Sunday challenge: Go for gold or lay up for bronze?

By Rex HoggardAugust 13, 2016, 8:36 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Pop quiz: Who finished third at the 2008 U.S. Open? How about the 2009 Open?


Unless you’re a golf historian or have too much free time, you likely have no idea who “showed” in ’08 at Torrey Pines when Tiger Woods won on a broken leg or in ’09 at Turnberry when Stewart Cink broke Tom Watson’s heart.

The answer to both questions is Lee Westwood. This is by no means a slight against the perennial Grand Slam also-ran, but the Englishman won’t be asked to recount his Sunday at either tournament by his grandchildren.

The hierarchy of history on this is rather clear, winners are remembered, and on rare occasions a hard-luck bridesmaid may rate a mention, but third place is normally an afterthought quickly lost to the fog of time.

That’s not an indictment of those who fall short, just a competitive reality. But on Sunday in Rio those subtleties will give way to the Olympic dream.

The winner of the men’s golf competition will stand atop the podium, accept his gold medal and probably get a little weepy when his national anthem begins to echo off the nearby hills; and he will also have company on that platform.

For the first time in 112 years the runner-up and third-place finishers will leave Rio with something more to show for their efforts than a bloated bank account and a handful of World Golf Ranking points.

For most players, not since Q-School has a score other than the week’s lowest held much interest, but Olympic golf brings new meaning to the concept of a golf trifecta.

“There's no protecting top 10, no protecting a top 5,” American Matt Kuchar said. “You've got to strive to be on the podium, strive to win the gold medal, and hope that if it's not gold, it's silver; and if it's not silver, it's bronze. After that it really doesn’t matter that much.”

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How that may change a player’s perspective coming down the stretch will be the topic of much debate on Sunday, but already on Saturday those who would normally not be holding out much hope for a competitively productive week were eyeing the new reality from a different perspective.

Consider Rickie Fowler who seemed to shoot his way out of the tournament with rounds of 75-71 to start the week, but an opening nine of 29 on Day 3 vaulted him up the leaderboard and the American finished the day tied for 14th place, nine strokes out of first but just a touchdown shy of a bronze medal.

“I'm at least giving myself a chance now with the way it looks,” Fowler said. “If I go out and play well tomorrow, I could sneak up there. Normally you don't get rewarded much for second and third, but here, you can walk away with some hardware. Getting the gold may be a little bit of a far stretch right now, but you never know.”

If Fowler sounded a tad too optimistic for some considering his play this week, consider his current position in context.

Daniel Summerhays began the final round of last month’s PGA Championship five strokes out of the lead, which given Jimmy Walker’s play may as well have been 50 strokes, but closed with a 66 and finished alone in third place.

Perhaps even more enticing for those who were harboring thoughts of a medal-winning rally was Jim Furyk at the U.S. Open. The veteran started the last turn 10 strokes out of the lead, posted a best-of-the-day 66 on Sunday and tied for second place.

Both Summerhays and Furyk went home with bigger paychecks than their Saturday fortunes suggested they would, but were otherwise footnotes to the larger narrative.

A similar rally on Sunday in Rio would hardly be a surprise and would certainly qualify as historic.

Earlier this week Bubba Watson joked he would, “lay up and go for the bronze,” at the 18th hole on Sunday if need be, but all one-liners aside there is always a chance a player will reach the Olympic Golf Course’s closing stretch – a scoring buffet which includes a drive-able par 4 (No. 15), short par 3 (No. 16) and a par 5 that’s reachable in two shots for most players in the field (No. 18) – with a choice to make, play bold and try to win gold or conservative to assure a bronze medal.

Added to the equation is the possibility of a tie, which could force multiple playoffs, although recent history suggests there could be a clean sweep with 15 of 39 non-match play events this season on the PGA Tour finishing with solo first-, second- and third-place finishers.

Lost in this medal dynamic, however, is each player’s competitive DNA. Professional golfers are conditioned to post the best possible score regardless of outcome, and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson was rather clear when asked if the prospect of playing for three different places would influence his game plan for Sunday.

“I’ll still be going for first there, even though the consolation prizes might be a little better than what we’re used to,” said Stenson, who is alone in second place one stroke behind front-runner Justin Rose.

Still, there will be worthy consolation prizes that could ease the sting of losing, or at the least make those who come up short part of the historical conversation. Just ask Westwood.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.