For now, PGA still last shot for golf's big shots

By Ryan LavnerAugust 9, 2017, 6:20 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Better savor this while we can, a PGA Championship that stays true to its identity as golf’s final major.

That won’t be true in two years, after one of the sport’s worst-kept secrets was made public: Beginning in 2019, the PGA will slide from its traditional August date to the third week in May.

The benefits look good on a PowerPoint presentation – ending the season before football begins, opening up venues around the country and offering five consecutive months of big-time tournaments – but there’s no doubt that the PGA’s core identity will change.

That’s a shame, because this week offers a reminder of precisely what makes this tournament unique. It’s the final opportunity to bag a major before eight months of reflection and excruciating buildup.

For Rory McIlroy, that means one last shot to reaffirm his status as golf’s alpha dog.

For Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, it’s one last shot to redeem a lost major season.

And for Jordan Spieth, well, it’s one last shot to make this a historic year.

This week he has a chance to – all together now – become the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam, and at 24, he’d be the youngest to accomplish the feat.

Listening to Spieth, though, you’d never know what’s at stake. Perhaps in an effort to deflect attention, he opined that he isn’t the favorite this week – your serve, Rory – nor is he burdened by the possibilities in front of him.

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Become the youngest to win all four majors? Nope, not a “burning desire.”

Check off the Grand Slam on his career to-do list? Eh, there’s plenty of time – this is his first of 30 PGAs.

Already with a major this year, Spieth is approaching this week with the casualness of a Panthers preseason game.

“I’m free-rolling,” he said, “and it feels good. I’m as free and relaxed at a major as I think I’ve ever felt.”

Must be nice, because the scrutiny of McIlroy has rarely been this intense.

What could have been a monster season has been reduced to a “transitional” year after a rib injury, a wedding, an equipment change and a caddie split. And yet here we are, at Quail Hollow, in a major that seems like his destiny ever since it was announced in 2010. In seven career trips around this place, McIlroy has two wins, a playoff loss and three other finishes inside the top 10.

“Once you go back to a place where you do have great memories,” he said, “all that starts to come flooding back to you and it makes you feel good about yourself.”

On Wednesday, McIlroy carried drives 365 yards (with only 7 feet of curve!) and cracked 3-woods three bills off the deck, rendering the range useless. Historically, Quail Hollow has been the launching pad for some of the best driving performances of his career, but all of that firepower will be of little use if he can’t control his wedges.

Last week at Firestone, he pounded driver all over the lot and had 35 approach shots from inside 125 yards. He played those holes in – gulp – 4 under par. From 125-150 yards, McIlroy would rank dead last in proximity to the hole this season if he had enough rounds to qualify.

This week, he has added a 3-iron but eliminated one of his wedges, a curious move, because it leaves a six-degree gap (48, 54 and 60) that will require even more precision with his shorter clubs.

Now three years removed from his last major title – and with his chief rival, Spieth, claiming three in that span – there is a sense of urgency for McIlroy to reassert his authority, even if the former Boy Wonder continues to stress patience.

“I don’t want to be in the mindset this week of wanting to make any type of statement or go out and prove myself. I’m past that point,” he said. “I’ve proven myself over the last nine years of my career.”

So have Johnson and Day, but unlike in previous years they’ve fallen flat in the majors in 2017.

Running off three titles in a row, and playing the best golf of his life, Johnson entered the Masters as the prohibitive favorite. Then he slipped on a set of stairs, injuring his back, defusing his explosive driver and leading to a string of middling results, a rarity for one of the game’s most consistent performers. Now, though, he says that his body feels good. And so does his swing. And so, most importantly, does his driver.

“I feel it’s close to when I was playing really well before Augusta,” Johnson said, but failing to snag major No. 2, or at least contend, would be a disappointment for a player who this spring appeared on the verge of utter domination.

Day, meanwhile, admitted that he’s still searching, that he’s growing increasingly impatient with the “plateau” in his game that has dropped his world ranking from No. 1 to No. 7 in the past six months. His slide is most noticeable in the big events: He has posted 10 major top-10s since 2013, but this year hasn’t finished better than 22nd.

“You’re not panicking or anything,” he said, “you’re just wondering why. You’re up at night thinking, OK, what do I need to do to get back to that winning form?”

Day posed that question to Phil Mickelson Tuesday night at the PGA Champions Dinner. Mickelson explained that the key to busting out of a slump is to keep practicing and stay disciplined, because players at this level are usually one small tweak away.

“You just never know what’s around the corner,” Day said.

Well, what we do know is that after this week, there isn’t a career-defining event for the next eight months. That’s the subtle beauty of the PGA. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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.

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Wie takes shot at LPGA dress code in crop top

By Grill Room TeamDecember 10, 2017, 5:33 pm

The new LPGA dress code got mixed reviews when it was announced in July, and Michelle Wie is taking full advantage of her offseason with no restrictions.

The 28-year-old former U.S. Women's Open champion is keeping her game sharp while back in her home state of Hawaii, but couldn't help taking a shot at the rules while doing it, posting a photo to Instagram of her playing golf in a crop top with the caption, "Offseason = No dress code fine."

Offseason = No dress code fines #croptopdroptop

A post shared by Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) on

Wie isn't the first to voice her displeasure with the rules. Lexi Thompson posted a similar photo and caption to Instagram shortly after the policy was announced.