Comfortable Vegas finds a home in Houston

By Associated PressMarch 31, 2011, 12:26 am

2007 Shell Houston Open

HUMBLE, Texas – Jhonattan Vegas could barely speak English when he made his first appearance in a PGA Tour event, as an amateur at the 2003 Houston Open.

He was 18 then, and qualified less than a year after moving from his native Venezuela to Houston to fine-tune his game with Franci Betancourt, an instructor who had taught him as a boy.

Vegas missed the cut, but felt secure enough to make the city his adopted hometown. He’s back at Redstone for the Houston Open this week, now a fast-rising tour rookie with a victory already under his belt.

The big-hitting Vegas is one of 33 players in the field who have already qualified for next week’s Masters. But a win in Houston would have additional meaning to Vegas, a former University of Texas star who now lives only 20 minutes from the course.

“That first Tour experience was this one here and since that time, it’s great to be back,” Vegas said. “I think just the whole state of Texas, I’ve been in a pretty ‘home’ feeling. When I’m here, I feel really comfortable. I like everyone around.”

Vegas earned his invitation to Augusta when he won the Hope Classic in January in just his fifth career start on the tour.

“I knew that I could win here – I didn’t know it was going to be that quick,” he said. “You never know when things are going to happen. That’s kind of what I do and just try as hard as I can every single time and hope for the best.”

Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Fred Couples are also in the field, using the tournament to tune up for the season’s first major. Anthony Kim is the defending champion.

Organizers have embraced the Houston Open’s distinction as the run-up to the Masters, setting up the Tournament Course with conditions similar to those at Augusta. The fairways are wide and mowed toward the tees, the rough is light, the greenside mounds are shaved and the greens themselves are lightning-fast.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen is playing the course for the first time after hearing positive feedback about it.

“A lot of the players said it’s as close as you can get it to the Augusta setting or grass,” Goosen said. “That definitely made me decide to play this year.”

The course can also boast one of the tour’s toughest holes, the water-lined, 488-yard 18th. It ranked as the 20th most difficult hole on tour last year, with a 4.317-stroke average, and usually yields final-round drama.

In 2007, Adam Scott had a one-shot lead, but pulled his tee shot into the water. He took his drop, hit his approach safely away from the water, then holed a 48-foot par-saving putt to win.

In 2009, Paul Casey bogeyed the 18th on the final day to slip into a playoff with J.B. Holmes. The players returned to the 18th tee, Holmes found the water with his drive, and Casey won with a conservative bogey.

Last year, Vaughn Taylor rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 18 in the final round to tie Kim and force another playoff. Taylor then hit the greenside bunker to the right off the tee, while Kim made a routine par for the victory.

“It’s a tremendous hole,” Kim said. “When the wind blows, it’s as tough as it gets. You can’t bail out anywhere. Right is no good. The second shot is actually harder if you’re in that bunker than if you’re right of the bunker.

“You have to hit a couple of quality golf shots,” Kim said, “and the green’s not very easy, either.”

Westwood tied for eighth in 2010 and finished second to Mickelson at the Masters the following week, bolstering the notion that Redstone works as a suitable tuneup. Westwood is playing at Houston for the fourth time in five years.

“The main point is they try to get the greens as quick as possible which, when you get to Augusta next week, it’s not as big a shock,” Westwood said. “They’re pretty immaculate this week and run at a great pace.”

But Westwood is looking for more than just a few practice rounds this week. Now No. 2 in the world behind Martin Kaymer, Westwood has failed to crack the top 10 in six starts.

His routine of playing the week before a major has served him well, though it has yet to produce a breakthrough victory. He was the runner-up to Louis Oosthuizen at last year’s British Open, and tied for third at both the British Open and PGA Championship in 2009.

“I like to be competitive going into the week of a major,” Westwood said. “You look at all the major championships, I’m playing the week before. Like if I come into it, have another couple of weeks (without playing a tournament), I could be rusty for even nine holes, and that’s too much in a major championship.”

Shell Oil Company has sponsored the tournament since 1992. On Tuesday, the oil giant extended its title sponsorship through 2017.

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Cops called in bizarre ending to Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 20, 2018, 7:16 pm

In a one-paragraph post on its website, the Florida State Golf Association declared Marc Dull the winner of the 37th Mid-Amateur Championship on May 13 after his opponent – in a tie match with two holes to go – was unable to return because of an “unfortunate injury” sustained during a lengthy weather delay.

Left unreported was what allegedly happened.

According to a police report (see below) obtained by GolfChannel.com, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office received a call that afternoon from Dull’s opponent, Jeff Golden, who claimed that he’d been assaulted in the parking lot at Coral Creek Club, the tournament host site in Placida. In a statement provided to police, Golden said that he was sucker-punched in the face by Dull’s caddie, Brandon Hibbs.

Both in his statement to police and in a subsequent phone interview afterward, Golden, 33, said that the alleged incident stemmed from a rules dispute on the ninth hole during the championship match. As he surveyed his putt, Golden asked Dull whether the cup was damaged or if there was loose debris around the edge.

