Notes PLAYERS Playoff Dilemma Ryder Fever

By Associated PressMay 13, 2008, 4:00 pm
Starting a sudden-death playoff on a par 3 is rare, but not unprecedented. It last happened on the PGA TOUR eight years ago at the BellSouth Classic, when the playoff between Phil Mickelson and Gary Nicklaus began on the 16th hole because the rest of the course was covered with water.
 
This time, TOUR officials purposely sought out a hole surrounded by water.
 
Golf purists might complain that THE PLAYERS Championship took on a carnival appearance Sunday when they changed the sequence of traditional playoff holes so that it would start on the island-green 17th.
 
Sudden-death playoffs typically begin on the 18th hole because the fans already are in place. Thats where it started the last time THE PLAYERS went overtime, although that was 21 years ago.
 
Henry Hughes, the TOURs chief of operations and soon-to-be CEO of THE PLAYERS, said officials decided about five years ago to start the playoff at No. 17, and there were no regrets Sunday.
 
We discussed what would be the most exciting, most compelling, most attractive way to end the tournament should it end in a tie, Hughes said. The entire team concluded that arguably the most exciting hole in golf would be the place to contest a playoff. We think it was exciting. We think the decision was right.
 
The question is how much the playoff was decided by skill and how much was decided by luck.
 
Playing the 472-yard 18th would have tested driving ability, iron play, scrambling and the nerves of standing over a putt for the win. Starting on an island green that played 128 yards required a wedge and hope that a gust didnt blow at the wrong time.
 
Paul Goydos caught a gust of wind. Sergio Garcia did not.
 
The hole was designed to do exactly what it did, Goydos said. Just got me instead of somebody else.
 
Goydos had no complaints, however, and he conceded that he hit the ball a smidgen higher than the more penetrating shot he struck in regulation. Garcia hit a sand wedge that was close to perfection.
 
Goydos was right in one other aspect'the hole did what it was designed to in a playoff. It added drama, and that didnt stop after Goydos hit into the water.
 
On any other hole, all Garcia had to do was play it safe. But how you do you play that shot conservatively?
 
I could do exactly the same thing, Garcia said. I was just praying that I didnt get any weird gusts or wind or anything that.
 
As for the fans? It was impossible for so many of them to get to the 17th green in time for the playoff. However, the large video board behind the 18th green carried the action live.
 
Ideally, the TOUR should consider what the Masters wont'a three-hole aggregate playoff starting at No. 16 to test a player on a par 5, a par 3 and a par 4, allowing room for a mistake. Who wouldnt love to see a playoff at Augusta National around Amen Corner?
 
It wasnt all bad. The 17th, after all, is the signature hole at Sawgrass. But maybe its a sign of THE PLAYERS Championship status that it still needs to find a way for its tournament to be a little more than it already is.
 
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Tom Lehman was 37 when he captured his first major in the 1996 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and thats when he first met and took a liking to a 16-year-old from Spain.
 
Sergio Garcia played in his first British Open that year. Lehman handed him the claret jug and said to Garcia, Someday, youll win this.
 
It hasnt happened'yet'although a major is just a matter of time.
 
In the meantime, news from the PGA TOUR on Tuesday showed how far Garcia has come since then.
 
Lehman tied for sixth at THE PLAYERS Championship and earned $307,563. Garcia won in a playoff and took home $1.71 million. The significance? Both crossed the $20 million mark in career earnings.
 
RYDER FEVER
A half-dozen players from the top 50 in the world ranking did not compete in THE PLAYERS Championship, mainly because of injury (Tiger Woods), fatigue (Martin Kaymer) or illness (Trevor Immelman).
 
For Robert Karlsson, it was all about the Ryder Cup.
 
The Swede was the only player in the top 50 competing last week somewhere other than Sawgrass. Karlsson was at the Italian Open, where he contended on the weekend and eventually finished third behind Hennie Otto and Oliver Wilson.
 
But he picked up 9.6 world ranking points, the equivalent of finishing 12th at THE PLAYERS.
 
CLARKE STAYS HOME
Darren Clarke also has the Ryder Cup on his mind, enough to skip U.S. Open qualifying in Europe.
 
Clarke, whose victory in the BMW Asian Open two weeks ago was his first since his wife died of breast cancer, withdrew Tuesday from U.S. Open qualifying to boost his chances of making the Ryder Cup team for the sixth straight time.
 
He instead will play the Wales Open at Celtic Manor, which coincidentally hosts the 2010 Ryder Cup.
 
My win in China really put my career back on track and I want to do everything I possibly can to be part of Nick Faldos side for Valhalla next September, Clarke said.
 
Clarke said he would have played the U.S. Open had he been exempt from qualifying. He still hopes to play his way into the British Open and PGA Championship, which offer high ranking points and count as official money on the European Tour.
 
He is playing the Irish Open this week.
 
SPIN OF THE WEEK
World ranking points are awarded to the Nationwide Tour in an effort to boost its credibility. U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost won last week and received 14 points.
 
Thats more than Brett Quigley, Tom Lehman, Ben Crane and Ernie Els received after they tied for sixth at The Players Championship.
 
DIVOTS
In its weekly newsletter, the PGA TOUR noted that Ben Curtis had gone 345 consecutive holes without a three-putt, dating to the Honda Classic. He promptly three-putted his 12th hole in the second round of THE PLAYERS Championship, ending the streak at 374 Sergio Garcia is the first player to go from runner-up to winner in consecutive years at THE PLAYERS Championship since Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2001. Alexis Thompson, the 12-year-old who qualified for the U.S. Womens Open last year, was at THE PLAYERS Championship watching older brother Nicholas. She didnt look like the same girl at Pine Needles, though, because she has grown 5 inches.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Hal Sutton in 1983 is the only player to win THE PLAYERS Championship and his first major in the same season.
 
FINAL WORD
This is how I make decisions in my life, just like on the golf course. If I decide to hit a 7-iron, then its a 7-iron. Im cool with my decision. I trust my instincts.'Annika Sorenstam, who announced she is retiring after this year.
 

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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”