Notes: The 'needle' for Stricker; POY race

By Doug FergusonSeptember 20, 2011, 11:28 pm

ATLANTA - Steve Stricker is concerned about losing strength in his left arm, and it didn’t help Tuesday at East Lake that he was hitting balls next to Bubba Watson.

He watched Watson pound one drive so far that it hit the net on the back of the range on the fly.

“If my neck didn’t hurt, I could get that,” Stricker said with a grin.

Stricker withdrew from the BMW Championship last week after two rounds because of neck pain that affected his left arm and made it difficult to hold onto the club. He had a cortisone shot on Monday - his first one—and felt he was fine to play in the Tour Championship.

The shot was between the C6 and C7 vertebrae, and he played nine holes in Wisconsin that afternoon.

“I don’t feel better yet,” said Stricker, who was told it would take three to five days for him to feel a difference.

“The crazy thing is there’s no pain. My neck is a little stiff, that’s all. But there’s just a weak, heavy feeling in my left arm.”

He spent most of his time hitting drivers on the range, with his worst miss being a hard draw for not getting through on his left side. He hit four drives on the 10th tee, taking his hand off the club on one shot that sailed into the right rough.

“I feel it here,” he said, rubbing the back of his left shoulder. “I think it affects my move back to the ball.”

Stricker said he first realized something was wrong with his left arm last December when it collapsed while pulling back his bow while deer hunting. He thought he took care of it through exercise, and he won two more PGA Tour events this year. But he noticed his left arm getting weaker as the season went on.

He has not finished in the top 10 in the six events since winning the John Deere Classic.

“The doctors are moderately concerned this is back again,” Stricker said.

His plan is to have an MRI on Tuesday after the Tour Championship and “come up with a game plan from there.”

Still to come this year is the Presidents Cup on Nov. 17-20. Stricker also had planned to play a Fall Series event to stay sharp.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: It’s difficult enough to find a favorite for PGA Tour player of the year going into the Tour Championship. Keegan Bradley has two wins, including the PGA Championship. Luke Donald is No. 1 in the world. Steve Stricker, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson and Mark Wilson all are going for a third win at East Lake.

“I think a win this week would sway a lot of people’s minds,” Donald said.

Tougher still might be finding the player of the year on the European Tour, although its season still has nearly three months left.

Thomas Bjorn has won two times. Rory McIlroy had a record-setting win at the U.S. Open, while Darren Clarke had a sentimental win at the British Open, his second win of the year. There’s also Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Donald, who has three European Tour wins and is atop the world ranking.

“It’s finding that balance between how important is winning that major compared to the consistency of a year,” Donald said. “What does player of the year stand for? Does it stand for having that one great week in a major, which is extremely important? Of is it weighed by being very consistent week in and week out?

“I don’t know what everyone’s thinking,” he said. “It could a number of different ways.”

Perhaps the real measure is who gets put on the cover of the European Tour media guide for 2012.

“I’m sure they’ll just fill it up with the major trophies again,” Donald said.

BACK TO BERMUDA: The PGA Championship was at Atlanta Athletic Club last month, which should help freshen some memories. Without that tournament, some players at East Lake for the Tour Championship will have gone four months without playing out of Bermuda rough.

Either way, the first three playoff events were played out of a far different grass in northern courses of Plainfield (Barclays), TPC Boston (Deutsche Bank) and the BMW Championship (Cog Hill).

Nick Watney said the biggest adjustment is on getting a flyer out of the rough.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of how much,” Watney said. “I hit a flyer nine times out of 10. So for me, it’s about trying to play the correct amount of a flyer.”

He did OK the last time, winning a World Golf Championship at Doral.

Dustin Johnson grew up in South Carolina and now lives in South Florida, so he’s accustomed to this strain of golf. That doesn’t make it any easier for him.

“I’ve played it my whole life, but it’s still hard to chip out of,” Johnson said. “It’s just tough to judge chipping.”

DIVOTS: Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis will represent the LPGA Tour in the Three-Tour Challenge, to be played Nov. 8 at the Rio Secco in Las Vegas. Teams from the PGA Tour and Champions Tour will be announced later. The PGA Tour (Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Boo Weekley) won last year. … Ernie Els has decided to play the Open in two weeks. Els has a sponsorship deal with SAP, whose founder and chairman, Hasso Plattner, owns Cordevalle. … Matt Kuchar is the only player with a mathematical chance of capturing the $10 million FedEx Cup without winning a tournament all year.

STAT OF THE WEEK: For the second straight year, only one major champion (Keegan Bradley) made it to the Tour Championship.

FINAL WORD: “If you’re not in the top 50 in the world golf ranking, this is the next best thing you can do.” - Charles Howell III, on getting to the Tour Championship. That assures of him of playing three majors and one World Golf Championship event next year.

Getty Images

Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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 season-ending 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."

Getty Images

Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

Getty Images

Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: