Stricker wins PGA Tour season opener

By Doug FergusonJanuary 10, 2012, 1:03 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii - Steve Stricker always believed experience would go a long way toward winning the PGA Tour season opener at Kapalua.

This wasn’t the kind he was thinking about.

No other player is more accustomed to building a big lead, blowing a big lead, and then settling down to win. That’s just what Stricker did Monday on Maui, when he won the Tournament of Champions with a final round that only looked easy on paper.

“I’ve been there before. It’s not a great feeling, either,” Stricker said after closing with a 4-under 69 for a three-shot victory over Martin Laird. “It’s just the nature of our game. I realize that, and I’ve gone through it before. It always seems close, and you always have to perform to get it done.”

Ultimately, that’s just what he did.

It took only six holes for him to see his five-shot lead dwindle to one. After another mental mistake led to bogey, Stricker stood behind the sixth green staring at the ground, shaking his head, disgusted with himself. It was during that long walk down the seventh fairway, the Pacific Ocean on the horizon, when Stricker reminded himself that at least he was still in the lead.

And that’s where he stayed.

He buried a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, hit a pitch to tap-in range for birdie on the ninth to build his lead back to three, and then it was a matter of hanging on.

It was the fourth time in his last 35 tournaments that he had at least a four-shot lead at some point in the final round. At least they all had the same outcome. Stricker hit sand wedge to 2 feet for birdie on the 16th to keep a two-shot cushion, then birdied the final hole for the best prize he could ever imagine.

Along with the winner’s lei draped around his neck, his two daughters - 13-year-old Bobbi Maria and 5-year-old Isabella - rushed onto the green to give him a hug.

“It was tough,” said Stricker, who finished at 23-under 269. “I never let up today. It’s always tough trying to win, and it’s even more tough when you have a lead like I did. I’m very proud of what I did today.

“And it’s always cool to get a hug from your family walking off at the end.”

Stricker held back tears - they usually flow freely after a win - perhaps a sign that he’s getting used to this business of winning. It was his ninth PGA Tour win since he turned 40, and his eighth title in his last 50 tournaments. He moved up to No. 5 in the world.

Perhaps even more satisfying is that four months ago, Stricker felt weakness in his left arm from a lingering neck injury and contemplated surgery. He decided to treat it with therapy and a few cortisone shots, and it turned out to be a good move.

A guy whose goal every year is to get back to Kapalua for the winners-only season opener can already make reservations for next year.

Laird, Webb Simpson and Jonathan Byrd each got within one shot of Stricker on the front nine, but not for long.

“I think probably the most underrated player in the world is Steve Stricker,” Laird said.

Laird closed with a 67, and his birdie on the last hole put him alone in second place, which at least helps him start building world ranking points toward trying to make Europe’s Ryder Cup team for the first time.

Byrd kept most of the pressure on Stricker along the back nine of the Plantation Course. He was two shots behind when he stuffed his wedge into 4 feet on the 16th, but then Stricker followed with his sand wedge to 2 feet. Byrd’s hopes ended when he bogeyed the 17th, then put his approach on the par-5 18th into the bunker and made par. He closed with a 68 and tied for third with Simpson (68).

The PGA Tour got off to a good start, too. There was so much focus at the start of the week on who didn’t show up at Kapalua for this winners-only event - three major champions, all of whom live overseas, along with three players who are recovering from injury.

Stricker was the highest-ranked American in the field, and played the best golf.

It just didn’t always look that way.

This was the fourth time in the last two years that Stricker led a big lead turn into some nervous moments on the last day.

— At the John Deere Classic in July, he watched a five-shot lead with nine holes to play turn into a two-shot deficit with two holes to play before he rallied to beat Kyle Stanley with an exquisite birdie on the last hole.

— At the Memorial in June, he had a four-shot lead at the turn and was still three shots clear with five to play. He held on to win by one.

— At Riviera in 2010, his six-shot lead going into the final round was down to two shots after only six holes. Stricker steadied himself and went on to win by two.

Monday on Maui was not much different.

