Being the 54-hole leader not always an envious position

By Jason SobelFebruary 8, 2012, 10:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It isn’t fun baffling a legend, especially one known as The King. A man of such royalty – even if it is just a nickname – deserves the dignity that comes with his role. He deserves to maintain that regal appearance without having to scramble for answers.

And yet, there was Arnold Palmer, a look of complete bemusement stretched across his face. This was three years ago, just days after Tiger Woods had shocked the world. This time, though, it wasn’t because of another dominant victory or clutch putt that led to an awe-inspiring celebration.

Instead, the greatest closer in the game’s history shocked us by losing. For the first time in 15 tries, Woods let a 54-hole major championship lead slip through his hands, as he watched Y.E. Yang climb past him for the PGA Championship title. He was roundly criticized for taking a conservative approach after jumping out to an early lead, a valid criticism considering his apparent strategy.


Complete coverage: Tiger Woods | AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am


Palmer is known as golf’s consummate riverboat gambler, a player who would hitch up his britches and take a mighty lash at the ball every single time. So when he was queried about Woods’ cautious game plan, The King could hardly contain his puzzlement.

The seven-time major champion wrinkled his nose and furrowed his brow, then finally explained, “I don't like that. I think he's too good to be conservative. If you have the ability like he does, why be conservative? And obviously it didn't work out.'

That condemnation could serve as a mental slogan for many of this season’s conservatives. In three of five tournaments so far, the 54-hole leader has failed to emerge as the champion. Two weeks ago, Kyle Stanley led the Farmers Insurance Open by five strokes entering the final round and lost; last week, Spencer Levin led the Waste Management Phoenix Open by six and lost, as well. In each instance, the players talked about not only how difficult it was to play with a lead, but a healthy lead at that.

“I think playing from behind was quite a bit easier,” said Stanley, who was the beneficiary of Levin’s misstep in Phoenix. “I think when you have a big lead, it's human nature to want to protect it. I think it's a little easier kind of being on the chasing side.”

“I didn't really know how hard it was until I was actually in that situation,” Levin explained. “You've got to have a little different mindset. It feels weird because at least for me I just wanted to get the holes over with, just run out real quick. It was a really strange feeling.”

Defense wins championships. Football players bark the axiom into the camera. Baseball managers impress it upon their players. Basketball coaches preach it ad nauseam.

We hear it all the time in those other sports. The intonation is that scoring is important, but preventing the opponent from scoring is of the highest priority when it comes to winning.

If we’ve learned anything recently, it’s that defense doesn’t win golf tournaments. Stanley and Levin are just the latest examples of players who led, then failed to claim the hardware, but the list is lengthy and varied. In fact, last year, just under half of all 54-hole leaders failed to win one day later.

All of which leads to the $1 million – and in some cases, a few stacks of bills more – question: Why?

“One, it's hard to win,” said Woods, who owns a 48-4 career PGA Tour record when holding the 54-hole lead. “Being a frontrunner, everyone's kind of chasing you. You're in a position where if you do make a few mistakes, it's alright because obviously you have shots to play with. … But it also depends on how many guys are chasing you, too. If you've got a whole wolf pack behind you or one or two guys, it's a totally different deal.

“I think for me, personally, I've always been excited about being in that position. I know I've played well to get there, so just trying to do the same things I did to get there and hopefully it will be enough.”

At last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Steve Marino held the 54-hole outright lead in hopes of earning his first title, but was one of only four players in the eventual top 20 to post an over-par score, getting lapped by D.A. Points in the end.

“I can just kind of put my nose down and not look up and not care about what anybody else is doing,” Points said about playing from behind. “When you've got the lead, you kind of have to be cognizant of what's going on around you. I think that's maybe the harder part.”

Call it golf’s ultimate Catch-22. Every player understands that it’s less comfortable to be playing with a lead – and yet no player would wish to be anywhere but atop the leaderboard entering the final round.

That list even includes Stanley and Levin, fresh off their Sunday miscues. When asked whether he may hit a few stray shots on a Saturday afternoon in order to pass on the lead, Stanley laughed and said, “I don't know about that.”

Levin, meanwhile, relishes another shot at finishing off a big lead. “Don't get me wrong,” he intoned. “I'd like a six-shot lead again. I think that would be great. But I think it's easier [playing from behind] from the aspect that you aren't expected to win. You know what I'm trying to say?”

Palmer doesn’t. The legendary swashbuckler was once asked about players getting weak in the knees and aiming for the fat part of the greens. He cocked his head to the side, produced a crooked little smile and spoke a truism that doesn’t often exist in today’s game: 'I don't know what conservative is.'


Watch first- and second-round coverage of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Thursday and Friday on Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.

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Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief

By Will GrayDecember 13, 2017, 2:51 pm

A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.

The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.

The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.

Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.

"This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."

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LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 1:00 pm

Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.

And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.

Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent. 

Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.

Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.

Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.

In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.

THE MAJORS

Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)

Spieth pars 12, but makes quad on 15

Spieth takes another gut punch, but still standing

Article: Spieth splashes to worst Masters finish

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U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)

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The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)

Spieth survives confusing ordeal on 13

Photos: Spieth's incredible journey on 13

Take it, it's yours: Spieth gets claret jug

Chamblee: Spieth doesn't have 'it' - 'he has it all'

Article: Spieth silences his doubters - even himself

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PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)

Article: Spieth accepts that Grand Slam is off the table


TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS

AT&T Pebble Beach

Article: Spieth rising from 'valley' after Pebble Beach win

Travelers Championship

Spieith wins dramatic Travelers in playoff

Watch: Spieth holes bunker shot, goes nuts


FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE


PHOTO GALLERIES

Photos: Jordan Spieth and Annie Verret

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Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years