Mid-season grades: Sergio, DJ, Tiger and more

By Rex HoggardApril 19, 2017, 5:06 pm

The major championship season may have just gotten underway and the calendar is still littered with several decisive events, but this week’s Valero Texas Open, the 24th of 47 events, is the official turn of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season and time for the annual mid-term update.

España, A+. On what would have been the 60th birthday for Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia ended almost two decades of major misfortune with his playoff victory over Justin Rose at the Masters.

As if that wasn’t enough to earn Spain high marks, Garcia has been joined on the world stage by fellow Spaniard and first-year Tour player Jon Rahm.

Rahm won in just his fifth start as a Tour member at the Farmers Insurance Open, and dropped close decisions to Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The most-recent Spanish Armada has arrived.

Justin Thomas, A. JT’s repeat performance in this year’s #SB2K17 trip to the Bahamas is certainly a reason to celebrate, but it’s Thomas’ play that’s truly impressed this season.

Before this season Thomas was better known as Jordan Spieth’s buddy, but the 23-year-old proved to be so much more with three victories in his first five starts of the season, including a clean sweep of the Hawaii swing.

Although Thomas has cooled since his torrid start, he has emerged in 2017 as a bona fide world-beater.

Jay Monahan, A-. Officially, Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour in January, but he’d been handling the day-to-day operations for some time and almost immediately settled in to the corner office in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Dubbed by many as a forward-thinking and dynamic leader, Monahan has shown his progressive side, like the introduction of next week’s team event in New Orleans, and he has been clear that he’s looking to dramatically rearrange the schedule in order to end the season on Labor Day.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. Two World Golf Championships in four weeks earlier this spring impacted fields from Innisbrook to Bay Hill, and continued scheduling conflicts with the European Tour need to be addressed. But those ongoing concerns aside, Monahan’s first 100 days have been impressive.

Rules of Golf, B+. This may not be a popular take given the ongoing rules snafus (see Thompson, Lexi 2017 ANA Inspiration), but the USGA and R&A have actually had a relatively good year.

Earlier this spring, golf’s rule makers unveiled a sweeping list of proposed changes and initiated a six-month feedback period. Among the proposed “modernizations,” are relaxed rules regarding penalty areas and putting greens and a focus on pace of play.

“We embraced these things because people said to heck with the rules,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director and CEO. “What this has done is gotten people thinking about the rules, and that’s a good thing.”

Golf still has plenty of room to grow on the rules front, but the proposed changes are a good start and by all accounts the current discussion is just the beginning of a fundamental overhaul.

Dustin Johnson, B+. This might seem a tad nitpicky, but the standard for DJ has escalated in recent years.

Johnson won three consecutive starts heading into the Masters, overtook Jason Day at No. 1 in the world and began the week at Augusta National as the easy favorite only to be sent to the disabled list when he injured his back on the eve of the first round.

He’s scheduled to return to the Tour in two weeks at the Wells Fargo Championship, but the real test for Johnson will come at the U.S. Open in June and at the remaining majors.

Tiger Woods, C. Let’s call this grading on a scale. Woods’ grand return ended after just 54 substandard holes and he missed the Masters for the second consecutive year, but there’s no denying the effort.

Maybe his schedule to begin the season was too aggressive, with back-to-back starts in San Diego and Dubai, but the frustration among Woods’ fans has only grown in recent weeks and this current setback appears to be more concerning than simply back spasms.

“I have good days and bad days,” Woods said on Tuesday at Big Cedar Lodge. “I’ve had three back operations, and that’s the nature of the business unfortunately. That’s all I can say.”

Notah Begay III suggested two weeks ago that Woods could return in time for the U.S. Open, which seems overly optimistic given his most-recent update. But right now optimism may be all Tiger has.

Speed control, D. In the annual review of driving distances published by the USGA and R&A in February those charged with keeping tabs on such gains noted that there has been a “slight uptick” in how far current professionals are hitting the golf ball.

Using data collected from five world tours, “between 2003 and the end of the 2016 season, average driving distance has increased by approximately 1.2 percent, around 0.2 yards per year.”

Statistical debates are about as much fun as an Uber driver with personal space issues, but it’s worth noting that there are currently 31 players on the PGA Tour who are averaging over 300 yards off the tee, compared to the ’03 season when there were just nine players averaging over 300 yards.

Whether these distance gains are a real problem is an entirely different conversation and statistically driving averages seemed to have ebbed, but there is no ignoring the fact that long-hitters are now the norm, not the exception.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."