The Race to Magnolia Lane

By Mercer BaggsMarch 6, 2002, 5:00 pm
The Honda Classic doesnt normally register as a red-letter event on the PGA Tour calendar. In fact, it probably ranks fourth in the quartet of events that comprise the Florida Swing.
This year, however, the Honda has major significance ' as in the Masters Tournament.
This is the final week (aside from winning The Players Championship) that a player, not already exempt, can earn a free trip up Magnolia Lane.
Come Sunday evening, the top three on the 2002 money list, as well as the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, can punch their tickets to Augusta National.
Granted, most of the field has been finalized. But there are still spots remaining, and many an anxious player primed to fill them.
In terms of hard-core cash, the top 27 on the current money list are alive to qualify via their earnings. However, only one of those players not already exempt is in Coral Springs, Fla.
That would be No. 16 Pat Perez.
Perez is $449,798 behind No. 3, Jose Maria Olazabal. Therefore, the reigning Q-School medallist would need to do something he could not at Pebble Beach, win the tournament. Perez must finish first and collect the $630,000 first-place prize to book a tee time on April 11.
Conspicuous by their absences this week are Matt Gogel, Len Mattiace, John Cook, Fred Funk and David Berganio, Jr. None of the five are in the Masters field, and none are trying to play their way in either.
Gogel is 11th on the money list after his Pebble Beach victory, while Mattiace is 13th following his triumph at Riviera. Both could have finish first or second at the Honda and made it to Augusta.
Even without a win, a strong finish could have vaulted either man inside the top 50 in the world rankings. Gogel is currently 54th; Mattiace is 55th.
Cook, Funk and Berganio would have needed to win at the TPC at Heron Bay in order to qualify. But in Lottery terms: You cant win if you dont play.
While the money list is pretty cut and dried, the world rankings are a tricky lot.
It would seem that those ranked 46th and higher are secure. Rory Sabbatini hopes that extends one spot lower. The South African is 47th in the world and skipping the Honda, as are No. 49 Kirk Triplett and No. 50 Steve Lowery.
Triplett and Lowery, however, are already among the Masters elite, thanks, in part, to their positions inside the world rankings at the end of the 2001 season.
Pierre Fulke currently resides in the 51st position. Hes not in Florida, but rather in the United Arab Emirates for the Dubai Desert Classic. Fulke can gain entry to Augusta with a solid finish, thanks to the stature of field present: World No. 3 Ernie Els, No. 11 Padraig Harrington, No. 15 Darren Clarke, No. 23 Colin Montgomerie and No. 31 Thomas Bjorn.
The stronger the field, the more it can boost your world ranking.
Phillip Price, who is ranked 65th in the world, is also in Dubai.
Steve Flesch is the primary person in the States to keep an eye on. At No. 60, the left-hander is the only player inside the 51-70 area, not already exempt for the Masters, in the Honda field.
Aside from Gogel and Mattiace, Cook (No. 63 in the world), Loren Roberts (No. 67), Peter OMalley (No. 68) and Funk (No. 69) are idle this week.
Those outside the top 70, and competing this week, need only look to Mattiace for inspiration. The journeyman was 157th in the world prior to his Nissan Open victory. The following Monday, he woke up 102 spots higher at No. 55.
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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

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The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

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As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.