Notes: Tour needs players for Rio test event

By Doug FergusonJanuary 19, 2016, 10:02 pm

HONOLULU - With golf joining the Olympics for the first time since 1904, the PGA Tour is trying to put together a test event for the new course in Rio de Janeiro.

The tour is having a tough time finding anyone to go because of the crowded 2016 schedule.

''We've got a good list of players who are, quote, interested in coming,'' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. ''But we don't have a long list of players who are committed to coming. That's the case with the guys who are currently playing on the PGA Tour, just because of the schedule, looking ahead to the summer, seeing the compaction. So I don't know.''

The test event is planned for March 8, and the tour has lined up a charter flight for its members.

Every sport must have an event at the Olympic venue ahead of the Rio Games. Finchem said if golf can pull together this outing, it will count as the test event.

''We can do that with any combination of players that are being talked to,'' he said. ''Also, I think it's probably most important to get international players. We don't know how it's going to wind up. We've got transportation issues and a sponsor the next week that's watching and saying, 'Am I going to lose anybody?'''

The World Golf Championship at Doral ends on March 6 and is followed by the Valspar Championship, where Jordan Spieth is the defending champion. His agent, Jay Danzi, said the tour approached Spieth about a trip to Rio, but he didn't want it to interfere with his title defense at Innisbrook.

The European Tour and Asian Tour have a co-sanctioned event in Thailand that week. The LPGA Tour is off, though its best players will be in Singapore on March 6 for the HSBC Women's Champions.

British Open champion Zach Johnson said he was asked. His foundation has a retreat that week. Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler also were approached and decided against a flight to Brazil. It's a month before the Masters, with tournaments like the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Dell Match Play and Shell Houston Open leading up to Augusta.

Finchem is eager to have the test event, and not just to tick off that box.

''We want to get some good players on there so if there are things we're not seeing ... you know as well I do, we build these golf courses and 'Oh, it's great.' And then you get the best players in the world on there and we've got 10 problems,'' he said. ''They see things you didn't notice. So we want to get that done.''

He also described the Gil Hanse design as having a ''hangover'' from environmental protests and legal challenges that delayed the project.

''We want to get the word out that it's a good golf course,'' Finchem said.


HOMECOMING: The Golf Channel on NBC crew will have some fond memories during the CareerBuilder Challenge this week.

Tommy Roy is the lead golf producer and has no small amount of history in the California desert. Roy first worked for NBC Sports at the Bob Hope Classic in 1979 as a volunteer runner. Fourteen years later, Roy made his debut as a golf producer at the 1993 Bob Hope Classic.

Johnny Miller will start his year at the tournament, which also is appropriate. Not only did Miller win the Bob Hope Classic in consecutive years (1975-76), this is where he made his on-air debut as a golf analyst for NBC in 1990.

NBC last had the tournament in 1998. The Bob Hope Classic went to ABC for eight years before becoming a fixture on the Golf Channel.

In some respects, it will be a reunion. Five members of that NBC crew that televised the Hope in 1998 will be back this year - Roy, Miller, Dan Hicks, Roger Maltbie and Gary Koch. Hicks was a tower reporter in 1998. Now he does play-by-play with Miller.


SCOTT'S DECISION: Adam Scott has made it clear over the last several months that the Olympics aren't a priority. What he hasn't said is whether he will represent Australia if eligible, which is likely.

''I said it's not my priority at all, and that means I'll make a decision at the very last moment whether it fits or not,'' Scott said. ''It's not the main focus of the year. It's not what I built my schedule around. If it fits in good at the time, I'll play. And if it doesn't, then I won't.

The first decision he has to make is on May 6.

Players have been getting emails from the PGA Tour over the last few weeks about the ''Registered Testing Pool'' regarding the anti-doping program for the Olympics, which is far more stringent that the tour's program. All players who would qualify for the Olympics on May 6 must be entered in the pool.

If players become eligible after May 6, then they are added to the pool and stay there until the final Olympic Ranking on July 11. But if players choose not to compete in the Olympics, they will be removed from the pool and not allowed to be added at a later date.


ELECTION TIME: Jimmy Walker, Kevin Streelman and Charley Hoffman have been selected to run as co-chairmen for the Player Advisory Council. The two players with the most votes will start a three-year term on the board starting in 2017.

The voting ends Feb. 15.

Others serving on the PAC this year are Blayne Barber, Ricky Barnes, Roberto Castro, Stewart Cink, Graham DeLaet, Harris English, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Dicky Pride, John Senden, Brendon Todd, Johnson Wagner and Tim Wilkinson.

One streak remains. An international player has never been voted chairman of the PAC.


BELL HONORED: Judy Bell is in the World Golf Hall of Fame and in the history books as the first president of the U.S. Golf Association. She receives another honor this year the U.S. Open as the winner of the Bob Jones Award.

The award is the highest honor from the USGA and honors a person who demonstrates the spirit, character and respect for the game shown by the amateur great.

She was president of the USGA in 1996-97.

Bell played in 38 USGA championships. She played on two winning Curtis Cup teams and was captain twice. The Women's State Team Championship Trophy was named after a year after her two-year tenure as president.

She was among the first women to become honorary members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.


DIVOTS: Padraig Harrington reported no issues with his knee in his first two tournaments since surgery to repair his meniscus. He was 24-under par at Kapalua and Waialae and was par or better for all eight rounds. ... The first of three playoff events for the Charles Schwab Cup on the PGA Tour Champions will be held at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California. Sherwood previously held the World Challenge that Tiger Woods hosts until 2013. ... The third Latin America Amateur will be held in 2017 at Panama Golf Club. ... George Peper, the former editor-in-chief at Golf magazine, has been selected to receive the 2016 PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Greg Owen has three top 10s in the last year. Two of them were at PGA Tour events won by Fabian Gomez.


FINAL WORD: ''Am I not supposed to be grounded? You are who you are. Why change based on anything you've done?'' - Jordan Spieth.

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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.”