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The Social: X-treme Tour makeover

By Jason CrookJanuary 30, 2018, 7:00 pm

Slow play on the PGA Tour once again rears its ugly head, Dustin Johnson and Paulina Gretzky sweat out the possibility of losing the world No. 1 ranking, LPGAers enjoy their time on and off the course at their season-opener, and a golf version of the XFL? Hey, never say never.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

We begin where we always do, by congratulating the weekly PGA Tour winner and wishing only good things for him going forward this year discussing whatever controversy engulfed the golf world this week on the game’s biggest stage. For something new and exciting, the hot topic at the Farmers Insurance Open became slow play, when a near six-hour final round came to a screeching halt in the middle of the 18th fairway as J.B. Holmes took more than four minutes to decide on a club with the co-leader of the tournament waiting on him.

Holmes stood by his decision after the round, saying he "was still trying to win," but there weren't many standing out there on that ledge with him.

On a Tour where players generally try to give each other the benefit of the doubt, several prominent names took to Twitter to voice their frustration with Holmes and the entire process in general:

No matter what you think about the slow-play issue, it's probably a good general rule of thumb to not alienate everyone you work with, no matter your profession.

Just a thought.

Up until the final round at Torrey Pines, Jon Rahm was threatening to win the Farmers Insurance Open and take over the No. 1 ranking from Dustin Johnson in the process, not that DJ would’ve minded … or even noticed.

Johnson and fiancée Paulina spent the week in Aspen, Colorado, with friends and family enjoying the slopes and taking really, really, really, ridiculously good looking photos of themselves – a standard we’ve come to expect from any Johnson-Gretzky vacation.

Another successful aspen trip with the best crew

A post shared by Jeremy Cohen (@jeremyc0hen) on

Say what you will about DJ’s ability to overpower courses or other players, but this is the part of his game that doesn’t get enough credit.

It’s easy to make jokes, but not everyone is wired to just shut their brain off and go on vacation when meaningful golf is being played. Johnson is far and away the Tour’s best at this and go figure, the world rankings still reflect that.

The LPGA saw the PGA Tour’s season-opener in Hawaii and raised them a trip to the Bahamas.

While you could debate which vacation spot is better, the LPGA ladies didn’t seem to have any complaints about their time spent in the tropical paradise last week at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic.

Brittany Lincicome had the best week, we're assuming, because you know, she won the tournament.

But from a quick look around social media, it appears all the losers had a decent time, too.

Back in paradise @puresilkbahamaslpga

A post shared by Cheyenne Woods (@cheyenne_woods) on

Not a bad place for a selfie #puresilkbahamas #lpga

A post shared by Amelia Lewis (@amelialewislpga) on

In conclusion, the beginning of the season on the PGA and LPGA tours looks pretty amazing. Rest of the season appears to be OK, too.

If you're not working a solid 9-5 job, you should definitely look into it.

This guy is the real MVP.

Sneaks onto the court during an NBA game during warmups, does some light stretching and even gets a shot up before anyone notices he's not actually a player on the team.

As for that security guard. Boo this man!

Phil Mickelson has a penchant for dad jokes, which makes sense, considering he’s 47 years old and has been a dad for 18 years.

But he took it to another level last week at Torrey Pines after hitting a fan with a wayward drive.

Obviously the fan knew a signed glove was coming hisr way (that’s kind of Phil’s thing), but this one came with a little something extra.

Yes, you're reading that right. He signed it - "Next time, duck!"

If we're being totally honest ... not terrible advice.

And if this is any indication of how the twilight of Mickelson's career is going to go down, let's all hope he plays until he's got grandpa jokes.

With Torrey Pines in the books, it's suddenly Waste Management Phoenix Open week ... AKA the biggest party of the year on the PGA Tour.

That visual of the par-3 16th hole on the Stadium Course filled with crazy fans is enough to scare some Tour pros, but not Bubba Watson, who was there over the weekend getting some early practice in.

With the help of his adorably loud son Caleb, of course.

If Bubba wins this week, here's to hoping he gets a giant, "you're welcome!" from his son.

He deserves the credit.

Despite flaming out on the first go-around, an XFL reboot was announced by WWE owner Vince McMahon last week in an attempt to give football fans an alternative option to the NFL by 2020.

Whether it will work or not remains to be seen, but it did get one Tour pro asking the question on Twitter ... "When will there be an XFL for golf?"

John Peterson laid out a few initial rules (which would certainly solve a few problems we saw just last week) - mid-round fights, no practice swings, have to play in under 2 hours, no tees, carry bags and swimsuits.

But that just got the ball rolling.

Plenty of others on social media chimed in with their ideas for the new XTour, which Peterson was all for:

Sure it'll never happen, because players - and fans - still get bent out of shape over when exactly a fan can yell, "Get in the hole!"

It sure is fun to think about though. And it goes without saying, but you know you'd watch.

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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.