How the Ocean Course shapes up for Woods' game

By Randall MellJuly 25, 2012, 12:36 am

With another failed Sunday in a major championship in his rear-view mirror, Tiger Woods can take solace in the fact that he has one more chance to claim a major this year.

Ladbrokes heavily favors him to win the PGA Championship Aug. 9-12 at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina.

The oddsmakers have Woods as the favorite, at 6-1, with Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson at 10-1 and Luke Donald and Lee Westwood at 16-1.

Of course, odds are based solely on a bookmaker’s gauge of the public’s betting interest. Whether Woods is really the player best suited to win at the Ocean Course is another question, and that’s difficult to gauge given this is the first time he and other tour pros will compete there.

A larger question to ponder in figuring the odds on Woods is whether Pete Dye has Woods’ number.

Woods has never been as dominant, or seemed as comfortable, on courses designed by Dye as he has been on other venues.

While Woods won The Players Championship in 2001 on Dye’s TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, it looms as his only PGA Tour title on a course designed by Dye. In fairness, Woods has only played 18 PGA Tour events on Dye courses, and 15 of those starts have come at TPC Sawgrass. Woods tied for 18th on Dye’s Harbour Town Links at the MCI Classic in ’99 and never returned to play there again. He tied for 28th at Dye’s Whistling Straits’ design during the PGA Championship two years ago and tied for 24th there in the ’04 PGA Championship.

In 18 pro starts on Dye courses, Woods has two top-five finishes, though it should be noted Woods won a U.S. Amateur at TPC Sawgrass in 1994.

“Is Tiger suited to win at Kiawah? That’s a tough call,” says Denis Watson, who won the Senior PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in 2007. “He’s obviously still got it, winning three times this year. He hits a lot of quality shots, but there are times his swing doesn’t look as flowing, as natural as it used to be.”

Watson expects the wind to challenge Woods as much as Dye’s fiendish design features.

“I was surprised how as soon as the wind picked up Sunday at the British Open, Tiger lost it,” Watson said.

And the wind is expected to be a substantial factor at Kiawah Island.

It blows almost all the time there.

“I would be absolutely shocked if the wind didn’t blow in a round,” said Stephen Youngner, the Ocean Course’s head professional.

And if the winds didn’t shift in confounding ways.

“There is no prevailing wind here,” Youngner said.

The course is thrust out into the elements on an exposed end of Kiawah Island, where Dye’s wife, Alice, made sure the wind would have something extra to say in outcomes. Originally, Pete envisioned the Ocean Course nestled down within the large island dunes at shore’s edge. Alice, who co-designed the course, talked her husband into raising the entire design, so that the course offered unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean. Doing so accentuated the wind’s effect.

This isn’t to say Woods can’t play in the wind. Overall, his ball striking has been more exacting than anyone’s this year. If his new swing is honed, he’ll be able to separate himself in the wind. If he harbors doubts about the new swing, if those cause him to get caught between old and new swing patterns again, the winds could sift him out of contention.

“I would expect a player as tenacious as Tiger will figure out the best way to play there,” Watson said.

The Ocean Course is long, a par 72 with a scorecard yardage of 7,676 yards. If Woods is going to win, a big question is whether he can do it playing as conservatively as he did contending at the U.S. Open and British Open, where he hit his driver sparingly.

Watson isn’t sure a player can win on the Ocean Course without hitting driver and hitting it well. He says it depends on how the course is set up, how firm and fast the track is, how narrowed the fairways are cut.

“The fairways will be fairly generous,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s managing director of championships. “They’ll range from 28 yards to 50 yards in width.”

And the Bermuda rough won’t be overly penal.

“I don’t anticipate it being very long, just long enough to slow up balls and make players think about what kind of shots they want to play out of it,” Haigh said.

With generous fairways, with reasonable rough, players ought to be able to hit an ample amount of drivers. Woods doesn’t seem to want to do that these days. His conservative game plans have him hitting the big stick sparingly. If his competition is pounding more drivers than usual at the PGA Championship, will it force his hand to do the same?

“It depends on how firm and fast it’s playing,” Watson said. “I could see Tiger hitting that stinger around there, shaping shots.”

With all the wind, the Ocean Course’s greens were designed relatively flat, with subtle movements. The greens are Sea Isle Supreme Paspalum grasses, the fairways Sea Spray Paspalum. The rough’s Bermuda with wild native grasses on the fringe.

“The winner is going to be a guy who is very precise that week, who will be very exacting, very methodical in his choice of clubs off the tees,” Watson said. “It’s going to be a guy who hits a lot of fairways and is pretty precise with his driver. There are angles to that course that you have to play to get at some of the flags there.”

If Woods is precise, exacting and methodical, he might be more than the favorite to win at Kiawah Island. He might lay claim to his 15th major championship.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)