 10 minutes below the average in 2001 and 2002.
'The comment I hear from players is that it's not necessarily the pace of play, it's the continuation of play,' said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour. 'Players will tell you ... it doesn't seem any faster from tee to green, but it's moving.'
While 10 minutes might not seem like much over the course of one round, the drastic drop in the number of players who are timed for being out of position is a big improvement.
A year ago, Hughes said there were slightly more than 100 players who had been put on the clock at least four times during the season. This year, only 17 players have been timed on more than four occasions.
In 2002, there were 43 players who were put on the clock at least seven times; this year, only two players have been timed that often. No player has been put on the clock more than eight times.
Hughes declined to say who had the most timings.
The number of times a player was put on the clock was the focus of much debate when the pace-of-play penalties came out in January.
When a group gets out of position (defined by an open hole ahead of them), each player in that group is considered to be on the clock. The 10th time a player is put on the clock during the year results in a $20,000 fine.
While that allowed for being guilty by association, the idea was to keep notoriously slow players from beating the system by speeding up when they are being timed to avoid a penalty.
'We're having less of the 'speed up, slow down,'' Hughes said. 'And that's one of the things this process was designed to do.'
Players gave the policy mixed reviews.
'I don't think it's helped,' said Chris Riley, one of the fastest players on tour. 'On Thursday and Friday, it's always five hours. On the weekend, I think the pace is good.'
Tom Lehman believes it has made a difference, no matter how slight.
'Early in the season, when it was all new, pace of play definitely picked up a little,' Lehman said. 'A lot of guys were very mindful of accumulating those bad times, and statistically, it proved that early in the season we played faster.'
But as Singh predicted 10 months ago, Lehman said he has noticed the pace slowing as the year goes on.
'The bottom line is you're not going to be able to do much about it, no matter what you do,' Lehman said.
OLD COURSE CHANGES: The Old Course at St. Andrews will be 160 yards longer for the 2005 British Open, with seven new tees designed to bring some of the penalizing pot bunkers into the picture.
Royal & Ancient secretary Peter Dawson said it would be 7,275 yards after the changes. The 14th hole will be 616 yards, the longest in the Open rotation.
'We're not looking for the course to become a big hitter's paradise - far from it,' Dawson told The Scotsman newspaper. 'We're not trying to change the character of the course. We just want to reinstate the old decisions players had to make.'
Tiger Woods completed the career Grand Slam by winning the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews. He did not hit into a bunker all week, and his 19-under 269 was the lowest score in relation to par at a major championship.
The most significant change likely will be No. 14, where the back tee will be extended 35 yards to bring the fearsome Hell bunker into play on the second shot.
BUBBLE UPDATE:Every week matters for those on the bubble, either trying to get into the Tour Championship (top 30) or keep their cards (top 125).
The big winners last week were Stuart Appleby and Billy Andrade.
By winning in Las Vegas, Appleby moved up 17 spots to No. 10 on the money list and is assured a trip to Houston for the Tour Championship.
Also helping their cause were Scott Verplank, who finished fourth and went from 33rd to 25th on the money list; and Robert Allenby, whose tie for ninth moved him from 31st to 27th. A triple bogey on the 18th hole cost Allenby four spots on the money list.
Andrade tied for eighth in Las Vegas and went from 116th to 96th on the money list, which should guarantee him his card for next year. Other big moves came from David Frost, who finished fifth and jumped 26 spots to No. 110; and Dean Wilson (T14), who went from No. 104 to No. 92 and is safe for next year.
YEAR OF THE WOMAN, PART VI: Annika Sorenstam was the first woman to play against the men. By the end of the year, she will have had plenty of company.
Se Ri Pak is the latest to take up the challenge, agreeing to play in the SBS Championship next week on the Korean PGA Tour. That that will make her the sixth woman to have played on men's tours this year, joining Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley, Michelle Wie, Laura Davies and Jan Stephenson.
'I can't guarantee I will make the cut or play well,' Pak said. 'All I can do is try to have a great experience and learn more from the men's tour.'
DIVOTS: Raymond Floyd has accepted an exemption to the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he won in 1986. Floyd has not played in the U.S. Open since 1995, also at Shinnecock Hills. ... Annika Sorenstam will be in China on Nov. 2 to launch her first signature golf course at Mission Hills in Shenzhen. The resort already has five courses, and is launching three more this year. The others are for former British Open champion David Duval and two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal. ... The PGA Tour and LPGA Tour each have produced winners from six countries this year.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Hilary Lunke shot an even-par 72 in the first round of the Samsung World Championship, her best score since winning the U.S. Women's Open.
FINAL WORD: 'If it was easy, anybody could do it.' - Ty Votaw, on his job as LPGA Tour commissioner.
Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar – Eddie Pepperell, Gregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.
Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.
One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.
Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.
Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.
Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.
He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.
''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.
''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.
''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.
''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”
Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.
''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.
''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''
Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.
Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic
Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch:
Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)
Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)
Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.
Notables in the field:
• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.
• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.
• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.
• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.
• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.
• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green.
• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.
• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.
• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).
Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand
CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.
Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.
''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.
''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''
Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.
Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.
''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.
Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.
Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.
''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.
She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.
Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.