Zika virus not discouraging most would-be Olympians

By Will GrayMay 26, 2016, 10:38 pm

FORT WORTH, Texas – Over the last few weeks, golf has begun to develop its own four-letter word, one that has started to ripple its way through the sport with increasing speed.

Zika.

The Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro in exactly 72 days, a fact that has brought increased scrutiny to the Zika virus outbreak currently affecting Brazil among other parts of the Americas. Its impact and scope continue to develop, even according to the World Health Organization, and it will likely cause nearly every Olympian to take at least some sort of precautionary measure.

But when it comes to golf, which returns to the Olympics this summer for the first time since 1904, Zika is actually impacting the field of entrants. While players like Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel withdrew from Olympic consideration over scheduling issues, Vijay Singh and Marc Leishman both specifically cited the virus as a factor in their recent withdrawals.

Things escalated once again this week when both Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett hinted that the virus might influence their decisions to tee it up in Rio, and even the top American noted that the issue remains in the forefront.

“I’m interested in keeping a very close eye on what’s going on around the Olympics, too, mainly off the course,” Jordan Spieth said Wednesday. “Trying to figure out the safety concerns, figure out plans, but as of now I’m extremely excited for it.”

While Zika may impact golf’s return to the Olympic stage, there are still plenty of players eager to compete for gold.

Few players understand golf’s global nature more than India’s Anirban Lahiri. The 28-year-old left his native country on Jan. 9, and he estimates that he won’t return until the conclusion of the FedEx Cup season. In between, he’ll play a cross-continent schedule, highlighted by a stretch this summer that he described as “45 days of mayhem.”

That run will include a trip to Rio where Lahiri, ranked No. 56 in the world, will almost assuredly earn one of two spots on the Indian golf roster. That ranking could be in the midst of an upgrade this week after Lahiri opened with a 5-under 65 at Colonial Country Club to sit one shot off the lead.

Lahiri is aware of the Zika situation, noting that “the threat is real.” He’s planning to take plenty of recommended precautions, both before traveling and once in the Olympic village.

But hailing from a populous country where golf is not necessarily viewed as a priority, Lahiri feels that the positives of a potentially strong showing outweigh the personal risks associated with making the trip.

“It would mean a lot to the country to get a medal out of a game like golf, and probably put that in the forefront or in the spotlight,” Lahiri said. “So for me, the Olympics is a very important event, maybe more so than a lot of guys who are going, because of that.”

New Zealand’s Danny Lee is also projected to qualify for Rio, and he has been keeping an eye on the situation in Brazil as it has developed. But like Lahiri, he plans to play.

“It’s not like I don’t care about the Zika virus or all that stuff happening over there, but it still is the Olympics,” Lee said. “You’re representing your country and you’re going as an Olympian instead of trying to win money or accomplish something. You are accomplishing something if you win a medal, but it’s more for the honor than the glory, I guess.”

For Lee, it’s also an opportunity to bring attention to a country which has produced a men’s major champion in Michael Campbell as well as the world’s top-ranked female player, Lydia Ko, but which is sometimes overlooked on the golf landscape.

“Everybody thinks there’s not many good golfers in New Zealand. I just want to prove them wrong,” said Lee, who won last year at The Greenbrier Classic. “It’s just, New Zealand is so far from America, it’s hard to watch a lot of the New Zealand guys play. And they don’t have enough of an opportunity to come over here and play all the amateur golf that I did, because it’s not cheap to come over here.”

When it comes to player decisions regarding Zika, there is no correct answer. The choice to play is a deeply personal one, and it’s an especially nuanced situation for players who may consider having children in the near future.

But even if the withdrawals have not yet ended, one thing is certain: There will be 60 players eager to take part in golf’s Olympic return this summer, each with an eye on boosting its global appeal on the biggest stage around.

“For me personally, I want to play the Olympics,” Lahiri said. “I really, really want to play the Olympics because it’s a great opportunity for me to do something for my sport.”

 

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.