The Players Choi-ce

By Rex HoggardMay 16, 2011, 3:12 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Fitting that the week the golf world buried Seve Bellesteros, the 'Cliff’s Notes' version of the 30th edition of The Players Championship can be pulled from one of the Spaniard’s greatest quips, 'I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.'

As in K.J. Choi, who missed more 4-footers than an 18-handicap; or David Toms, who missed the one 3 1/2-footer that mattered; or PGA Tour officials, who missed much of the game’s marquee last week.

But like Ballesteros, Choi finally rattled one in, a 5-footer at the 72nd hole to force a playoff he won when Toms three-putted the island-green 17th hole, his first three-jack all week.

“Today I missed a lot of 5-footers, maybe three or four, so when I had the same 5-footer to make (on the 72nd hole) I knew there was a chance I could miss it, but what I said to myself was let’s just get the rhythm correct,” said Choi, who closed with a 70 for a 13-under 275 total.

By contrast, no one thought Toms – who hadn’t missed anything, or so it seemed, for four days – would miss his par attempt in the first extra frame. Not even Choi, who was already preparing for the second extra hole.

If Toms was the sentimental favorite to win a Players that was noticeably void of a handful of the game’s biggest and brightest, Choi was not a bad consolation prize. The Korean is a Ponte Vedra Beach local of sorts, having lived and played out of TPC Sawgrass when he first ventured to the United States in 1999.

The eight-time Tour winner has been in a state of transition of late, settling into a swing that was retooled to facilitate a draw (read, more distance) and a new-found dedication to an often-suspect short game.

“That up and down at the last, that just hasn’t been his game,” said Steve Bann, Choi’s longtime swing coach. “In the past he always would go out and chip and putt for a while but he wasn’t really practicing. That’s been his biggest improvement.”

Although he hadn’t won since 2008, Choi was solid last year, if not spectacular, and went into the back nine on Sunday at The Masters with one arm in a green jacket. Coming into The Players he’d finished T-6, T-8 and T-3; and even when he fell three shots behind Toms through seven holes and missed putts of 4 feet at the ninth for birdie, 4 12 feet at the 11th for par, 9 feet at the 15th for birdie and 5 feet for birdie at the 16th, he never came unhinged.

He also received some help from Toms, who until he fanned his hybrid into the pond at the 16th hole had the look of a man who was going to nickel and dime his way into a Players title.

“Sixteen . . . I wish I would have talked him into laying up,” said Toms’ caddie Scott Gneiser. “We got to the ball and he asked, ‘What do you think of 2-iron (hybrid)?’ and I liked it with a one-shot lead. He just hit it against the bottom of the club and it ran into the water.”

In 2005, Toms was rushed off the golf course at the late 84 Lumber Classic and diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia, a rare condition that causes a rapid heart rate. Through the better part of four days at TPC Steamy it only seemed as if the 44-year-old didn’t have a heart rate at all.

Funny then that it’s his heart, of all things, that seems to have rejuvenated the veteran. Of all the things Toms misplaced on his road to middle age – his health, his confidence, 10 yards off the tee – it was his passion for the game that had been holding him back.

But that spark has been rediscovered on the fairways of his home club in Louisiana alongside his 13-year-old son, Carter. “When I was really winning a lot of tournaments, he knew about golf and he was around some, but he didn't play it and wasn't into it. But now he is. It would have been nice to win today for him,” said Toms, who has been slowed late in his career by a litany of wrist and back injuries.

At this juncture, Tiger Woods can only hope for such an acute recovery from all that ails him. For the second consecutive Tour Sunday echoes of “Go Tigers” have filled the Sunday air, but they have been for Tigers (Clemson alum Lucas Glover and Jonathan Byrd last week and LSU’s Toms’ at TPC) of another tune.

Woods limped around a half loop on Thursday like Kevin Na and bounded off property like Kevin Durant, another WD from the game’s “fifth major,” another injury to fuel the uncertainty.

The TPC Sawgrass mounds were filled with more conspiracy theories than the knoll adjacent the Dallas book depository. All that is for certain is that Woods wasn’t ready to play. Everything else is conjecture.

“We are in the evaluating phase right now and will determine the next steps,” Woods’ manager Mark Steinberg said via email after his client went out in 42 strokes on Thursday and home before the afternoon wave had teed off.

What else is certain is that the May Players rewards consistency, regardless of age or medical history.

If the true measure of any “real” major is the collective disdain for a golf course, TPC Sawgrass may have finally arrived. Rees Jones, the “U.S. Open doctor” who is destined to suffer his share of slings and arrows at next month’s national championship, can exhale – Pete Dye’s swampland-turned-Sawgrass is officially under review.

“When I design golf courses, I try not to screw the player like that. I try to keep it a little bit fair,” Phil Mickelson said following a double bogey at the 13th hole on Thursday with an 8-iron.

Graeme McDowell was a tad more diplomatic, but he shouldn’t have been after his approach to the last green early Sunday morning to finish his rain-delayed third round bounced and bounded across the green and into the pond.

“Eighteen was a tough break, but it's just one of those things. This golf course is dangerous. If you get out of position, you will pay the price,” said McDowell, whose final tally on Sunday was five water balls and a closing 79.

At least he made the trip to north Florida. His fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, to say nothing of world No. 1 Lee Westwood, didn’t feel compelled, all of which added to the feeling that something was missing from the 30th Players.

Final analysis: maybe the only thing missing was Ballesteros, and Choi did his part to honor the short-game magician in the only way he knew how.

“That shot on the 16th hole,” said Bann of Choi’s punch shot under a tree to 5 feet, “the same week they buried Seve . . . it was very fitting.”

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”