Finchem: plenty of 'distractions' in golf

By Doug FergusonFebruary 6, 2013, 1:46 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - These should be happy times for golf.

Tiger Woods won for the 75th time on the PGA Tour and set a record with his eighth win at Torrey Pines. It was a command performance, the kind that made people think more about where he is going than where he went.

The next week, Phil Mickelson had a chance at 59 until his 25-foot birdie putt on the last hole took a cruel spin around the cup. He thought he had golf's magic number and instead shot his tax rate in California. Lefty still sailed to a wire-to-wire win in the Phoenix Open.

It was the first time since 2009 that golf's two biggest stars won in consecutive weeks.

The trouble is, any discussion about golf these days goes beyond birdies and bogeys. Now it includes ''bifurcation.''

And the day after the buzz was about Tiger, the focus shifted to deer antlers.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem might have seen this coming when he said two weeks ago that while he views the professional game as being the strongest it has ever been, ''I don't like to see distractions.''

There are too many of them right now.

Vijay Singh was leaving the practice range at Pebble Beach on Tuesday when one of the few reporters that has a working relationship with the Fijian called out to him. Singh looked at him, said nothing, and kept walking.

''So that would be no comment?'' the reporter said.

''Yes,'' Singh replied.

Sports Illustrated reported that Singh paid $9,000 to S.W.A.T.S. (Sports With Alternative to Steroids) in November for products that included deer-antler spray, which is said to have an insulin-like growth factor, and is on the PGA Tour's list of prohibited substances. Singh told the magazine he uses the spray, ''every couple of hours ... every day.''

Singh might have been better off keeping quiet, as he often does. But he issued a statement confirming he used the spray, but was unaware it had a banned substance.

''I am absolutely shocked that deer-antler spray may contain a banned substance and am angry that I have put myself in this position,'' he said. ''I have been in contact with the PGA Tour and am cooperating fully with their review of this matter.''

The Tour will not comment except to say it is looking into the matter, though it is backed into a corner.

Singh's admission alone constitutes an anti-doping violation. The first violation is up to a one-year suspension. The Tour has a minimum requirement to publish the name of the player, his anti-doping violation and the sanction.

As long as Singh is in the field, that means the Tour has not suspended him. He is playing this week. For now.

That's not the kind of distraction Finchem was talking about, but it's a big one. The only other player suspended under the anti-doping policy was Doug Barron, the consummate journeyman. Singh is a three-time major champion who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006. He hasn't won in more than four years, and he had made it to the Tour Championship only once since 2008.

The distraction to which Finchem referred was about the proposed rule that would ban anchored strokes - the kind used with long putters and belly putters. It already was a mess because three of the last five major champions used a belly putter, and because the rule would not go into effect until 2016.

But it's the debate over this proposed rule that has given some corners reason to bring up bifurcation - two sets of rules.

PGA of America president Ted Bishop polled his 27,000 members on anchoring. Just over 15 percent of them responded, and he said 63 percent opposed the ban. The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient write the Rules of Golf. Bishop noted that the PGA Tour didn't exist when the USGA was founded in 1894, and that the Tour has a ''powerful impact'' on the game. He suggested golf was at a point where two sets of rules should be considered as a potential solution.

The CEO of TaylorMade suggested the USGA was ''obsolete'' and that the PGA of America, in conjunction with the PGA Tour, should be setting the rules. Maybe he forgot that the PGA Tour broke away from the PGA of America in 1968 because of the disconnect between tour pros and club pros.

Finchem said he thought there were certain parts of the rules that could be bifurcated ''and it wouldn't hurt anything,'' though maybe not in the case of anchoring.

Where will it all lead?

Finchem said the Tour's objective was to keep the rules together. Bishop said in an ''ideal world,'' golf would be played under one set of rules.

Debate is healthy as long as it's about golf's best interest, and not financial interests. Don't get the idea that golf isn't growing because the game is too hard. That's one of its greatest appeals.

''The challenge was constant. And it never stopped being a challenge,'' Arnold Palmer once said. ''That was one of the things that really excited me as a kid.''

USGA president Glen Nager got to the heart of the bifurcation bluster during his speech at the USGA's annual meeting over the weekend in San Diego.

''There certainly are important issues for the golf industry to address, including economic issues, but revenue concerns arising during a broad economic slowdown should not lead us fundamentally to alter our approach to writing the rules and defining the game,'' Nager said. ''It is our obligation as a governing body to keep our eye on the long-term good of the game and to hold firm to what we know to be true about the essence of golf.''

In the meantime, Mickelson goes for his fifth win at Pebble Beach this week. All the stars get together for the first time in two weeks at the Match Play Championship.

And the Masters is only two months away.

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Kim's missing clubs show up at sporting goods store

By Will GrayMarch 22, 2018, 1:58 pm

More than a month after they were lost on an American Airlines flight, the clubs I.K. Kim used to win last year's Ricoh Women's British Open turned up on the sale rack of a California sporting goods store.

