Conditions making Women's NCAAs a test of survival

By Ryan LavnerMay 21, 2017, 11:18 pm

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Florida State’s Amy Bond, in her 17th year as a coach, has already experienced two career firsts this week at the NCAA Women’s Championship.

Both happened Friday, when the Seminoles and a few other highly ranked teams blew themselves out of contention for a national title.

First, Bond snapped wooden tees so a few of her players could tee up their hybrid shots on a – get this – artificial mat on the par-4 fourth hole, an emergency move by the NCAA after it became clear that some players wouldn’t be able to carry the hazard with the wind pumping into their face.

“Broke ’em in my hand,” Bond said. “It’s dumping rain, and I said, ‘Ah, just get them to me.’”

Later, she watched three of her players lay up on a 368-yard hole that they treated as a par 5, with a long carry over a hazard and a tree blocking the flag on the left side of the green.

It’s the luck of the draw, of course, but for two and a half hours Friday, the best teams in the country – the top seeds in the tournament – slashed away in horrible conditions that Bond said were the worst she’d ever seen on a course.

There was sideways rain that rendered umbrellas useless.

There were 30-mph gusts.

There was a 36-degree wind chill.

Not surprisingly, the golf was ugly: The top four seeds counted just 12 birdies, total, and there were 76 rounds in the 80s and 90s.

Rich Harvest Farms is a brute even when it’s calm, and the first two rounds here presented a challenge that no team could have possibly prepared for.

And, oh, did they try.

Bond’s FSU squad signed up for a four-team match-play event with Northwestern (about 60 miles away) on April 29. The reason Florida State, Duke and Alabama all made the trip up north was simple: They wanted to simulate the conditions they’d face a few weeks later, at nationals.

“A great idea,” Duke coach Dan Brooks said. “We thought we did all the right things.”

Right idea, poor execution.

Yes, Northwestern has cruised through 36 holes, leading the way here by eight shots at 23-over 599, but look at the last three teams from the morning wave:

Duke at 58 over.

Florida State at 59 over.

And Alabama, dead last, at 65 over.

“When you get a pencil in your hand and you have to put down a score,” Alabama coach Mic Potter said, “everything changes.”

Last year, as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, the Crimson Tide struggled in Round 1 at Eugene Country Club and failed to make match play. Now, even after Potter scouted Rich Harvest Farms last June and then added the match-play event to the schedule, his team appears poised to miss out again.

“It’s tough,” he said, “because we pointed toward this all year and coming into it, I felt like we were really prepared.

“I felt much more prepared this year coming into this. Even though I saw what the conditions were going to be the first day, I thought we had a team that was prepared to battle through it. But obviously we’ve got a little more work to do.”

What that means going forward is that the NCAAs will be missing some serious star power, with the eighth-, fifth- and second-ranked squads all essentially eliminated with one more round before the cut to the low eight teams for match play. (Stroke-play qualifying was reduced from 72 to 54 holes, because of weather.) More powerhouse programs are sure to join, after a second round that produced a scoring average north of 77 and no team score better than 10 over.

Said Brooks: “It’s like I told the team: We’re playing bad. That’s it. The sentence stops right there. If someone else has anything to say, don’t say it around me, because the sentence that needs to be said is that we’re playing bad, period. It’s not wrong tee times or they cut a day away. If they gave us five days and we played like this, it’s not going to make any difference.”

Even for those in contention, there’s a familiar sense of frustration and exasperation.

Two years ago, at Concession Golf Club outside Tampa, the cutoff for match play after four rounds was 62 over par.

It’s reasonable to expect the cut line here to fall somewhere around 50 over par – and that’s after only three rounds.

“You definitely have another Concession on your hands here,” Bond said.

But as much as the first two rounds were a test of survival, eight teams will still move on to the match-play portion, no matter how poor the golf has been to this point.

Said Florida coach Emily Glaser: “We’ve just got to try to give ’em heck and see what happens.”

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry