Sunday of Wyndham spotlights heartbreak on Tour

By Will GrayAugust 17, 2014, 11:57 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Wyndham Championship is positioned on the calendar as the ultimate lifesaver.

It’s the PGA Tour’s final get-rich-quick opportunity, the place where one week can absolve the mistakes of 10 months and where one good round can change the outlook for the following year.

In the span of a few hours Sunday, though, the field of dreams expected at Sedgefield Country Club transformed into a minefield, with casualties scattered across the fairways as players at every level of the Tour’s hierarchy suffered heartbreak after heartbreak.

While Camilo Villegas left with the trophy, a deserving champion after a final-round 63, those left in his wake exited with scars that may take months – if not years – to heal.

The player with the most to gain Sunday was Heath Slocum, though he became the one who lost the most after stumbling to the finish line. At No. 158 in the FedEx Cup standings, Slocum knew to begin the week that he needed a big result, and through 70 holes he was where he needed to be. An eagle on the par-5 15th was followed by a birdie on No. 16, and Slocum quickly emerged from a pack of contenders to join Villegas and Nick Watney atop the standings at 17 under.

But Slocum hadn’t cracked the top 10 since his win at the 2010 McGladrey Classic, and he played the final two holes like a man with something to lose. A stubbed chip on the 17th hole dropped him one shot off the pace, then he found himself 42 feet away for birdie on the final green.

What played out next required an abacus and perhaps a FedEx Cup currency conversion chart, as Slocum’s playing partner, Freddie Jacobson, was in the process of bogeying the 18th to ruin his shot at the title. When he stood over his lengthy birdie putt, Slocum’s scenarios were simple: make it to tie Villegas and head to a playoff, or two-putt for par and tie for second, locking up a spot in the playoffs and a PGA Tour card for next year.

Slocum played for the win, racing his putt 6 feet past. The par attempt never had a chance, and in the span of two holes he plummeted from co-leader to a spot in the Tour Finals.

Afterward he regretted the outcome, but not the execution.

“I mean, how many times are you going to get that situation, a chance to maybe win a golf tournament?” Slocum said. “I hit it too hard obviously, but I was trying to make sure I got it there and I hit a poor putt on the second one. … Obviously, I’m terribly disappointed.”

Slocum’s tale was one of high-stakes disappointment, but he was not the only one leaving Sedgefield wondering what-if.

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Like Slocum, Brad Fritsch had plenty to play for Sunday: his first win, his highest PGA Tour finish, and oh yeah – a card for next year.

Fritsch struggled under the pressure of a spot in the day’s final pairing, shooting an even-par 70 that left him in a tie for eighth. It means another trip to the Tour Finals for the Canadian, but after exiting the scoring trailer he had a more pressing question.

“Am I 151?” he asked.

Indeed he was, as Webb Simpson’s 72nd-hole birdie put a charge into the FedEx Cup calculators that left Fritsch at No. 151 in the final standings. While Nos. 126-150 aren’t fully exempt for next season, they do retain some conditional PGA Tour status.

Instead, Fritsch is left with no status on the main circuit as he readies for a trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., in two weeks.

“I was uncomfortable,” Fritsch said. “Didn’t have it today. Too many downhill, 35-footers that broke 4 feet, trying to get the right speed. It was tough. I just didn’t put myself in great position to make birdie putts.”

As a non-member, Jason Allred wasn’t thinking playoffs, or even FedEx Cup points. Allred’s approach was focused simply on making cash, as he began the final round in a tie for 18th and likely needed a top-14 finish to make enough money to earn his card for next year via the non-member money list.

An underdog tale that began with a T-3 finish at the Northern Trust Open and included a tie for sixth last month at Reno ended suddenly on the fourth hole Sunday, as Allred put his tee shot out of bounds on the right. He re-loaded, but yanked his next shot left.

O.B. again.

It led to a quadruple bogey, a blow from which he could not recover. Even though he eagled the following hole, Allred posted a 3-over 73 to tie for 47th and now will join Slocum and Fritsch in the fight for one of 25 cards available at the Tour Finals.

“I felt like everything was right there,” Allred said. “I’m certainly disappointed, and I’m sure I’ll be more disappointed once it sinks in a little.

“I hope so much I can learn from today, because I want to be back out here so bad. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Perhaps the day’s cruelest blow, though, was reserved for little-known Kevin Foley. A rookie who hadn’t played in a PGA Tour event before the Sony Open seven months ago, Foley entered the week at No. 208 in the FedEx Cup standings, needing to crack the top 200 to earn a return trip to Finals. He was 1 over on the day when he pulled his approach into a greenside bunker at No. 18, but his blast left just 4 feet for par.

The putt failed to drop, and Foley finished at No. 201 in the standings.

For players like Foley, the difference between Nos. 200 and 201 is especially steep. While those who just miss the top 125 receive conditional status and a chance at redemption during the four Finals events, Foley has no such consolation prize. The next time he’ll tee it up will be at the second stage of Tour Q-School, and even full-time status on the developmental circuit is now far from a sure thing.

“I felt like I did a lot of good things all week, today just wasn’t the greatest,” he said. “Just hit the putt with too much pace for that line.”

Too much pace. Not enough chances. A mis-read putt.

The area behind 18th green at Sedgefield was littered with regret, as over the course of the final round, the promise of the Wyndham turned into the heartache of what-might-have-been. 

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x