Locals enjoy TPC Sawgrass, despite lack of advantage

By Jason SobelMay 6, 2014, 7:25 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – NFL players don’t choose to spend their free time in the shadows of league offices and iron-fisted commissioner Roger Goodell. Major League Baseball players don’t hang near Bud Selig. NBA players don’t live by Adam Silver.

All of which makes the PGA Tour a growing anomaly.

That’s because Ponte Vedra Beach, home to headquarters for the circuit, is increasingly becoming a landing destination for some of its members, who have willfully decided to live in the same town that holds the office of commissioner Tim Finchem.

“Oh, yeah. We get together and go drink beer all the time,” joked Billy Horschel before getting serious. “No, no. I’ll see Tim out here once in a while practicing.”

“I’ve seen Mr. Finchem once or twice in the past five years,” reported Russell Knox.

“So far this year, I’ve seen him here maybe twice,” David Lingmerth said. “But it’s good to see him.”

“Here” is TPC Sawgrass, just a short stroll from the PGA Tour’s main headquarters and, of course, home to this week’s Players Championship. It also serves as home base for seven players in this week’s field – Horschel, Knox, Lingmerth, Jim Furyk, Luke Guthrie, Jonas Blixt and Matt Every - players who are allowed to play and practice at the facility year-round, free of charge, which is an obvious enticement.

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“I wanted to move to Florida,” Lingmerth said. “To have this facility to play for free, I figured it couldn’t hurt.”

This is hardly a new phenomenon. Area residents Mark McCumber and David Duval have each won the event. Same goes for transplants Calvin Peete, Jodie Mudd and Fred Funk. Past champion Sandy Lyle moved here years after his win.

And that list doesn’t even include the most famous local resident, Vijay Singh, who isn’t in this week’s field but who has been known to log more time on the practice range than maybe all of ’em combined.

Which explains the rationale behind living near headquarters. While athletes in those other sports wouldn’t benefit by having extra fields or courts at their disposal, golfers can enhance their performance by taking advantage of these facilities – even if they don’t have an advantage this week.

“It’s nice to have friends and family watching,” said Knox, who lives about 25 minutes away. “But course knowledge? No, there’s no advantage, because the course we play normally compared to the setup this week is like two different courses. Yes, I’ve played it maybe more times than most people, but some guys have played here maybe 20 years, so they have more experience than I do.”

“I don’t play much here; the course is always packed,” Horschel added. “There’s no advantage because the course plays so much different this week. It’s a lot longer. The only advantage is sightlines off the tees; you can get comfortable hitting tee shots.”

There’s more to the area than just golf, though.

For some of these players, the appeal of a sleepy beach town that’s never too crowded outdistances any professional assets.

“I was looking at moving down to South Florida, maybe the Jupiter area,” Lingmerth said. “I feel like it’s more hectic down there. It’s a little more slow-paced here, more laid-back, which I like. It’s close to the beach. It’s a good area. I like it.”

“Where I’m from is a small town,” said Horschel, who lives two miles from the course. “When I graduated UF, I loved Gainesville and wish it had been near the water. But it’s in the middle of the state. Being raised by the ocean, I just felt like I needed to move back. I was here several times, seemed like the logical choice.”

Horschel has seen other benefits to being here, too.

“I get along with pretty much everyone at the Tour,” he said. “They ask me to do stuff and I don’t get bombarded. In return, when I need help, they help me out whenever possible. I may know some – I won’t call it inside information – but I may know a little bit more about what’s going on than some other players.”

There can also be some unforeseen advantages.

Prior to competing in his first Players this week, Knox knew there was something he’d never done at the course. And he knew it could be an important one to cross off his personal list.

“I’d never hit it in the water on 17 and last time I played here was with my wife’s brother-in-law,” he recalled. “I kind of knew that I might get into this tournament and I didn’t want to have the pressure of getting in and never having hit it in the water. So I’m not going to say I deliberately hit it in the water, but when it did go in, I was pretty happy.”

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

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The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

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DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

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Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”

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Stenson one clear of loaded leaderboard at Bay Hill

By Nick MentaMarch 17, 2018, 10:10 pm

Four of the top 15 players in the world and two men with stellar amateur resumes will do battle Sunday to win Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how things look through 54 holes at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods sits five back at 7 under par.

Leaderboard: Henrik Stenson (-12), Bryson DeChambeau (-11), Rory McIlroy (-10), Justin Rose (-9), Ryan Moore (-9), Charley Hoffman (-8), Rickie Fowler (-8), Talor Gooch (-8), Ben An (-8)

What it means:  For the second straight day, Stenson (71) will go off in the final pairing with DeChambeau (72), after both players failed to separate themselves from the field in Round 3, shooting a combined 1 under. Stenson really should have a win at Bay Hill by now. He finished in the top-10 four years in a row from 2013-2016, with three top-5s. The closest he came to victory was in 2015, when he lost to Matt Every by one shot after being put on the clock and three-putting the 15th and 16th greens. If he’s finally going to close the deal Sunday, the world No. 15 will need to hold off challenges from three of the top 13 players in the OWGR – No. 5 Rose, No. 7 Fowler and No. 13 McIlroy – and two men who won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur – DeChambeau and Moore.

Round of the day: John Huh and Austin Cook both made the 1-over cut on the number and shot 66 Saturday to move into a tie for 18th at 5 under.

Best of the rest: McIlroy, Rose and Jason Day (-5) all signed for 67. McIlroy remains in search of his first worldwide win since he walked away from East Lake with the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2016.

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Biggest disappointment: Fowler was 11 under for the week but dropped three shots in his last two holes. He failed to get up and down from the front bunker at 17 and then had his ball almost fully bury in the lip of a greenside trap at 18. With only a small portion of the ball visible, Fowler took two to get out of the sand and two-putted his way to a double-bogey 6, dropping him to 2 under for the day and 8 under for the championship.

Shot of the day: Woods’ 210-yard 5-iron from the fairway bunker at the par-5 16th:

Quote of the day: "I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow, and probably get a little bit of help. But my responsibility is to go out there and shoot a low one first." – Woods