Simpson starts with 64 in first start at Bridgestone

By Will GrayAugust 1, 2013, 11:09 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Webb Simpson had to wait three years for a spot in the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but Thursday he made the most of his first competitive round at Firestone Country Club.

The former U.S. Open champion began his week with a 6-under 64 on the South Course, taking a one-shot advantage over an elite field despite his relative inexperience at a venue where many of the game’s best have played dozens of times.

“In 2011, I was 51st in the world and didn’t get in, and last year our daughter Willow was born,” Simpson explained after the round. “So it was a nice entry round for me into this golf tournament.”

The wait certainly paid off for Simpson, who led the field Thursday with eight birdies. Though he reached only 11 of 18 greens in regulation, the 28-year-old made the most of his opportunities on the putting surfaces.

“The course is beautiful. The greens are rolling great,” noted Simpson, who took just 22 putts in his opening round. “Today was one of those days where I just saw the lines well, and my speed was really good … They were just going in the middle.”

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Having been ranked inside the top 50 in the world for nearly the past two years, there are not many regular PGA Tour venues upon which Simpson does not have at least some experience. Such is the case this week in Akron, though, as the current world No. 23 admitted to having only seen a few holes of the South Course on television before arriving at the grounds this week. Luckily for Simpson, his caddie Paul Tesori was able to compensate for his player’s lack of course knowledge.

“My caddie has been here so many years. I think he’s been here every year he’s been a caddie except the last two. I just kind of had to listen to him,” Simpson said of Tesori. “I haven’t listened to him this much since we got together in 2011.”

This week’s event in Akron could provide the former Wake Forest standout with a chance to turn around what has been a somewhat pedantic season thus far. Though he counts a runner-up finish to Graeme McDowell at the RBC Heritage among his four top-10 finishes this year, Simpson missed the cut at the Masters, struggled over the weekend at the British Open and has yet to win since his breakthrough victory last year at the U.S. Open.

“Encouraging and frustrating,” Simpson shared when asked to describe his 2013 campaign to date. “There’s been a few tournaments that looked like they were going well and I just didn’t close well, or a couple other tournaments I didn’t start out well and then I finished well.

“So I’m not really putting four rounds together as well as I have in the past,” he added.

Like many in this week’s field, Simpson is hoping for a strong week to help create a spark heading into an arduous portion of the golf calendar. With plans to return to Greensboro for the Wyndham Championship later this month, where he recorded his first PGA Tour win in 2011, Simpson is now on the first leg of a stretch that will see him play five straight events in five weeks through the Deutsche Bank Championship.

“I think the most important golf rounds for the year are ahead of us,” explained Simpson, who currently sits 17th in the FedEx Cup standings. “Our whole season is riding on these last eight or nine events.”

Though he remains focused on this event specifically and the FedEx Cup race in general, Simpson also has his eye on another set of standings. Currently eighth on the list for the U.S. Presidents Cup squad, he noted after Thursday’s round that a potential spot on captain Fred Couples’ team in October is something he considers a priority.

“I’m so excited about the possibility of making the team again,” said Simpson, who went 3-2 in the 2011 matches at Royal Melbourne, joining forces with Bubba Watson in each of the first four rounds of match play. “Bill Haas and I were in the practice round yesterday and we were talking about it. No matter who you are, maybe minus Matt (Kuchar), Brandt (Snedeker), Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson), you’ve got to keep playing well.

“That’s the attitude you’ve got to have,” he added. “Because if you relax and think you’re in, guys at 14, 15 (in the standings), they win this week … they’re going to jump ahead of everybody.”

As he gets set for what will now be just his second competitive round at Firestone Friday afternoon, Simpson remains optimistic that his scores will start to reflect the progress he believes his game is making. With his name currently atop a world-class leaderboard in Akron, there’s reason to believe him.

“If I’m getting better, I’m happy. And I do feel like I’m getting better,” he added. “I just don’t have the results this year to show it.”

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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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.