Slow play is bad, but what can be done?

By Doug FergusonJanuary 17, 2012, 9:04 pm

HONOLULU - Luke Donald took to Twitter to vent about a contentious issue on the PGA Tour. If nothing else, it was refreshing to see golf with a No. 1 player who was willing to express his opinion freely and publicly.

As for that issue that stirred Donald from his holiday in Barbados?

Pace of play: a topic that is not going anywhere in a hurry.

Players can question whether the tour should change the FedEx Cup points system. They can debate the merits of the world ranking. They can be disgusted with the number of no-shows for the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. And a week from now, they might really get worked up when they hear details of a proposal to revamp Q-school.

Still, nothing gets them going like slow play.

Trouble is, no one has a reasonable solution.

Donald joined the fray during the final round at Kapalua, where the final four pairings featured Kevin Na, Ben Crane, Webb Simpson and Jonathan Byrd, none of them part of Lanny Wadkins dream foursome if speed were a factor.

It didnt take long for Byrd and Steve Stricker to fall nearly two holes behind.

Sounds like slow play is already an issue 1st week of the (at)PGATOUR season and its 2 somes. Sort it out please came the first tweet from Donald. He followed with some advice: Its not that hard, be ready when its your turn. Slow play is killing our sport.

Two tweets later, Donald got off his soap box with a final thought: I could rant all day long, dont think anything will ever change as the slow players dont realize they are slow.

Criticism is less meaningful when not accompanied by solutions, and there is no simple answer for slow play. If there were, it would have been fixed when Nixon occupied the White House.

Nonetheless, a few observations from the last month.

' Tim Herron took about two minutes to figure out how to play his second shot to the green on Friday of the Sony Open in Hawaii. His ball was in the rough, 187 yards to a flag tucked behind the bunker. Was the ball going to take off on him from that lie? How much? 6-iron or 7-iron? If it had been in the fairway, caddie Lance Ten Broeck told him it would be a smooth 6-iron. Aim at the corner of the trap and cut it back toward the flag? Play for the middle of the green?

The entire conversation took place while the group ahead was putting. As soon as the group left the green, Herrons shot was in the air. Thats how golf is meant to be played. Beautiful.

' It would be simple to blame the swing coach or mental gurus who preach the importance of routines, which are fine as long as they dont take too long. Regardless, it still comes down to a player not wanting to hit until he is comfortable over the shot.

Think of it this way: How much damage could Tom Brady do if he stood behind center as long as he wanted, not having the ball snapped until he felt everything was in place? The penalty is 5 yards in football. Should golf move players back 15 yards for every shot that takes them longer than 40 seconds? That would take even more time.

' This spring marks the 20-year anniversary of the last time a player was given a one-shot penalty for pace of play. To change the policy and make it a one-shot penalty when a player is over his allotted time sounds simple but wouldnt work. There are too many extenuating circumstances. Golf doesnt have many gray areas; this would be loaded with them.

Until someone gets a penalty shot, the stiffest punishment starts with a $20,000 fine for the 10th time a player is part of a group that gets put on the clock. Yawn. How about docking him 50 points from the FedEx Cup standings? Consider that a year ago, 50 points marked the difference between 125th (and qualifying for the playoffs) and 143rd (and getting a month off).

' Consider the lay of the land. Tour officials allotted 4 hours, 15 minutes for a twosome at Kapalua, built on a mountain with full-size SUVs used for shuttles between two holes. The final twosome at the Sony Open played in 3 hours, 39 minutes. Waialae is old school - flat, with tees next to the greens.

' Television cannot be underestimated when it comes to slow play.

It would seem that TV could at least draw attention from the pace by not showing a player until he is ready to pull the trigger. Two problems:

One, a number of players have perfected the art of backing off shots. Again. And again.

Furthermore, the beauty of television is spending time with the player before the shot, allowing the fan to anticipate the possibilities. It worked well when Nick Faldo took forever before deciding on a 2-iron to go for the 13th green, a key moment when he won the 1996 Masters. Padraig Harrington walking up to the 17th green to check the hole location at Brookline in the Ryder Cup? Not so much.

Heres the bigger issue with TV. Mark Russell, one of the chief rules officials, showed off his atomic watch at Sherwood last month. The seconds were ticking toward 6 p.m. EST, just as the last group on the last green was tapping in. The timing was perfect.

The next day? Not so much.

Despite being in twosomes, play took much longer because of a strong wind. That leads to more time in club selection and on the green. Yet tee times were left alone, thus the third round went well past four hours and the 6 p.m. finish time on NBC Sports.

That wasnt an accident.

The tour purposely wanted to go long on Saturday so that NBC could direct viewers to Golf Channel for the conclusion of the third round. It was another example of NBC Sports trying to help boost the visibility of Golf Channel now that both are owned by Comcast. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Especially not when TV foots so much of the bill.

' Slow play at public courses has been attributed to amateurs trying to be like the pros. Maybe so. Russell made an observation about recreational golf years ago that is worth considering: Slow play is only a problem when you have to wait.

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''