Time to move the PGA Championship to May

By John FeinsteinAugust 2, 2016, 10:00 pm

Four years ago, the final round of the PGA Championship was played in threesomes, with players going off two tees after a thunderstorm pushed the conclusion of the third round at Kiawah Island to Sunday morning.

Two years ago, the championship ended in pitch dark, with Rory McIlroy all but hitting into Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson on the 18th green at Valhalla in order to get his final putt into the hole before midnight.

A year ago, a violent summer storm at Whistling Straits on Friday afternoon destroyed a scoreboard near the first tee and pushed the completion of the second round to Saturday.

And then there was Baltusrol. After several days of enervating heat and humidity and a brief rain delay Friday, all of Saturday afternoon was wiped out by storms. The only way for the championship to finish before nightfall on Sunday was to re-start at 7 a.m.; schedule the last 10 players in the field to play 36 holes; not re-pair for the final round and allow lift, clean and place in the fourth round because the golf course was so saturated.

This is a major championship?

Kerry Haigh, the man who had to make all those decisions on behalf of the PGA of America, summed it up pretty well on Saturday: “This time of year, the possibility of thunderstorms exists just about every day.”


Which is why it is time to move the date of the PGA Championship once and for all. It should be played in May, when it is warm enough to go almost anywhere you want in the U.S. without dealing with summer storms and brutal heat on an almost daily basis. It would be good for the PGA, good for golf and would have the collateral benefit of taking care of the Olympic scheduling problem that has been such a nightmare this year when the next Games come around in Tokyo in 2020.

It would not be difficult to do but it will take a collective putting aside of egos by the men who run the PGA of America and the PGA Tour. That won’t be easy.

Now, though, is the time to do it. With Jay Monahan expected to take over as the Tour’s commissioner from Tim Finchem in January, this is a chance for him to show right out of the gate that – unlike Major League Baseball’s Rob Manfred – he isn’t going to insist on keeping the status quo just because it’s easier to not make changes.

Monahan and PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua need to sit down and talk about changing the dates for the event that is most important to each: Monahan needs to move The Players Championship back to March and Bevacqua needs to move the PGA to May.

Here’s why:

The tour moved The Players to May for several reasons. One was the hope that the golf course would be in better condition in May than in March. There was also the fact that the event always had to compete with the NCAA basketball tournament on TV and for media attention. And, there was the gnawing notion that the tournament came off looking like a lucrative warm-up for the Masters.

The golf course has remained a headache in the 10 years since the date-change – so much so that Finchem has publicly said, on multiple occasions, that moving back to March is a possibility. Even now, TPC Sawgrass is undergoing yet another renovation.

Bad weather – wind and rain – is more likely in Florida in March, but so is good weather – seasonable, comfortable temperatures. What’s more, the NCAA tournament TV issue is gone. The geniuses who run the event having moved virtually all their games on the regional weekend to evening starts. There would be very little, perhaps no conflict at all. As for media coverage: it will be the same in May as in March; the number of people who cover both golf and basketball regularly can be counted on both hands.

Then there’s the image issue. Several years before the date change, Greg Norman, the 1994 champion, was withdrew from The Players with an injury. He put out a statement expressing his disappointment saying, “The Players has always been a wonderful warm-up for me prior to the Masters.”

You could almost hear the screams of pain coming out of Ponte Vedra.

That shouldn’t worry Monahan. For one thing, The Players has established its niche as the most important non-major tournament in the world – regardless of date. Plus, if it was played three weeks prior to the Masters, rather than two as in the past, the separation would be the same as between the U.S. Open and The Open and between The Open and the PGA – in normal years. Moving the new WGC event in Mexico back a couple of weeks shouldn’t be an issue.

It’s also worth noting that, since the move, the newly-minted Masters champion has traditionally been a non-factor at TPC Sawgrass. None has finished in the top 10; the best finish for any of them was Angel Cabrera’s T-14 in 2009 and the last two, Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett, have both missed the cut. Neither Willett nor Spieth played this year between the Masters and The Players, eschewing any warm-up at all for the Tour’s biggest event.

Moving The Players back to March would leave an opening on the schedule for the PGA in May. It makes far more sense for the rhythms of the golf schedule to have one major a month beginning with the Masters in April. This would do that. Masters, PGA, U.S. Open and The Open. It would also boost the PGA to come in May rather than late in the summer when the heat is at its worst and many players are exhausted. And, it would allow top players a real break between the final major and the start of the playoffs.

Thirty-five years ago, the PGA was played in February, a move to get to the front of the majors calendar when people in snowbound areas were dying for golf. Jack Nicklaus won at PGA National, with Gary Player second. You can’t do much better than that. The problem was that the February date severely limited the golf courses where the championship could be played.

That’s not a problem in May. Next year’s championship is in Charlotte – a place where the May weather for the Tour’s annual event there is usually close to ideal. That won’t be the case in August. Bellerive is next up in 2018. Ever been to St. Louis in August?

And here’s the extra benefit: In 2020, the Olympics are scheduled to begin July 24th. Whether the men play the first week – beginning July 30th – or the second – beginning August 6th – hasn’t been decided yet. If you put the men second and The Open ends on July 19th, there is a two-week gap between the season’s final major and the Olympics. There’s no need to change or squeeze the majors schedule.

If the PGA is still scheduled for the summer, where do you put it? Right on top of The Open again with no gap between it and the Olympics? Hardly ideal. Play the PGA in May and everyone’s happy.

It is always difficult for men who wear expensive suits to admit that major changes should be made to what has been their routine. This, though, makes absolute sense for everyone. Monahan and Bevacqua are both paid a lot of money. 

This is their time to earn it.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).