Heavy playing schedule begins this week

By Will GrayJuly 30, 2014, 9:25 pm

AKRON, Ohio – As independent contractors, PGA Tour players value the ability to set their own schedules.

Some will play nearly every event, while others will sit out for weeks at a time. It’s a perk of the job, especially among the top-tier players who can map a schedule around the elite tournaments.

Once the calendar flips to August, though, attendance becomes more important.

This week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational marks the start of a hectic finish to the season on the PGA Tour, one that will cause many players to tee it up six of the next seven weeks. It’s a stretch that includes next week’s PGA Championship and all four of the FedEx Cup playoff events, culminating with the Tour Championship.

Adding to the crunch is the fact that the Tour’s two bye weeks – which last year separated the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship, as well as the Tour Championship and Presidents Cup – will this year fall on either side of the Ryder Cup staged in Scotland.

That means four weeks, four playoff events. Buckle up.

Since the back-loaded nature of the schedule was known months ago, players have had plenty of time to adapt accordingly. As you might imagine, the plans of attack vary among the Tour’s best.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, videos and photos

World No. 1 Adam Scott usually plays a light schedule, and this season has teed it up on the PGA Tour just 11 times. He’ll make start No. 12 this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and plans to play in each of the four playoff events.

“Part of my scheduling, the way I do it, is with the anticipation of playing a very heavy end-of-season schedule, like we’re about to hit,” Scott said Wednesday. “I think I’m pretty fresh, and I should be absolutely fine to push through and play six of the next seven weeks, no problem.

“There’s majors galore, and World Golf Championships, and a FedEx Cup to win. That’s when you want to be feeling good and excited to go out to the golf course.”

Jimmy Walker has topped the FedEx Cup standings for nearly the entire season, thanks in large part to a busy playing schedule – this week marks his 22nd start of the season, nearly double the workload of Scott. Like the Aussie, though, Walker has begun to dial it back in recent weeks to prepare for the taxing events on the horizon.

“I’ve definitely had a little bit of a lighter summer,” said Walker, who has played in just three of nine events since the Crowne Plaza Invitational in May. “Certainly you want to do whatever you can to stay fresh, and use the off days as best you can heading into a big stretch.”

Rickie Fowler has made 20 starts this season. At 22nd in the latest FedEx Cup standings, he plans to skip only the Wyndham Championship in two weeks as he looks to secure one of 30 spots at East Lake, a field he has made only once.

“Four in a row, you can definitely run yourself into the ground by the Tour Championship,” Fowler said. “I plan to make sure there’s a rest day in between each event, use some of the Mondays during the playoffs to kind of relax and recharge a little bit.” 

Not every player subscribes to the notion that the upcoming events are mandatory starts. Tiger Woods notably has skipped playoff events before when high in the standings, as has Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard opted out of the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2012, and last year played in all four tournaments only because a skipped event could have jeopardized his ability to meet the minimum start requirements to keep his PGA Tour card.

This time, Garcia’s focus is not on the FedEx Cup that will conclude in Atlanta, but on the Ryder Cup that will be contested in Scotland two weeks later.

“I want to make sure that I feel nice and as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup,” said Garcia, who plans to skip one playoff event.

“I don’t want to be playing six out of seven weeks going into the Ryder Cup, or six out of eight weeks,” he said. “It’s quite a lot of playing. So we’ll see how it goes.”

Over the next two weeks, the PGA Tour will hand out several trophies and nearly $60 million in prize money. As players strategize about the best way to earn their share of the bounty available, one truth remains: Fans are about to see the game’s best play a ton of golf in a very short period of time.

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”