Notes: The pains of playing late Thursday and Friday

By Doug FergusonMarch 15, 2016, 10:56 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Even though Sam Saunders has had only one close call at winning on the PGA Tour, he has felt the pressure of playing the final hole.

In his last two PGA Tour starts, Saunders has gone into the dangerous part of the course with no room for error as he tries to make the cut. He made it through the ''Bear Trap'' at PGA National with four straight pars in the Honda Classic. And he closed with two tough par saves last week at the Valspar Championship.

Adding to the difficulty is the time of day.

Saunders plays out of the lowest priority, meaning he often gets the last tee time. With that comes a few distractions, making the task that much tougher.

''There's isn't one guy out here who wouldn't tell you tough it is,'' Saunders said. ''You're dealing with stuff that's ... it's strange. There's some people out on the course that are hooting and hollering. You're dealing with all the volunteers packing up and leaving. It's getting dark, so the rules officials are watching you because they want you to finish. Sometimes it can be a little tough to stay focused and not be distracted. Because there are a lot of distractions late on Friday.''

Last week, he got up-and-down for par on the 17th, and saved par from behind the 18th green to finish at 3 over and make the cut on the number. He didn't realize that because amateur Lee McCoy had made the cut, Saunders could have made bogey on the last hole and made it to the weekend, though with 85 players, there would have been another cut after 54 holes.

''I thought I had to make par and I hit a really good chip,'' he said. ''To hit that shot under that circumstance, it's extremely satisfying and you take a lot from that. And made cut is a made cut. And it's never a bad thing.''

A 67-70 weekend at the Honda Classic gave him a tie for 14th. A 68-72 weekend at Innisbrook gave him a tie for 22nd.

Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, will be taking on more duties at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But it's still a PGA Tour event, and he fully expects to be in the last group no matter what side of the draw he is on.

''I'm always last off, and it's frustrating at times,'' he said. ''I think the earliest tee time I've ever had for Thursday-Friday was third or fourth from the last group. But most importantly, I'm getting a tee time. No complaints.''

Saunders has a tee time at Bay Hill this week. He's in the last group Thursday.


KNOX GOES TO AUGUSTA: Russell Knox is playing in his first Masters next month, and part of him looks as much forward to the Par 3 Contest.

The son of his late coach will be his caddie.

Mike Flemming was the Jacksonville University coach who recruited Knox from Inverness, Scotland, and remained his coach and mentor as he made his way onto the PGA Tour. Flemming died two years ago, and Knox choked back tears thinking about him when he won in Shanghai.

''It was always my coach and mine's dream to get to Augusta,'' Knox said. ''Even on the mini-tours, that was the goal. He would joke, 'Let's get to the Masters before I die.' He obviously didn't make it. So when I did qualify, it only made sense to have him (Neal Flemming) come along for the par 3. My coach's wife will be there as well.''

Knox already has shared the experience with his father, who accompanies him - but did not play - when Knox played Augusta National for the first time in early February. Knox couldn't decide who had the better time.

''He said the word, 'Wow!' about 10,000 times,'' Knox said of his dad. ''So that was cool. It's a great place. I can't wait.''


PADRAIG'S ADVENTURES: Padraig Harrington flew halfway around the world after the Valspar Championship to New Delhi, where he will play the Hero Indian Open. He said it would be his first time playing in India since 1994, a week that marks one of his career highlights.

It wasn't a major. It wasn't a Ryder Cup.

It was his accountant's exam.

''My mother informed me that I got my exam results at home, and they told they weren't going to open them,'' said Harrington, who studied accounting at Dublin Business College. ''They steamed them open. They told me if I failed, they weren't going to tell me. But because I passed, they told me.

''That was the week I became a qualified accountant.''

He never finished what he referred to as ''my articles'' for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, and thus never officially was an accountant. Harrington will have to settle for a pair of British Open titles, a PGA Championship, six appearances in the Ryder Cup and 11 times representing Ireland in the World Cup.

He said he has three honorary doctorate degrees.

''I can put all those letters after my name, but I can't put 'ACCA' because I didn't do my articles,'' he said. ''Life is funny. I don't see it as a disappointment. One thing I learned is you have to have an expert look after those things.''


LPGA TO CBS: Five years after the LPGA had only two tournaments on network television, it picked up its seventh of the season when CBS said it would broadcast the final round of the Marathon Classic on July 17.

That means the LPGA will be shown on network TV for four straight weekends in July - the U.S. Women's Open (Fox Sports), Marathon Classic (CBS), International Crown (NBC) and Ricoh Women's British Open (NBC).

The other network events are the KPMG Women's PGA (NBC), the Evian Masters (NBC) and the CME Group Tour Championship (ABC).

''Our team has been focused on expanding our network TV coverage, which gives us a chance to showcase the LPGA to a much broader audience to attract more casual fans,'' LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said.


DIVOTS: The final spot in the 120-man field came down to the 85th position in the FedEx Cup standings. Blayne Barber and Sung Kang were tied at 236.340 points. The tiebreaker was last year, and Barber got the nod because he finished No. 121 in the FedEx Cup, and Kang was on the Web.com Tour. The good news for Kang? He got in, anyway, when Kevin Na withdrew. ... Harrington went from Florida to India and then will return to Texas for the Shell Houston Open, where he would have to win to qualify for the Masters. ''If I sat home and didn't give myself a chance, I would feel I was letting myself down if I didn't try,'' Harrington said. ... Saunders is moving his wife and two young sons from Fort Collins, Colorado, to St. Augustine. Saunders said he loves Fort Collins: ''If I did not play golf for a living, I'd live there for the rest of my life.''


STAT OF THE WEEK: The Valspar Championship at Innisbrook was the first time since the Texas Open that no one shot lower than 66 all week.


FINAL WORD: ''Arnold Palmer made golf sexy.'' – Jason Day.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x