Clarke Goes Strait to the Top

By Sports NetworkAugust 12, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 PGA ChampionshipHAVEN, Wis. -- Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland fired a 7-under-par 65 on Thursday to take the lead during the first round of the PGA Championship.
Ernie Els, who has had a chance at each of the season's first three majors, and Justin Leonard, who finished second to Davis Love III in 1997, are tied for second at 6-under-par 66.
Vijay Singh, the 1998 champion, Briny Baird, Luke Donald and American Ryder Cup hopeful Scott Verplank are tied at 5-under-par 67.
Most reports indicated that Whistling Straits would be one of the most difficult venues in major championship history. The course measured 7,514 yards and with eight holes on the shores of Lake Michigan, a heavy wind could cause scores to be very high.
As the players greeted Whistling Straits Thursday morning, tees were moved up and the course was shortened by almost 200 yards. The wind was relatively calm despite lower temperatures that forced most players to don a sweater.
Even though Whistling Straits, hosting its first major, yielded low scores, not everyone took advantage.
Tiger Woods, a two-time former champion who has not won a major since the 2002 U.S. Open, struggled to an opening-round, 3-over-par 75.
Woods began on the 10th tee and flew out with a birdie. He ran into trouble immediately after that when his drive at the 11th hooked into the rough. Woods could only advance his ball 100 yards into more rough and when he finally reached the green, he three-putted for a double bogey.
Woods, who won in 1999 and 2000, missed a 4-foot par putt at the 12th, then missed the green at the 13th. Woods two-putted from 35 feet for another bogey and a 3-over start through four holes.
He calmed down and made three birdies and three bogeys the rest of the way for his 75, which tied him for 104th. That score matched Woods' highest round at the PGA Championship, which he also posted in the final round of the '97 event at Winged Foot.
'Well, I got off to a nice start and then ran into a little bit of a problem there for a little bit,' said Woods. 'I just didn't hit the ball all that poorly, but I sure putted bad.'
Woods' major streak is at nine and if he is to erase that, he'll have his work cut out for him. He spotted Clarke 10 strokes after one round.
Clarke hit a lob-wedge to 12 feet for a birdie at the first. He missed the green with his second at the par-5 second hole, but lagged his eagle putt to 3 feet and rolled it in for birdie No. 2.
At the third, Clarke knocked an 8-iron to 18 feet to set up birdie. He made it four birdies in a row at four when his 9-iron stopped 12 feet from the flag.
'We had the better conditions this morning,' said Clarke, who is majorless in his career with two good chances at the British Open. 'The wind was blowing a little bit, but not that hard, and the wind eased for us on the back nine. But the greens were soft, and some of the pin positions were, I would not say generous, but reasonable to get at.'
Clarke rattled off two consecutive birdies from the seventh, but dropped his first shot of the championship at No. 9. He pulled a 6-iron into one of the 1,400 bunkers at Whistling Straits, then blasted his third through the green. Clarke chipped to 2 feet and tapped in his bogey putt.
The 35-year-old rebounded nicely from the mishap at nine with back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11, both from inside 10 feet. Clarke mis-hit an 8-iron at the 13th and plugged into a bunker. He could not go at the flag, instead hitting out sideways to the front of the green. Clarke made bogey, but once again wasted little time in atoning for his mistakes.
At the 14th, Clarke hit a pitching-wedge to 5 feet and sank the birdie putt to go one clear of Leonard and Els.
Clarke, a European Tour veteran and three-time Ryder Cupper, knows that there is a lot of golf left on a demanding course.
'I think if the wind keeps blowing, the greens firm up, then we are going to see a real challenge,' said Clarke. 'Not that it's not now, but if the wind keeps blowing, the greens dry out, then I think there won't be that many low scores this week.'
Els started on the back nine Thursday and was 1 under par through five holes. He drained a pair of 8-footers for birdie at 15 and 16, then ran home a 50-footer for birdie at 17, to make it three in a row and a 4-under-par 32 on the first nine.
The No. 2 player in the world reached the green with a 6-iron at the par-5 second and two-putted for birdie from 45 feet. Els hit a 9-iron at the par-3 third and made the subsequent 5-footer for birdie. He parred out for his 66.
'I wasn't sure what to expect scoring wise today because the practice rounds were pretty difficult,' said Els, who finished second at the Masters and British Open. 'I'm not sure if we expected to shoot 6 under around this course, but that was nice.'
Leonard, the 1997 British Open winner, mixed a birdie and a bogey over his first three holes. He birdied seven and 10, then tallied three in a row from the 12th, including a 25-footer at the 13th.
Leonard came up short of the green with his second at 16. He pitched to 5 feet and made birdie for his 66.
The 32-year-old has struggled in 2004 with one top-10, but credited his group with his first-round success.
'Watching Darren (Clarke) and K.J. (Choi) birdie the first hour that we played, it was fun,' said Leonard. 'I think they were playing so well, I kind of got sucked into it on the back nine. I think we all definitely fed off each other, and it was just a fun day, a fun group to be a part of.'
Choi, Chris DiMarco, 50-year-old Jay Haas, Stephen Ames, Stuart Appleby, Geoff Ogilvy, Tim Petrovic, Loren Roberts and Padraig Harrington are knotted in eighth at minus-4.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson flew out of the gate Thursday afternoon with three birdies in his first three holes. He played even-par the rest of the way for a 69 and shares 17th with Carlos Franco, Paul McGinley, Chris Riley and Duffy Waldorf.
Defending champion Shaun Micheel posted a 5-over 77 and is tied for 129th place.
John Daly, who won this event in 1991 and played with Woods and Singh on Thursday, played poorly. He made an eight on 18 en route to a 9-over-par 81, which is good for a share of last place.
Related Links:
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    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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    Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

    The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

    For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

    There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

    “It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

    But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by paints a different picture.

    Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

    “I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

    Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

    “No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

    It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

    Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

    The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

    You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

    How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

    “The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

    Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

    The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

    Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

    Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

    “If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

    It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

    Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

    The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

    That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

    Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

    From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

    Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

    She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

    She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

    Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

    With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

    The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

    She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

    The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.