Fair Play at Players Championship

By Mercer BaggsMarch 20, 2006, 5:00 pm
Fred Funk didnt hesitate in giving his answer. Nor did he try to dance around the question.
 
His response was simple and direct ' and honest: No, he said.
 
The question posed to Funk as he stood on the Bay Hill practice range last Tuesday was: Do you think that you can win the Masters? And in one word, just two little letters, brevity made a big statement.
 
Fred Funk
Fred Funk reacts emphatically to his Players victory a year ago.
Funk has never had much success at the Masters. Hes played the course under tournament conditions 10 times, never once cracking the top 15 and missing the cut six times, including each of the last three years.
 
And now that Augusta National is playing at a juiced-up 7,445 yards, Funk knows that he will be lucky to ever play all four rounds again, let alone actually contend for the title.
 
I think they should have a separate locker room for guys who make the cut, Funk joked, making reference to the fact that the Masters has a locker room reserved for champions only.
 
While Funk may never win the seasons first official major championship, he knows for a fact that he can win the games unofficial fifth major.
 
Funk is the defending champion of this weeks Players Championship. And, though there has never been a repeat winner in tournaments 32-year history, Funk believes in the possibility that he may be the first.
 
Theres a chance, definitely, he said. I love the course. And I know I can win out there.
 
As evidenced, Funks optimism is derived from his admiration for the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass. He lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and is quite familiar with the venue. In addition to the countless times that hes played the course in practice sessions, hes played the tournament on 15 occasions. Prior to last years victory, he had four top-15 finishes.
 
I think its very important off the tee to place the shot in the proper place at (Sawgrass), more so than it is at a place like Augusta, he said. At Augusta, you just bomb it off the tee.
 
Think about the gap between the longest and the shortest players, he continued. There used to be only about 30 yards (difference) between me and the longest guys on tour ' now its 70. Thats a designers nightmare: How do you design a course thats fair for both (long and short) players when theres a 70-yard gap in distance.
 
Pete Dye designed (the Stadium Course) long before all this stuff with the golf ball. And its stood the test of time. Its still a great set-up shot course.
 
Many players refer to the host site of The Players as a second shot course. Because of the twists and turns, the bottlenecks, and the strategic placement of hazards, players are forced to hit their tee shots into similar spots ' whether by driver, 3-wood, utility club or long iron.
 
It's a great test, Ernie Els said. It's a second shot golf course. Conditions also determine how you've got to play it. If it's soft, you can be very aggressive. You'll see a lot of good scoring because the ball will stick on the greens.

When it gets a little firmer, the second shots become almost probably the toughest on TOUR because the greens are very small, very undulating, and there's only certain areas where you can go with your second shots.
 
Craig Perks agreed with the second shot assessment, but added, Its a first-, second-, third- and fourth-shot course, really. You have to play every shot in order to be successful there.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is one of a variety of different winners on the Stadium Course since it first hosted The Players in 1982.
Perks would know. His lone TOUR victory came on the Stadium Course in his Players Championship debut in 2002.
 
I think its a definite placement golf course, he said. Driving is at a premium just because if you dont put it in the right place off the tee then you cant attack the pins. If you miss the greens, its very difficult to get up and down. I think it allows any type of player to win there.
 
Like big hitters Tiger Woods (2001) and Davis Love III (1992, 2003) and Fred Couples (1984, 1996). Like control players Funk and Steve Elkington (1991, 1997) and Nick Price (1993).
 
From Calvin Peete (1985) and Tom Kite (1989) and Justin Leonard (1998) to Jack Nicklaus (1978) and Greg Norman (1994) and David Duval (1999).
 
Since it first hosted The Players Championship in 1982, the Stadium Course has favored no particular type of player.
 
I wouldnt agree with that statement, said Jim Furyk, who calls the TPC at Sawgrass home. I keep hearing that, but Im not buying into it just yet.
 
The reason I say that is because you have to bring the ball into those greens from a high trajectory. You cant be a low-ball hitter and play consistently into those greens. Its not really length off the tee thats a factor; its the high trajectory (from hitting shorter irons) that you need into those greens.
 
I still think they (the longer hitters) have an advantage.
 
Furyk pointed out that Funks victory had a lot to do with last years weather conditions, in which, after constant delays and suspensions forced play to be carried over to Monday, winds gusting upwards of 35 mph toyed with most in the field.
 
No one was able to hit fairways and greens. So, for Freddie, hes that kind of guy. He controls the ball, and the accuracy of the golf ball, better than anybody. So when it got very windy, he was able to keep the ball in the fairway better than everyone else. He was able to hit the ball on the green better than everyone else. And thats why he won, Furyk explained.
 
Inclement weather has long been a factor at this prestigious event. Thats one of the reasons that the tournament will be held in May beginning next season.
 
But even when Mother Nature has dampened the course and made it play longer than its listed 7,093 yards, She hasnt guaranteed success for every heavy hitter.
 
Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson, Els and Sergio Garcia are all plenty long off the tee. And they rank, respectively, 2-6 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
 
Yet none of them has ever won The Players. And in a combined 50 starts, they have accrued three top-5 finishes compared to 15 missed cuts.
 
Even Woods, who has won every major championship at least twice, and has won 10 other tournaments on multiple occasions, is still stuck on one Waterford Crystal trophy from this particular tournament.
 
And hes not alone. Only four players have won more than once on the Stadium Course.
 
Woods credits the diversity to the nature of the design.
 
How Pete (Dye) designed it with the cutoff bunkers and the mounding that it just brings all of us together, said Woods, who hasnt earned a top-10 at The Players since his 2001 triumph.
 
We're all hitting the balls to the same spots. A lot of times for the longer hitters, it's 3-wood or 2-iron or some kind of utility club off the tees where the shorter guys are hitting drivers, so we're all in the same spot. With that in mind, it becomes a second shot course and see who can hit their irons the best and put themselves in positions where they can make putts.
 
Last year, that person was Funk, whose 279 (9 under) winning total was about three strokes higher than the average winning score over the last 24 years on the Stadium Course.
 
Ultimately, Funk believes success at Sawgrass has as much to do with strategy as it does with skill.
 
Theres a lot of holes where you give the guy on the tee an option, and hes got to think about how he wants to shape his shot (off the tee) and how he wants to fit his shot in there (on the greens), Funk said.
 
Does he want to take a risk? Does he want to be rewarded if he takes that risk? Whats the price to pay if he does? Youve got a lot of stuff to think about when you play that golf course.
 
Its just a fair test of golf. Its fair for everybody.
 
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    Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

    DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

    Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

    One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

    Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.


    Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters


    Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

    Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

    He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

    ''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

    ''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

    ''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

    ''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

    Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

    ''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

    ''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

    Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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    Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

    Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

    ''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

    ''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''


    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


    Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

    Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

    ''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

    Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

    Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

    ''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

    She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

    Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.