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Monahan: Woods' tourney on, sponsored or not

By Doug FergusonOctober 3, 2017, 7:57 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J. - Tiger Woods' tournament outside Washington is still talking to potential title sponsors, including Quicken Loans, which did not renew. But it's on the schedule for the new season as The National, and PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan says it's not coming off.

''We made the commitment,'' Monahan said. ''Our players are going to be showing up there and we're going to be playing for that amount of money ($7.1 million).

The tournament, run by the Tiger Woods Foundation, originally was scheduled to return to Congressional for 2018. But with uncertainly over title sponsorship, the PGA Tour decided to opt out of its contract with the club for 2018 and 2020.

Why opt out with such certainty of playing in 2018? Monahan said there is no guarantee the National will be played in 2019 and beyond. Being tied to a golf course - even one as storied as Congressional - might limit any negotiations.

''Let's say we didn't renew with Quicken and there was another sponsor and they had a different objective. They wanted to be at a different golf course, a different part of town. They wanted to do something different,'' Monahan said. ''You can't be wed to one golf course that might limit your ability to get a deal done.''

The tournament remains in contact with Quicken Loans, and there are conversations with other potential sponsors.

Still on the table is a scenario in which Detroit-based Quicken Loans might be interested in having the PGA Tour closer to its headquarters. But that would be after 2018. Monahan went from ''highly, highly likely'' to ''it's for sure in D.C. - I can say that'' for the National to be held in Washington this season, with or without a title sponsor.

The course has not been determined. It was played last year at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.

The Houston Open also is without a title sponsor. Finding replacements is a priority for the PGA Tour, along with concern that Bridgestone might not renew its title sponsorship after next year of the World Golf Championship event at Firestone.


PRESIDENTS CUP DOWN UNDER: The PGA Tour announced that the dates for the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne will be Dec. 12-15, two days later than the conclusion of the matches the first time it went to Australia in 1998.

Still to be determined is the cutoff for qualifying for the team, and when to announce the captains' picks.

This will be the fourth time the Presidents Cup goes to the Southern Hemisphere, but the first since the PGA Tour went to a wraparound season.

This year, the 10 automatic spots were determined on Sept. 4 after the second FedEx Cup playoff event - three weeks ahead of the matches. If the cutoff is the Tour Championship in 2019 - that presumably will be Labor Day - then the U.S. team would be set three months before the opening tee shot.

When the PGA Tour first took the Presidents Cup to Australia, the cutoff for qualifying was the Tour Championship. But that was on Nov. 1, just five weeks ahead of the Presidents Cup.

The cutoff for qualifying again was the Tour Championship when the matches were at Royal Melbourne in 2011. That was Sept. 25, two months before the Presidents Cup (Nov. 22-25). That was when the Tour had the Fall Series to allow players a chance to earn their cards. Tiger Woods was a captain's pick and wound up playing the Frys.com Open to get his game sharp. Several Americans also played the week before in either the Singapore Open or Australian Open.

What to expect in 2019? Tour officials have not begun discussions. It wouldn't make any sense to decide a team three months before the Presidents Cup. Then again, it could lead players to add fall events to the schedule to avoid being left off.


PERFECT STORM: Ben Crane rolled the dice by staying home from the Web.com Tour Championship and wound up losing.

Until he realized he didn't lose much at all.

Crane already had a bizarre time in the Web.Com Tour Finals when he was penalized eight shots and eventually disqualified for having practice stickers on his clubs that he forgot to remove. He was No. 18 on the Finals money list and seemingly in good shape to finish among the top 25, which are awarded PGA Tour cards. So he pulled out of the final event, spending his weekend at the Presidents Cup for Citi.

Jonathan Byrd won. Sam Saunders and Shawn Stefani tied for second. Before he knew it, eight players did well enough to move past him. And it didn't help that eight others withdrew because they already had cards locked up. When the Tour Championship was pushed to Monday, they wanted to get to California for the Thursday start of the new season at the Safeway Open.

Bad news? Not really.

With his conditional status - Crane finished 147th in the FedEx Cup - he figured he would miss only a couple of tournaments he normally plays. And then it got better. Four players ahead of him in the FedExCup earned cards at the Web.com Finals. Five others already were exempt through winning within the last two years.

Now, he's not in much different position than if he had gone to Florida for the final event and earned his card.


LPGA MANTRA: The slogan for the LPGA is ''See Why It's Different.''

But there's another one at LPGA headquarters, mainly used internally, that might be even more meaningful. Heather Daly-Donofrio, the chief communications and operations officer, signs off her emails with ''Act Like a Founder.''

''It's part of our internal culture,'' he said. ''We're here because of our 13 founders, and our job is to carry that forward with the same grit and determination. Everyone has really latched onto it.''

It's more than just a motto.

For the last four years, the staff nominates an employee for the ''Act Like a Founder'' award, and the management team chooses the winner. The staff member is honored at the holiday party, gets a plaque signed by the living founders and wins a trip to the Founders Cup, where they go to the dinner honoring pioneers.

''For the people who have won it,'' Daly-Donofrio said, ''it's emotional when they get it.''


DIVOTS: Michelle Wie is sufficiently healed from her appendectomy and plans to play the final six LPGA events. Five of them are in Asia, starting next week in South Korea, wrapped up by the CME Group Tour Championship in Florida. ... Dustin Johnson finished at No. 3 on the PGA Tour money list last season. But he led the Tour in average earnings per start at $436,610 in his 20 tournaments. ... Thomas Bjorn and Arjun Atwal will be captains at the EurAsia Cup, to be played Jan. 12-14 in Malaysia. ... Americans won 33 of the 48 events on the PGA Tour this year, up from 24 out of 47 the previous year.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Since the start of the wraparound season in October 2013, Brendan Steele last year is the only player to win the season-opening tournament and not reach the Tour Championship.

FINAL WORD: ''They got better at doing what Europe does than what Europe did. And we paid the price.'' - Geoff Ogilvy on the U.S. team spirit at the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup in recent years.

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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.”