Seventeen Holes of Major Championship Golf

By Associated PressMarch 29, 2005, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The Players Championship dodged a major bullet.
 
The PGA Tours showcase event was teetering on the edge of ridicule, although not for obvious reasons. It only would have looked bad if the fifth major had needed six days to find a winner.
 
Was it three rain delays that left players stranded in the clubhouse with nothing better to do than complain?
 
Not at all.
 
Weather happens. Golf should be thankful it doesnt happen more often. Besides, wholesale grumbling is heard the loudest at majors, so perhaps The Players Championship made big strides this year.
 
It wasnt the condition of the course or preferred lies that tarnished its stature, either.
 
Rain turned the TPC at Sawgrass into a sloppy mess, leaving tournament officials no choice but to allow players to lift, clean and place the ball in the fairway. That doesnt happen at any other major, and purists will argue that the ball should be played where it lies.
 
That was one of the original 13 rules established in 1744 when golf primarily was played on seaside links courses. What would the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers have thought about the Stadium Course at Sawgrass? Or a course with a name closer to home, like Muirfield Village?
 
A popular phrase last week was playing golf the way it was meant to be played.
 
Noble, indeed, but that carried an entirely different meaning depending on who was talking. For rules officials, that meant playing the ball down. For players, it meant playing shots without globs of mud on the side of the ball.
 
Peter Dawson, the square-jawed secretary of the Royal & Ancient, was hardly offended to see players handing golf balls to their caddies to be scrubbed clean and gently placed in the fairway.
 
On this type of course, when it gets as wet as this, youve almost got no option, he said. I think the ball should be played as it lies, as long as you can play proper golf. But with the conditions weve had, you couldnt have done that.
 
Then there was that bizarre mulligan in the second round.
 
Thirty players began the round without being able to lift, clean and place. Once rain made preferred lies the only option, those scores were erased and the round started over. That cost players like Jesper Parnevik, Joe Ogilvie and Skip Kendall, and rescued Ernie Els.
 
But the most anyone had played was four holes.
 
Thats like a bad call in the first quarter of a football game.
 
No one remembers, and it rarely makes a difference.
 
What nearly cost The Players Championship major credibility was the fifth day.
 
It was the seventh time this tournament had to be finished on Monday, so that was nothing new. And there is a precedent on the major scene; the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont did not end until Monday because of rain.
 
But the wind that shooed away the storm nearly exposed the 17th hole as the gimmick it is, and showed why one hole might be the obstacle that keeps The Players Championship from being regarded as a major.
 
As it stands, the tournament has 17 holes of championship golf.
 
The other hole is a circus.
 
The island-green is the most notorious par 3 in golf, perhaps the most well-known among mainstream fans.
 
But it is not golf the way it is meant to be played.
 
Fred Funk chose to aim his 3-iron from 234 yards over the water and allow the wind to bring it back to land, setting up a two-putt birdie on the 16th for the outright lead. He stood over a 5-foot par putt on the 18 that gave him the biggest victory of his career.
 
What was the most nerve-racking moment on the final round? The 17th tee, of course.
 
It can just ruin the whole week, Funk said.
 
Tiger Woods called it a made-for-TV hole, easy for him to say since it usually eats his lunch. He would have no problem if it were the eighth hole of the round, but not one second from the end.
 
I dont think a hole like that should decide a tournament, he said.
 
It can decide fate long before that. Bob Tway was four shots out of the lead late in the third round Monday morning when he hit four balls into the water and made a 12, the highest score ever on that hole. Two shots hit the green and spun off into the water. He went from a tie for 10th to a tie for 72nd.
 
Youre playing great, Tway said quietly. All of a sudden, in one hole, you might as well be finishing last.
 
What spared The Players Championship from embarrassment was that the strongest wind in tournament history blew from left to right. Had the direction been downwind or into the players faces, it would have become a guessing game which club to use and how far to hit it.
 
One of these days, that will happen.
 
Golf is not meant to be fair. One only has to look back nine months to the U.S. Open, where the USGA outlawed sprinklers. Tee shots would not stay on the bone-dry green at the par-3 seventh at Shinnecock Hills, turning a classic course into a farce. But at least players could aim for the bunker and try to save par.
 
You cant play the ball as it lies when it doesnt stay on the 17th green at Sawgrass.
 
It is an exciting hole, a dramatic hole. The Players Championship might not be the same without it.
 
Majors test skill, patience and nerves. At times, they require luck.
 
But they should never demand it.
 
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Getty Images

What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

Getty Images

HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Getty Images

Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.


1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.



4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.



7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”


Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  


Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.



The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Web.com Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

Getty Images

Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."