Power Rankings: 2014 Players Championship

By Will GrayMay 6, 2014, 9:08 pm

This week marks the 26th event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season, as the Tour heads to the Sunshine State for the Players Championship. An elite field of 144 players will tee it up this week at TPC Sawgrass, where the treacherous par-3 17th hole - and its island green - awaits.

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Tiger Woods won last year, but is unable to defend while recovering from back surgery. Here are 10 players to watch this week in Ponte Vedra Beach:

1. Matt Kuchar: Basically a machine this season, with eight top-10 finishes in 11 starts including a stretch of four in a row that he just capped with a win at Hilton Head. Kuchar won here in 2012 and knows his way around the Stadium Course, and he currently leads the PGA Tour in scoring average. He remains one of the most consistent players on Tour, a trait that should serve him well this week.

2. Henrik Stenson: Remember him? The reigning Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup champ has gotten off to a quiet start in 2014, but he has three top 20s in his last four starts. Stenson was a winner here in 2009 and has an enviable track record at TPC Sawgrass, one that includes four top-15 finishes since 2006 in addition to his win five years ago. He remains somewhat under the radar, but that might not last much longer.

3. Jim Furyk: Furyk nearly pulled off an impressive comeback in Charlotte, where a final-round 65 left him one shot behind J.B. Holmes last week. It marked his fifth straight top-20 finish dating back to March, and Furyk's accuracy off the tee will prove to be an asset this week. A resident of Ponte Vedra, he's playing a home game this week and has contended as recently as 2009, when he tied for fifth.

4. Luke Donald: The Englishman has been a beacon of consistency at this event in recent years. Since 2007 he has made seven straight cuts, with only one finish worse than T-27 and a pair of top 10s (T-4 in 2011, sixth in 2012). Donald's tee-to-green consistency is rewarded at the Stadium Course, and he brings with him some momentum after a runner-up finish at Harbour Town.

5. Sergio Garcia: The center of attention a year ago, Garcia returns after a rare missed cut at Augusta National but otherwise playing some great golf in 2014. He has a trio of top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour to go along with a win in Qatar in January, and Garcia's history at TPC Sawgrass goes well beyond last year's escapades on the 71st hole. He won in 2008, was a runner-up the year prior and has six top-25 finishes here since 2006.

6. Adam Scott: The Aussie is one of four players who can move to No. 1 this week and he heads back to Ponte Vedra on the 10-year anniversary of his breakthrough win. Scott cracked the top 20 each of the last two years and tied for 14th at the Masters despite third-round struggles. He nearly moved to the top of the rankings at Bay Hill, and may not allow another opportunity to do so pass him by.

7. Jordan Spieth: Spieth is one of 15 first-timers in the field this week, a subsection that usually doesn't fare too well on the Stadium Course. But Spieth wasn't supposed to contend at the Masters, either, and he tied for second. Conventional wisdom does not seem to apply to the 20-year-old, who is now among the top 10 golfers in the world and who continues to exceed even the loftiest of expectations.

8. Rory McIlroy: The Ulsterman is on a bit of a tear, with four top-10 finishes in his last five starts including T-8 finishes at both Augusta National and Quail Hollow, where he successfully battled back from the cut line each time. McIlroy has missed three of four cuts in this event, but he did tie for eighth last year and if he is in control of the flat stick - as he was for much of the week in Charlotte - he'll be in contention come Sunday.

9. Zach Johnson: Johnson has cooled since his torrid start to 2014, but he did notch a T-14 finish last week at Quail Hollow. The veteran was a runner-up here in 2013 and boasts a strong history in this event, with four straight top-25 finishes. TPC Sawgrass is not a course where you have to be long to win - just ask Tim Clark - and Johnson's tee-to-green prowess is among the best around.

10. Lee Westwood: Westwood had eight birdies and an eagle last week in Charlotte, but the mistakes piled up and he somehow still missed the cut. Prior to that, the Englishman had been playing well, with a win in Malaysia after a seventh-place showing at the Masters. Westwood tied for eighth here last year and shared fourth place in 2010, when he held the lead after both the second and third rounds.

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”