“Don’t worry about it,” Hibbs reportedly told Golden. “If you’re going to make it, you’re going around it.”

With tensions already running high because of what he perceived as breaches of etiquette by his opponents, Golden informed the rules official in the group that he believed Hibbs’ statement constituted advice. The penalty was a loss of hole, giving Golden a 2-up lead at the turn.

At that point, Hibbs told police, he recused himself and returned to the clubhouse. Dull and Golden continued their match, heading to the 17th hole all square when they were pulled off the course because of inclement weather.

Golden told police that he headed to the parking lot at 2:45 p.m. to retrieve some dry clothes from his car when Hibbs “approached him, apologized, then punched him on the left side of the face,” causing him to fall to the ground.

“I had a moment where I was happy to see him, because the first thing he said to me was, ‘I want to apologize,’” Golden said last week in a phone interview. “By the time he finished I was being punched.”

Asked why he believed Hibbs would strike him, Golden said: “It was from the earlier ruling, 100 percent. He had anger toward me because I called him out on a ruling.”

In a statement given to police, Hibbs, 36, said that he had “been in the clubhouse the entire time and did not batter [Golden], nor was he in the parking lot.” Hibbs, who caddies with Dull at Streamsong Resort in Central Florida, did not return a message seeking comment.

Police wrote in the report that there were no witnesses to the alleged attack, nor was there any surveillance video from the parking lot. While observing Golden the officer noted “no swelling or abrasions to the face,” but there was “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip.” Hibbs’ hands and knuckles showed “no scrapes or abrasions.”

Golden, however, said that there were three bloodstains on his shirt and punctures inside his mouth that proved he’d been struck. He also described himself afterward as “dizzy” and seeing “weird shades of colors,” and that the area between his wrist and thumb was “very sensitive” from catching his fall. Still feeling woozy, he met with his doctor the day after the alleged incident and also underwent a CT scan on Friday.

“I was extremely shaken up,” he said. “I had concussion symptoms.”

Golden declined to press charges – he said later that he wasn’t given the option, because of a lack of physical evidence – and refused medical attention.

Reached by phone last week, Dull said that he had no knowledge of the alleged attack and was only made aware once the police arrived. He said he had waited out the delay in a storm shelter.

“It was shocking,” he said. “[Hibbs] said to me, ‘I didn’t touch the guy.’”

Once the police left, it was up to the FSGA to determine how to proceed.

With the course now playable after a two-hour delay, under the Rules of Golf, the players were expected back on the 17th hole.

Golden asked Dull whether he would concede the match.

“I said that I wasn’t going to concede,” Dull said. “Why would I concede the match when I was sitting in the shelter, and when I come back someone is accused of being hit?”

So Golden then decided to concede, handing the Mid-Am title to Dull, the reigning FSGA Amateur Player of the Year.

“I just wanted to get home,” Golden explained later.

Asked last week for more details about the final result, Jeff Magaditsch, the organization’s director of tournament operations, said in an email that Golden “expressed concern about a wrist issue” and that “not much additional information is available.”

A day later, once the details of the police report became available, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that Golden “didn’t want to play anymore.”

“Regrettably, the golf course was very playable and Jeff understood that he needed to resume the match,” he said. “I think he was just ready to go.”

When asked to comment on the alleged attack, Demick said that the police “found absolutely no evidence of an assault.”

Last week Golden, who qualified for the 2007 U.S. Open and is now a tennis pro at Palencia in St. Augustine, appealed the FSGA’s decision, writing in a letter that tournament officials shouldn’t have accepted his concession.

Dull said that he was “annoyed by the whole incident.”

“I think it taints the entire championship,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. No golf tournament should end that way.”

Getty Images

Delayed start for Nelson might mean Monday finish

By Will GrayMay 20, 2018, 6:04 pm

DALLAS – Inclement weather  pushed back final-round tee times at the AT&T Byron Nelson by more than four hours, increasing the likelihood of a Monday finish in the tournament’s debut at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

With the field already scheduled to play in threesomes off split tees, the opening tee times for the day got pushed back from 9:23 a.m. CT to 1:23 p.m. because of steady rain in the area. The delay means that the final group won’t start their round until 3:35 p.m. local time.

With sunset in the Dallas area scheduled for 8:23 p.m., the leaders will likely have just under five hours to complete their rounds or face returning to the course Monday morning. Threesomes have been used for each of the first three days, and in part because of the intricacies of the new layout rounds have routinely approached 5 hours and 30 minutes in duration.

Should play spill over into Monday, those playing next week’s event will face one of the Tour’s shortest commutes, with Fort Worth Invitational host Colonial Country Club less than an hour away.

Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise share the 54-hole lead at 17 under, four shots clear of the field. They’ll be joined in the final trio by Australia’s Matt Jones, who is tied for third with Kevin Na.

Getty Images

Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

Getty Images

Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”