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Potter's win latest stop on winding road to Augusta

By Randall MellFebruary 12, 2018, 1:38 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The fog never rolled in at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week, leaving a star-studded field to play four days under spectacular blue skies.

Ted Potter Jr. sure managed to cloud things up, though.

Sunday looked like Dustin Johnson’s for the taking, with the world No. 1 tied for the lead going into the final round, with the big-hitting star in perfect position to take the game by the throat again in a run up to the Masters.

Potter knocked him out.

He knocked out all the heavyweights.

Potter also knocked handicapping charts for the Masters into disarray.

Thirteen events into this wraparound season, six events into the new year, and the final leg of the West Coast swing arrives at Riviera with the top of the game more unsorted and unsettled thanks to Potter’s roundhouse.

“To get it done today, especially playing with the world No. 1, the win here at Pebble is just unbelievable,” said Potter, whose closing 3-under-par 69 left him three shots clear of Johnson (72), Phil Mickelson (67), Jason Day (70) and Chez Reavie (68).

Mickelson, who like Potter is left-handed, was asked what it says about the game that the 264th-ranked player in the world could march onto one of the most iconic venues in the world and beat one of the best fields of the year.

“Pebble Beach and Augusta National are left-handed golf courses,” Mickelson cracked. “I think that’s obvious.”

Yeah, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Masters and who is best positioning themselves for the year’s first major.

Johnson didn’t have his best Sunday, but he won his first PGA Tour start of the year and gave himself a chance in his second start here. He went to Riviera last year and won the first in his run of three victories in a row.

Still, Johnson has failed to win with a 54-hole lead two of the last three times he has held or shared one. He blew a six-shot cushion at the HSBC Champions last fall.

He looks a little less formidable than he did winning in an eight-shot rout at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Articles, photos and videos

“Just didn’t have it,” Johnson said Sunday. “It was just one of those days where nothing went my way.

“Ted played well.”

Johnson was uncharacteristically loose with his wedge play. He dumped his ball into a greenside bunker from 76 yards at the fourth, failing to take advantage of birdie position there. He similarly failed to take advantage of chances with wedges in hand at the 10th, 11th, 14th and 15th holes. He knocked an iron into a hazard off the fifth tee.

“Never really got in a rhythm out there,” Johnson said.

Mickelson is stoked about where his game is trending, with his T-2 finish following his tie for fifth last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He looks ready to claim his 43rd PGA Tour title, his first since winning The Open almost five years ago.

“Right now, I’m hitting it as well as I have in a long time,” Mickelson said. 

Day didn’t have enough to win Sunday, but this run into contention, combined with his victory two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open, has him trending nicely.

“It's good,” Day said. “I feel like there's a lot of room for improvement. My wedge play needs to improve. My iron play needs to improve. My driver's actually been pretty decent. ... If I keep doing what I'm doing, finishing first and second in the first two events, but also improve, and cut out the blemishes, then, hopefully, it will be more like 2015.”

Day’s five victories that year included a major championship and boosted him to world No. 1.

Jordan Spieth could not successfully defend his title this week, but he looks like he’s coming out of that “minor slump” with his putter, something that was an issue in his missing the cut last week in Phoenix.

Spieth needed just 25 putts in his round of 71 Sunday at Pebble Beach, which left him tied for 20th. He holed a monster 54-foot putt for birdie at the fifth.

“I came here kind of searching,” Spieth said. “I seem to have kind of found some answers to some problem areas.”

Like Johnson and Mickelson, Spieth will tee it up at the Genesis Open at Riviera.

“My putter made tremendous progress this week,” Spieth said. “I feel great about it going forward. ... The putts I missed today were the ones I misread. I don’t think I put one bad stroke on it, which is the first time I can say that in a long time.”

Rory McIlroy missed the cut here Saturday, but his second- and third-place finishes on the European Tour last month bode well if he can get his putter going better than it was on the poa annua grasses on the Monterey Peninsula. He is also headed to Riviera this week.

“I've got six weeks out of the next seven to try and play well and give myself chances to win,” McIlroy said arriving at Pebble Beach. “And I feel like where my game's at, and how I'm feeling, if I do what I know I can do, I'll have chances.”

And there should be no ruling out Potter. You don’t beat this field on this iconic course and get dismissed at Augusta National.

“Definitely a big confidence boost,” he said.

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Lexi involved in a(nother) rules controversy at LPGA Thailand

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 26, 2018, 2:50 am

Jessica Korda stole the show this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand, winning the star-studded event by four strokes in her first start since undergoing serious jaw surgery to address a significant overbite that led to ailments ranging from facial cramping to headaches to sleep apnea.

But just four strokes behind Korda finished Lexi Thompson, who may have challenged for the win on Sunday if not for another rules controversy during the second round of the event.

Thompson, who was famously assessed two two-stroke penalties last year at the ANA Inspiration that ultimately cost her the title, was hit with another two-stroke penalty on Friday in Thailand after she moved a sign out of her swing path at Siam Country Club.

