Season Begins Off-Kilter

By Brian HewittJanuary 5, 2009, 5:00 pm
The New Year in golf arrived a little bit like your 30-foot lag putt that stops 10 feet short of the hole: All of a sudden youre playing defense just to make par.
Im referring to news that John Daly will serve the first months of 2009 under the uncompromising terms of a six-month suspension handed down by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
Mercedes-Benz Championship
Kapalua will host the season-opener on the PGA Tour this week. (Getty Images)
Meanwhile, the Tour season begins Thursday with one of the most distinctive and photogenic events of the year: The elite-field Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii, played on a gorgeous Crenshaw and Coore golf course built just up the bluff from the sparkling Pacific Ocean on the side of a lovely and verdant Maui mountain.
The only problem is the four highest-ranked players in the world ' Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington ' won't be there for a variety of reasons, some more legitimate than others.
Daly still gets to play, but his legion of diehard fans will have to track his progress in Europe until mid-year. And two weeks of Tour pros in Hawaii will produce plenty of quality golf and pretty pictures for all those cold-climate Americans back on the mainland cursing their way through the throes of another harsh winter.
Its just that the news of Daly wearing out his welcome with the bosses in Ponte Vedra and the absence of the best and brightest in Kapalua, for the moment, has golf a little bit off balance. Kind of like what Utah did to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl if you follow college football.
And it didnt need to be this way.
Lets start with Daly: His critics are saying the suspension should have been longer. I say it should have come earlier.
If you have ever been around Daly, you will find him impossible to dislike. But the alcohol-fueled incidents that have littered his off-the-course history have been pardoned too many times. Thats what happens when you win two majors because you have soft hands and a driver that leaves a vapor trail. In the case of Daly, an Arkansan, you become a rural legend.
And too much enabling has been allowed. It was encouraging to hear Dalys agent, Bud Martin, say that Daly needs to walk the walk ' not just talk the talk ' in the wake of the suspension and Dalys promises of better behavior. JD is also going to need a lot more tough love if he is going to resurrect a career in tatters and a game in shambles. He will be 43 in April. Time is short.
There were innocent bystanders in all of this (see the sidebar on the Daly Domino Effect). The tournament directors who were hoping to pump up ticket sales by giving Daly a sponsors exemption are, at least for the first five or six months of the season, out of luck. Yes, Daly is still a draw.
As for the Mercedes-Benz Championship: It needs to change its qualification standards. Right now you have to win an official Tour event to qualify. The size of the field is typically in the 30s.
This tournament is descended from the old Tournament of Champions concept. And its title sponsors have always rolled out a spectacular welcome mat for its participants.
Woods is recovering from knee operation. Garcia is gearing up for the Race to Dubai on the European Tour. Mickelson traditionally re-tools his game in California this time of year and Harrington is probably smart to remain resting after his whirlwind Player of the Year campaign in 2008.
So why not let more players in the field? Why not keep the winners plus anybody who finished the previous year in, say, the top 50 in the world rankings? The field would still be elite. And it would still be small enough that getting everybody around each day before darkness would not be a problem.
This is not a new idea. But the climate in professional golf today is more directly tied to the world economy than at any time since the Great Depression. And professional golf needs to re-explore options and re-invent solutions whenever, and wherever, it can.
Ill be rooting for Daly this year. Hes not a bad guy but he is a bit of a tortured soul. His sport just needs him to clean up his act. His personality will always be there.
And while were at it, lets thank our stars that the names of golfs best players arent regularly found on police blotters. Other sports should be so lucky.
What would be so bad about a New Years resolution from each of the worlds top-ranked 30 players to enter at least one event in 2009 that they have not played in previously?
The title sponsors that have been loyal to a Tour that has made millionaires out of hundreds of players deserve better. And the Tour that has provided the format for Dalys legend deserves a little more in the way of reliability from him when he returns.
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    Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

    By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

    ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

    The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

    Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

    ''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

    The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

    Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

    Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

    Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

    ''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

    Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

    Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

    First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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    Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

    Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

    Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    “Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

    Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

    “I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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    Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

    Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

    “I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

    “We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

    Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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    Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

    This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

    Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

    “My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

    Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

    “Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”