Doral is de facto Opening Day of PGA Tour season

By Rex HoggardMarch 3, 2015, 9:56 pm

DORAL, Fla. – Schedules have changed, from the cleanliness of a single calendar to the confusion of a fall lineup followed by the creation of the circuit’s new wrap-around edition, but some things always remain the same.

Although the PGA Tour is some 15 events into the 2014-15 season, for most top players Thursday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship is opening day.

With apologies to the folks at the Open, where the season “officially” started last October, and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which kicked off the new year on Tour in January, Doral has been the real start of the season for some time.

Consider that Adam Scott will tee off in just his second Tour event of the season, and his first in 2015 and on U.S. soil, on Thursday. That he does so 1,046 points behind leader Jimmy Walker on the FedEx Cup points list doesn’t change that fact.

Consider that world No. 1 Rory McIlroy will play his first weekend on the Tour this season at Doral. That's all the proof one needs that for all the realignment, for all the tinkering and adjustments made by the Tour in the name of progress, this is the week the players atop the marquee circle on the calendar.

“I’ve been off four weeks,” Matt Kuchar smiled broadly as he worked off the rust on Doral’s practice tee late Monday.

WGC-Cadillac Championship: Articles, videos and photos

While that might not be what officials at Tour headquarters would like to hear, the alternative is unrealistic.

For players like McIlroy and Scott and even Kuchar, who played six times this season before taking his pre-Masters hiatus after the Waste Management Phoenix Open, year-round golf is not exactly a best practices option when it’s the four major championships that demand peak performance.

In fairness to the modern professional, it’s hard to argue with the less-is-more strategy when it comes to what is virtually a yearlong schedule.

Many credit Tiger Woods for the approach. Even before he was sidelined with injury in recent years he played at least 20 events in a single season just five times and never more than 21.

But Woods didn’t pioneer the idea. From 1971 until he retired Jack Nicklaus never played more than 19 Tour events in a single season and Greg Norman teed off in fewer than 19 Tour events every year of his Hall of Fame career.

Which has led players, the headliners who top everyone’s list of major contenders, to adjust accordingly.

While most players say the quality of golf course is their No. 1 factor when deciding to play an event, Doral, which was redesigned by architect Gil Hanse before last year’s event, largely defies conventional wisdom.

“Last year was rock hard because of a brand new golf course. I happened to just survive it, make a few putts,” said Bubba Watson, who finished second to Patrick Reed in 2014 at Doral.

“I look forward to the challenge. When you come here, the challenge of the wind, the challenge of the golf course, the speed of the greens are really, really quick right now, and so you get here, you get excited about the challenge.”

In short, Doral is a long way from Palm Springs, which was the traditional starting point for Tour types, something of a soft opening considering the easier conditions in the Coachella Valley, before the advent of what has become the major championship season.

Yet while the new and improved (Black and) Blue Course may not be an instant classic in many players' minds, its position on the schedule a month before the Masters has made it the Teflon Championship when it comes to participation.

For Scott, who hasn’t hit a shot that mattered anywhere in the world since December’s Australian PGA, it’s a question of location, not on the map but on the schedule.

Scott plans to play the next three weeks before taking a two-week break after the Arnold Palmer Invitational to make his final preparations for the Masters.

McIlroy, who missed the cut in his 2015 debut last week at the Honda Classic, will follow a similar routine, trading a start at the Shell Houston Open, which he has played the last two years, for Bay Hill in two weeks.

“I feel like I've got a nice schedule going into Augusta,” McIlroy said last week. “I'm not playing too much, but I'm playing just enough that I should be as sharp as possible going in there.”

While the idea of a top player missing nearly one third (Doral is the 16th of 47 Tour events this season) of a season would seem outlandish in other sports, it is golf’s new reality.

However the Tour decides to break down its season, for players like Scott, Thursday at Doral is opening day.

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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

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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

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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