Pardon the Pedigree-less Leaderboard

By Rex HoggardMarch 27, 2011, 3:17 am
Arnold Palmer InvitationalORLANDO, Fla. – Since Arnold Palmer slapped his own moniker on the PGA Tour’s Central Florida staple five years ago, the King has enjoyed an embarrassment of Hall of Fame riches. In order, the trophy has been hoisted by Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

So pardon the masses, who largely bolted for the exits after Woods finished his third round nearly an hour before the front runners.

With a monsoon of respect for Martin Laird – the leader by two heading into Sunday, Sunday, Sunday – the top 10 through 54 holes have a combined 19 Tour victories and two majors. If you remove David Toms, who is tied for fifth and five back from the equation, that total drops to seven Tour tilts and one major. That’s compared to a collective 20 Grand Slams for the last four Bay Hill winners.

Maybe more intriguing is the total for the top 4 – three victories, no majors. That list includes Spencer Levin, alone in second, and Steve Marino (T-3), arguably the two best frat brothers without a Tour bottle cap.

If winning on Tour is an art form, consider Sunday’s primary antagonist eager novices.

Complicating, or perhaps encouraging, the situation is a golf course that falls into the mid-major category. “It’s a good, long, hard golf course sort of like you get at a major championship,” Laird said.

Spencer Levin
Spencer Levin lost in a playoff at the Mayakoba Golf Classic last month. (Getty Images)
In the common wisdom of Tour Sundays experience kills, but that kind of cliché holds little meaning with 18 to play in the Florida Swing. Not with Woods, who struggled to a third-round 74 and headed down Apopka Vineland Road hoping for a windstorm on Saturday, and Phil Mickelson (2 under and the closest Hall of Famer to the lead) well outside the conversation, while defending champion Els will be on his way home by the time the leaders tee off on Sunday.

For those who left early on Saturday wondering if Bubba Watson (T-3) was Tom’s son the question is not “who are these guys?” so much as it is “who can win this thing?”

Laird may relish Bay Hill’s semi-tough status, but asked after his Day 3 70 to go over his scorecard, he gazed blankly at the ceiling, “I don’t know this golf course well enough to just rattle them off,” conceded Laird, who is playing the event for just the second time.

Not exactly the kind of institutional know-how that screams champion.

Levin knows even less of Arnie’s Place, not a surprise considering this is his first visit to the former citrus grove. Similarly, given the “A List” of Bay Hill winners, it’s little surprise the crowds know even less of them.

In short, Laird is a Continental contradiction, the rare Scot who can’t play in the wind, at least not like he used to growing up in Glasgow, while Levin is the rarest of Tour creatures – honest to the extreme with his heart permanently fixed to his oversized shirt sleeve.

One player recently deflected a question about Woods saying, “Have you ever considered the possibility Tiger’s not entirely truthful with you?” There is no need to consider such dishonesty from Levin.

When asked what experiences the former wild child turned flat-liner will pull from on Sunday when the PSI is turned up he stumbled for a few moments, “Mexico,” he said, referring to his playoff loss earlier this year South of the Border.

How about Disney last year, where he tied for third? “Oh yeah, man. Thanks,” smiled Levin, who drew even with Laird through 14 holes but played the next two bogey-bogey.

Asked his best memory of Bay Hill? “Only thing I remember is Tiger making a 100 footer every year to win.” In his defense, that’s most people’s only recollection of Arnie’s big dance.

What the two lack in pedigree and practical knowledge they more than make up for in potential. Levin has missed one cut and posted four top 10s since last October, while Laird has missed one weekend since last August with seven top 10s.

But then many believe the modern fixation on top 10s is over-rated and meaningless. Wins, particularly major victories, are what counts. Tour practice tees are filled with potential but Hall of Fame careers are not perched atop potential.

In many ways, whoever cashes on Sunday will enjoy a breakthrough of sorts, even Toms, whose last victory was the 2006 Sony Open. In fact, for Levin, Marc Leishman (T-7), John Senden (T-7) and Charles Howell III (T-7) Sunday could also earn them a spot in next month’s Masters.

And if six shots back seems a bit of a stretch even Levin, for all his inexperience, knows better.

“If the wind blows anybody at 5 or 6 under has a chance . . . four or five back definitely has a chance,” he reasoned.

Just not anybody with a Hall of Fame pedigree, and maybe that’s not a bad thing whether the Bay Hill masses realize it or not.


Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard 
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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.