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Woodland: 'Toughest year of my life by far'

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2017, 11:33 pm

ATLANTA – Making it to East Lake for the season send-off is a singular accomplishment for any PGA Tour player.

It validates months, years of hard work and commitment. It’s a reward for a season that ranks among the top 30 on the world’s biggest stage and brings a mountain of rewards that allow players to ease into next season with the closest thing the Tour has to job security.

But for Gary Woodland, the 6-foot-1 former college point guard whose intensity on the course is matched only by his approachability when the scorecard is signed, his fifth trip to Atlanta goes much deeper than a particular professional accomplishment.

“This year means more to me than any other, it really does,” Woodland said on Thursday at the Tour Championship. “This was the toughest year of my life by far. The little man has been dealing with a little bit of stuff, but it’s just never been easy.”

Woodland’s “little man” is his son, Jaxson, who was born 10 weeks premature in June. When the 33-year-old put himself into contention at the PGA Championship in August, Jaxson was still on a monitor that helped him breathe and had just gotten home from an extended stay at the hospital.

As hard as that would be on any parent, for Woodland and his wife, Gabby, at least Jaxson was fighting, at least he was part of their lives.

In March, Woodland abruptly withdrew from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play citing personal reasons and explained via Twitter that Gabby, who was pregnant with twins, had suffered from complications that resulted in the loss of one child.

Woodland, who had gotten off to his best season on Tour, returned for the Masters but understandably struggled on his way to a missed cut.


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Everything became harder - golf, being away from home, not knowing what would happen with Jaxson.

“Every off week since the Match Play my wife or my kid has been in the hospital,” he said at East Lake following a 67 that left him tied for sixth place. “The only week he wasn’t in the hospital we had to evacuate Florida, so it’s just been no off weeks and that’s been tough.”

Gabby and Jaxson bolted south Florida the week before Hurricane Irma cut a swath through the state and Woodland joined them in Kansas after the Dell Technologies Championship. When they returned home, they were without power and water for three days.

It’s been that kind of year for Woodland and family.

Everyone deals with life’s ebbs and flows, be they a Tour player or mechanic, and Woodland’s not big on excuses. That’s not the way when you grow up in Topeka, Kan., but he concedes that balancing life and work has been a challenge this season.

“The first couple of months after everything happened it was tough for me, mentally,” he said. “It was tough because I was playing so well leading up to that. I gave myself so many chances early in the year to win and just dealing mentally off the course, I couldn’t focus enough.”

It’s not surprising that while Gabby and Jaxson’s medical fortunes have improved - the “little guy” is home again and doing much better - so has Woodland’s competitive outlook.

He finished fourth at the RBC Canadian Open and played solidly at the PGA, where he tied for 22nd. But he began the playoffs squarely on the East Lake bubble at 34th on the points list.

Woodland rallied with weekend rounds of 67-67 at the Dell Technologies Championship and closed with a 69 last week at the BMW Championship to narrowly secure his trip to the East Lake promised land at 28th on the playoff points list.

For each of the 30 assembled this week at the Tour Championship it’s an accomplishment worth savoring, but for Woodland it’s something much more than simply a cushy reward for a season well played and a ticket into next year’s biggest events.

“I played well enough earlier in the year to give myself a little bit of a break,” he said. “To finish Boston and last week, which was a long week being right on the number, it’s definitely rewarding to be here this week.”

Not all seasons are created equal, which is why Woodland allows himself a moment to enjoy his accomplishment, and particularly his opening round.

“I probably should have took some time off and didn’t do it,” he admitted. “Coming back I just wasn’t putting up the scores and it became a mental grind all year.”

In three days, that grind ends and he can go back to Florida to a house that’s actually a home for the first time since March to be with his wife and “little guy.”

Woodland plans to cut back on his normal fall schedule, skipping the Tour’s stop in China, and may add a trip to Las Vegas to play the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open so he can get some practice time with swing coach Butch Harmon, who he hasn’t been able to work with since his world unraveled.

But for now he’s content to enjoy one of the game’s most significant accomplishments after what by any measure was the most trying of years.

 

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.