Stricker captures the Memorial over Kuchar, Jobe

By Associated PressJune 6, 2011, 12:34 am

DUBLIN, Ohio – Steve Stricker finally found the winning formula at the Memorial on Sunday.

Stricker, who had never finished in the top 10 in his 11 previous trips to Muirfield Village, built a big lead with more flawless golf on the front nine, then relied on his silky putting stroke for two clutch pars to hang on for a one-shot victory.

He closed with a 4-under 68, lagging from 20 feet for a two-putt bogey on the 18th hole. By then, the hard work was over. Stricker twice saved par from bunkers on the 16th and 17th holes, making putts of 15 feet and 7 feet to go to the last hole with a two-shot lead.

 “It wasn’t pretty,” Stricker said to tournament host Jack Nicklaus walking off the 18th green.

Matt Kuchar and Brandt Jobe each closed with a 65 to tie for second.

The 44-year-old Stricker moves to No. 4 in the world and becomes the highest-ranked American for the first time in his career. He won for the 10th time in his career, and the seventh time since he turned his game around five years ago.

Dustin Johnson closed with a 65 to finish fourth, followed by Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who had a 68. The biggest consolation prize went to Gary Woodland, who had a 68 to finish alone in sixth. Woodland likely will move to about No. 40 in the world ranking, making him virtually a lock to get into the U.S. Open. He had faced a 36-hole qualifier Monday morning.

Stricker, who led by four shots at the turn, made it more interesting than it needed to be, especially after a 2 1/2 -hour storm delay that slowed his momentum following a spectacular bunker save behind the 12th green.

He had a three-shot lead with five holes to play when he missed a short birdie on the 14th, then pulled his tee shot into the woods on the par-5 15th to make a bogey. His lead was down to two, and he faced a tough finish.

Stricker found the back bunker on the par-3 16th and blasted out to 15 feet, lightly pumping his fist when it dropped in the center of the cup for par to keep the two-shot cushion. From the middle of the 17th fairway, he badly pushed his 6-iron off a mound and into a deep bunker right of the green. He splashed it out to 7 feet, and the par putt again was never in doubt.

Needing only a bogey to win, Stricker hit into a fairway bunker on the 18th, missed the green to the left and was happy to chip onto the top tier to 20 feet that locked up his first win of the year.

“It was a little bit of a struggle since we came in from the rain delay,” he said. “At that point, I was trying not to make a mistake. I hung tough, made a couple of crucial putts when I had to.”

While the par putts at the end were crucial, his bunker shot on No. 12 was equally big. He had to play away from the flag, bounced it out through the rough and saw it settle a foot from the cup.

Stricker finished at 16-under 272 and earned $1,116,000. Almost as sweet as the trophy was getting a handshake and hug from Nicklaus behind the 18th green.

“It’s pretty special walking off,” Stricker said. “He’s a friend, and it’s truly an honor.”

Luke Donald, in his first tournament at No. 1 in the world, never had a chance to win but never quit trying. Donald closed with a 68 and tied for seventh, his 10th consecutive finish in the top 10 in worldwide golf.

It was a tale of two nines for Stricker, as it had been all week. He played the front nine in 20-under par, including his six birdies Sunday when he made the turn in 30 to build the big lead. He played the back nine in 4 over, and didn’t have another shot to spare.

Kuchar and Jobe did all they could to catch him.

“My 5 under on the front didn’t gain any ground on him,” Kuchar said. “It was tough to see. Got two more on the back, played great golf. But looks like it’s just not quite good enough.”

Jobe has been battling injuries over the past several years, and the $545,600 pushes him over $1.16 million for the season and assures him keeping his card for next year. Jobe put the most pressure on Stricker by running off five straight birdies around the turn.

“I thought if we would have gone out and shot 65, that might have been good enough,” Jobe said. “But it looks like we’re going to be a little short. It was his tournament to kind of win or lose, and he’s going out there and winning it.”

Woodland would not get the official ranking until later Sunday night. He came into the week at No. 54, and the top 50 after next week are exempt from qualifying. Despite a bogey on the 18th hole, his sixth-place finish should be more than enough to stay in the top 50.

Stricker now heads to Congressional in two weeks as one of the players who could be a big factor in the U.S. Open. He was a runner-up at Congressional in 2007 during the AT&T National, and that putting stroke goes a long way on any course.

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.



Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.