Toms Howell hoping to continue to rebound

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2009, 5:00 pm
50th Bob Hope Chrylser ClassicLA QUINTA, Calif. ' David Toms has been reacquainted with an old friend.
 
He showed up at the Sony Open with that familiar red-and-white golf bag of Cleveland Golf. Toms likes to say that 11 of his 12 victories came with the club company, including his PGA Championship, three Ryder Cup teams and a World Golf Championship.
 
But he also knows that whats in his head is just as important as whats in his hands.
 
Absolutely, its wanting to do better, Toms said. And its putting the time into doing better. That doesnt mean more time, just more focus when I take time. Its easy to get away from that when youre not playing well. My goal this year is to make it count.
 
All that counts is who won, and that would be Zach Johnson.
 
The former Masters champion went through a dry patch similar to Toms for most of last year until he took a six-week break to evaluate his game and chart his course, then won the Valero Texas Open and Sony Open in a span of six starts.
 
What was fascinating about the leaderboard at Waialae, however, was the next three players behind him: Toms, Adam Scott and Charles Howell III.
 
All of them took a big step toward rebounding from a dismal year by their own standards.
 
Toms tied for second with Scott, who recorded his first top 10 on the PGA Tour since he tied for eighth at the Wachovia Championship last May. Scott prides himself on consistency, but he was consistently MIA the latter part of last year.
 
He split up with his longtime girlfriend and continued to play, often looking as though he was on autopilot. He had only one top 10 worldwide the final eight months of the year, missing the last month with a recurring knee cap injury.
 
Its important for me to play well in these first three weeks to get my mind back to where I like it to be, said Scott, who is defending his title this week in the Qatar Masters. Im really motivated, and I feel like the drive is back. It had certainly gone a little off-track there at the end of last year, so Im feeling good about things.
 
Howell turns 30 this summer, but he already is overlooked when the conversation turns to the surge in young players.
 
Even though he has won twice, has 10 runner-up finishes and has played on the Presidents Cup team twice, Howell is coming off the worst season of his career. He was 69th on the money ' certainly no reason to panic ' but the better barometer of his season is that he plunged to No. 137 in the world before his fourth-place finish in the Sony Open.
 
There are noticeable changes this year.
 
Howell has added about 20 pounds to what always was a rail-thin frame, and his hair is slightly longer. He looks older, his eyes reflecting experience of someone who has been toiling on the PGA Tour longer than anyone under 30. The Sony Open was his 249th start.
 
He left swing coach David Leadbetter for the second time, switching to Sea Island-based Todd Anderson and is trying to get away from his obsession with mechanics that led to a singular style of play.
 
I felt like a pitcher who only had one pitch, he said. Now Im trying to learn three or four pitches.
 
Despite his failure to birdie the par-5 18th, his back nine Sunday was an attention-grabber the way he gave himself birdie opportunities and holed enough putts (and one chip-in) to at least give himself a chance.
 
I havent played a tournament in two months, Howell said. For the first week, Im pretty happy.
 
Beyond winning, the immediate goal for Howell ' who grew up in Augusta, Ga. ' is to get into the Masters. He has not missed it since 2001, qualifying in 2007 with a strong West Coast swing that began with a runner-up finish at Waialae.
 
Toms isnt eligible for the Masters for the first time since 1997, and that bugs him.
 
Every time I see those previews for the Masters, it drives me crazy, he said. Im working toward that.
 
Its not just Augusta. He also isnt eligible for the Accenture Match Play Championship, which he won four years ago, or even The Players Championship because he finished out of the top 125 on the money list last year.
 
He wound up at No. 131. Toms probably could have played more in the Fall Series, but some of those events fell on the same week as LSU football games that he didnt want to miss, and he doesnt apologize for that. He recently bought a house in Baton Rouge.
 
Just one of my hobbies, Toms said. If someone had a different hobby, that might interrupt their golf schedule. Its always been that way for me, and it always will be, as long it makes sense. Missing the FedEx Cup is one thing. But in the fall, when I get to spend time with friends and family, thats what Im going to do.
 
He did just that last summer, the highlight of an otherwise forgettable season. Toms took six weeks off during the summer, even skipping the British Open, to restore his health and spend time with his wife and two children at their Louisiana lake house.
 
He didnt record his first top 10 until September and ended the year at No. 116 in the world ranking.
 
The runner-up finish at the Sony Open bumped him up to No. 76. Equally important as the result was the ease with which he played. Toms found himself pressing last year in the few opportunities he had. He looked like the old Toms at Waialae, constantly applying pressure without seemingly breaking a sweat.
 
Thats how he used to be. And thats how he wants to be again.
 
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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.

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    One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

    Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

    Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

    Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

    Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

    Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

    Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

    Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

    David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

    The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

    ''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

    In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

    ''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

    The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

    ''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.