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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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.