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Notes: Players warned of dangers of gambling

By Doug FergusonJanuary 3, 2018, 3:16 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – For most players at Kapalua, preparations for the new year included an online tutorial on the dangers of gambling in golf.

It's part of the new ''Integrity Program'' that took effect Monday.

The PGA Tour previously had a policy that banned players from betting at tour events. The new program, which comes with a mandatory tutorial, covers all six tours under the PGA Tour umbrella.

The Tour said it was not responding to an incident but rather took notice of the growing popularity of gaming on golf around the world. It hired Genius Sports to help with the program and illustrate some of the far-reaching effects of big-time gaming. Along with a general concern of a person influencing the outcome, the tour wants players to be aware of inside information that would be distributed for purposes of gambling.

The tour also has had security paying attention to fans in the gallery on the phone distributing real-time information.


ALL OVER THE WORLD: European Tour chief Keith Pelley believes the eight-tournament Rolex Series was a ''monumental step'' in his goal to make the tour a viable alternative. One indicator was that Europe had nine weeks when its tournament offered more world ranking points than the PGA Tour, the most since 2013.

Europe also made a tiny dent – or didn't lose any ground – in the PGA Tour's substantial gap when it comes to strength of field.

The average PGA Tour event in 2017 offered 56.27 points to the winner, compared with 41.17 points for European Tour events. That's a difference of 15.1 points per event, compared with a difference of 15.4 points a year ago.

However, throw out the four majors and the four World Golf Championships, and regular PGA Tour events offered an average of 49.43 points. That's more than all but four regular European Tour events – Abu Dhabi, the BMW PGA Championship (which is guaranteed 64 points as a flagship event), the Scottish Open and DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Without the majors and WGCs, Europe offered an average of 31.68 points to the winner. Only four regular PGA Tour events awarded fewer points – John Deere Classic, Safeway Open, Las Vegas and the RSM Classic. Three of those were in the fall portion of the PGA Tour schedule.

The meat of Europe's schedule was between the U.S. Open and The Open. The French Open, Irish Open and Scottish Open are all part of the Rolex Series and had substantially stronger fields going up against the Quicken Loans National, Greenbrier Classic and John Deere Classic.

Even so, the PGA Tour remains a destination. It claims 45 of the top 50 players in the world as members, the main reason behind the gap in ranking points. Matt Fitzpatrick (No. 29) and Bernd Wiesberger (No. 39) are the only Europeans who do not have full status on the PGA Tour.


COMING UP ROSES: The Sentry Tournament of Champions has the top five players in the world. It just doesn't have the hottest player in the world.

That would be Justin Rose, who ended 2017 with 10 consecutive top 10s since missing the cut at the PGA Championship. That includes three victories (HSBC Champions, Turkish Airlines Open and Indonesian Masters), along with a runner-up finish in the BMW Championship during the FedExCup playoffs.

Oddly enough, Rose wanted to be at Kapalua last year and made a reasonable argument that his victory in the Olympics should have qualified. He was eligible this year from his World Golf Championship title in Shanghai but chose to take an extended break before starting in Abu Dhabi.

Until his big run at the end, Rose had only one top 10 – a tie for fourth in the Irish Open – during a four-month stretch. Rose said that was due more to a few technical changes he was making in May and June than any hangover from his playoff loss to Sergio Garcia in the Masters.

''I try not to think about the Masters. I don't think about it that much,'' Rose said in the Bahamas. ''Clearly, it's one of those moments in your career. Fortunately, it's not a defining moment for me.''

It was easier to take as a U.S. Open champion (2013), and because Garcia is such a good friend.

Rose also found some perspective from Henrik Stenson, who had to settle for the silver medal in Rio. Stenson reminded him that in the Olympics, Rose hit a couple of suspect shots into the bushes and got good enough breaks that it didn't cost him.

''I think that's what Sergio had going for him on the back nine (at Augusta) versus me,'' Rose said. ''But in Rio, I had that. It swings around a bit. You've got to put yourself on the line. You can't be afraid of losing. You can't get through a career without some heartache. I'm all good with it.''


GETTING STARTED: Justin Thomas spent a year on the Web.com Tour before he earned his PGA Tour card. He went through his rookie season without winning or making it to the Tour Championship.

A slow start? Hardly. At age 24, he already has seven victories and a major championship.

And the start to his professional career was memorable in other ways. He made his pro debut on a sponsor exemption at the Dunhill Links Championship.

''My first tee shot as a pro was at St. Andrews,'' Thomas said.

His first round as a pro was a 66 on the Old Course, though Thomas wound up missing the cut.

His amateur partner was retired Deutsche Bank Americas chief executive Seth Waugh. The other pro in his group? A 22-year-old from England who was still searching for his first European Tour victory. That would be Tommy Fleetwood.


DIVOTS: Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Xander Schauffele are playing Callaway equipment this year instead of TaylorMade, though both have signed contracts with Adidas to wear apparel and footwear. Schauffele, the PGA Tour rookie of the year, still had his old irons in the bag at Kapalua until he finds the right fit with Callaway. ... Three players at the Sentry Tournament of Champions combined to win 25 percent of PGA Tour events last year - Justin Thomas (5), Dustin Johnson (4) and Jordan Spieth (3). ... The 34-man field at Kapalua matches the largest since there were 37 players in 2003. ... Brandt Snedeker and longtime caddie Scott Vail have parted ways. Daniel Berger has split with his caddie and hired Lance Bennett, who previously worked for Bill Haas and Matt Kuchar.


STAT OF THE WEEK: No one has finished at No. 1 in the world for consecutive years since Tiger Woods in 2008 and 2009.


FINAL WORD: ''I think this year, the unknowns are very exciting.'' - Jordan Spieth.

Note: Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.