Curry's impressive Web.com start a win-win for game

By Will GrayAugust 5, 2017, 1:24 am

AKRON, Ohio – This week Firestone Country Club is the gathering place for 49 of the world’s top 50 players. All four reigning major champions are here, as are dozens of other elite names, all with accomplished backgrounds.

It’s an exclusive field with a lucrative purse to match, and it’s the final opportunity for guys to hone their craft before heading to the season’s final major.

And yet, despite all of the pedigree that accompanies the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the biggest story in golf this week revolves around an amateur who missed the cut 2,500 miles away.

Any questions over the merits of Steph Curry’s unrestricted sponsor exemption into this week’s Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.com Tour were roundly silenced by his opening-round 74 that exceeded all expectations. What had the potential to become a cringe-worthy spectacle instead captivated a hefty amount of attention.

The crossover potential was fully realized as Curry had golf fans and non-golf fans alike buzzing about his round on a developmental circuit that some likely had never heard of before.

In essence, the grand experiment worked.

It also got the attention of several of the PGA Tour’s biggest names.

“To be honest, I think it’s pretty special for a two-time MVP to be able to shoot 74 at a pro event and beat other pros,” said Jason Day. “I mean, we play our whole lives and the guy plays basketball and he beats some of the pros. It’s very impressive to see.”



Curry’s inclusion in the field initially drew some resistance, including from professionals who felt he was taking a spot from someone who could better put it to use to pursue his livelihood. But the Web.com field archives show that the “unrestricted” sponsor invites – of which each tournament receives two – often go to players who have no true aspirations of competing week in and week out on Tour.

The other unrestricted spot this week in California went to Colt McNealy, the teenage brother of top-ranked amateur Maverick McNealy, who took top honors in an 18-hole qualifier. The spots simply serve as a tool by which the tournament can bolster its profile, whether by investing in a budding young player or bringing in new fans by the truckload thanks to a certain NBA star.

After a second straight 74, Curry won’t be around for the weekend, and he’ll beat only a handful of players. But his ability to hold his own in a sport he considers a hobby was not lost on those who play it as a job.

“It’s so rare to have a player in another sport of that caliber playing during his career,” said Brendan Steele. “Like, he’s in the prime of his career in the other sport. That’s what I think is so cool about it. There are plenty of guys that will want to play the PGA Tour, Web.com after they’re done and they get to practice for five years or whatever. But he’s in the prime of his career.”

Curry’s effort around TPC Stonebrae had its rocky moments, but he also produced a handful of highlights including a lengthy birdie make after which he channeled Jordan Spieth’s memorable Open exchange by directing his caddie to retrieve the ball from the hole.

The move was noted by the man who first made it famous at Royal Birkdale, and it elicited a wry grin from Spieth after his second round at Firestone.

“I should have posted something about that, but I didn’t see it until today,” Spieth said. “It was pretty cool, really cool to see. You see him fist-pumping out there, and just him talking about how nervous he was when he heard his name called. It just makes us feel a little better when sometimes some of the stuff he does looks like a robot, not exactly human.”

Curry’s performance isn’t designed to open the floodgates for current and former athletes looking to test their game against the pros, nor should it. Few amateurs can keep pace with Curry, who boasts a +0.1 handicap. But then again, not every better-than-scratch handicap can hold his own on a tournament course with galleries lining every fairway.

Whatever negatives may have been bandied about when Curry’s exemption was first announced melted away by the time he rolled in his first birdie putt. This is a win for all parties involved: Curry has acquitted himself well, but at the same time he has shown the vast gulf that separates top amateurs and the best of golf’s triple-A affiliate.

It also gave the circuit some much-needed publicity, put the tournament and sponsor on the lips of thousands and became the biggest golf storyline – even during a week where the PGA Tour’s best are busy vying for a $10 million purse.

“People are paying attention. People are talking about the sport,” said Paul Casey. “It’s brilliant. Do something to help get people talking about the game and grow the game. That’s what those spots for as well, I think.”

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TT postscript: Tiger (E) survives difficult day

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 6:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here are some observations after watching Tiger Woods’ even-par 70 in the first round of the Honda Classic:

• Whew, that was tough. Like, by far the most difficult conditions Woods has faced this year. The wind blew about 20 mph all day, from different directions, and that affected every part of the game, especially putting.

• And though the stats aren’t necessarily pretty – half the fairways hit, just 10 greens – this was BY FAR his best ball-striking round of the new year. He even said so himself. When he walked off the course, he was just four off the lead.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


• Woods had only one bad hole Thursday. It came on the par-5 third hole, his 12th of the day. He blew his driver into the right bunker. He had to lay way back, to clear the lip of the bunker. And then he tugged his third shot just barely in the greenside trap. And then his bunker shot didn’t get onto the green. Then he chipped on and missed a 4-footer. A truly ugly double bogey.

• The driver is still a concern – he found the fairway only once in five attempts. But only one of those misses was way off-line. That came on the 12th, when he double-crossed one way left.

• Though the driver is uncooperative, he has showed a lot of improvement with his 3-wood. The four times he used it, he controlled the ball flight beautifully and hit it 300-plus. His 2-iron is making a comeback, too, in a big way.



• After this round, he should have a little wiggle room Friday to make the cut, barring a blowup round. It’s playing tough, and the 36-hole cut should be over par. Tiger needs four rounds of competitive reps. If he plays like this Friday, he’ll get them. 

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 5:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.


Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters


Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).