Notes: Who wants to be a millionaire? Fans can be

By Doug FergusonMay 21, 2014, 12:46 am

Quicken Loans didn't waste any time getting fans involved in its PGA Tour event.

The new title sponsor of the Quicken Loans National will pick one person to receive $1 million if a PGA Tour player makes a hole-in-one on the 10th hole at Congressional during any of the four rounds of the tournament.

Registration for the Quicken Loans Hole-In-One Sweepstakes began Monday at www.pgatour.com/QuickenLoans.

''First impressions are important, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate our first year as sponsor of the Quicken Loans National than to create even more excitement for an already world-class tournament,'' said Jay Farner, the company's president and chief marketing officer.

Odds are long, though they're still better than picking a perfect bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament for $1 billion.

Quicken Loans is extending its sweepstakes beyond the June 26-29 tournament. For every hole-in-one on the PGA Tour for the rest of 2014, the Detroit-based company will pay a year's worth of mortgage payments to randomly selected entrant. And even if there are no aces, the company will randomly picked 60 names to receive one monthly mortgage payment on their home.

There were 11 aces on the PGA Tour from Congressional through the end of 2013. The only one at Congressional was by John Merrick - on the seventh hole.


OPENING UP: The USGA has tweaked the criteria for U.S. Open exemptions over the years without giving up two important objectives. It wants the most deserving players to be at the U.S. Open, and it wants to remain the most democratic of all majors.

The formula appears to be working.

At least half the 156-man field - usually a little more - has come through qualifying nine of the last 10 years. The exception was in 2006 when 80 players were exempt, and that was because of a few unusual circumstances. One of them was David Toms finishing bogey-bogey in 2005 to create an eight-way for 15th place. The top 15 and ties were exempt the following year, and 16 players got in through that category.

With two weeks remaining before sectional qualifying, the U.S. Open is headed toward another split - half the field will be exempt, the other half will have to qualify.

''Any time we consider an exemption change, that's the first thing we look at it,'' said Jeff Hall, the USGA's managing director of rules and competition. ''We want to exempt those players deserving as such. But the democratic nature of the U.S. Open is very important to us.''

Any proposed change goes through a series of models to make sure the majority of the field is exempt from qualifying.

Assuming that Tiger Woods does not play at Pinehurst No. 2 - he hasn't even been cleared to swing a club yet after March 31 back surgery - 49 players are exempt. There's a spot open for the BMW PGA Championship winner at Wentworth this week. And the top 60 in the world after each of the next two weeks will not have to qualify.

From the top 60 in this week's ranking, 25 players would be exempt.

The following week - after the Memorial - is the last cutoff, and it's loosely known as the ''Justin Rose Rule.'' Rose won the Memorial in 2010 and moved to No. 33 in the world, one week after the ranking exemption was closed. In the three years since the extra week was added, no more than two players were added to the field.

''We'll take that risk,'' Hall said. ''There's some duplication, generally, with the world ranking and the Tour Championship field. Those people tend to stay in the top 60.''

Everyone on the bubble going into this pivotal week is playing either Colonial or Wentworth except for Richard Sterne (57), Charles Howell III (66) and J.B. Holmes (72). Howell tied for third at the Byron Nelson, but that was his fifth straight week. He is taking this week off.

The U.S. Open is June 12-15 at Pinehurst No. 2. The last time the Open was played at Pinehurst, the winner (Michael Campbell) came through sectional qualifying.


NEXT STOP: Now that Adam Scott has become No. 1 in the world for the first time, the next question is how long he can keep it.

Scott and Matt Kuchar (No. 4) are playing at Colonial. Henrik Stenson (No. 3) has his best chance at rising to No. 1 because he is playing in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, which effectively offers bonus points as Europe's flagship event. Stenson should be able to reach No. 1 if he places higher at Wentworth than Scott at Colonial. Kuchar would have to win Colonial.

With five players separated by an average of one point, golf could see its own version of musical chairs with the No. 1 ranking.

That wouldn't be the first time, of course.

The early summer of 1997 featured the most dynamic stretch in the 28-year history of the ranking when No. 1 changed five times in five weeks. Greg Norman was No. 1 until Tiger Woods replaced him. Woods lasted one week until Ernie Els won the Buick Classic and went to No. 1. Norman won the FedEx St. Judge Classic the following week to return to No. 1, and then Woods won the Western Open and reclaimed No. 1 for the next nine weeks.


HOGAN AWARD: The superb spring season of Patrick Rodgers got even better when he was selected to receive the Ben Hogan Award as the nation's top college golfer over the last 12 months. It was hard to argue with what the Stanford junior has done.

Rodgers was medalist at the NCAA regional in Oregon last week, an amazing run in which he has won five of his last six tournaments and was runner-up in the other. His 11 career victories ties Tiger Woods for the most in Stanford history. Rodgers was part of winning American teams in the Walker Cup and the Palmer Cup, and he has replaced U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick at No. 1 in the world amateur ranking.

By winning the Hogan Award, he received an exemption to the Colonial this week. It will be the fourth PGA Tour start for Rodgers, who has announced he is turning pro after his junior season. He tied for 15th in the John Deere Classic last summer.


DIVOTS: U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick is turning pro after the U.S. Open. He has signed with International Sports Management and will make his pro debut in the Irish Open. ... BMW strengthened its relationship with the European Tour by announcing a four-year extension through 2018. The agreement means BMW stays on as title sponsor for tournaments in England (BMW PGA Championship), Germany (BMW International Open) and Shanghai (BMW Masters), and it remains the official car of the European Tour. ... The RBC Canadian Open returns to Glen Abbey in 2015. It will be the Abbey's record 27th time to host golf's third-oldest national championship. ... The LPGA is returning to Portland for the 43rd year with its original name - The Portland Classic. Cambia Health Solutions has signed on as a presenting sponsor. It will be played Aug. 28-31 at Columbia-Edgewater Country Club.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Brendon Todd became the eighth player this year to be outside the top 100 in the world ranking and win a PGA Tour event.


FINAL WORD: ''There is no secret. Good food, good wine, good cigars and some exercise.'' - Miguel Angel Jimenez after winning a European Tour event at age 50.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.