Kapalua may have strongest field in decade

By Doug FergusonNovember 25, 2015, 1:51 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – The start of a new year on the PGA Tour at Kapalua lost some sizzle when Tiger Woods stopped going after 2005, which was four years after Phil Mickelson decided to go to Hawaii only for a vacation.

And when the PGA Tour went to a wraparound season two years ago, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions was in an awkward spot. Yes, it was the first event of the year, but the season had started three months earlier.

A new cast of stars is expected to give Kapalua its strongest field in a decade.

Depending on how Jordan Spieth fares in Australia and the Bahamas over the next two weeks, the 22-year-old Texan could give Kapalua the No. 1 player for the first time since Vijay Singh in 2005. Jason Day and Zach Johnson would give the field all four major champions for the first time since 2010.

Throw in Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kisner and Brooks Koepka and that Tournament of Champions will feel like one.

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry won't be playing, which is not unusual. Kapalua tends to lose out on top European Tour players because their season doesn't end until late November and starts up in mid-January in the Middle East, which is 14 time zones from Hawaii.

Still to be determined is whether Justin Rose plays. If he does, the world ranking points for the winner might be pushing 54.

It hasn't been at that level since Woods was playing, and those ranking points are especially valuable in 2016 for Europeans trying to qualify for the Ryder Cup (five players come off a list based on world ranking points accrued) and for others who wouldn't mind a trip to Rio for the Olympics.

Graeme McDowell is playing after skipping the last time he was eligible. Padraig Harrington is playing for the first time.

RACE TO AUGUSTA: Along with seasons starting (Europe) and years ending (PGA Tour), the final month of 2015 represents a final push to get into the top 50 and lock up a spot in the Masters next April.

That points to Lee Westwood, who is playing in the Australian Open this week. Westwood is No. 56 in the world. Over on the Japan Golf Tour, K.T. Kim is the favorite in the Casio World Open. Kim is at No. 57 and not yet eligible for the Masters.

Some players outside the top 50 already secured a spot at Augusta National. Ian Poulter (No. 54) and Hunter Mahan (No. 63) both are eligible from finishing in the top 12 at the Masters last year.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Graeme McDowell's first trip to America was a recruiting visit to the University of Alabama-Birmingham. It was a harrowing experience - not the recruiting part, but getting through customs.

McDowell said he planned to stay four days because he was coming from Northern Ireland, and that would be longer than the standard 48-hour recruiting trip. His problems began when he was asked by U.S. Customs where he was staying and didn't have the address.

''The guy said, 'You're not on a recruiting trip here, are you?' I guess I would have been teed up to say, 'No,' by my coach because obviously it wasn't within regulations,'' McDowell said. ''I said, 'No. Just vacationing and playing a little golf.'''

As for the address? McDowell only had the phone number of a UAB golfer with whom he was staying.

''The guys calls him in front of me and says, 'I have Mr. McDowell here. What is the purpose of his visit? Oh, he's on a recruiting trip?''' McDowell said. ''So now I've just lied to this customs officer. Long story short, it was no big deal in the end. But I missed my connection to Birmingham. I spent the night in Memphis and thought, 'Man, what is this country all about?'''

It worked out well. McDowell won six times in his final year and received the Fred Haskins Award as the outstanding college golfer.

FRENCH DOUBLE: The European Tour is making the French Open as appealing as possible to its members.

Because of a tight schedule in an Olympic year, the PGA Tour put the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks after the U.S. Open - and the same week as the French Open, a strong supporter of the European Tour. For the first time, Europe will not sanction the World Golf Championship event at Firestone, meaning whoever plays it will not get credit toward the money list or Ryder Cup points, or even a start toward the minimum requirement.

Now, chief executive Keith Pelley says those who play in the French Open will get credit for two starts toward the minimum requirement. The prize money will be increased by 500,000 euros ($531,000), and Ryder Cup points also will be increased that week.

The French Open has been part of the European Tour since 1972 and is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year.

DROP THE PUCK: Wayne Gretzky has been a massive influence on Dustin Johnson over the last couple of years, especially during his six-month break from the game last year when he took time off to seek help for ''personal challenges.''

Johnson and Paulina Gretzky - the hockey great's daughter - had a son last January and plan to get married next year.

That influence, however, is more about life than the sport that Gretzky dominated. Johnson will watch more hockey than he used to, though only when he's with Gretzky.

''I definitely watch it a lot more, especially when we're hanging out at her family's house,'' he said. ''Wayne keeps up with it pretty well, but we don't watch it that much. Kind of flip back and forth between all the sports, especially right now this time of year. We've got every sport is playing.''

Is he watching during the Stanley Cup playoffs, when hockey is at its best?

''If I'm at their house,'' Johnson said. ''If I'm at my house, no. I like it, but I like going to the games more. Definitely been to a lot more games. I didn't go to any games before I met her and now I've been to quite a few. I enjoy that.''

DIVOTS: Bubba Watson wasn't planning to play in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas next week. He changed his mind and will fill in for PGA champion Jason Day, who withdrew to stay home with his newborn daughter, Lucy. ... Kevin Kisner was 58-under par in the four PGA Tour events he played in the fall. ... Europe announced its 10 qualifiers for the EurAsia Cup against Asian countries on Jan. 15-17 in Kuala Lumpur. Victor Dubuisson is the only player who is in the last Ryder Cup. The list includes Danny Willett and Shane Lowry. ... Henrik Stenson ends the year with the longest active streak on the PGA Tour for making the cut at 30 tournaments.

STAT OF THE WEEK: According to PGA Tour data, Kevin Kisner did not miss any of his 31 putts inside 10 feet on the weekend at Sea Island.

FINAL WORD: ''I'm not saying that money's not important. It obviously is. But there's more things important to me, and that's collecting trophies and putting tournaments on my resume.'' - Rory McIlroy, after winning the DP World Tour Championship to capture the Race to Dubai.

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Watch: Tiger birdies 3 of 4, then goes OB

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 8:30 pm

Starting Sunday five off the lead, Tiger Woods teed off in his final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and another birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

And with this roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, the charge was officially on, with Woods just one back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and sniped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 to drop back to 11 under, three behind.

(More coming...)

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.