U.S. Open sectional results: who's in, who's out

By Will GrayJune 5, 2017, 11:01 pm

With the U.S. Open only one week away, the field for Erin Hills is starting to take shape. See who's in and who's out as the USGA conducts 10 36-hole sectional qualifiers across the country to determine the final playing spots in the season's second major:

Germantown CC/Ridgeway CC in Memphis, Tenn. (108 players for nine spots)

Who's in: Steve Stricker (-10), Andres Romero (-9), Troy Merritt (-9), Harris English (-9), Chez Reavie (-9), Garrett Osborn (-9), Trey Mullinax (-8), Xander Schauffele (-7), Jonathan Randolph (-7)

Who's out: Whee Kim (-7), Scott Brown (-7), Peter Malnati (-6), Matt Jones (-5), Brian Gay (-5), Willy Wilcox (-5), Retief Goosen (-5), Stuart Appleby (-4), Cody Gribble (-4), Braden Thornberry (a) (-2)

Recap: Stricker is arguably the biggest storyline out of sectionals, earning medalist honors after the USGA denied his request for a special exemption with the U.S. Open heading to his home state. At age 50, he'll be a big draw at Erin Hills just months before he captains the U.S. squad at the Presidents Cup. Schauffele and Randolph advanced over Kim in a 3-for-2 playoff that bled into Tuesday.

Brookside CC/The Lakes CC in Columbus, Ohio (122 players for 14 spots)

Who's in: J.T. Poston (-12), Jason Kokrak (-11), Bud Cauley (-11), Martin Laird (-10), Keegan Bradley (-10), Stewart Cink (-10), Jamie Lovemark (-10), Bryson DeChambeau (-9), C.T. Pan (-9), David Lingmerth (-9), Ted Potter, Jr. (-9), Peter Uihlein (-8), Scottie Scheffler (-8), Talor Gooch (-8)

Who's out: Michael Putnam (-8), Ollie Schniederjans (-7), Vijay Singh (-6), Luke Donald (-5), Nick Watney (-3), Patrick Cantlay (-3), Kelly Kraft (-2), Davis Love III (E)

Recap: The Columbus sectional annually features the strongest field, and this year was no exception as former major champs Bradley and Cink were among the qualifiers. DeChambeau made it through this sectional for the second straight year, while Cauley continues his recent strong play and Uihlein, Scheffler and Gooch earned the final spots in a Tuesday playoff. Those missing out included Donald and Singh, two former No. 1s, as well as Cantlay and Kraft, who met in the 2011 U.S. Amateur final at Erin HIlls.

Canoe Brook CC in Summit, N.J. (80 players for five spots)

Who's in: Daniel Chopra (-11), Christopher Crawford (a) (-8), Andy Pope (-8), Scott Harvey (a) (-8), Matthew Campbell (-7)

Who's out: Roberto Diaz (-7), Cameron Wilson (-6), Andrew Svoboda (-3), Richy Werenski (-1), Jim Herman (+1)

Recap: Chopra headlines the quintet of qualifiers nearly a decade after his last PGA Tour win. Harvey, a former U.S. Mid-Amateur champ, will be making his first U.S. Open appearance while Crawford qualified at Canoe Brook for the second straight year.

Hawks Ridge GC in Ball Ground, Ga. (36 players for two spots)

Who's in: Stephan Jaeger (-7), Alex Smalley (a) (-7)

Who's out: Dru Love (a) (-6), Jimmy Stanger (a) (-5), Todd White (a) (+2), Rhein Gibson (70-WD)

Recap: Jaeger shot a 58 last year en route to victory on the Web.com Tour, and also won on that circuit last month in South Carolina. He'll return to the U.S. Open for the first time since he qualified for Chambers Bay two years ago. A chip-in eagle on the final hole left Love, son of Davis Love III, one shot short of a playoff.

Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta, Fla. (49 players for three spots)

Who's in: Jack Maguire (-5), Tyson Alexander (-1), Joaquin Niemann (a) (-1)

Who's out: Eugene Hong (a) (-1), Tim Wilkinson (+1), Robert Allenby (+2), Sam Horsfield (75-WD)

Recap: Maguire left FSU to turn pro in late 2015 and currently plays on the Web.com Tour. He took home medalist honors by four shots and will be joined at Erin Hills by Alexander, son of former U.S. Amateur champ Buddy Alexander who birdied the first hole of a 3-for-2 playoff. Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, birdied his 36th hole to join the playoff, then grabbed the last spot over Hong on the third extra hole.

Springfield CC in Springfield, Ohio (77 players for four spots)

Who's in: Corey Conners (-12), Brian Stuard (-9), Brice Garnett (-8), Ryan Brehm (-7)

Who's out: Zac Blair (-5), Tony Finau (-3), Dylan Meyer (a) (-2), Nick Hardy (a) (-2)

Recap: Conners was a runner-up at the 2014 U.S. Amateur, and he got off to a blistering start with an opening-round 61. Stuard qualified out of Springfield for the third time in the last five years, while Brehm closed strong with a back-nine 30 to close out a second-round 63 and nab the final spot over a number of PGA Tour pros and several current and former players from the University of Illinois.

Woodmont CC in Rockville, Md. (50 players for three spots)

Who's in: Samuel Ryder (-11), Kyle Thompson (-7), Ben Kohles (-6)

Who's out: Steve Wheatcroft (-3), Nicholas Thompson (E), Billy Hurley III (E), Jason Gore (+1)

Recap: Ryder is playing this year on the Web.com Tour, and he built a healthy cushion with a 62 in the opening round. He'll be joined at Erin HIlls by Thompson, who won the season-opening Web.com event in the Bahamas, and Kohles, another Web veteran who closed with a 68 to finish two shots clear of fourth place.

Lakewood CC in Dallas, Texas (58 players for three spots)

Who's in: Roman Robledo (-13), Nick Flanagan (-11), Walker Lee (a) (-10)

Who's out: Ryan Palmer (-7), Edward Loar (-7), John Merrick (-5), Woody Austin (-2), Hunter Mahan (-2)

Recap: Robledo is playing this year on the Adams Pro Tour, and he took medalist honors after rounds of 63-66. Joining him at Erin Hills will be Lee, a recent high school graduate, and Flanagan, a former U.S. Amateur champ who last year qualified for fellow Aussie Aron Price at Oakmont. This time around, he'll be the one hitting the shots.

Tacoma CC in Lakewood, Wash. (70 players for four spots)

Who's in: Derek Barron (-7), Jordan Niebrugge (-2), Max Greyserman (-2), Daniel Miernicki (-1)

Who's out: Robby Shelton (+3), Aaron Wise (+4), Lee McCoy (+7), Tadd Fujikawa (+13)

Recap: Scoring conditions weren't easy outside Seattle, where Niebrugge snagged a spot with a closing 67 nearly two years after he challenged at The Open as an amateur. Barron opened with a 66 and was the only player to break 70 in both rounds. Miernicki nabbed the final qualifying spot in a 4-for-1 playoff over Hugo Leon, Jeff Rein and Matt Marshall.

Big Canyon CC/Newport Beach CC in Newport Beach, Calif. (103 players for six spots)

Who's in: John Oda (a) (-11), Mason Andersen (a) (-9), Stewart Hagestad (a) (-8), Kevin Dougherty (-7), Sahith Theegala (a) (-7), Cameron Champ (-6)

Who's out: Beau Hossler (-5), Charlie Beljan (-3), Duffy Waldorf (-1), Max Homa (E), Paul Goydos (+1)

Recap: Hagestad is the big story here, as he heads to Erin Hills two months after earning low amateur honors at the Masters. It continues a banner year for the reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champ who seems like a lock to make the Walker Cup team in September. Theegala earned a spot in the Genesis Open earlier this year, while Hossler missed out despite an opening-round 64 at Newport Beach.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”