Koepka, Wood return from injuries with solid rounds

By Ryan LavnerJuly 28, 2016, 7:30 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Playing their first competitive round in about a month, Brooks Koepka (68) and Chris Wood (69) surprised even themselves with under-par scores on the first day of the PGA Championship.

They couldn’t have come at a better time, either, with Ryder Cup qualifying heating up.

Koepka hasn’t played since he withdrew midway through the first round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational because of discomfort in his right ankle. He was later diagnosed with torn ligaments and pulled out of The Open.

Thursday’s opening round at Baltusrol was the first time that he’s played 18 holes since the final round of the U.S. Open on June 19.

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“I feel fine,” he said with a smirk. “Shot 2 under, so that’s fine. I’ll take that.”

Koepka’s ankle was heavily taped and he wore a brace during the first round. He said he began to feel discomfort on the fourth hole, but he managed four birdies and an eagle. Most of the pain arrives, he said, after the weight shift to his downswing and up into his follow-through, when he spins onto his toes.

Koepka said he wouldn’t have played this week if it weren’t a major. Since suffering the injury, he’s dropped from third to ninth in Ryder Cup points. The top eight as of Aug. 28 automatically qualify.

“I don’t want to be a pick,” said Koepka, who was passed over last fall for the Presidents Cup team. “Just play my way onto the team and see how it goes.”

The Ryder Cup is also on the mind of Wood, the Englishman who currently occupies the fourth and final qualifying spot on the European Points List. The squad will be finalized at the end of August.

The BMW PGA champion hasn’t played a full competitive round since the French Open on July 3. Wood felt pain on the right side of his neck on Tuesday of Scottish Open week, a day after spending the day in the Royal Box at Wimbledon. The discomfort hasn’t subsided, and he withdrew from the Scottish Open and pulled out after 11 holes of The Open, despite receiving treatment three times a day.

A scan last week revealed no structural damage, but he said it’s “been three weeks of not being able to move too easily and not make a full backswing.” Most eye-opening was a range session at The Open, where he saw a TrackMan reading that his drive carried only 190 yards.

“When it drags on for three weeks,” he said, “the mind starts wondering: Am I safe? Am I not? Do I need to do much else?”

Wood spoke with European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke before The Open at Royal Troon, to update him on his status. Clarke told him to “chill out and get myself fit,” but that was easier said than done.

“He can say all he wants about me having a chance,” Wood said, “but until my name is cemented, I’m not going to be able to relax.”

Wood said as of Sunday, he hadn’t hit more than a 100-yard wedge shot in the past few weeks. He played 18 holes Tuesday, with discomfort, but Wednesday’s nine-hole spin around Baltusrol was the first time that he’s been able to play pain-free.

Wood said that he arrived here with “no expectations,” because he was coming to a demanding venue with only short-game reps, but he shot 69 Thursday and was only four shots off the early lead.

Wood said he would have tried to play this week no matter his health.

“Just because of what’s at stake at the moment,” he said. “I’ve got to play to cement my place on the team.”

Wood is also in the field for next week’s match-play event in Scotland on the European Tour. If he drops out of the top four on the points list, he could add another start, late next month in Denmark.

“But I’ll have to get the wife’s permission,” he said with a smile. Wood is getting married Aug. 20.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

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Green jacket tour

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Man of the people

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Growing family

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Departure from TaylorMade

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Squashed beef with Paddy

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Victory at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm