Points wins SHO thanks to mother's putter

By Jason SobelApril 1, 2013, 2:30 am

HUMBLE, Texas – I tore up the paper with my predictions after the first round. I watched favorites stumble and no-name underdogs make title runs. I sat shaking my head in disbelief, even though every tournament seems about as unpredictable as the Powerball numbers.

Just another wild week on the PGA Tour.

What, you thought I was talking college hoops?

Welcome to the “other” March Madness, as craziness and capriciousness reigned – along with the rain – at the Shell Houston Open. But the similarities didn’t stop with the fickle nature of these coinciding events.

There were bracket busters. The top-ranked player in the field, Rory McIlroy, survived and advanced, but never contended. Phil Mickelson seriously contended for only a few minutes early Sunday afternoon before getting bounced from title consideration.

There were Cinderella stories. Four players in the eventual top nine on the leaderboard have never won. And that doesn’t even include Steve Wheatcroft, whose status is so negligible that he didn’t even get off the alternate list at last week’s Web.com Tour event before Monday qualifying this week. He was such a dark horse that he made Florida Gulf Coast University look like John Wooden’s UCLA teams of the early 1970s.

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Highlights: Points takes second PGA Tour victory at Shell

There was mind-bending bracketology. At one point in the final round, there were 18 players within two strokes of the lead. By day’s end, nine players had led or shared that lead, a revolving door of names big and small, top seeds and upset specials.

There was a major call in an important situation by the officials. This one was a delay of game, as play was stopped because of dangerous weather conditions at 3:52 p.m. local time Sunday afternoon, with heavy rains soon enveloping the area. At one point, it appeared the Tour was doomed to a second straight Monday finish, but play continued two hours and 38 minutes later with the remaining half-dozen twosomes finishing before dark.

And in the end, there was a buzzer beater to clinch the title.

It came off the stolen putter of Mary Jo Points, whose precocious son Darren Andrew – called D.A. from the time he was born – took the Ping Anser model out of her bag back in 1987, when he was 11 years old, and had it sitting in his garage when he took it out prior to this week and put it into play.

Leading by one coming to the final hole, Points hit 3-wood to the middle of the fairway on the difficult par-4 closer, then fanned a hybrid short and right of the green. It hung precariously on the edge of a slope and from there he hit a chip to 13½ feet, with the impending putt the only thing standing between him and a second career victory.

Having struggled lately with the flat stick – any flat stick – Points sought the help of instructor Brian White on Wednesday morning based on the suggestion of fellow pro Chris Stroud. For the nominal cost of taking care of White’s change fee to catch a later flight out of town, Points received a few pointers that proved key to his week.

“He gave me a couple things, changed the putter – boom – felt great,” he reported. “The ball started rolling real tight. My hit got a little more consistent. I stopped missing putts to the left and, I mean, when I hit good putts this week, the line on my ball rolled so tight, it just looked like it was going to dive in the hole.”

Points may not have been an underdog of FGCU proportions, but he could have been analogous to Wichita State, right down to the mid-major status and “Shockers” nickname. In nine previous starts this season, he had made the cut just twice, with a best finish of T-63 at the Humana Challenge. That’s akin to a tournament team riding a big-time losing streak going into the Big Dance.

Even with little form and less momentum, Points never saw this tournament as anything but an opportunity to change that.

“I never count myself out,” he explained. “I never just chalk it up, like, oh, this year is over with. I've never, ever felt like that. I was just grinding, just trying to wait and try to find that one thing that was like – boom – there it is and there I go.”

That “one thing” was standing in front of him on the final hole, just 13½ feet for par and an unlikely victory – even if he didn’t view it that way. Downgrain and with a slight right-to-left break, Points employed the same stroke he’d been using since that lesson with White on Wednesday morning. The ball started right at the cup and never left its line, dropping in for the dramatic buzzer beater.

It was the culmination of a week that can only be described as crazier and more capricious than anything we’ve seen recently on the hardwood.

From bracket busters to Cinderella stories, from a logjam of title contenders to the lone figure of D.A. Points left standing with his mother’s stolen putter in his hands, this tournament was more unpredictable than that other tournament referred to as March Madness.

And even better: This one actually finished in March.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”