Major pressure at season's final major

By Rex HoggardAugust 7, 2013, 4:51 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – If every major has its own personality – from Augusta National’s first-day-of-school feel to the Open Championship’s wind-whipped simplicity – the PGA Championship has a distinct 2-minute drill persona.

Although officials have ditched “Glory’s Last Shot” for the more obtuse “The Season’s Last Major,” the PGA, by definition, is the metaphorical last call for those in search of Grand Slam glory. No one knows that better than Tiger Woods.

He lapped the field last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by a touchdown for his fifth victory this season and his 18th World Golf Championship. But 18 WGC trophies hasn’t been the mission since he set out on his historic quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

The symmetry of Woods’ major slump dovetails with the urgency normally associated with the season’s final title bout. If the world No. 1 comes up short at Oak Hill he will move to 0-for-18 since his last major victory.

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For Woods, 14 is starting to feel like the loneliest number.

“It's been probably the longest spell that I've had since I hadn't won a major championship,” Woods said. “I came out here very early and got my first one back in ’97. I've had, certainly, my share of chances to win. I've had my opportunities there on the back nine on probably half of those Sundays for the last five years where I've had a chance, and just haven't won it.”

As Woods has matured, he’s become adept at taking the long view. The underlying theme when he and swing coach Sean Foley began working together wasn’t to create a swing that could win four more majors, but one that would allow him to play in 40 more, and since he beat Rocco Mediate in ’08 at Torrey Pines he has finished in the top 10 (nine times) more often than not in his major starts.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Sunday’s finish at Oak Hill is very much a hard deadline that is followed by eight long months before the game motors down Magnolia Lane for the next Grand Slam gathering.

By comparison, sleeping on a 54-hole lead is a slumber party.

In fairness, Woods is hardly the only player in this week’s field on a major deadline.

Following one of his best major seasons, Lee Westwood spent the better part of Tuesday at Oak Hill working with Foley. It is a curious twist when the Englishman spends the hours before a major working on his ball-striking and not his short game, but such is the state of his game and his desire to shed the label of best player without a major.

“A win is the pinnacle of results,” Westwood said. “You can't really go into tournaments with that as a goal. You're going to end up disappointed a lot. So the idea is to play the best you can and give yourself a chance on Sunday going into the back nine and just see what happens.”

Rory McIlroy, the defending PGA champion, is also on the clock. The golf world has waited for the Ulsterman to wrest himself out of his competitive doldrums for the lion’s share of the season and for many reasons Oak Hill may be his last chance to salvage what has otherwise been a lost year.

While there is still meaningful golf to be played – the FedEx Cup playoffs begin in a fortnight and Europe’s playoff run gets underway later this year – Oak Hill is very much a last stand, with unique pressures that the rest of golf’s marquee are largely immune to.

World No. 2 Phil Mickelson, for example, is two weeks removed from arguably his greatest competitive moment at Muirfield, where he collected the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Ditto for world No. 4 Justin Rose (U.S. Open) and No. 5 Adam Scott (Masters), who both got on the Grand Slam board in 2013.

As Woods explained on Tuesday, “winning one major championship automatically means you had a great year. Even if you miss the cut in every tournament you play in; you win one, you're part of history.”

Conversely, collecting five titles – particularly the quality wins Woods has piled up – is hardly a reason to hit the panic button, but when you’ve won 14 majors the bar tends to rest unreasonably high.

Oak Hill, of course, is the great unknown. In 2003, the last time the PGA was played on the upstate gem, Shaun Micheel stunned the golf world, clipping Chad Campbell with one of the greatest walk-off shots in golf (a 7-iron to inches at the 72nd hole).

On this history is not on Woods or Westwood’s side. At the ’03 PGA, Woods missed nearly as many fairways as he hit for the week (26 of 56), never broke 72 and tied for 39th, while Westwood managed just one birdie in 36 holes and missed the cut.

“It just puts a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway and hitting the ball on the greens, because there aren't a whole lot of opportunities out there to make birdie, but there's certainly a lot of opportunities to go the other way,” said Woods, who tied for 11th in fairways hit and second in greens in regulation last week at Firestone.

Nor do things seem to be trending statistically in Woods and McIlroy’s favor at the majors. Eighteen of the last 20 major champions were first-time Grand Slam winners, and as Micheel proved a decade ago Oak Hill is not adverse to surprise champions.

Among the growing list of players destined for that maiden major would be Brandt Snedeker, who tied for 11th at Muirfield and won the next week in Canada; Matt Kuchar, who has quietly become the United States’ most consistent player; and Henrik Stenson, who has climbed from 230th to 11th in the world thanks to consecutive runner-up finishes at the Open Championship and last week’s World Golf Championship.

Those would-be contenders, however, are not subjected to the urgency-of-now pressures that come with unrealistic expectations. The kind of expectations that Woods, Westwood and McIlroy now face as the clock winds down on the major championship season.

All three still have time to make their major mark in 2013, but as Yankees great Yogi Berra once opined, “It’s getting late early.”

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.