The 23-year-old mistakenly thought a billboard on the 15th hole was a moveable object, when in fact, the local rule deemed this particular advertisement a "temporary immovable obstruction."

The two-stroke penalty was assesed after the round, where the par she made on the hole became a double bogey and what would have been a 66 ballooned into a 68.

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After Further Review: JT may face serious Ryder Cup heckling

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 26, 2018, 2:09 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Thomas getting heckler thrown out ...

Justin Thomas polished off a playoff win at the Honda Classic despite the efforts of a fan who screamed for his ball to head for a fairway bunker on the 16th hole.

Thomas signaled for the fan to be ejected after striping his tee shot on No. 16, telling him, “Enjoy your day, buddy. You’re done.” It’s the second straight week that Thomas has had issues with fans, having bristled at some of the behavior he encountered while grouped with Tiger Woods at the Genesis Open.

Thomas’ stance is that golf has earned a reputation as a “classy sport” that should place it above jeering and catcalls from the gallery. It’s a view that is as noble as it is unachievable.

As long as tournaments continue to serve alcohol well into the afternoon hours, there will be outlier fans who will look to get a rise out of players with comments before, during or after swings. Thomas was within his right to ask for the fan’s removal, though I’d imagine the European fans planning to attend this year’s Ryder Cup in Paris might take note of the apparent impact the gallery can have on Thomas while in the heat of battle. – Will Gray

On the debate over rolling back the ball ...

The opening salvos in what promises to be one of the most polarizing eras in golf were exchanged this week. First, USGA CEO Mike Davis, via Jack Nicklaus, announced his arrival: “Mike said, ‘We’re getting there [on the distance issue]. We’re going to get there. I need your help when we get there,’” the Golden Bear explained when asked about the growing drumbeat to curtail how far modern players hit the golf ball.

A few days later, former Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein fired back: “Mike Davis has not told us (Acushnet/Titleist) that he is close and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there.”

Perhaps this will turn out to be a misunderstanding and the game’s rules makers and manufacturers will all end up on the same sideline, but it doesn’t feel that way right now. Rex Hoggard

On Tiger turning up the notch on his comeback ...

It’s safe to say the Tiger Woods comeback is ahead of schedule. After looking lost with his long game in his first two starts of the year, he led the field in proximity to the hole and third in driving distance. He flighted and shaped shots both directions, seemingly at ease, looking nothing like the player we saw at Torrey and Riviera.

If that form continues at Bay Hill and beyond, this has the potential to be one of the greatest comebacks in golf history.  Ryan Lavner

On Korda's journey from pain to promise ...

Jessica Korda is the leader in the clubhouse for best story of the year in women’s golf. She won her first start of the season Sunday at the Honda LPGA Thailand just a little more than two months after undergoing a complex and painful double-jaw surgery to alleviate headaches caused by her jaw’s alignment.

She did so in record-breaking fashion, shattering tournament scoring records against a star-studded field that included the top six players in the world. If Korda can so quickly overcome the challenges of that daunting offseason, there is no telling what else this determined young American star might achieve this year.  Randall Mell

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List loses playoff, may have gained performance coach

By Randall MellFebruary 26, 2018, 1:52 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Luke List didn’t win in his playoff with Justin Thomas Sunday at the Honda Classic, but he thinks he may have found a pretty good new performance coach.

The guy’s name is “Moose.”

He’s a former Australian rules football player.

Actually, his full name is Brent Stevens, a friend of List’s caddie, who put them on the phone together for the first time last week at the Genesis Open.

List liked a lot of the performance keys Stevens gave him and posted some of the advice in his yardage book, so he could reference them.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

“Effort over result” was one of the ideas List scribbled down.

“I feel like I've got the ability to play at this level,” said List, who was seeking his first victory Sunday at PGA National. “It just hasn't quite happened yet, but the more I think about it, I feel like the worse I do. So I focus on what's in front of me, the effort into the shot. I did a really good job of that this week.”

List said he’s interested in maybe visiting Australia to take Moose’s training to another level.

“He's a very fit dude,” List said. “He's got some clients that he brings down to south of Melbourne, to run the sand dunes,” List said, “and if we keep in contact, which I'm sure we will, I'm going to have to go down there and get my butt kicked.”

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Both in contention, Thomas hears 'crickets' from Woods

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 26, 2018, 1:36 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods has become a friend, confidant and something of an adviser for Justin Thomas.

Whenever Thomas has been in contention in his young career, Woods has often texted him advice or good luck on the eve of the final round.

That wasn’t the case Saturday night after the third round of the Honda Classic.

“Got crickets last night,” Thomas said, laughing.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

That’s because Woods was in contention, too, beginning the final round seven shots off the lead.

“I knew he had one thing in mind, and we both had the same thing in mind,” Thomas said. “I thought that was pretty funny.”

Thomas added that he was “very impressed” with Woods’ 12th-place finish at PGA National.