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DJ turns TOC into a Tour de Force

By Rex HoggardJanuary 8, 2018, 4:37 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Call it a bounce-back win, although that implies a competitive imperative, and with Dustin Johnson that’s simply never the case.

Perhaps the world No. 1 needed that shootout triumph against Jordan Spieth at The Northern Trust last fall to once and for all put away any lingering thoughts that the back injury he endured on the eve of last year’s Masters was a reason for lasting concern.

Maybe even after the 2015 U.S. Open when he three-putted the 72nd hole to drop a heartbreaker, also to Spieth, he needed something to remind him that a single week doesn’t define a career.

And maybe there was an element that wanted to see how DJ responded after blowing a 54-hole lead in late October at the WGC-HSBC Champions. But rest assured, Johnson neither desired nor needed a bounce-back victory to start his year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Truth is, Johnson’s eight-stroke Rembrandt at Kapalua was no more important than any of his other 17 Tour tilts, but that doesn’t mean it was insignificant.

If one were inclined to gaze into the looking glass Johnson’s victory, his second in Maui, was a foreboding harbinger. It was, after all, a five-shot dismantling at last year’s Genesis Open that set DJ on a dominant path that only a poorly timed spill in his rental house could stall.

Johnson would win his next start after the Genesis Open, the WGC-Mexico Championship, and his next, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and veer down Magnolia Lane the closest thing to a lock to win the Masters since Tiger Woods was creating Sunday roars in his prime.

Johnson can now admit that it took the better part of a year to feel right again. His practice was limited, that explosive backswing was limited and his game predictably suffered.

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Although he would close the season with another victory, that compelling duel with Spieth at The Northern Trust, that nuclear game just wasn’t the same, as evidenced by his collapse in China when he closed with a 77.

In China, Johnson turned a six-shot third-round lead into a two-stroke loss. In Maui, he rode a two-stroke advantage through 54 holes to a six-shot lead by the time he reached the turn on Sunday.

For four days Johnson was clinical, avoiding any three-putts – as an aside, he hasn’t had a three-jack since the 13th hole on Sunday at the Tour Championship in September – and finishing with the best round of the week, a one-bogey 65 that included his second consecutive eagle at the 12th hole after hitting his drive to inches at the 433-yard par 4.

“I was messing with [Golf Channel analyst Jim “Bones” Mackay] when we were in the fairway, it was like 4 inches short. I said, ‘I hit it a little thin,’” Johnson laughed. “But, no, I was just joking. I hit it perfect.”

He added birdies at the 14th, 15th and 16th holes that might have felt like piling on had his performance not been so entertaining. Although he’s not the first player to win the Tour’s annual lid-lifter multiple times, there’s a growing notion that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the sprawling Plantation Course with Johnson in mind.

His statistical line for the week is a study in dominance, finishing first in strokes gained: tee-to-green, eighth in greens in regulation, fourth in strokes gained: around-the-green and sixth in strokes gained: putting.

Oh, and he drove the ball like a man on a mission. All told, Johnson had 15 drives over 375 yards, including a 419-yard drive on the seventh hole on Saturday that may still be in the air.

“On this course it's tough, the way the wind was blowing today,” said Brian Harman, who was paired with Johnson on Sunday and finished alone in third after a closing 72. “He knocks it to a foot on 12 for eagle, and I'm having to lay up to 130 yards. I mean he's very talented off the tee and he used that to his advantage today.”

Predictably, Johnson said following his round that there’s still work to be done.

“I feel like I could still improve a lot, but everything is going in the right direction,” he said, specifically addressing his iron game as an area that needed to be tightened up.

Of course he would say that. You don’t ascend to No. 1 in the world ranking and win a major championship being complacent, but it’s the edge with how the line was delivered that should give the Tour frat brothers pause.

Johnson is not much of a historian in either golf or otherwise, and he likely had no clue that he was the first player to win in his next start after blowing a six-shot, 54-hole lead since Hal Sutton at the 1983 PGA Championship. But he is aware that his victory marks the 11th consecutive season with at least one win and he is now just a threesome short of winning his 20th Tour event, which is when players normally enter the World Golf Hall of Fame discussion.

Johnson is many things, he can be intimidating between the ropes and entertaining when he relaxes the competitive blinders, but he’s never been much for bravado, which makes his response late Sunday when asked if he considers himself unbeatable so telling.

“I feel like if I play my best, yes, absolutely,” he said. “But there's other guys, there's quite a few guys where, if they're playing their best and I'm not at my best, I can't beat them. But I feel like if I am at my best, yeah, I would welcome any comers.”

No, Johnson’s Maui masterpiece wasn’t a bounce-back victory, it was a statement.

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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.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.