Na-Garrigus pairing's pace in spotlight on Day 3

By Ryan LavnerMarch 16, 2014, 12:48 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Slow-playing Kevin Na is only one shot back at a tournament sponsored by a paint company. The punch line is practically set up on a tee.

As expected, the quips and critiques were plentiful again Saturday with Na on the clock and under the spotlight in the final group at the Valspar Championship.

Two holes behind the group in front of them for much of the afternoon, both Na and leader Robert Garrigus received bad times during their third round, but neither player was penalized. They remain 1-2 on the leaderboard, with Garrigus holding a one-shot lead at 8-under 205.

Garrigus is no slowpoke, and this marked the first time in his 19 years as a pro that he was told he had a bad time. That fact didn’t sit well with his caddie, Brent Henley, who grumbled after the round: “It ain’t right to play with that guy,” referring to Na. “It’s just not right. You can put me on the record.”

Yet here’s the thing: Kevin Na didn’t think that they played slowly during the third round here. And, time-wise, they didn’t – the final group played in 3 hours, 54 minutes.

Instead, Na says his group was the victim of unfortunate circumstances, that they appeared far slower than they actually were.

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First, Pat Perez, playing in the group ahead, took a penalty on the third hole and went back to the tee to hit his third shot. A five-minute wait ensued. (It also should be noted that Perez, already a lightning-fast player, moves even more swiftly when he’s out of contention, as he was during a Saturday 77.) Second, it took Garrigus a while to sort out a ruling when his ball came to rest on the cart path on the fifth hole.

“It’s impossible to make up 10 minutes, unless you’re running to the tee,” Na’s caddie, Kenny Harms, said afterward. “We’re playing for a million dollars here. No one is going to be running to hit shots. Let’s be serious.”

When Garrigus and Na finished their post-round TV interviews, they gathered by the autograph line near the clubhouse.  

“Did you rip me a new one?” Na asked.

“Nah, I gave you props,” Garrigus said. “You’re way better now.”

Afterward, Garrigus downplayed the impact of Na’s pace of play, but Henley said that it felt as though they were “running after them” for much of the day.

“It just got us out of our rhythm,” Henley said. “That’s on me. It won’t happen again.”

Not surprisingly, Harms rushed to his player’s defense, detailing the ways in which Na has improved his pace of play over the past few years. 

When they first began working together, “he was unbelievably slow,” Harms said. Na lined up his putter. He lined up his ball. The process was excruciating, and each step had to be perfect or he started from square one.

“Is he the fastest player? Absolutely not,” Harms said. “But he’s so much faster than he was. He’s not the slow player he used to be, but he’s going to get blamed for everything.”

That’s the part that most bothers Na, and for good reason.

“It’s my reputation,” he said. “I might never get over it.”

When asked how much faster he is now, Na says, “A ton. It’s not fair for me because I already have that stamp on me.”

Yes, he still has moments of weakness, of indecision, of mind-numbing slowness. His bad time Saturday stemmed from his tee shot on the 13th hole. Fans weren’t stopped from crossing the fairway, which held up play, and then Na was a “little indecisive,” Harms said, “and he probably did go over (the 60-second limit) a little bit.”

But make no mistake: This is not the same player that we saw two years ago at the Players, where his dawdling drew the ire of fans. “I was basically on national TV, for four days, unable to take the club back,” he said.

Na admitted that about “5 percent” of those mental demons still exist, which inevitably leads to one of those bizarre swings over the ball.

There hasn’t been a slow-play penalty in a PGA Tour event since 1995, but last year both Guan Tianlang (Masters) and Hideki Matsuyama (British Open) were on the wrong side of the stopwatch at the majors.  

There is an every-shot-matters ethos on Tour, and it really kicks into overdrive when the punishment for a second bad time is discussed. Sure, there’s a $5,000 fine, but even more critical is the one-shot penalty, the latter of which can make a significant difference come Sunday afternoon.

Na says that the threat of that second bad time always lingers.

“You basically don’t have that option to second rethink the shot,” he said. “Your first thought, you have to go with it.”

That’s why he always keeps an eye on the group ahead and the group behind.

That’s why he occasionally will run to the fairway.

That’s why his caddie is always the first to the ball, crunching the numbers for his yardage.

All of those mental gymnastics, and then Na must also balance the fact that there is so much at stake, and the wind swirls, and one wrong decision can cost $1 million, and all of a sudden the clock is ticking, and backing off is not an option, and tick-tick-tick you better pull the trigger. Now.

“I’m very aware of my situation and I’m doing everything I can,” Na said. “I don’t know what else I can do, really. I mean, for what we’re playing for and what’s on the line, how much more can you really expect?”

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”