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Fowler hoping unique fall schedule pays off in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 8, 2017, 9:45 pm

Rickie Fowler has officially put Fall Break on hiatus – at least, for a week.

Fowler is teeing it up this week at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, where he headlines the field and will make his tournament debut. His appearance south of the border is another testament to the strength-of-field requirement instituted last year by the PGA Tour, one that also helped steer Rory McIlroy to the Travelers Championship this summer.

It also continues a trend in recent weeks where Fowler has gone against the grain of other top-ranked stars' picks of where to play during the fall portion of the season. While most big names are sitting at home this week, Fowler will take on El Camaleon along the shores of Playa del Carmen.

Likewise, while his peers were scooping up dollars and OWGR points by the handful during a three-week Asian Swing last month, Fowler was kicking back at home and visiting some of his old stomping grounds.

The beauty of the saturated PGA Tour schedule is that players are afforded an opportunity to forge their own paths. There is no mandate requiring stars to hop a flight to Asia, although the lucrative purses certainly serve as convincing motivation.

In fact, the only other top-10 players who went 0-for-3 on the Asian events last month were Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Spieth still plans to fly across the globe to defend his Australian Open title next month, while McIlroy opted for rest in an effort to get fully healthy.

Which brings us back to Fowler, who had previously been a staple at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China since 2013. Four years ago he spent his fall racking up frequent flier miles, with starts in Malaysia, China, Australia and Thailand all after October 1.


OHL Classic at Mayakoba: Articles, photos and videos


But Fowler is a different player than he was four years ago, and he has different goals. Coming off an exhaustive summer stretch and a raucous week at the Presidents Cup, he opted to put the clubs away. Earlier this week, he told Golf Channel reporter George Savaricas that he had only played five rounds of golf in the six weeks since leaving Liberty National.

“I wanted to look at this fall and winter as a time to create an offseason,” Fowler said Wednesday. “Enjoy the relaxation and get some time in the gym to get ready to go in January.”

Fowler is interrupting that break to make his maiden trip to Mayakoba this week, and he’ll also tee it up later this month at the Hero World Challenge. But afforded essentially three months between the Presidents Cup and Tournament of Champions, he’s making a clear statement that his focus remains on starting fresh for 2018.

His most recent season is difficult to assess. On one hand, he won the Honda Classic to break a lengthy victory drought, authored perhaps the most consistent summer of his career and contended at multiple majors.

On the other hand, he failed to capitalize on those major chances, notably at the Masters and U.S. Open, and his T-26 finish at the Tour Championship served as an ill-timed clunker with $10 million on the line.

Fowler will turn 29 next month, a reminder that he is not quite as young as his annual spring break comrades Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. But barring injury, he remains on the upswing of his prime, and certainly possesses the talent to make runs like Spieth and Thomas have authored in recent years.

The difference will likely boil down to capitalizing on various opportunities. And while Fowler can put in plenty of legwork toward that goal after the ball drops on 2018, his decision to focus on recharging off the course this fall could prove prescient.

Amid a relatively quiet stretch, Fowler has a chance to shake off some rust this week. A trip to sun-splashed Mexico isn’t exactly the most difficult burden to bear, and his appearance is already a win for a tournament looking to bolster its status.

What’s more telling is the litany of events that Fowler has already skipped. It’s never easy to pass up on guaranteed prize money, not to mention FedExCup points that could prove valuable 10 months from now.

But while the wraparound schedule affords few opportunities to truly rest and unwind, Fowler has created one this fall. It comes at a cost, sure, but he has also played long enough on Tour to weigh the benefits of both options and choose accordingly.

On the heels of a good-but-not-quite-great season, Fowler has started this new campaign with some R&R and time in the gym. He’ll get back to the on-course grind this week, but it may be months before the value of his unique fall itinerary choices comes to fruition. 

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Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

“If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

“I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

“I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

“Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

“I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

“We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

“But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

“They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

And now?

Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

“Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

“Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

“I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

“That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

“It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

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Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

"This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

"I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

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Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

"Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

Hard to argue with the result.