Leaderboard lacking star power

By Rex HoggardMay 4, 2012, 12:19 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For a tournament with a proven pedigree for flushing out pedigrees Thursday’s leaderboard looked more Greater Greensboro Classic than Wells Fargo Championship.

A course that has produced a proven list of winners in its 10 years in the PGA Tour rota – including a Tiger Woods, a Vijay Singh, a Rory McIlroy, a Lucas Glover and a Jim Furyk – seemed to go soft on Day 1 . . . literally.

“They just can’t get the greens too firm with this (hot) weather,” Webb Simpson said. Consider Simpson something of a resident specialist on Quail Hollow. He lives about a mile from the Carolina classic and is a regular when he’s not chasing millions on Tour.

But then soft green-light conditions only partially explain a first-round leaderboard that had a Bizarro World feel to it.

Check the record: World No. 2 McIlroy opened with a 2-under 70, No. 3 Lee Westwood managed a middle-of-the-pack 1-under card, No. 5 Hunter Mahan limped in at 1 over, No. 7 Woods carded an eventful 71 and was tied at 56th with No. 10 Phil Mickelson.

To put that line in context consider that a Monday-qualifying, road-weary journeyman named Patrick Reed clipped the “Big 5’s” combined best  . . . by two strokes, with an opening 6-under 66. He’s 972nd in the world golf ranking.

We’re not saying the world golf ranking is broken, just Quail Hollow’s secret mojo for producing top-shelf champions.

Simpson, who was paired with Woods for just the second time in his career on Thursday, adds a measure of cachet to the marquee and he certainly made the most of his round and his chance to play with “Red Shirt.”

“Last time I kicked him in his knee and he had to withdraw,” smiled Simpson, referring to Woods’ early exit from Doral on Sunday this year with an ailing left wheel. “We went from 10,000 people on every hole to zero people on every hole.”

Diminishing interest due to struggling superstars is a concept tournament officials are keenly aware of.

That Simpson is tied with Stewart Cink – who has, by his own account, been adrift competitively speaking – and Ryan Moore, who like Cink is winless since 2009, did little to boost the “Q” rating at what is largely considered a mid-major stop.

Cue Tour cliché: You can’t win a Tour event on Thursday, but you can certainly lose the plot. And on Thursday Quail Hollow seemed to drift off topic.

Perfect scoring conditions seemed to be the primary culprit, with more than half the field (79) carding under-par cards and the feared Green Mile losing a bit of its sting largely thanks to a new tee box at No. 17, as does the increasing impact of parity. But it’s still a fool’s bet to think that with the quantity of stars aligned at the Wells Fargo this week the course will not produce the familiar quality atop the leaderboard.

Not that any of the “Big 5” seemed overly concerned with the collective sluggishness. Not here where the Wall of Champions is a who’s who of modern Tour royalty.

Even Mickelson, who had a Masters moment on Thursday with a triple-bogey-7 at the fourth hole, didn’t seem overly worried, echoing, correctly, that when McIlroy marched to victory here in 2010 he narrowly made the cut.

“We’ve seen it with McIlroy in 2010,” Lefty figured. “The guy who makes the cut on the number can still win this tournament. It’s not something I’ll stress about.”

Ditto for Woods, who is playing his first tournament since the Masters – where he tied for 40th for his worst finish at Augusta National as a professional. Despite hitting just 8 of 14 fairways and flirting with the creek on the 18th hole, his first sentence on the record this week sounded more like a pep talk for tournament officials.

“I made too many mistakes on the front nine,” Woods said. “But still within reach, obviously.”

Obviously. This is, after all, Quail Hollow which – with the singular exception of affable Joey Sindelar, who won in 2004 – has been professional golf’s version of a rainmaker.

Quail Hollow doesn’t do dog champions, particularly not on the event’s 10-year anniversary. The turf will dry, the ball will bounce and the game’s biggest names will surface. They always do.

Thursday’s board may not be exactly what we’ve come to expect in this corner of Dixie, but that doesn’t mean Quail Hollow won’t deliver. It always does.

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.