Sunday at WGC-Mexico is as good as it gets

By Rex HoggardMarch 5, 2017, 12:24 am

MEXICO CITY – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson – if that sounds like a dream foursome or your fantasy team lineup you’re probably not alone.

Fact is, that four-ball is pure fantasy, right? Modern golf’s version of the ’27 Yankees, water-cooler topics for ridiculously hypothetical conversations – If Rory had Phil’s short game, how many majors would he win? If Phil had Rory’s consistency off the tee, would they have renamed the U.S. Open trophy after him?

You get the idea.

The PGA Tour brought a World Golf Championship to Mexico and the four horsemen of the A flight rode in.

Note to our friends in Mexico: this is as good as golf gets right now.

Sure there are pieces that could be interchangeable. You could add a Jordan Spieth or Thomas Pieters, the European Ryder Cup star from last fall who is being billed in many circles as a singular talent. Or Jon Rahm, who won the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year, could add a measure of marquee for those who relish the inside-baseball pick.

Or, you could be greedy and want it all, the young and the not-so-young, the established and the up-and-coming. Such is the embarrassment of riches after three days at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Johnson trails Thomas by a stroke after the duo posted matching 66s, while McIlroy is tied for third place with Mickelson. For good measure Spieth, Rahm and Pieters are all within five strokes of the lead with one trip around Club de Golf Chapultepec remaining.

Call it a bucket-list leaderboard.

It’s no surprise when the best emerge from the pack at a WGC, they are, by definition, a gathering of the world’s best players. But you rarely get a pack of the best bunched so tightly at one time.

WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos

This week, however, the planets aligned in dramatic fashion, with Johnson, who claimed the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking with his victory two weeks ago at the Genesis Open, doing what he does best, overpowering golf courses with a detached brutality.

“I feel like I played really, really good the last three days, I've really hit the ball well. I feel like I'm putting it well, too. It's just not really going in the hole,” said Johnson, who could lose the No. 1 ranking this week if he finishes outside the top 4 and McIlroy wins.

McIlroy will have some ground to make up to fulfill that potentiality, but in his first start since going on the disabled list in January with an injured rib, he finds himself in the hunt after what he called a “boring” 70.

To put the gravity of this week’s collection of all-stars in context, McIlroy admitted that it wasn’t the injury induced layoff or the stomach virus that slowed him on Thursday that led to his struggles on Day 3, it was nerves.

“I was a little bit nervous going out today,” said the four-time major champion. “I've been in positions like this before dozens of times, but I don't know, coming off an injury and sort of the first time back in contention for a while, I was a little bit edgy the first few holes.”

Thomas may be the relative unknown of the front-runners, at least to the casual fan, but his three victories so far this season prove that his abilities far outreach his current celebrity, which could increase dramatically on Sunday if he were to emerge from this group headliners.

“It's cool playing in the final group with DJ and Rory. That's something I haven't experienced before, playing with those guys,” said Thomas, who scrambled for much of his round but solidified his spot atop the pack with a hole in one at the par-3 13th for a 12-under total. “I've played with a lot of great players, but it will be a new experience.”

And then there’s Phil, always entertaining whether he’s leading or getting lapped, and he’s giving the Mexican faithful the full experience.

An eventful day featured almost as many rulings (three) as fairways hit (four) for Mickelson, who saw more of Mexico on Saturday than a college student on spring break.

At the 10th hole Lefty pushed his drive left, took a drop and made par. At No. 11 he pulled his drive right, took a drop and made par. At his next stop he was right again off the tee, took a drop and made what most would consider a good bogey.


And yet the 46-year-old still managed to shoot an under-par round (68) and remain in the hunt just two shots back, not that Mickelson was taking much solace in either accomplishment.

“Honestly, it was a disappointing round for me because I haven't played the way I would like to the last three years and I put a lot of work into it the last year and a half,” said Mickelson, who was rejoined by his longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay on Saturday after the looper was sidelined with a stomach virus on Day 2. “I had a complete meltdown and lost all focus of my game for a nine-hole stretch there.”

Still, he’s among the deepest list of contenders this season at the year’s deepest field. The year’s first WGC has produced a world-class cast for the final act – enjoy.

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PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.


The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.

Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.


We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.