Day looks to fend off pack of PGA pursuers

By Rex HoggardAugust 16, 2015, 1:38 am

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Every major has its own distinct genetic fingerprint, which is why, variety being the spice of life, the Grand Slam gatherings hold a singular distinction in the crowded golf landscape.

It’s why Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors; not everyone likes Rocky Road. The Masters slowly builds to a crescendo and Sunday roars, the U.S. Open is the annual endurance test and the Open Championship captivates through the uncertainty of Mother Nature.

The PGA Championship also manufactures its share of drama, although not always of the desired variety (see Johnson, Dustin 2010), via a mixture of relatively low scoring for majors and a history of leaderboards so crowded, contenders often need nametags.

Whistling Straits PGAs in particular have a tendency to draw large crowds both outside the ropes and atop the leaderboard. Simply put, Rory McIlroy doesn’t win by eight at Herb Kohler’s creation, a byproduct of acres of aches and pains combined with pressure that surfaces only at the game’s Grand Slam stops.

Consider that the PGA’s two previous trips to the land of 100,000 mosquitos and the golf course of more than 1,000 bunkers have produced just as many playoff finishes. As an aside, just imagine what could be in the offing for the 2020 Ryder Cup that will be played on this slice of Middle American farmland?

Given that historical penchant for playoffs, it’s not a stretch to imagine how things are going to play out on Sunday even with Jason Day’s two-stroke advantage after 54 holes, to say nothing of the affable Australian’s full recovery from the vertigo that derailed his title bid at June’s U.S. Open.

If history truly repeats itself, Whistling Straits appears locked in a familiar loop – play, playoff, repeat.

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The modus operandi stayed to script on Saturday, with Matt Jones cruising to a two-stroke lead until the ninth hole. In a Straits Course twist the Australian scrambled from the porch of a corporate tent built atop a collection of bunkers for a bogey. The irony being that Dustin Johnson was penalized two strokes at the 2010 PGA when he grounded his club in a bunker adjacent to the 18th hole that is now covered by a corporate tent.

Four players – Branden Grace, Jones, Day and Tony Finau – were tied at 12 under late into a postcard-perfect afternoon, before Day pulled away with a driver-pitching wedge combo on the 563-yard, par-5 11th hole for eagle.

Day, a major bridesmaid on nine occasions including the 2010 PGA here at Whistling Straits, added birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 to move to 16 under and three clear of the field before needing two swings to get out of a bunker on the 15th hole on his way to a double bogey.

Things can change that quickly in a Wisconsin minute and it at least partially explains why so many have come so close at Whistling Straits.

It was signature Straits, prolonged periods of grinding defense broken up by the occasional fast break. And it will happen again if history holds.

“You can’t count the guys out behind us because there's especially a lot of long hitters,” said Day, who will head out in Sunday’s final group for the second major this season following a third-round 66. “Tomorrow is just going to be fun, it really is going to be a lot of fun. I'm really excited just to get to tomorrow.”

It’ll be a familiar object in his rearview mirror on Sunday, although these days Jordan Spieth is always closer than he appears.

Spieth kept his hopes of winning the Triple Crown of American major championships in a single season intact, with the top-ranked player from the United States scorching the inward nine with six birdies for a 7-under 65 on Day 3 and 13-under total.

Spieth’s charge also kept the prospect of an American Slam alive, with the 22-year-old having won the Masters and U.S. Open followed by Zach Johnson’s victory at the Open Championship, and set the stage for the final chapter of a truly historic season.

Spieth can become the first player to win the three American-based majors in the same season. It’s an opportunity Spieth has chosen to not take lightly.

“We don't get to play another event like this until April of next year,” said Spieth, who is 50 under par in the majors this year. “That makes you think, wow, there really only are a few of these, and they are precious, and you need to make the most of them.”

But the cast of potential party crashers doesn’t stop at golf’s newest wunderkind.

At the 2010 PGA, eventual champion Martin Kaymer began the final round four shots out of the lead. On Sunday, he will start the day in the same position at 11 under par along with seven other players within six strokes of Day.

Among that group will be major champion Justin Rose and Grace, who posted the day’s best score on Saturday (64), with Johnson – the tragic figure from the 2010 PGA whose brushes with major greatness have become frequent and unforgiving – in a large group tied at 9 under par.

Another playoff seems likely. Another eventful finish seems almost certain.

Pete Dye’s golf course designs are generally considered diabolical and always unique, but the essence of Whistling Straits goes beyond narrow fairways and bunkers as far as the eye can see. The Straits Course seems defined by its ability to deliver drama and derail any potential blowout.

“It's not a golf course someone will run away shooting two or three 65s. You need to keep your score together,” said Kaymer, who moved into the hunt again at Whistling Straits with a third-round 65 “You need to be very, very patient and wait for your chances. You can’t really force it.”

And the way things have gone the first three days you can’t really expect anything different on Sunday, not at this major and certainly not on this golf course.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.