Quick Round with Mark Wilson

By Randall MellMarch 5, 2010, 2:40 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – When Mark Wilson walks the fairways at PGA National, long-time Honda Classic fans stop and point.

He’s more than the first guy to win the tournament after it moved to the Champion Course in 2007. He’s the guy who won despite calling a two-shot penalty on himself after his caddie broke the Rules of Golf.

Wilson, 35, penalized himself after his caddie, Chris Jones, gave advice on club selection to a fellow competitor on the fifth tee in the second round. After Camilo Villegas asked his caddie what club he thought Wilson hit there, Jones chimed in.

“Oh, it’s an 18-degree hybrid,” Jones told them.

Wilson knew that response violated Rule 8-1 of the Rules of Golf, a rule that forbids a player or caddie from giving advice to anyone but each other, or a partner in match play. The rule falls into a gray area because the rules actually allow players to go up and look in a fellow competitor's bag to see what club's being used.

Wilson went on to beat Jose Coceres, Boo Weekley and Villegas in a playoff for his first PGA Tour title. He did it in dramatic fashion, making birdie at the difficult Bear Trap’s 17th hole. He won the Mayakoba Golf Classic last year for his second title and ended the season 32nd on the FedEx Cup money list, just missing out on a berth in the Tour Championship, which would have gotten him into his first Masters.

Before this week’s Honda Classic began, Wilson sat down for a Quick Round:

Honda Classic fans will always remember you for how you won, for the integrity you showed calling a penalty on yourself. How much are you still asked about it?

I’m amazed how much it lingers and people still talk about it. I truly believed if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have won the tournament. I was going through the motions that week. I just didn’t really have it. The penalty was something that just spurred me on. After that happened, I birdied six holes to put myself in position to even think about winning and I played great on Saturday and ended up prevailing in the playoff.

You didn’t fire your caddie, Chris Jones, for his transgression that day. In fact, you’re still together, right?

This is our fifth year together.

Chris probably thought he was finished as your caddie that day.

We all make mistakes, and it was a big one at the time. I was disappointed. It was a weird situation. He was giving the spec of the club. It wasn’t like he was saying, `Hey, it’s a 5-iron.’ He was saying, `It’s an 18 degree.’ I think in his head he didn’t realize that was wrong. We had a talk when he first started working for me, that this is something we don’t do. Maybe other caddies signal across the tee box to other caddies, but we don’t do that. You might give it to the TV guys, but you don’t give it to other players because that’s cheating. He was distraught, but he’s a positive force on my bag. He helps me a ton. We have good camaraderie, and he knows my game as well as I do.

The rule you penalized your caddie for breaking falls in a kind of gray area and might be one of the most violated rules on tour. Should the rule be changed?

When I think about someone breaking that rule, it’s just laziness. All you have to do is walk over to someone’s bag on the tee box and see which club is missing. If someone can’t do that, it’s just being lazy. I don’t look at the rule as needing to be changed. Overall, I wish caddies and other competitors would hold it in the same regard, because I don’t think everyone does. It’s a tough one in the sense that people who might break the rule would argue, `Hey, I’m just helping out a fellow brother out there. We’re all a family.’ Like they are being nice about it. But it’s against the rules.

Are there any other gray areas in the rules like that which get violated?

The only thing that comes to mind is where a ball last crossed the hazard. Sometimes, when you have a long carry over water, you’re not sure where it crossed. You’re supposed to know 100 percent. You’re supposed to know, `Yes, it crossed that little corner’ and you go up there and take your drop up there. Where you take your drop can save you a couple shots sometimes. That one is a gray area. It’s what you see. You use information you get from marshals but that’s not always right. There are certain players who might bend that slightly. You don’t see it often. I’m just saying, it’s really in the player’s head, if he believes it crossed a certain point, and if he can live with himself.

How often do you see cheating in a year?

I can’t think of an instance. I might occasionally see a caddie flashing what club was hit. Some people might not call that cheating. When I see that, it might have been to the TV guy over my shoulder. I might have thought it was to another player. I can’t think of anything. It’s still a gentleman’s game, and we call penalties on ourselves. I’m still impressed when a guy comes out of the woods and says, `Hey, you know what, my ball moved back there and I replaced it and I added a shot to my score.’

You tamed the Bear Trap (the 15th-17th holes) when you won that first year here at PGA National. You made birdie at the 17th in the playoff to win. There’s a lot of water through those three holes. How tough are they?

You really need to have a lot of confidence on those tee shots, to pick a good line. It’s all about the wind on those holes. You hit some crazy clubs there. That 15th hole last year played into the wind every day, and I’m hitting 4-iron. Same on the 17th, I was hitting 3- and 4-irons. In wind, it accentuates any spin you put on the ball. It may balloon or slice into the water. But you can also make birdies through there. If you hit quality shots, you are going to have makeable putts. That’s what is neat about those holes. No lead is safe. You can make 5 and 6 so easy through there.

The 15th and 17th are both tough par 3s. Which is tougher and how do you rank them among the toughest par 3s you play on the PGA Tour?

I think the 17th’s a little tougher. It’s got a little more length. And I think the elevated tee has something to do with it, too, with the wind there. The ball is in the air just a little bit longer. At 15, at least you are level with the green. It seems like a bigger green at the 15th.

I would put both of those par 3s ahead of the 17th at Sawgrass because of the wind. I would put the 12th at Muirfield Village first, that hour-glass green there makes it tough to get the ball in the right quadrant.

You and your wife, Amy, are expecting your first child right around the Masters. If you win an event here before the Masters and qualify to play at Augusta National, what will you do?

My wife and I talked about what would happen if I did get into the Masters. Our baby is due five days after the Masters concludes. I have to qualify first, but with that being said, if I got in the tournament and my wife went into labor, I am leaving the moment I hear. The birth of your child is so important. I have enough confidence in myself that I will get back to the Masters. My goals for the year, really starting the year, have been more spiritual goals than golf goals. I think if I’m in the right frame of mind and my perspective is in the right spot, my golf is going to prosper. I’m focusing more on that.

What kind of spiritual goals?

I’m just trying to get closer to God, Jesus Christ. I’ve just kind of figured that out the last year, my role in the world and the game. I think he’s put me here to draw more people to him. I feel like the stage I have gives me that opportunity, and I don’t want to waste that opportunity sulking about a round. That’s a day you can witness.

You came excruciatingly close to making the Tour Championship last year and all the rewards that come with it. Did that depress you or motivate you?

I took it as encouragement. I had that great week at Cog Hill (before the Tour Championship). I got paired with Tiger on Saturday. I was tied for the lead, on my home course. It was a magical week. I came out flat on Sunday but played well down the stretch. I took an aggressive line on the 18th with a 6-iron. I probably should have hit 5-iron to the fat of the green and taken my chances at making par, but I knew the birdie would have gotten me into the Tour Championship. I made a really solid swing and pulled it slightly in the water. I made a good bogey and walked away with no regrets. I woke up the next morning happy I had my best FedEx Cup showing ever and wasn’t thinking, `Now I’m not in the Masters or the U.S. Open.’ It would have been a lot easier scheduling this year, but it is what it is, and I’ve done things in small steps in my career. It was motivation.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.