Awards Season: Handing out the 2014 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 19, 2014, 9:30 pm

The Rexys ...

Like the Masters, which doles out all manner of trinkets each year, the season-ending Rexys recognize some of the year’s biggest happenings. The only difference is that the Rexys don’t come with a crystal goblet or silver salver.

Silence is Golden Globe. Perhaps necessity is the mother of invention, but as the NFL spent the closing days of 2014 reinventing the league’s personal conduct policy, the contrast with the PGA Tour’s rules on acceptable behavior was glaring.

Consider that the NFL’s press release outlining its new policy was eight pages, while the Tour’s entire policy on conduct covers only four pages in the player handbook. But then the circuit could reduce its policy to just one sentence, “no comment.”

Emoticon Award. It seems apropos that the first PGA of America president, and perhaps the first golf executive, to embrace social media would also be the first to be burned by it.

The inaugural Emoticon Award goes to Ted Bishop for an insensitive tweet that led to the first impeachment in PGA history and a new-look Rexy just for the occasion. ;=(

Small Print Salver. For the second time in three years, Rory McIlroy began the FedEx Cup playoffs in the pole position only to find himself the victim of bad math.

The Northern Irishman began this year’s postseason No. 1 in points, and after closing the playoffs with three top 10s (including a runner-up showing at the Tour Championship) finished third on the contrived point list.

In 2012, the world No. 1 began the playoffs second in points, won two out of the four postseason events, and finished second in the season-long race.

As a result of this pencil whipping, the Tour went back to the mathematical drawing board and reduced the number of points available at playoff events. Call the change the Rory Accord and, if the Tour’s math wizards are correct, we can finally retire the award in McIlroy’s honor.

Uber Honor. Never before in the history of sport has an empty parking space drawn so much attention; but then when Tiger Woods is concerned there is no such thing as overkill.

The first-year award goes to Woods’ parking spot at Valhalla, which drew a crush of media attention on Wednesday at this year’s PGA Championship as the world awaited his return from yet another injury.

So surreal was the scene that the 60 or so media types assembled to photograph and watch the empty spot didn’t even notice as McIlroy walked by ... with the claret jug he’d recently won at Royal Liverpool tucked under his arm.

While accepting the award, the empty spot thanked his physical therapist, sport psychologist, the Kentucky department of highway maintenance and, of course, Tiger Woods. After all, he could have just easily gotten a ride to the course on Uber.

Kids Say the Darnedest Things Award. Patrick Welch clinches the first-year award following his victory at April’s inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National.

Welch won the Boys 14-15 Division thanks to a 20 footer on the famous 18th green, complete with the Masters’ traditional Sunday pin position.

“I’d seen that putt before,” Welch smiled.

Patrick Reed deserves honorable mention in this category thanks to his eyebrow-raising claim at the WGC-Cadillac Championship that he was “one of the top-5 players in the world.” Shhhhh. Reed got the last laugh with his inspired performance at the Ryder Cup where he played like, well, a top-5 player.

Viva la Victor Award. Victor Dubuisson crashed onto the American golf scene with his gritty runner-up finish at the WGC-Match Play Championship, where he got up-and-down from the desert, a jumping cholla and New Mexico.

The introverted Frenchman solidified his status with a solid performance at the Ryder Cup and some scribes even reported seeing him smile.

Wag the Dog Award. Whatever it was that chased Dustin Johnson from the game this season, be it a voluntary leave of absence or six-month Tour-mandated suspension, the entire affair had the feeling of spin control in high gear.

Whether it was the Tour or DJ, the entire affair was a case study in failing to control the message.

Marathon Man Award. Steve Alker won the event, but only because he was the last man standing after 11 extra holes at June’s Cleveland Open on the Tour.

“I got a little bit dizzy out there. At one point Dawie [van der Walt] and I looked at each other and I said, ‘Is anybody going to win?’” Alker said.

Luckily, Alker made a 3-footer for birdie one the 11th extra frame or they might still be playing the event.

Lemonade out of Lemons Award. Following his tie for 25th at the 2011 Open Championship, one would have figured McIlroy’s chances at the game’s oldest major were somewhere between slim and non-existent.

“I’m not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather,” he said at Royal St. George’s. “My game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don't enjoy playing in really. That's the bottom line. I'd rather play when it's 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”

Fast forward three years and McIlroy put on a clinic at Royal Liverpool to win by two shots. It seems Karma has a short memory.

Broken Hearts Award. No, not McIlroy, who called off his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki earlier this year. Instead, the award goes to Adam Scott’s fans who have traditionaly flocked to courses across the globe to get a glimpse at the Australian with the movie-star looks.

In April at a quiet ceremony in the Bahamas, Scott was married to Marie Kojzar, officially passing the title “golf’s most-eligible bachelor” to Rickie Fowler.

Bounty Belt. Like the doomed captain on the famous ship, Old Tom Watson lost his team room long before Sunday night when Phil Mickelson decided to air the U.S. team’s dirty laundry.

Watson was out of touch with modern players, failed to communicate well and did little to motivate his team. As one caddie told your scribe, “After we lost [on Sunday] my player turned to me and said, ‘Keep him away from me.’”

The only difference for Bligh is that social media didn’t exist in the 1700s.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.