Rain delay, darkness add to bizarre week at NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerMay 24, 2017, 2:50 am

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – To Arizona State coach Missy Farr-Kaye, there was no decision to make.

Her star player, Monica Vaughn, had been on her feet for 18 hours. Vaughn was emotionally and physically spent after winning the NCAA individual title a day earlier. She had squandered a 2-up lead and was now 1 down on the final hole. Her team was on the verge of being eliminated. The big hitter had about 230 yards to the hole, from a wet lie, and reading the green would have been a challenge.

“This is an important shot,” Farr-Kaye told Vaughn. “We’re not out of it. It’s not over. It may seem like a long shot, but we’re still in it.”

And so Vaughn marked her ball and called it a day, leaving the NCAA Women’s Championship with some unfinished business when play resumes at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday (coverage will be live on Golf Channel).

When play was suspended because of darkness at Rich Harvest Farms, players had an opportunity to finish the hole they were on if the decision was unanimous.

Vaughn’s opponent, Stanford’s Albane Valenzuela, wanted to continue. Of course she did. After a two-hour, 20-minute weather delay, the Swiss freshman birdied three of her next four holes to flip the match and head to the par-5 finishing hole with a 1-up lead and an opportunity to earn the decisive third point for Stanford.

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“It’s match play,” Valenzuela said. “I would have probably done the same thing. It doesn’t matter. I’ll come back tomorrow.”

If Valenzuela can halve the 18th hole, she will send the Cardinal to their third consecutive NCAA finals. If Vaughn completes the comeback and wins in extra holes, the match will come down to Stanford’s Madeline Chou and Arizona State’s Linnea Strom, who are now all square with two holes to play after Strom sank a 12-footer for par in near-darkness.

“This is a marathon,” Farr-Kaye said. “This is a grueling week.”

The other semifinal participants have even more work to do.

Southern Cal holds a 4-1 lead over top-seeded Northwestern as they move through the back nine. Northwestern’s Sarah Cho has a 1-up lead with three to play in the opening match, and the Wildcats trail by a one-hole margin in three of the other four matches.

“It looks like a lot of red on the board,” Northwestern coach Emily Fletcher said, “but one hole, in a matter of 15 minutes, it can flip. I’m excited to get back out and have a go at this.”

The NCAA has already needed to make some tough calls this week, starting with the cancellation of the second round because of weather. On Tuesday, officials decided to resume the semifinals after more than a two-hour delay, knowing that play would carry over into Wednesday morning.

Even more surprising to many coaches was the move to allow players only 10 minutes to warm up after sitting around for two hours and playing in cold, wet conditions. In many cases, players needed to choose whether to stretch, hit balls or stroke a few putts

That didn’t sit well with USC coach Andrea Gaston.

“They need to stretch. They need to warm up,” she said. “You’re not going to tell a tennis player who has been sitting for two hours, ‘Hey, you’ve got 10 minutes to warm up.’ They might pull a muscle.

“Our sport is a lot more athletic now. A certain amount of consideration needs to be given to our players so no one gets hurt.”

And so the question: Why not just push the action into Wednesday morning? After all, the championship match isn’t scheduled to begin until 3:10 p.m. ET, so there would have been ample time to finish the semifinals in the morning and still allow players to rest before the finals.

“We’re fairly certain we’re going to get rain again [Wednesday],” said NCAA women’s chair Jim Fee, “so we wanted to make sure we’re doing what we can to get the matches in.”

No coach argued with that, but there is the potential now for a slight competitive imbalance, with the Stanford-Arizona State winner likely to play fewer holes Wednesday than the winner of the USC-Northwestern match.

“Might be a small factor there,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said.

And looking ahead, coaches are already unsure how they will handle the three- or four-hour break in between matches, since it’s likely not enough time to head back to the team hotel about 25 minutes away.

“That could be kind of funny,” Walker said.

Funny, yes, but also a fitting end to a bizarre championship week.

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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, GolfChannel.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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