Obstacle course: Haas' biggest challenger is Copperhead

By Ryan LavnerMarch 13, 2016, 12:17 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – From the claustrophobic opening tee shot – down a hill, into a landing area that looks like the size of a bowling alley – to the nerve-wracking finishing hole – with deep bunkers guarding both sides of the fairway to a raised green – Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course doesn’t offer much relief for a frontrunner.

“It can go either direction really fast,” Ryan Moore said Saturday. “No lead is safe on this golf course.”

He would know, of course.

A year ago, Moore was in prime position to earn his fifth PGA Tour title when he tripped up on the back nine, making three bogeys in his last six holes. He finished two shots out of the three-man playoff, an afterthought following Jordan Spieth’s heroics in regulation and in extras.

“I had it right there,” he said. “It was in my hands.”

But Moore is far from the only third-round leader who has struggled to close the deal here; in fact, four of the last five winners have come from behind.

Bill Haas, who leads by one at 8-under 205, is well aware of the challenge ahead on a course that is demanding from tee to green.

Valspar Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It’s just every hole seems like, all right, here we go again, which I think is good for tomorrow,” Haas said. “It’s going to keep me in the frame of mind that if I do bogey early, it’s OK, because people are making bogeys out here. You’re not seeing many runs of birdies.”

Innisbrook is the best course on the Florida swing because it doesn’t play favorites. It’s why recent winners here include both basher Gary Woodland and bunter Luke Donald. It’s why the current leaderboard features both Graham DeLaet and Moore. With more of an emphasis on strategy than power, the Copperhead Course removes the bombers’ inherent advantage and puts everyone in virtually the same spot in the fairway.

“There’s certainly a lot of thinking going on out there,” Haas said.

The six-time Tour winner fired his second consecutive 67 on Saturday, which matched his best score here in 29 attempts. He credited a swing thought from his famous father, Jay, who flew in Tuesday.

“I was just hoping he would have the magical touch and change it for me,” Haas said, and the tip – to abbreviate his follow-through but still hit a full shot – has worked wonders. He is ranked fourth this week in the Tour’s strokes gained-tee to green statistic.

“Without him coming down, I might not have even made the weekend,” Haas said. “It was very valuable.”

He is one stroke clear of DeLaet, who surged into contention after smashing a 268-yard 3-wood to set up a short eagle on 14. The Canadian added a birdie on the difficult 16th as he looks to be known more his play than his epic beard.

“I think tomorrow is going to be the day,” said DeLaet, who is winless in 137 starts. “Every time I’m in this position I say the politically correct things. I’m going to go and win this golf tournament tomorrow.” 

Among those chasing are 49-year-old Steve Stricker, who is searching for his first win in four years, and Patrick Reed, who is four shots back and looking to avenge last year’s playoff loss. Spieth, the defending champion, is only six back despite an opening 76.

Making the final round even more intriguing is the less-than-perfect greens, which were resurfaced last summer and are running significantly slower than a typical Tour course. Players have left a number of putts short on the sticky greens, but the pursuers will be more aggressive in the final round, knowing they have to press the issue and that the ball won’t trickle out to that uncomfortable distance.

“It’s a conscious effort to try and get the ball to the hole,” Moore said.

Throw in a forecast that calls for possible thunderstorms and a sustained 15-mph wind, and the final round should produce plenty of volatility on the leaderboard. Nothing new there.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

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A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

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Man of the people

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Growing family

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Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

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Victory at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm