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 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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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."