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Volvik WLD: Top 16 set, but No. 1 ousted

By Will GraySeptember 5, 2017, 12:48 am

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – The primetime lights have not yet been turned on, with players instead toiling under the beaming heat of a summer sun. But the primal screams and eye-popping yardages emanating from “the grid” indicate that the Volvik World Long Drive Championship is already in full swing.

The Winstar World Casino and Resort will take center stage over the next two evenings, but when a world championship is at stake the sport of long drive becomes more of a marathon than a sprint. For the most prolific drivers who have all gathered at this Oklahoma outpost, one good shot won’t do the trick.

Instead they were asked to navigate a meandering, double-elimination bracket that has already whittled the field from 96 entrants to 16. Along the way there have been plenty of surprises, with more likely in store once the cameras are turned on and the music gets pumping Tuesday before a national television audience.

For the uninitiated, there remains a simple question: How did we get to this point?

Seventy men qualified through past world championship performance, regional qualifiers or results in one of the other nine long-drive events contested this year. The final 26 spots were decided during a “last chance” qualifier conducted last week.

Pool play started Saturday, with players split into 16-man qualifying groups while vying for a handful of spots in the next round. Over the course of two days, the top 32 drivers were identified and re-bracketed based on world ranking.


Volvik World Long Drive Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Volvik World Long Drive Championship scoring and brackets


Monday’s head-to-head matches included a 3-minute time clock during which players stood side-by-side while hitting eight balls apiece. The player with the longest single drive won the “set,” with each match a best-of-3 affair. Players could afford to drop a single match, but were eliminated after their second loss.

It’s a change from last year’s format which saw the top 64 square off in a single-elimination, match-play bracket. A larger sample size should benefit the top players, but there were still upsets aplenty as three of the top five ranked players in the world lost their initial match Monday morning.

That group included world No. 1 Maurice Allen, who made headlines earlier this year with his Ric Flair-inspired monologue at the Mile High Showdown. But after twice losing to unheralded Wes Patterson, the lowest-ranked player in the field, Allen’s title run came to an abrupt halt.

“Today just wasn’t my day,” Allen said. “I think 2017 is the hardest field in world championships history. You’re looking at a lot of big names going home. Like I’ve said many, many times, this sport is growing. The guys are getting better and the competition is getting stiffer, so that’s why when you get a win you truly try to relish it. You don’t know when a win will be your last win.”

While Allen will be relegated to a spectator when a champion is crowned Wednesday night, there are still plenty of notable contenders standing. Two-time winner Tim Burke rallied to make the Round of 16 after losing his opening match, while defending champ Joe Miller breezed through after uncorking four different drives of at least 375 yards.

“I’m sure there’s a target on my back, but I try not to think about it too much. Let the talking be done on the tee box,” Miller said. “Once we get under the lights, just concentrate on game, go out there and hit your ball.”

With the top 16 now identified, players will be re-seeded based on ranking and put into a single-elimination bracket. When the competition resumes Tuesday night, they’ll each face an opponent equipped with eight balls, a driver that utilizes every last spec afforded by USGA regulations and a swing speed that would make any Trackman machine blush.

The winners move on to Wednesday’s high-octane finale, where the final eight players will vie for the coveted championship belt. The loser of each Round of 16 match heads home.

And the men aren’t the only show this week in Thackerville. The women’s division gets underway Tuesday, with the four longest drivers facing off during Wednesday’s primetime competition.

With three days of competition in the books, there are still a few unexpected names on the men’s leaderboard. Patterson is a former pitcher who was considering Web.com Tour Q-School as recently as last month, while Kyle Berkshire was playing collegiate golf at nearby University of North Texas last fall.

But after launching a couple 400-plus yard drives during tournament practice rounds, his teammates encouraged him to try the long-drive circuit and his coach at UNT gave him a one-semester redshirt to give it a shot.

Berkshire hit a 474-yard shot during his first qualifier, turned pro and hasn’t looked back.

“That’s when I knew this was something that I was one of the best at,” Berkshire said. “It’s just something that I really want to reach my potential in.”

That chase toward potential will now include a spot under the lights, where the 20-year-old will stand toe-to-toe against the world’s best with a world championship up for grabs.

“Anything less than a win for me is a disappointment, because I know how good I am,” Berkshire said while sporting the UNT logo on his shoes. “It’s not about being cocky or being conceited. It’s about keeping your head down, hitting your shots and letting your clubs do the talking.”

The work under the sun is in the books. Now the focus shifts to primetime, where the only certainty is that there will be plenty of high-energy fireworks as the longest drivers in the game continue their chase deep into the night sky, with the biggest title of the year at stake.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.