Star-studded leaderboard will vie for gold

By Rex HoggardAugust 19, 2016, 9:10 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Maybe it’s the golf course, with Gil Hanse’s handiwork proving to be the light that draws the game’s best players to the top. Maybe it’s the unique gravity of the event, with golf’s return to the Olympics taking on an importance that somehow transcends the game’s marquee stops.

Whatever the reasons that have brought the game’s best and brightest together for the second consecutive week at the Olympic Golf Course, the result is a prime-time leaderboard all vying for a spot on Saturday’s podium.

The uncertainty that seemed to define golf’s return to the Games for the first time in 112 years (116 years for the women) was whisked away last week when Henrik Stenson, the top-ranked player in the men’s field, was outdueled by Justin Rose on Sunday for the gold medal.

While Matt Kuchar proved the unique benefits of a late rally, closing with a 63 to claim the bronze medal, there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance for a like-minded comeback on Saturday at the women’s finale – at least not as far as the gold medal is concerned.

On cue, the competition, or maybe it was the course, has again produced a cast of leading women befitting an event that has gone from curiosity to compelling championship in a fortnight.

World No. 5 Inbee Park continued to surprise most observers through three rounds, essentially going straight from the DL to a potential date with a gold medal.

The South Korean, who hasn’t played an LPGA event since early June while she nursed a left-thumb injury, pulled away from the field on a blustery day in Rio, carding a 1-under 70 for a two-stroke lead.


Third-round highlights at the Rio Olympics

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos


That she leads world No. 1 Lydia Ko only adds to the notion that however you define the game’s return to the Olympic stage there’s no debating the purity of the competition.

“It’s a great scenario,” said Park, who overcame five bogeys on Day 3 after penciling in just a single miscue for her first 36 holes.

While Park may have put one foot on the podium with her play on a day when winds gusted to 35 mph, the supporting cast is a best-case scenario for those who hope for the best but often brace for the worst at events like this.

Ko rallied early on Friday with an outward nine of 29 that included the New Zealander’s first hole-in-one (at No. 8) to move into a tie for second place with America’s Gerina Piller.

“We all know that there is a lot on the line at the end of tomorrow, but I think I've just got to take it on as just another day out there and just focus on the shot I have in front of me, and have a lot of fun,” said Ko, who finished with a day’s best 65. “To be in this position in my first ever Olympics, I think it's cool enough being there. Just focus and have fun.”

Piller had a similarly light-hearted plan for Saturday’s final round, which will begin earlier than anticipated with the field going off the first and 10th tees in threesomes to avoid a unfavorable forecast, to savor the moment, but history suggests it probably won’t be that easy.

“I think I'm just going to accept [the pressure]. I'm going to welcome them into my head,” said Piller, the only player this week to card three rounds in the 60s (69-67-68).

Sounds solid, but then that ignores what’s at stake on Saturday.

On Tuesday when Piller assembled with the rest of Team USA for a news conference she was asked if she’d ever envisioned herself winning a gold medal.

“I'll probably get choked up even saying this, but just standing on the podium and hearing the national anthem, I think that's pretty awesome,” Piller said before fighting back tears.

And that was on Tuesday.

The unique dynamic of golf in the Olympics, where second and third place take on an entirely new meaning, was certainly evident last week for the men and will undoubtedly be a part of Saturday’s dynamic in Rio.

For Park, however, there doesn’t seem to be much room for a consolation prize. After enduring the worst of years with various injuries and just two top-10 finishes, the Olympics are a chance to change her competitive fortunes in a dramatic way.

The seven-time major winner didn’t even know if she’d be healthy enough to play the Games until about a month ago and arrived in Rio with decidedly low expectations.

But after two nearly flawless ball-striking days, she showed familiar grit on Friday as the winds sent players tumbling down the leaderboard. Without her best game, Park rebounded from bogeys at Nos. 12 and 14 with clutch birdies at the 16th and 17th holes to solidify her advantage.

“It was very challenging conditions. I feel like I really struggled out there,” she said. “My putting was really, really good today, six birdies out in those conditions is phenomenal.”

There has been an ongoing debate the last two weeks with players repeatedly asked to compare Olympic golf to the game’s major championships. Most players sidestepped the issue, figuring golf in the Olympics was just different. Park offered no such ambiguity.

“It's definitely a lot more attention than the major championship. I definitely feel a lot more pressure. I've felt it since the first round of this week,” Park said. “I feel exhausted, every day, it feels like every day is a final round of a major championship in the final group.”

Comparing the Olympics to golf’s Grand Slam gatherings has always felt unfair, unwarranted even, but considering how the final round is shaping up for the second consecutive week it’s certainly starting to feel like a major.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.