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At the Sony, trouble in paradise

By Rex HoggardJanuary 14, 2018, 5:20 am

HONOLULU – The sun peeked over Diamond Head just after 7 a.m. on Saturday, ushering in a textbook morning in paradise.

A light “trade” breeze swayed palm trees, families made their way to the beach and tourists milled around Waikiki in search of somewhere to eat breakfast. It was the kind of morning that draws people from all over the world to Hawaii.

The first signs that something wasn’t right came just after 8 a.m. Matt Every sat at a street-side café in Waikiki when pedestrians began running by in search of shelter.

“There’s a missile coming,” someone yelled.

The message was sent at 8:07 a.m., via text from the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency: “BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Charles Howell III was at breakfast at The Kahala Hotel adjacent to Waialae Country Club when his phone began to warble.

“I texted a friend of mine who is in the Navy [at Pearl Harbor] and they were scrambling as well,” Howell said. “Part of me wanted to go to the beach and have a mai tai, part of me didn’t know what to do.”

The Kahala, which is a popular place for players to stay for this week’s Sony Open, announced the alert across the property and advised guests to go to the basement. Ben Martin was hesitant at first until he began to scroll through his Twitter feed and realized the threat could be real.

“I went to the basement. There were a lot of players down there,” Martin said. “Everybody was freaking out.”

Chez Reavie is staying in a hotel in Waikiki, where the alarm caused widespread concern among the throngs of tourists.


Full-field scores from the Sony Open in Hawaii

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“I was like holy s---,” Reavie said. “I looked outside and saw everybody running. I just stayed in my room.”

It was a common theme on the most surreal of Saturdays as confusion and concern reigned. There’s no chapter in the PGA Tour player manual about inbound missile threats.

Jordan Spieth called his parents back home in Texas to ask for updates and actually received the all clear from his brother when his cell service went down.

At 8:45 a.m., 38 minutes after the original warning was issued a correction was finally sent out advising that there was no missile.

The alert never impacted play at Waialae with the first tee times scheduled for 11:05 a.m., but many in the field were shaken by the experience as they prepared for the third round.

Tony Finau was in his hotel with his wife and kids when he received the alert and admitted it was a difficult position, torn between wanting to be with his family during a time of crisis and having them in harm’s way.

“It was a blessed day,” said Finau, whose round was highlighted by a hole-in-one at No. 17. “It puts things in perspective with what could happen. Golf was the last thing on people’s minds.”

No one, however, endured the emotional rollercoaster as much as Blayne Barber. He’d gone to dinner on Friday with his caddie, Cory Gilmer, and brother, Shayne, and had just returned to his room when he received a call that Gilmer had fallen and hit his head.

“He's in the neurological ICU, a lot of bleeding and swelling in his brain,” Barber said. “I slept about three hours. That was about the hardest day of golf I've ever played, between that and the texts this morning.”

Barber received the text alert as he was walking into the hospital to see Gilmer. He played Round 3, because that’s what Gilmer would have wanted, and he struggled, posting a 2-over 72. But none of that really mattered.

“I've been gone from my kids and my wife for 10 days, and between that happening to Cory and then just the emotions of facing your own mortality in that moment, it's just been a heavy day for sure,” said Barber as he fought back tears. “It's been a good day. It's good to face those things sometimes.”

And there was golf on Saturday. Some impressive golf, actually.

Tom Hoge went around Waialae in 64 shots to unseat Brian Harman, the most consistent player on the Tour this season with four top-10 finishes in four starts, atop the leaderboard; as did Patton Kizzire, who is tied with Harman at 15 under and a stroke off the lead.

Harman will go into a Tour Sunday in contention for the second consecutive week, having lost to a dominant Dustin Johnson to start the year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions; while Hoge, who was bogey-free on Saturday and finished his day with back-to-back birdies, will sleep on his first 54-hole lead on Tour.

That’s if he’s able to sleep at all after one of the most surreal days in recent memory.

Spieth, who endured another non-Spieth-like putting round (31 putts), spent the day reminding his caddie, “at least we’re alive, which isn’t really funny.”

No, it wasn’t funny, but it was eye opening.

It’s rare when the outside world invades the polished confines of golf, but on Saturday those realities came in from all directions and were impossible to ignore or forget.

“I kept thinking to myself, this can’t be real,” Howell said of the text alert. “But then I kept thinking maybe it’s sign of the world we live in. It could be real.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t real, but for 38 tense minutes it certainly felt real enough.

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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.