Conditions and conformity changed at PGA Championship

By Jason SobelAugust 6, 2012, 6:45 pm

AKRON, Ohio – There was a telling story making its way through golf's inner circle this past week. One agent was speaking with his player and – in classic agent-speak – told him, 'I really like your chances at the PGA Championship.'

To which the player, a world-class talent enjoying a standout season, replied: 'How can you like my chances?'

Without missing a chance to pump up his man, the agent countered: 'You're playing really well and that course suits your game and you've been playing well in majors and...'

The player stopped him with a reminder: 'There are 156 players in the field. Every one of them has a chance to win. So my chances are 1-in-156. They're terrible.'

Such is life in golf’s Brave New World, where the list of contenders is nearly equal to the entry list. That notion is even more prevalent at major championships, the last 16 of which have been won by 16 different players, giving the game’s elite tournaments a revolving door sensation.

Tee times: Rounds 1 and 2 at the 94th PGA Championship

Tee to green: Nobilo's video tour of The Ocean Course

Here’s a significant sign of the times: Of the top 10 players currently listed on oddsmakers’ boards for this week’s PGA Championship, only three have won a major before.

“It’s just really tough to win out here. You’ve got maybe a 1 or 2 percent chance of winning the events you enter over your career,” said Jason Dufner, who needed 164 starts to win his first title, then replicated the feat two starts later. “What happens at the majors is the cream of the crop rises to the top. They give themselves a better chance to win. The higher your skillset is on tougher golf courses, generally speaking, the better you’re going to play.”

It’s that last notion which compels four-time major champion Phil Mickelson to proffer a conflicting opinion.

“No, it’s not harder than trying to win a major with Tiger [Woods] at his best,” he said of the 14-time major champion. “Nobody has ever played to the level that he has.”

On the eve of the PGA, it can be debated whether it’s tougher for players to win based on the current climate or easier due to the lack of a singular dominant force. What can’t be argued is that the current landscape has indeed changed in recent years.

That’s speaking metaphorically, of course, but the literal landscape will take on a different dynamic this week on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

In advance of the tournament, the PGA of America made the following announcement: “All sandy areas at the Ocean Course will be regarded as ‘through the green’ and not designated as ‘bunkers,’ for the 94th PGA Championship.”

On the surface, it could be considered the Dustin Johnson Rule, in effect absolving any player of the same judgment error that caused Johnson to lose a chance at winning the PGA two years ago at Whistling Straits. In reality, though, it’s a local rule which has been employed in other events on this course in the past; this year’s decision simply falls in line with those of prior years.

And yet, it’s still going to look awfully strange.

Think about it: With sandy areas not designated as bunkers, competitors will be given the opportunity to not only ground their clubs, but move any loose impediments and even take practice swings. Imagine that? There could be a player standing in a greenside bunker – er, “sandy area” – on the final hole Sunday afternoon with a one-shot lead and rather than being at the will of the unknown, he will be able to test the playing surface by taking a few whacks  at the sand.

The question remains, though: As creatures of habit who are accustomed to hovering a club over the ball in these situations, what will they do?

“I don’t know,” Mickelson admitted. “I really don’t have an answer. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll probably treat it like a bunker, I guess. I don’t think I’ll pick away sand behind the ball. I don’t think – but maybe if I’m in a fairway bunker-sand-waste area, I might. I don’t know.”

““It will be strange in a greenside bunker,” Matt Kuchar claimed. “Taking a practice swing will be weird.”

“There’s no advantage to it, I think,” Johnson explained. “It’s actually a little strange if you’re in a greenside bunker and ground your club. I mean, I’m not going to.”

“I’m not all of a sudden going to start grounding my club,” said Bo Van Pelt. “You can take a practice swing in there, so from that standpoint it’s a good thing. You can test and see how much sand there is.”

There’s no doubt that throughout this week’s PGA Championship, it will be compared with the 1991 Ryder Cup that was held on the same venue and dubbed, “War by the Shore.” If this week’s event needs a nickname, it could do worse than, “A Changed Landscape.”

The look of golf’s turnstile of major champions has been altered in the past four years, but that may pale in comparison to the vision of the world’s best players grounding clubs, moving loose impediments and taking practice swings around the sand-laden Ocean Course.

It may not provide a specific advantage to anyone, but that’s just part of the norm. It seems like nobody has an advantage at the majors these days anyway.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship

With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.