What's a WGC worth? These guys would all take one

By Will GrayAugust 5, 2017, 11:29 pm

The four WGC events held each year occupy a peculiar spot on the pro golf hierarchy.

They’re not majors, nor are they treated as such. But they’re also a step above the so-called “regular” Tour stops, even those that annually head to some of the game’s most iconic layouts.

A WGC win, then, can mean different things to different players, and heading into the finale of the Bridgestone Invitational, the scenarios are spanning the spectrum. But the focus begins with the two men sharing the lead, a duo that traded punches at Hazeltine last fall and now will share the tournament’s final pairing.

Zach Johnson’s resumé is lacking little, as the two-time major winner is perhaps the biggest overachiever of his generation. At age 41, he could retire tomorrow and still receive a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame in a few years.

But he has never won a WGC event, and he has never been better than T-4 at Firestone despite playing each of the last 13 years – an active streak surpassed only by Phil Mickelson. Johnson appeared mired in a slump for much of this year, and in March he fell out of the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time since 2007. His spot in this week’s field came only thanks to his place on last year’s Ryder Cup squad.

A T-5 finish at the John Deere Classic was his first top-10 in months, and he followed it with a T-14 showing at Royal Birkdale. Now with three straight rounds in the 60s, he’s again flashing the form that has helped him to lift a dozen trophies.

“I don’t know how many top-10s I’ve had here, but it’s probably been a handful,” Johnson said. “I feel like I can compete here. That goes without saying.”

Johnson still has not won since capturing the claret jug more than two years ago, a drought he hopes to end Sunday. But in order to do so he’ll need to play from the pole position, an unfamiliar spot given that each of his last six wins have been of the come-from-behind variety.

He’ll also be leaning on an unusual weapon for a player best known for his wedges and short game. Johnson cracked the face of his driver at The Open, and the replacement has exceeded his expectations this week in Akron.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“This is the best I’ve driven it probably all year,” Johnson said. “It’s probably the best driver I’ve had in my bag all year, if not ever. So, very encouraged.”

Then there’s Pieters, a budding prospect whose record over the last year has seemingly been building toward a breakthrough on a big stage. The Belgian starred as a captain’s pick at the Ryder Cup, then notched top-5 finishes this spring at the Genesis Open (T-2), WGC-Mexico Championship (T-5) and Masters (T-4).

While he hasn’t done much since Augusta, Pieters now has an opportunity to emulate Shane Lowry’s feat from two years ago, using a win at Firestone to transform from a highly-touted European into a PGA Tour staple.

“I think the ones I’ve gotten in contention this year, I’ve gotten very quick,” Pieters said. “Not so much nervous, but just anxious to finish and to have a good finish. Maybe tomorrow I have to get back to being calm and just let it come to me.”

Pieters has been pessimistic about his driving all week, and the stats back it up, as the Belgian has hit only 13 fairways through three rounds. But at one point he amassed a three-shot lead during the third round thanks to six birdies over his first 10 holes, and while he regressed down the stretch, a closing birdie drew him even with Johnson heading into the final round.

“My bad golf is getting better,” Pieters said. “That’s always good. That’s why you practice, I guess.”

Granted, this is far from a two-horse race. Aussie Scott Hend sits one shot back in search of what would be a watershed victory at age 43, while two of the game’s biggest stars are still very much in the mix.

Hideki Matsuyama won a WGC event earlier this season and had claret jug aspirations until blasting his opening tee shot out of bounds during the final round at Royal Birkdale. He’s again ideally positioned, just two shots off the pace and one of only five players to break par each of the first three rounds.

Another member of that select group is Rory McIlroy, who has bent Firestone to his will off the tee but largely failed to capitalize from there. The Ulsterman is doing the heavy lifting this week with friend Harry Diamond on the bag, but he now has a chance to repeat his rally from three years ago, when he raced past Sergio Garcia to grab the trophy.

“I was three behind going into Sunday last time and I think I took the lead by the sixth tee box,” McIlroy said. “There’s obviously a few more guys up around the lead this time around, but I’m going to need to start like that again.”

With the season’s final major on the horizon, players have a tangible goal toward which to build momentum with their final loop around Firestone. But for those still with title aspirations, the allure of a trophy from golf’s not-quite-top shelf has plenty of appeal on its own.

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.