PGA Champ., promises to provide major intrigue

By Will GrayAugust 4, 2014, 7:45 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Somewhere in America, a golf fan just stepped off a cruise ship, returning from a nice, relaxing vacation.

Or perhaps he spent the last week camping, connecting with nature but detaching from modern technology.

Either way, the respite might have proven worthwhile. But once he fires up his phone he’ll have some serious catching up to do.

Consider all that has transpired in the world of golf in the past seven days:

• Dustin Johnson fell from one of the PGA Tour’s brightest stars to perhaps its most troubled commodity.

• Tiger Woods moved back to the injury report after another final-round withdrawal, leaving his PGA Championship fate in doubt.

• Phil Mickelson explained that a good performance would have to come from “out of nowhere,” and then shot a 62 the next day.

• Sergio Garcia knocked the diamond off of one woman’s ring just days after apprently putting one on another woman’s finger.

• Rory McIlroy went from one of the game’s best players coming off a big win to … well, maybe that one didn’t change much.

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It was a year’s worth of breaking news compressed into a week-long stretch, capped by a shining performance from the new world No. 1.

And that was just the appetizer.

Now the attention shifts to the Bluegrass State, where the stars have aligned to produce one of the year’s most compelling events.

The PGA Championship has long been seen as fourth in prestige and intrigue among golf’s majors, but it now has the opportunity to stand above its championship brethren after the first three majors of the year produced less-than-compelling conclusions.

Admit it: the majors this year have been a snooze-fest. Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and McIlroy are all deserving champions, but none of the three had to sweat much coming down the stretch in claiming their respective majors, winning by a combined 13 shots. In fact, golf fans have now toiled through six consecutive majors without so much as a one-shot margin of victory – the longest such streak since 1981.

That could all end this week at Valhalla Golf Club, where two previous installments of the season’s final major ended in overtime and where the best in the game enter with some serious momentum.

Any pre-tournament conversation will begin with McIlroy, a deserved odds-on favorite after wins at Royal Liverpool and Firestone vaulted him back to the top spot in the OWGR. But he’s not the only big name playing good golf right now.

Adam Scott relinquished the No. 1 ranking to McIlroy despite the fact that his entire reign, which dated back to May, featured five starts with no result worse than a tie for ninth at Pinehurst.

Garcia and Rickie Fowler are battling each other for the season’s silver medal. Garcia came up short again to McIlroy at the WGC-Bridgestone after sharing second place behind him at Hoylake, while Fowler could become the first player to crack the top five in all four majors since Woods did so in 2005.

Then there’s Justin Rose, who had back-to-back wins last month but slacked off by only finishing T-4 in Akron.

Players speak about peaking for majors, a notion that is easy to understand but hard to quantify. The leaderboard last week at Firestone was an example that sometimes the best in the game can do that, with four of the top five players in the world in contention heading into the final round.

It produced a captivating event, albeit one that was overshadowed by off-course conjecture. A similar scenario could play out this week in Kentucky, with the news cycle focusing on two players who may not tee it up at Valhalla.

Johnson’s self-described leave of absence for “personal struggles” will keep him out this week, and for the foreseeable future. Woods’ prognosis is less certain following his Firestone withdrawal, when his bad back reared its head.

Those storylines are certainly packed with intrigue, but even if Woods misses another major – his third of the season – there are still plenty of reasons to remain glued to the coverage this week.

To recap: the best players are playing their best golf; they’re headed to a venue that has a history of exciting conclusions; and, if we’re lucky, we might see a player standing over a putt on the 72nd hole with a trophy hanging in the balance.

Which means you should probably bump that vacation to a different week.

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Snedeker starts slow in effort to snag Masters invite

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.

Rose (62) sets blistering pace in Indonesia

By Associated PressDecember 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Justin Rose shot a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, starting on the back nine at Royale Jakarta Golf Club, had five birdies to go out in 31, then birdied four of five holes midway through his final nine and another birdie on his last hole in the $750,000 tournament.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Gunn Charoenkul (64) was in second place and Kim Giwhan and Phachara Khongwatmai (both 65) were tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Ranked 51st in the world, the American is aiming for a strong finish in Jakarta to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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LaCava: Woods wouldn't talk after H.O.R.S.E. match

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 2:27 pm

The competitive streak within Tiger Woods knows no bounds - even on the basketball court, according to caddie Joe LaCava.

LaCava has been on Woods' bag since 2011, and he recently shared a story on "Inside the Ropes" on Sirius/XM PGA Tour Radio about a clash between the two men over a seemingly friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. Actually, it turned into nine straight games (and nine straight wins) for LaCava, who exploited a weakness in Woods' on-court strategy while leaning on a mid-length jumper of his own:

"The thing with him was if I missed a shot, which I missed plenty of shots, but if I missed the shot he'd go back down to the 3 (point line) because he liked to make the 3," LaCava said. "But it's harder obviously to make a 3, and I'd go right back to the baseline 12-footer, and he couldn't make it."

It's a short list of people who have beaten Woods nine times in any athletic pursuit, let alone in a row. But for LaCava, the fallout from his afternoon of on-court dominance was less than subtle.

"He did not talk to me the rest of the day," LaCava explained. "I didn't even get the old text, 'Dinner is ready,' because I stay across at the beach house. I didn't even get that text that night. I had to get take-out. He didn't announce he wasn't (talking), he just did it. I'm telling you, nine games in a row. Like I said, he's so competitive, even at something like that."