Stars not aligned for Players final round

By Rex HoggardMay 10, 2015, 12:01 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – If PGA Tour officials wanted to prove their marketing savvy, they’d tee the bottom half of the leaderboard off last on Sunday and let the leaders head out with the sunrise.

The bottom 10 players heading into the final round have a combined 25 major championship titles on the collective shelf, while the top 10 have a combined 22 Tour victories.

Instead of Rory, Jordan, TW or Phil, the "fifth major" has delivered Ryo, BillyHo and JT - that’s Thomas, not Timberlake. It will be a “who’s this?” finish at an event that prides itself on a “who’s who” field.

But short of a monumental policy change, it will be Chris Kirk who will anchor Sunday’s tee sheet alone atop the pack at 10 under par on a leaderboard that is as bunched as Turn 3 at Talladega.

Ryo Ishikawa, Billy Horschel and Justin Thomas lurk within three strokes – which at the Stadium Course is akin to a single swing at the wrong time – while the likes of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson will either be watching the action from home or, in Woods’ case, finished well before a meaningful shot is hit.

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But then it should be pointed out that what this Players lacks in name recognition it has salvaged with wild volatility and congestion that makes A1A look like a country road.

Consider that when Kirk sat down with the media for his post-round chitchat he was tied for the lead with Kevin Na, who had just teed off on the 18th hole. Before Kirk was finished talking Na had plummeted into a tie for fifth place with a double bogey-6 at the last and the uncertainty that has defined this event continued.

While the leaderboard may lack the proper marquee to move the needle for some, consider that 30 players are within five strokes of Kirk, a list that includes the likes of Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott.

It’s all part of the calling card of a winding golf course that defies a runaway.

“It seems like half the Tour could win this thing it’s so bunched ... Everyone sort of plays from the same positions, no style of game really has an advantage out here,” said McIlroy, who is tied for 17th at 6 under after a 70 on Saturday.

“It’s definitely to do with the golf course and the golf course setup that it is the way it is.”

Yet while the Stadium Course may cultivate traffic jams, for McIlroy and Scott, their chances of adding a measure of star power to the event with a Sunday surge appeared slim.

“I’m going to need that Davis Love kind of round,” said Scott, referring to Love’s victory at TPC Sawgrass in 2003 when the future U.S. Ryder Cup captain rallied from two shots back to win with a closing 64.

Garcia, a winner here in 2008, would appear to be the most likely option at 8 under par after a third-round 67, but the Spaniard didn’t exactly exude confidence when asked about his chances.

“I feel like I easily left on average three shots out there every round,” said Garcia, who has waffled between two putters and two putting grips this week. “You can’t think what could have been, but it is what it is. I just got to deal with it and try to do the best with what I have and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Which leaves a largely unproven list of would-be champions to carry the load on Sunday.

Kirk has been under the spotlight before, specifically last season when he won the Deutsche Bank Championship and lost the FedEx Cup title to Horschel at East Lake, but he’s struggled this season with just a single top-10 finish in 2015.

Not that Kirk cared who was behind him or how close they were, not at TPC Sawgrass where a lapse in attention can be a much more concerning hazard than sand or salt water.

“I don’t really plan on looking at the leaderboard a whole lot at all tomorrow,” said Kirk, whose third-round 68 left him a stroke ahead of Kevin Kisner, Ben Martin and Bill Haas. “I mean, it’s not like you can ever get comfortable anyways, so what’s the point?

“If you’ve got a six-shot lead at the turn, you’re not going to be comfortable playing that back nine just because of the way the golf course is.”

Kirk will be paired with Kisner in an all-University of Georgia final. The two also share the same swing coach, Scott Hamilton, which at least partially explains the matter-of-fact take when Kisner was asked about dealing with the Sunday pressure at such an important event.

“If we’ve all gotten here, we’ve done Tour [Q-School], we’ve won tournaments,” said Kisner, who scrambled to make the cut with a closing nine of 31 on Friday and moved into contention with an opening nine of 31 on Saturday. “Just because it’s a bigger stage doesn’t mean we’re going to suck all of a sudden.”

Nor does a Sunday leaderboard with a less-than-ideal “Q Score” mean that Sunday will ... well, you know.

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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.