Watney leads Wyndham as Sunday shootout looms

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2014, 11:45 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. – If the third round of the Wyndham Championship is any indication, the PGA Tour’s regular season is about to end with a birdie barrage.

The leaderboards at Sedgefield Country Club were coated with red numbers Saturday, as players jockeyed for position in the final event before the FedEx Cup playoffs. At one point 13 names were separated by a single shot, and seven players will begin the final round with a realistic shot at hoisting the trophy.

The man they’ll all be chasing is Nick Watney, who grabbed sole possession of the lead when he buried a 19-foot putt from off the fringe on the 18th hole. His third-round 65 came on the heels of a 6-under 64 in Round 2, and Watney has made only one bogey through 54 holes thanks to a hot putter.

“This is probably the best I’ve putted for three days so far in a row, for a week or for the year,” he said. “When you’re making putts, the game gets a lot easier.”

Watney has suffered through a disappointing season, and after beginning the year ranked No. 30 in the world he teed it up this week ranked No. 75. Two weeks ago, he teed it up at the Barracuda Championship when he missed his first WGC event since 2009.

Watney’s poor play reached a low when, after missing the cut at the Open Championship by one shot, his fate for the FedEx Cup playoffs seemed in doubt. He pointed to the trans-Atlantic flight that followed as a turning point.

“I sort of went to Canada and said, ‘I feel like my game is headed in a really good direction. Haven’t been getting the results but we just need to put our head down and play every week and just enjoy it,” he said. “I was getting to the point where, I don’t know what number (in the standings), I felt I stopped looking because it was kind of depressing.”

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The turnaround began the following week at the RBC Canadian Open, where he tied for 12th, then continued with a T-8 in Reno. With his spot in the postseason now secure, Watney is turning his attention toward winning for the first time since 2012.

“I know I’ve had good years when I haven’t won,” he said. “So having a year like this and end up winning a tournament…it would be a huge bonus, and kind of I guess affirm what I’ve been working on.”

Watney, though, is not the only player poised for what could be a season-defining moment. Brad Fritsch is the newest poster child for the FedEx Cup bubble madness, and Sunday will be playing not just for his first PGA Tour win, but his card for next season.

The Canadian entered this week at No. 163 in the points race, and likely needs a two-way tie for second to punch his ticket to The Barclays, although he could lock up his card for 2014-15 with a two-way tie for third, which would allow him to crack the top 125 in earnings.

Of course, Fritsch could take care of everything – and cement his status through 2016 – with a victory. He’ll begin the day at 13 under, one shot behind Watney and playing in the final group for the first time in his career.

“I’m just going to focus on not making mistakes, hitting good shots,” said Fritsch. "I try my best every shot, and whatever happens will happen tomorrow.”

Fritsch is no stranger to these 11th-hour stakes. Last year he finished No. 129 in the FedEx Cup standings and had to play in the inaugural Web.com Tour Finals. After missing the first three cuts in the four-event series, he closed with a final-round 66 to tie for second at the Web.com Tour Championship and earn a return trip to the main circuit.

“I put my back against the wall several times, and usually come out okay on the other end,” Fritsch said. “Last year I made nine birdies in the final round to get my card. It’s always something to fall back on.”

The chase pack also extends beyond Fritsch to include Heath Slocum and Fredrik Jacobson, a pair of PGA Tour winners who are both two shots off the pace with one round to go. Slocum, who played in Saturday’s final pairing, hasn’t cracked the top 10 since winning the 2010 McGladrey Classic but continues to enjoy the thrill of contending after a 2-under 68.

“Golf is just way more fun this way,” he said. “I think maybe getting my butt kicked for a few years and not being in contention for a while, you get back and you remember how much fun it was, and you miss it so much.”

Lurking in the distance, just one shot further back at 11-under 199, are two of the field’s biggest names. Brandt Snedeker and Webb Simpson are both former Wyndham champions, and the two will be paired together for the third time this week as they look to reclaim the Sam Snead Cup.

“I think it takes pressure off, knowing that all the guys around 10, 11 under have to go out and shoot a really low number,” Simpson said after a third-round 66. “It’s not like we’re going out trying to hang on to the lead.”

With favorable pin positions anticipated, the target score for the final round remains anyone’s guess. Fritsch felt the winning score could be as low as 20 under, a barrier not reached at Sedgefield since Arjun Atwal’s improbable win in 2010.

The leaderboards at Sedgefield will certainly turn red once again on Sunday, but that’s not an issue according to the man in front.

“It doesn’t really change,” Watney said. “I assume that when I tee off, I probably won’t be in the lead or tied for the lead, so it’s not like I’m protecting anything tomorrow. Just more of the same.”

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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.