Byrd made three straight putts early in the round, two of them for birdie, and Simpson in the group ahead made an eagle at No. 5. Stricker settle for pars, which was not a problem as long as he took care of the birdie holes.

But he didn’t. Stricker three-putted for par from just over 30 feet on the fifth, then hit a fluffy pitch that came up short of the sixth green and let to bogey as Byrd made another birdie for a two-shot swing.

Stricker stood at the back of the green while Byrd was making his putt, shaking his head, clearly flustered. It only took six holes for his five-shot lead to shrink to a single stroke, with 12 holes ahead of him. His next birdie putt didn’t even come close.

But on the hole that has given him fits this week, Stricker hit a pure shot into 25 feet on the par-3 eighth and made it for birdie, then birdied the ninth to regain control.

 

Getty Images

Veteran Golf Journalist Bradley S. Klein Joins Golf Channel Editorial Team

By Golf Channel Public RelationsFebruary 20, 2018, 4:15 pm

Klein to Lend 30-Plus Years in Golf Architecture, History and Travel Journalism to Golf Advisor, Golf Channel’s Digital Travel and Lifestyle Brand

Read Klein’s first column here

Veteran golf travel, history and architecture journalist Bradley S. Klein has joined Golf Channel’s editorial team as senior writer for Golf Advisor, the company’s ever-expanding digital destination for the traveling golfer, featuring more than 700,000 reviews of nearly 15,000 golf courses in 80 countries worldwide. Klein’s first column appears today and provides eight simple tips for becoming a golf course architecture junkie – how architecture can be more relevant to everyday golfers and design aspects to observe that can make a round of golf a more fulfilling experience.

With more than 40 years of varied experiences within the game of golf – a career that began as a caddie on the PGA Tour – Klein most recently served as the long-time architecture editor for Golfweek magazine and the founding editor of Superintendent News.

"I've been in love with golf course design since I was 11 years old and have been lucky over the years to find a platform where I can share that fascination with fellow golfers,” Klein said. “It's an amazing opportunity now for me to bring that passion and commitment to Golf Channel and its travel and lifestyle brand, Golf Advisor."

"We are extremely excited to have Brad join the Golf Advisor team. His unique contributions covering history and architecture will be an excellent complement to the travel content Matt Ginella brings to Golf Advisor and Golf Channel’s Morning Drive,” said Mike Lowe, vice president and general manager, Golf Advisor. “Brad’s reputation and experience in the industry make him a wonderful addition to our expanding golf travel and course design editorial team.”

Other members of Golf Advisor’s editorial team include: Brandon Tucker, Mike Bailey, Jason Deegan, Bill Irwin and Tim Gavrich.

Including assignments for Golfweek, Klein has written more than 1,500 feature articles on course architecture, resort travel, golf course development, golf history and the media for such other publications as Golf Digest, Financial Times, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. He has published seven books on golf architecture and history, including Discovering Donald Ross, winner of the USGA 2001 International Book Award. In 2015, Klein won the Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Golf Course Architects. He is well known within the golf industry and has served as a consultant on numerous golf course development and restoration projects, most recently the Old Macdonald course at acclaimed Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon.

Golf Advisor now includes the integration of Golf Vacation Insider and Golf Odyssey, two leading travel newsletters with a combined reach of more than a half million subscribers. Both newsletters joined Golf Channel’s portfolio of businesses in 2017 as part of the acquisition of Revolution Golf, golf’s largest direct-to-consumer digital platform offering video-based instruction and integrated e-commerce.

Getty Images

Stock Watch: Fans getting louder, rowdier

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 3:01 pm

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

RISING

Bubba (+9%): Half of his 10 Tour titles have come at Augusta National and Riviera – that’s pretty stout. Though he can be maddening to cover because of his personality quirks, an in-form Watson is a must-watch.

Phil (+5%): For the first time in 11 years, Mickelson put together three consecutive top-6 finishes on Tour. Suddenly, another green jacket or that elusive U.S. Open title doesn’t seem so far away.

Kevin Na (+3%): How much fun would this guy be on a Ryder Cup team? He hits it dead straight – which will be important at Le Golf National, where the home team will narrow the fairways – and would drive the Europeans absolutely bonkers.

