Stallings hoping to join elite company

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2013, 12:09 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – The West Coast swing hasn’t been kind to Scott Stallings throughout his young career, though his five-shot lead here at the Humana Challenge figures to change that.

Two years ago, he began his first PGA Tour season with five consecutive missed cuts.

Last year, at this very tournament, he tore cartilage in five of his ribs, a freak injury – “a comedy of errors,” he says – that nearly cost him his entire season.

Stallings was undergoing treatment in the physiotherapy trailer here when the injury occurred. “It was a good attempt to try to make a sore back feel better,” he said, “and it did not go well.”

Stallings woke up the next day and could barely swing. When he played the first round at La Quinta alongside Carl Pettersson, Stallings was in such excruciating pain that the big Swede told him, “Either you’re going to withdraw, or I’m going to withdraw. I can’t watch this anymore.”

A few weeks later, Stallings was playing in the pro-am at Riviera when he drove into thick, wet, juicy rough on No. 11. He slashed out, clutched his midsection, dropped to his knees. His caddie turned and walked off the course. They were done.

Well, for a few months, anyway. Stallings’ victory at the 2011 Greenbrier Classic exempted him into The Masters, and he wasn’t about to skip his Augusta debut, even against his doctor’s recommendation. Stallings told him flatly, “Man, even if you put me in a body cast, I’m going to play Augusta.” So he played his first Masters – and made the cut – while on the painkiller Celebrex.

“At the end of the day, it was worth it,” Stallings says now. “You never know if you’re ever going to get an opportunity to (drive) down Magnolia Lane again.”

Stallings says he never fully recovered from the injury until the Memorial, where he led after the first round and was pain-free. A month later, he won the True South Classic, the event played opposite the British Open.

Here in the California desert, Stallings pulled away from a group of relative unknowns with a 9-under 63 that included two eagles. Supreme ball-striking helps, of course, but he also credited his recent good form to his increased focus on fitness and nutrition, as well as his hiring of caddie Frank Williams – the veteran looper who was on Stewart Cink’s bag for 14 years, including during the 2009 British Open – whom Stallings described as having given him a “huge shot in the arm.”

Often overlooked in the best-player-under-30 discussion, Stallings is eyeing his third PGA Tour title in the past 19 months – the same number won by Tiger Woods, Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson. The only player with more Tour wins during that span: world No. 1 Rory McIlroy. Stallings also would become the sixth 20something with at least three PGA Tour wins, joining Johnson, McIlroy, Simpson and Anthony Kim, though each of his titles would have come in second-tier events.

Asked if he feels underrated, Stallings, 27, shrugged, “I don’t really care about that. I know playing better helps a lot of things.”

He can’t play much better at PGA West. Staked to a five-shot lead over five players, and bogey-free through 54 holes, Stallings could become the first player to win a tournament without dropping a shot since 1974.

“I’ve just got to go do the same thing I’ve done the last three days,” Stallings said. “Be aggressive.”

A victory here is expected to move to Stallings to No. 51 in the Official World Ranking, making him a near-lock to be in the field for next month’s WGC-Match Play.

Stallings and his wife, Jen, are expecting their first child – a baby boy named Bradley Finn – a week earlier. The couple grappled with how to tell friends and family of their new addition, so Stallings told his bride that if he won in Mississippi in July, he would share the news. With everyone.

So there he was, on live television, informing the Golf Channel audience that he would soon become a father.

“She was more of a story than I was,” Stallings says, laughing, “but that’s the way it should be.”

Another victory Sunday would change that narrative, steal the spotlight. Until the baby comes, of course.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.

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Spieth vs. Reed random? Hmm, wonders Spieth

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 6:42 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Monday’s blind draw to determine the 16 pods for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play didn’t exactly feel “blind” for Jordan Spieth, whose group includes Patrick Reed.

Spieth and Reed have become a staple of U.S. teams in recent years, with a 7-2-2 record in the Ryder and Presidents Cup combined. So when the ping-pong ball revealed Reed’s number on Monday night Spieth wasn’t surprised.

“It seems to me there's a bit more to this drawing than randomness,” laughed Spieth, whose pod also includes Haotong Li and Charl Schwartzel. “It's not just me and him. It's actually a lot of groups, to have Luke List and Justin [Thomas] in the same group seems too good to be true. It might be some sort of rigging that's going on, I'm not sure.”

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Spieth will play Reed on Friday in the round-robin format and knows exactly what to expect from the fiery American.

“I've seen it firsthand when he's been at his best. And we have history together in a couple of different playoffs, which is a match-play scenario,” Spieth said. “I've got to take care of work tomorrow and the next day for that day to even matter. But even if it doesn't matter, trust me, it will matter to both of us.”

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U.S. Open champ Koepka (wrist) to miss Masters

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:12 pm

Reigning U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka will miss the Masters, according to a USA Today report.

Koepka has been battling a left wrist injury since late last year, and he hasn't played since finishing last at the limited-field Sentry Tournament of Champions in early January. Weeks later he revealed that he had a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU) tendon but hoped to return in time for the season's first major.

According to the report, Koepka only started putting this week and plans to begin hitting chips next week.

"They said I would be about 80 percent, but I can't play 80 percent," Koepka said. "I either have to go full bore or not at all. I don't want to risk getting it re-injured and then be out a long time."

Koepka has finished T-33 or better in each of his three prior Masters appearances, culminating in a T-11 result last year.

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Spieth's agent leaving firm, but keeping Spieth as client

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Jay Danzi has stepped down as COO of Lagardère Sports U.S., and will take one of the game’s most marketable players, Jordan Spieth, with him.

In a press release, Danzi said, “after careful consideration I feel that it’s time for a new adventure.” Danzi will represent Spieth independently.

“It’s been a privilege having Jordan be part of the Lagardère Sports’ family for the last five years and watching him grow from a promising young player to someone who transcends the game,” said Steve Loy, Lagardère Sports president of golf. “We are also grateful for Jay’s contributions over the years, in golf and other areas of our business.”

Lagardère Sports underwent an aggressive expansion in recent years, acquiring numerous boutique firms including Danzi’s business and Crown Sports Management.

Although losing Spieth, the world’s fourth-ranked player, and Danzi, who took over as Lagardère COO in February 2017, is a setback, the firm still has a number of high-profile clients including Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm and Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season.