Except for Holmes, Blue Monster still a headache for players

By Rex HoggardMarch 6, 2015, 12:02 am

DORAL, Fla. – One by one players marched off Doral’s Blue Monster sun burnt, wind beaten and broken, until one frazzled caddie glanced at the leaderboard.

J.B. Holmes 10-under 62.

“Was that his pro-am score?” the looper cracked.

To the remainder of the 73-man field, however, Thursday was no joke.

Following last year’s carnage, when just three players finished under par, one would have thought the PGA Tour faithful would have readied themselves for another week of unfortunate bounces and unsightly scorecards, but if player reaction was any indication these guys may be good but they also have short memories.

“Ryan (Moore) and J.B. (Holmes), I don’t know what golf course they are playing,” said Gary Woodland, who trails the frontrunners by four and eight strokes, respectively, after an opening 70.

World Golf Championships rookie Brooks Koepka had a slightly different take.

“You kind of have to go into it with a U.S. Open mentality knowing that guys are going to struggle, you're going to struggle and you just have to minimize it and try to make bogeys at worst,” he said.

Savvy Swede Henrik Stenson may have had the best take of Gil Hanse’s redesigned layout.

“It’s very tough. It’s borderline stupid tough,” he said.

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Players complaining about a golf course has become as clichéd as fist pumps at the game’s highest level, and while the rank-and-file stopped just short of using the “U” word (unfair), it’s clear the Blue Course is an acquired taste that hasn’t hit the spot just yet.

When Hanse executed his nip/tuck of the Blue before the 2014 championship, he added nearly 200 yards to an already demanding layout. Factor in greens that remain on the bouncy side of new and there was little chance the revamped Doral would be awarded instant classic status.

But this isn’t about Hanse, or Donald Trump. At least not entirely. There’s nothing wrong with Doral that a calm south Florida day can’t fix, but those are as rare as a traffic-free commute to South Beach.

Consider that on Thursday Phil Mickelson rounded the Blue in 74 strokes and failed to make a birdie for the first time since the final round of the 2012 U.S. Open.

Consider that world No. 1 Rory McIlroy turned in 40 after finding the water with his approach into the 18th hole (his ninth hole of the day), the toughest 440 yards one could ever want, chipping his fourth shot off the green and signing for a double bogey-6.

In McIlroy’s defense, it was one of 12 scores of double bogey or worse on Day 1.

“For a person who likes to see disasters that’s a good place to go sit,” said Stenson, who also found the water at the closing hole for a bogey.

Such is life on the Blew Monster, where winds swirled and a total of 84 shiny new golf balls (including 19 at No. 18) found the ubiquitous water hazards.

Most players will tell you the Hanse edition of Doral is harder, but it is the wind that pushes it close to the edge of unplayable.

“I think it's a golf course that's designed for a 10 mph wind and usually you get a 20 mph wind here. It's a tough test,” McIlroy said.

Billy Horschel was not nearly as diplomatic with his assessment toward the new Blue or Hanse.

“As an architect you’d be smart to understand which direction the wind blows and how hard it can blow,” said Horschel, who was one of the lucky few (26 players) who finished at par or better (72). “I’ve never seen the course without a 15 to 20 mph wind. These greens aren’t made to be played in winds like this.”

Of course, not everyone found the course unsavory.

Holmes was one of just three players to finish his round without a bogey, and he distanced himself from the field with a 4-under stretch in three holes that included a tap-in for eagle at the 12th hole. The three-time Tour winner will begin Friday’s second turn four clear of Moore and a half dozen ahead of the rest of the pack.

“Before this (the redesign), I didn't care for it at all. One of my least favorite tracks on Tour,” said Holmes, who led the field with a 320-yard driving average. “It was just too easy, I felt like, for a World Golf Championship. Twenty-two under winning really shouldn't happen.”

At Holmes’ current pace that may still be a possibility, just don’t be surprised when his Tour frat brothers offer a familiar response, “What course is he playing?”

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.