TOUR Revs Up for John Deere

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 9, 2007, 4:00 pm
2006 John Deere ClassicSILVIS, Ill. -- With the world's best golfers preparing for next week's third major, the British Open Championship, the PGA TOUR heads for its annual stop in Illinois for the John Deere Classic.
 
Talk about a place where people go for their first win. Seven of the previous 10 champions have claimed their first PGA TOUR crown at this event, which has been contested at the TPC Deere Run since 2001. Overall, 18 of the previous 35 winners picked up tour win No. 1 at this tournament.
 
Last year it was John Senden's turn. Senden got up and down from a greenside bunker on the 18th for par and the win. The par helped him fend off 2002 winner J.P. Hayes by one stroke. Hayes had a chance to grab the lead with an eagle on 17, but he could not convert and ended one back after a closing 65.
 
The last three winners -- Mark Hensby, Sean O'Hair and Senden -- all earned berths in the British Open with their wins, however Hensby declined the invitation.
 
There have been just six playoffs in the first 35 years of this event, but the 1981 playoff was an historic one. Dave Barr needed eight -- yes, eight -- extra holes to knock off Woody Blackburn to claim the title.
 
The only reason that playoff was possible was because Victor Regalado bogeyed the final two holes that create a five-way playoff with Barr, Blackburn, Regalado, Dan Halldorson and Frank Connor. The playoff featured two Americans (Blackburn and Connor), two Canadians (Halldorson and Barr) and a Mexican, Regalado.
 
Michelle Wie, who pulled out of this event last year during the second round because of heat exhaustion, withdrew from the event a month ago due to her wrist injury.
 
GOLF CHANNEL and CBS split coverage of the four rounds this week.
 
Next week is the season's third major, the British Open. Tiger Woods will defend his title at Carnoustie, while the remainder of the PGA TOUR will be at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, where Corey Pavin won the title in '06.
 
Here are our Tour Trade 2 favorites this week, with a look at their past performances in Silvis, Ill. We also offer up a few more guys worth keeping an eye on at the John Deere Classic.
 
Zach Johnson
Starts: 5
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 0
Best finish: T20 (2004)
 
TRADE Talk: Johnson doesnt have a great record in this event, but being the reigning Masters champion, he has to be considered the overall tournament favorite. One potential problem for the major champion is the fact that this is considered his home event. This is as close as the PGA TOUR gets on an annual basis to his native Iowa, and given what hes accomplished this year, he might have plenty of distractions off the course. If he can keep his focus on it, however, he may come away with his third win of the season.
 
J.P. Hayes
Starts: 9
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 2
Best finish: Win (2002)
 
TRADE Talk: Hayes is one of only five past John Deere winners in the field this week. Many of the other champions either opted to skip this week or werent even eligible to compete without a sponsors exemption. Hayes captured this title in 2002 and is still seeking his first victory since then. He nearly got it a year ago at TPC Deere Run, shooting 65 in the final round to finish one shot back of John Senden.
 
Chris Riley
Starts: 6
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 3
Best finish: T2 (2003)
 
TRADE Talk: Despite not winning, Riley has had great success around TPC Deere Run. In a four-year run, from 2000-2003, he finished inside the top 5 on three occasions. The former Ryder Cup player has had some tough times over the last couple of years, but he might be back on track. Riley won on the Nationwide Tour opposite the U.S. Open, which should add to his confidence level this week.
 
John Senden
Starts: 5
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 1
Best finish: Win (2006)
 
TRADE Talk: Only David Frost, in 1992-93, has won this event in back-to-back years. Senden might not be a great candidate to repeat that feat, but seeing as hes one of only a handful of players in attendance this week who has actually won on this golf course, he has to be considered among the favorites. The Aussie has a couple of top-10s this year, with a tie for second in Tampa in March.
 
Carl Pettersson
Starts: 2
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 0
Best finish: T15 (2003)
 
TRADE Talk: Pettersson is affectionately known on TOUR as the Redneck Swede. That moniker alone makes him a viable contender this week at the John Deere. Pettersson started the year slowly with three missed cuts in his first four events, but has only missed one cut over his last 15 tournaments. He has bettered his results each of his last four events, earning a tie for 15th in his most recent start at the Travelers Championship.
 
Four more players to keep an eye on at TPC Deere Run:
 
Steve Marino:
Marino is a rookie on TOUR without a win, which means he would be a good candidate to get that maiden title here. Six of the last eight John Deere winners have been first-time TOUR champions. Marino has had a solid rookie season so far, collecting four top-10s and earning nearly $1 million.
 
Robert Garrigus:
Garrigus is another player one could easily image riding off on that big tractor into the sunset come Sunday. The once troubled player has his life, and his game, headed in the right direction. He was tied for third after 36 holes of last weeks AT&T National, before faltering into a tie for 30th.
 
Matt Kuchar:
Kuchar has played this event four times with mixed results. But he is coming here having rallied in Final Qualifying for a spot in next weeks Open Championship. A little confidence can go a long way, particularly in a week like this one.
 
Anthony Kim:
Kim is regarded as The Next Big Thing on TOUR. Hes just one breakthrough win from stardom, many think. Such a win could come this week against one of the weakest fields of the season.
 
Information from The Sports Network was used in this article.
 
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    After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


    On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

    I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

    Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

    The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


    On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

    After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

    Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

    The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


    On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

    The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

    Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

    That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


    On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

    The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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    Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

    LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

    “I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

    By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

    Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

    “I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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    Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

    LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

    It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

    Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

    He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

    “I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

    What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

    In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

    For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

    From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

    There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

    “It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

    A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

    That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

    Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

    “[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

    It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

    Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

    “He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

    It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

    That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

    “I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

    Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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    Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

    By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

    Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

    Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

    Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

    “For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”