Kim's clubs became lost in late January when she flew from Miami to San Diego, with the airline suggesting she simply rent a new set. A few weeks later, Kim shot a "What's in the bag" television segment which according to a Golfweek report caught the eye of three good samaritans in the San Diego area.

The three men recognized Kim's clubs for sale at a local Play It Again Sports, with the major winner's tools listed at $60 each. The store even had Kim's tour bag, complete with her LPGA player badge. Kim filmed the reunion with her bag - containing wedges and a few hybrids, minus the head covers - at the Carlsbad police station:

Kim was back in southern California this week for the Kia Classic, where she'll begin play Thursday morning at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad.

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New dad Garcia removes shoes, wins match

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:48 am

AUSTIN, Texas – In one of the day’s most explosive matches, Sergio Garcia rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to defeat Shubhankar Sharma, 1 up, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The duo halved just nine holes on Day 1 at Austin Country Club, with Garcia going from 2 up through four holes to 1 down with five holes to play.

But the Spaniard rallied with five birdies over his final eight holes and pushed his record to 20-17-1 in the Match Play. He also gave himself his best chance to advance out of pool play since the format began in 2015.

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The victory continued what has already been a memorable week for Garcia, whose wife, Angela, gave birth to the couple’s first child last Wednesday.

“I already feel like I’m a winner after what happened on Wednesday,” Garcia said. “Obviously, it's something that we're so, so happy and proud of and enjoying it as much as possible.”

The highlight of Garcia’s round on Wednesday came at the 12th hole when he took a drop on a cart path. After considering his options, he removed his shoes and hit his approach from 212 yards to 29 feet for a two-putt birdie to halve the hole.

“I have spikes. So if I don't take my shoes off, I'm going to slip. It's not the kind of shot that you want to slip,” Garcia said. “I had tried it a couple of times on practice swings and I was already slipping a little bit. So I thought I would just take my shoes off, try to get a little bit in front of the hole and it came out great.”

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On a wild Wednesday, DJ, Rory, Phil saved by the pool

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:39 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Call it black Wednesday, but then the one-and-done aspect of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was dulled three years ago with the introduction of round-robin play that assures every player at least three matches in pool play.

Otherwise Wednesday at Austin Country Club would go down as one of the championship’s darkest hours for the top of the dance card. In order, world No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson dropped his Day 1 match, 3 and 1, to world No. 56 Bernd Wiesberger; last week’s winner Rory McIlroy lost to PGA Tour rookie Peter Uihlein, 2 and 1, and Phil Mickelson, the winner of the last WGC in Mexico, dropped a 3-and-2 decision to Charles Howell III.

All told, 11 lower-seeded players pulled off “upsets” on Wednesday, although it’s widely held that the Match Play is more prone to these types of underdog performances than the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

But if it wasn’t March Madness, it was at the least March Mayhem, particularly for those who shuffled around Austin Country Club in a state of mild confusion.

Although there were plenty of matches that went according to plan – with top-seeded players Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Sergio Garcia all winning – it was still a tough day for chalk with three of the top 10 players in the world ranking either losing or halving (world No. 3 Jon Rahm halved his duel with Keegan Bradley) their matches.

At least McIlroy made things interesting after finding himself 5 down through 13 holes. The Northern Irishman played his last six holes in 5 under par to push the match to the 17th hole, but Uihlein closed out the bout with a par.

“If he birdies seven straight on you, hats off to him. It is what it is,” Uihlein said of McIlroy’s late surge. “I felt like if I just kind of kept giving myself a chance, I didn't want to give him any holes. He made me earn it, so hats off to it.”

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Johnson couldn’t say the same thing.

After not trailing in any match on his way to victory at last year’s Match Play, Johnson hit a ball in the water, two out of bounds (on the same hole, no less) and began to fade when he made a double bogey-5 at the 11th hole. Although scoring is always skewed at the Match Play because of conceded putts, Johnson was listed at 9 over through 17 holes before his day came to a merciful end.

“We both didn't have a great day. I think we only made three birdies between us, which is not a lot out here,” Wiesberger said. “Obviously it wasn't his best day. It wasn't the best of my days. I think we both have to do a little bit of work this afternoon.”

Although not as scrappy as Johnson’s round, Mickelson has also seen better days. Lefty made just a single birdie and played 17 holes in even par to lose just his second match in pool play.

But then this event hasn’t exactly been kind to Lefty, who has advanced to the weekend just twice in 13 starts.

“I was fortunate today, obviously, to get past him,” said Howell, who is the second-lowest seeded player to advance out of pool play when he did it in 2017 as the 61st player in the field. “But with this pod play the way it goes now, you never know. You've got to keep playing good. Last WGC we had, he won. So he's never out of it.”

That will be the solace those high-profile players who find themselves on the wrong side of the round-robin ledger now cling to. There is a path back.

Since pool play began, just four players have lost their Day 1 matches and went on to win their group. One of those players is Johnson, who lost to Robert Streb on Wednesday in 2016 but still advanced to the quarterfinals.

But if that helps ease the sting for those who now embrace the Match Play mulligan, it did little to quiet the crowds on what turned out to be a wild Wednesday.