West Coast swing (+2%): From Jason Day to Gary Woodland to Ted Potter to Watson, the best coast produced a series of memorable comeback stories. And that’s always good news for those of us who get paid to write about the game.

South Korean talent (+1%): They already represent nine of the top 16 players in the world, and that doesn’t even include Jin Young Ko, who just won in her first start as an LPGA member.



FALLING

Steve Stricker Domination (-1%): Those predicting that he would come out and mop up on the PGA Tour Champions – hi there! – will be surprised to learn that he’s now 0-for-7 on the senior circuit (with five top-3s), after Joe Durant sped past him on the final day in Naples. The quality of golf out there is strong.

Patrick Cantlay’s routine (-2%): Never really noticed it before, but Cantlay ground to a halt during the final round, often looking at the cup six or seven times before finally stroking his putt. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that his final-round scoring average is nearly four strokes higher than his openers.

Lydia Ko (-3%): Another wholesale change? Whatever is going on here – and it reeks of too much parental involvement – it’s not good for her short- or long-term future.

Tiger (-4%): It’s early, and he’s obviously savvy enough to figure it out, but nothing else in this comeback will matter if Woods can’t start driving it on the planet.

Fan behavior (-8%): Kudos to Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas for taking the Riviera spectators to task for their tiresome (and increasingly aggressive) calls after a player hits a shot. The only problem? PGA National’s par-3 17th could be even worse – the drunk fans are closer to the action, and the hole is infinitely more difficult than TPC Scottsdale’s 16th. Buckle up.

Getty Images

USGA, R&A detail World Handicap System

By Randall MellFebruary 20, 2018, 2:00 pm

The USGA and the R&A released details Tuesday of a proposed new World Handicap System.

The WHS takes the six handicapping systems that exist worldwide and aligns them under a new single system.

The USGA and the R&A will govern the WHS with the six existing handicap authorities administering them locally. A two-year transition will begin to fully implement the new system in 2020.

The unified alignment is designed to make it easier to obtain and maintain a handicap and to make the handicap more equitable among golfers of differing abilities and genders around the world.

“For some time, we’ve heard golfers say, ‘I’m not good enough to have a handicap,’ or ‘I don’t play enough to have a handicap,’” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We want to make the right decisions now to encourage a more welcoming and social game.”

Davis said the effort is designed to both simplify and unify the handicap system.

“We’re excited to be taking another important step – along with modernizing golf’s rules – to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play,” he said.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said the new handicap system should make the game more inviting.

“We want to make it more attractive to golfers to obtain a handicap and strip away some of the complexity and variation which can be off-putting for newcomers,” Slumbers said. “Having a handicap, which is easier to understand and is truly portable around the world, can make golf much more enjoyable and is one of the unique selling points of our sport.”

The new WHS system aims to more accurately gauge the score a golfer is “reasonably capable of achieving” on any course around the world under normal conditions.

Key features of the WHS include:

*Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring that a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability.

*A minimal number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap; a recommendation that the number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap be 54 holes from any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds, but with “some discretion available for handicapping authorities or national associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction.”

*A consistent handicap that “is portable” from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA course and slope rating system, already used in more than 80 countries.

*An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and “factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control.”

*A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day.  

*Daily handicap revisions, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation.

*A limit of net double bogey on the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only). 

*A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game.

The USGA and the R&A devised the WHS after a review of the handicap systems currently administered by six authorities around the world: Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, the European Golf Association (EGA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA), the Argentine Golf Association (AAG) and the USGA. Those authorities, plus the Japan Golf Association and Golf Canada, collaborated in helping develop the new system.

The six handicapping authorities represent approximately 15 million golfers in 80 countries who currently maintain a golf handicap.  

“While the six existing handicap systems have generally worked very well locally, on a global basis, their different characteristics have sometimes resulted in inconsistency, with players of the same ability ending up with slightly different handicaps,” the USGA and the R&A stated in a joint release. “This has sometimes resulted in unnecessary difficulties and challenges for golfers competing in handicap events or for tournament administrators. A single WHS will pave the way to consistency and portability.”

Getty Images

Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 11:44 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).