Tour needs to impose harsh methods to curb slow play

By Rex HoggardMay 16, 2012, 5:24 pm

Late Saturday afternoon at TPC Sawgrass Kevin Na was saddled with a “bad time” on the 16th hole, a ruling he disputed saying his caddie’s shadow caused him to back off the shot and exceed the 60 seconds players are allotted.

Cue the open microphone: his caddie’s shadow wasn’t over the ball when Na started his pre-shot routine on the 16th . . . ba-da-boom.

To be fair, Na is hardly alone in his struggles with slow play. It’s just his high-profile tee times on Saturday and Sunday at The Players Championship broadcast his plight into homes around the globe in excruciatingly slow detail.

And before we dismiss the issue as a media-driven non-story, consider Tiger Woods’ take on the subject de jour.

“We have gotten slower on Tour. College has gotten just incredibly slow,” said Woods, who is normally reserved when it comes to Tour policy. “It's so bad that now we are giving the guys the ability to use lasers to try to speed up play, and they are still in 5:45, six (hours) plus (rounds).”

For Woods and most other Tour types the fix is simple, instead of accumulated fines and a complicated system of warnings, the circuit’s sluggish should be penalized a stroke every time they run afoul the official’s stopwatch.

Consider Na’s bad time on Saturday was a result of his group falling “out of position” relative to the group in front of them, but according to officials by the time he reached the 17th tee Na and Zach Johnson were “back in position,” and therefore not subject to timing.

It is the perfect example of a pace of play pencil whipping.

It’s also worth noting that it takes two bad times in a single round to be assessed a stroke penalty and, as one official pointed out, Na started Sunday’s final turn “fresh,” which seems to be at the heart of the slow-play issue.

Offenses are not cumulative when it comes to stroke penalties, only fines.

For example, players are fined $5,000 for their second bad time in a single year, $10,000 for a third violation and subsequent offenses. But that’s chump change when compared with the $49,000 it would have cost Na had he been docked a stroke penalty and tied for 10th instead of seventh at The Players.

Strokes are money,” Woods said. “What's the difference between first and second right now ($1.083 million)? I would take the $5,000 (penalty) over the ($1.083 million). But that's one shot, and that's the difference. That's what people don't realize is that one shot is so valuable out here.”

The Tour’s complicated policy at least partially explains why officials haven’t doled out a stroke penalty for slow play in over two decades. It’s a truth complicated by a collective lack of will on the part of officials to enforce the rules that are in place.

According to the Tour’s pace of play policy, “if a player is determined . . . to be unreasonably slow, he may be timed individually at the (Tour’s) discretion, regardless of whether his group is out of position.”

Translation: if the Tour wanted to crack down on slow play they could target the habitually sluggish. Instead officials tread lightly and ignore the reality that recidivism is a way of life on Tour.

According to various sources, the Tour has a “time score” for every player thanks to the detailed scrutiny of ShotLink. When asked on Saturday at The Players where Na ranks on that list one Tour official hedged, “Well, he’s not fast.”

If the Tour wanted to crack down on slow play they should target the bottom 10 percent of that list, timing every shot until the repeat offender moved out of the basement or played his way off Tour, whichever comes first.

Harsh, for sure, but when you look at how the slowest players impact play on Tour, it’s a punishment that would be neither cruel nor unusual.

For good measure the Tour should also publish the list of the circuit’s slowest. Nothing says “step on it” like public ridicule. Just ask Na. (Read Randall Mell's column on the heckling of Na)

“I do need to work on what I need to. I do need to work on my pre-shot routine. I do need to play faster,” an emotional Na said late Sunday. “But the average golfer has no clue how much pressure we're playing under and how tough it is and how much of a fight it is mentally. I honestly think with all that going on, I did pretty well fighting.”

To Na’s credit he owned his issues last week at TPC Sawgrass, going so far as to say he deserved to be heckled for his constant waggles and pointing out that a recent swing change has complicated his chronically slow pace of play.

He also endeared himself to many fans with his refreshingly honest appraisal, but good intentions and a quick smile don’t make five-hour rounds any easier to stomach.

In this the Tour could lead by example. Steady declines in participation have been linked to how long a round of golf takes and its relative expense. If the Tour set the standard that it’s not acceptable to stand over a shot for 60 seconds it might make it easier for the marshal at your local course to move that foursome in front of you around in under five hours.

All it would take is the will . . . and a stopwatch.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.