Splendor in the 'grass: Sawgrass shows its softer side

By Randall MellMay 13, 2016, 12:57 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Maybe this was golf’s version of whistling through a graveyard.

The game’s best giddily paraded around the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course Thursday morning with more smiles, back slaps and fist pumps than we’re accustomed to seeing around here.

The Players Championship was more Fun House than House of Horrors, even for the afternoon wave.

It played more like the second CareerBuilder Challenge of the season than the fifth major.

Somewhere, Pete Dye must have been grinding his teeth.

The famed architect watched Jason Day go record low (20 under) for 72 holes at the PGA Championship last summer on his Whistling Straits design, and watched him equal the Stadium Course Thursday record with a 63.

“Today was the most gettable I’ve ever seen it,” said Justin Rose, who shot 65. “I was surprised to see it so soft because there hasn’t been a drop of rain all week.”

There were 12 scores of 66 or better, the most in any single round since The Players Championship moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982.

“Today was the day you had to get it,” Bill Haas said after posting a 65.

Dye’s course can be a maddening puzzle for pros to figure out, with its deceptive angles, optical illusions and hidden trouble. Dye had them scratching their heads again Thursday, but this time players were trying to figure out how their games suddenly came together here.

Shane Lowry fired the first 29 ever on the back nine of The Players at the Stadium Course.

“I had no confidence coming here,” Lowry said. “My game felt poor last week. I almost wasn’t looking forward to the week.”

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Apparently, you don’t have to come to The Players with your A-game. You can find it here.

Cameron Tringale did, too, shooting 65.

“My results haven’t been very good coming into this week, to be honest,” Tringale said.

Hudson Swafford shot 66 in his first round ever at The Players. He arrived having missed three consecutive cuts.

“The greens were receptive,” Swafford said. “It was kind of shocking.”

Ernie Els shot 66. A little more than a month after he six-putted the first hole at the Masters, Els opened The Players with six consecutive one-putts. It’s the lowest round he’s posted here in 20 years.

“This course has had its way with me,” Els said.  "Nice to get one up on the course, and the conditions were great.”

Rose was knocking down flagsticks. He hit all 18 greens in regulation shooting his 66 and made just one putt of more than 10 feet. He’s one of only four players to hit every green in regulation at The Players.

When the breeze stiffened in the afternoon, and the greens began drying out, the course toughened, but it never got that tough. Boo Weekley shot 66 in the afternoon. The morning wave’s scoring average was 70.06, with the afternoon’s rising to 71.97. Still, the overall first-round scoring average was 71.01, the lowest in 23 years. 

“I don’t like it,” David Duval said of the set-up and scoring conditions. “I think it should have been and could have been faster.”

Duval won here in ’99 with a 3-under 285 total, the highest winning score on the Stadium Course.

While the fairways were firm and fast, the greens weren’t. Without wind to repel scoring, players were able to attack flagsticks. Scoring Thursday was all about the greens, which are scheduled to begin undergoing a major renovation two days after the conclusion of this week’s event. The greens are being switched out from Miniverde Bermuda to Tifeagle Bermuda.

“The greens are a little more receptive right now, which they're starting to turn a little brown,” Weekley said. “I hope they put a little water on them and try to get them back to life, because if they don't do that, then there ain't no telling what it's going to be on the weekend.”

Players haven’t seen scoring quite this low in a long time, but they’ve seen how Dye’s design can turn dark and mean almost overnight. They’re expecting the meanness back by the weekend.

“By tomorrow, they will be firm and Saturday and Sunday they will be concrete,” Swafford said.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm