Am Tour: Charming the Snake Pit at Innisbrook

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 16, 2016, 1:38 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla.  — Each year, the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship venue features at least one course that has staged a top professional event, whether it’s been PGA West, TPC Sawgrass or Grayhawk Golf Club.

That’s been no different at Innisbrook Resort & Club, headlined by the Copperhead Course, host of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship. The layout is well known for its demanding finish, featuring two tough par 4s and a long par 3.

The Copperhead’s 16th, where the famed snake statue greets golfers, is well known on the PGA Tour as one of the more demanding par 4s, and that’s been no different at Am Tour, no matter which flight has seen the hole thus far.

In the 2016 Valspar Championship, the 16th, nicknamed "Moccasin," had a 4.32 stroke average, which was the most difficult par 4 on the course (the 3rd was second with a 4.24 avg).

In the 3rd round, it was the the Palmer flight navigating the Copperhead Course. I watched the final group, Josh Prok, Cole Philips and Dave Turpin play the back nine to see how their swings held up against the pressure. 

It was Turpin who walked a tight line on each hole. 

After Phillips hit first on 16 and found the water and Prok found trees left, Turpin's ball stayed dry by mere feet, thanks in part to a light breeze coming off the right. 

"It’s the toughest tee shot we have the entire tournament," said Turpin. “It's just one of those shots you have to make a swing. You can’t bail out into the trees."

He then stuck it stiff on 17, a dangerous par 3 with bunkers on each side of the green, for a tap-in birdie. But his drive on 18, which has bunkers both left and right, rolled close to a slope and he had a bad stance. He ultimately finished with a double bogey.

For Phillips, poor drives to the right on both 16 and 18 for led to double bogeys on each hole, and his 85 moved him two shots back of the lead.

Ultimately, it was Prok, whose 4-4-4 at the Snake Pit, which included a par save from the left trees on 16 and a striped drive down the middle on 18 that led to a low-stress par, that was the lowest of the group on the closing stretch. It, was enough for him to place in a tie for the lead heading into the final round.

For Turpin, his three-putt double bogey on 18 keeps him a shot off the pace. But despite the roller coaster, he had a smile on his face walking off the 18th.

"We treasure that," being an ex-athlete, it's neat to be almost 50 years old and get nervous over a golf shot.

"If it wasn't for [holes like] the 'Pit we probably wouldn’t do it." 


Missing your drive right on the 16th hole results in a penalty shot and a long, risky 3rd shot. 


Moccasin has the biggest bite

From the tee, the 16th is a very intimidating look: the fairway wraps to the right around a large pond, while trees line the entire left side (there are a few pines between the pond and left trees for good measure as well). The worst part about the drive is that if you block your tee shot, as we found with Phillips’ drive, you have to take your drop far back, too far to go for the green, and the layup isn’t easy either. After three rounds of the National Championships, the 16th has been the hole to deliver the most scorecard carnage. 

The Snead flight (20-plus handicaps) had a rough go of the hole to say the least, with an average score on the par 4 of 6.92 — easily the highest scoring average of any hole they've played so far after three rounds. The damage included 26 'others' on the scorecard.

In the Hogan flight (8.0-11.9 handicaps), the 16th had the highest stroke average (5.57) and most amount of others as well. In the Sarazen flight, the par-4 3rd hole was the toughest thanks to 31 'others' (this hole is the second toughest during the Valspar according to PGA Tour data) with the 16th a close second.

The Palmer flight, which has been the top flight to play Copperhead after three rounds, had a 5.33 stroke aveage on the hole (the highest of any par 4) and of the 119 players, 41 carded a double bogey or higher. There were only 9 'others' on 18, but 41 double bogeys gave it a slightly higher scoring average (5.36) than the 16th. 

In the final round, the Championship and Jones flight (16.0-19.9 handicaps) will play the Copperhead, and so we’ll get a chance to see how low-handicap leaders handle the pressure versus the bogey golfers.

Stage set for final round

In the six flights to be crowned after Round 4 action tomorrow, some are much tighter than others.

At 1-over, Gant Bills, from Plano, Texas is running away with the Championship flight, up five shots over Earl Morley, from Palm Desert, California.

In the Jones flight, Rick Burton, from Seymore, Ind. and won last year’s National Championship in the Snead flight, holds a four shot lead in the Jones flight.

It’s a two-horse race in the Sarazen flight (12.0-15.9 handicaps): Ross Gonzales and John Burton (son of Rick) are tied at the top, clear of the field by four shots. 

The Hogan flight, which is the largest of the flights this week, has seen some separation at the top: Nacho Orozco, from San Antonio, Texas holes a two shot over Troy Slate, from Canton, Georgia. Allen Chisholm, from Charlotte, has some work to do, five shots off the lead.

Lastly, it's anyone’s game in the competitive Palmer flight. It’s a three-way tie between Michael Rizarri, Joshua Prok and Donnie Hankins, but Turpin is just a shot back and six more players are within three shots of the leaders.


Golf Channel Am Tour National Championships: Leaderboard | Full Coverage


 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.