Oppenheim, 35, finally makes Tour dream a reality

By Will GrayOctober 5, 2015, 12:01 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – As Rob Oppenheim stood behind the scoring area at TPC Sawgrass, he looked up wistfully at the pine trees towering above his head.

His work was done. An entire week – heck, an entire Web.com Tour season spent on the bubble had come to a close, and his fate was now in the hands of others.

“The golfing gods,” he said with a shake of his head. “They owe me.”

Two hours later, by the thinnest of margins, they paid him back and made Oppenheim the key figure in the season’s final event.

The Web.com Tour Championship is rarely about who wins or who loses the tournament; it’s about who survives the four-week finals gauntlet and advances to the PGA Tour. Twenty-five cards have been up for grabs over the last month, and Oppenheim claimed the final golden ticket thanks to an unexpected source – Lucas Glover.

Oppenheim and Glover are both 35, having been born only two months apart. But that’s where the comparisons stop. Glover is an accomplished PGA Tour winner, the lone major champion in this week’s field and a player who had already clinched his return to the big leagues.

Oppenheim, meanwhile, has never held a PGA Tour card. He needed a late hole-in-one at Web.com Tour Q-School last year to simply earn a full Web.com card, and he was a hard-luck loser when the regular season came to a close.

Buoyed by his win at the Air Capital Classic in June, Oppenheim entered the final regular-season event on the cusp of earning his card. But he missed the cut in Portland by a shot and finished 26th on the money list when the top 25 players earned a promotion.

His $160,159 in earnings left him $943 short of his goal.

Oppenheim took the close call in stride, but after his round Sunday at TPC Sawgrass it appeared he had again come up agonizingly short. He closed 67-67 over the weekend, but was dealt a cruel blow when his 9-iron approach on No. 15 hit the hole on the fly.

Instead of settling at the bottom of the cup, it caromed off the flagstick and rolled 20 feet away. A potential eagle – or at least an easy birdie – turned into a disappointing par.

“It’s a tough two shots,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s as close as anyone has come, I’m sure everyone’s got their stories. But it’s close.”

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When Oppenheim finished his round, he was projected at No. 28 in the standings. But the afternoon pressures took effect on the leaders, and he continued to linger near the bubble. When Glover closed with bogeys on Nos. 17 and 18, it moved Oppenheim from a five-way tie for 13th into a six-way tie for 12th.

That, it turns out, was all the difference. Already 30 minutes down the road, Oppenheim jumped from No. 27 to the coveted No. 25 spot. His final margin over Eric Axley, who himself finished No. 25 at last year’s Finals, was $101.

Believing that his chances were gone, Oppenheim left after his round. He and his pregnant wife, Lacey, were at a gas station with their young daughter when they realized they needed to turn the car around.

“They must have shown on the coverage that I got in, because the phone went berserk,” he said. “I just knew. My wife, we gave each other a nice hug.”

Oppenheim was the most improbable beneficiary Sunday, but he was hardly alone. Five players played their way inside the bubble this week, including former PGA Tour winner Robert Garrigus.

“It was very stressful. I told [playing partner] Thomas Aiken, that this is like the first hole of the Masters for four days,” Garrigus said. “Every shot, every hole. It’s just nerve-wracking. I’m glad I got through it.”

Aiken entered this week without a postseason cent to his name, having missed the cut at each of the first three Finals events. But the South African closed with a 65 to tie for fifth, and after a European Tour career that has included three wins he now plans to shift his focus.

“Since I was a kid, I played junior golf over here and my dream was always to play on the PGA Tour,” Aiken said. “I happened to go the European route first, and it’s been more and more difficult to transition over here.”

Not every bubble story, though, can have a happy ending. Billy Hurley III entered this week at No. 26 in earnings, and he seemed to hover around that projected standing all week.

Hurley’s prediction on Wednesday – “You can’t finish 40th here and expect to earn your card” – proved ominously accurate. At 2 under, he tied for 43rd and finished 27th in earnings, $394 short of a return to the PGA Tour.

Hurley created a roar when his 45-foot birdie putt on the final green dropped, but his ultimate undoing came two holes earlier when he pulled a wedge into the water on the par-5 16th, leading to a costly bogey.

“I didn’t play particularly well today,” he said. “Missed some chances throughout the whole day. But I played my best to do what I could, and it was a tremendous putt on the last to even give myself a chance.”

Luke Guthrie made a late charge at the Wyndham Championship to secure conditional PGA Tour status for next year, and he had again played his way inside the number on the back nine Sunday. But Guthrie failed to birdie any of his last eight holes, left to especially rue a 7-foot miss for birdie on No. 18. He finished 38th.

“That’s the closest I hit it all day,” he said. “I just couldn’t get the ball close enough. You can’t expect to make 30-footers, and I had those all day.”

But the man of the hour, the poster child for bubble redemption was Oppenheim, the final beneficiary of this month-long marathon.

After racing back to TPC Sawgrass to accept his newly minted card, and with a glass of celebratory champagne still in his hand, the Tour’s newest rookie assessed his revised tab with the golfing gods.

“They got me back, and then some,” he said with a smile. “We’re all square.”

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.