Notes: A suggestion to improve HOF attendance

By Doug FergusonMay 14, 2013, 5:22 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – On a night of celebration, one of the embarrassing moments at the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony was early in the program, when Hall of Fame members in attendance were recognized. The introductions didn't take very long.

There were only eight of them, all women.

''Getting players to come back has always been a bit of a challenge over the years,'' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. ''It does raise a question in my mind about whether this is the best time of the year to do it.''

Back in 1998, the inaugural induction at the World Golf Village was held in May. The ceremony also has been in the late fall. It has been indoors and outdoors. Finchem had to be persuaded to move it to the week of The Players Championship, fearing it would detract from the tournament.

Whenever or wherever, it's not working.

Here's one suggestion. The Tour should consider working with IMG (along with title sponsor PNC Bank) and move the Father-Son Challenge from Orlando to north Florida, near the Hall of Fame. The tournament is for fathers who have won major championships, such a long list that the Father-Son often has an alternate list. Make the Hall of Fame induction ceremony the centerpiece of that week, and it's sure to be a big night.

Attendance isn't the only thing under review.

One element of the Hall of Fame that becomes confusing is players being inducted in the prime of their careers. The minimum age to get on the ballot is 40. Phil Mickelson was inducted when he was 41, and he has won twice more since then. Ernie Els won a fourth major after his induction.

Golf is a game to play forever, but why wasn't the age set at 50, the same age when players are eligible for the Champions Tour? Why 40?

''I don't really remember why,'' Finchem said. ''It seemed to be the thing to at that point in time for whatever we were looking at.''

He said the minimum age has been discussed in the last couple of years, and ''it's currently under discussion.''

There's also the matter of having a PGA Tour ballot for the ''World'' Golf Hall of Fame. It sends a subtle message that this really is about the PGA Tour. International players get their own ballot.

''I think it's timely to take a look at everything we're doing and take a fresh look,'' Finchem said. ''We haven't done that in several years.''

WORLD CUP: Rory McIlroy said two weeks ago he would not be playing in the World Cup of Golf this year. There is speculation that if he were to represent Ireland at the World Cup, he would be have no choice but to play under the Irish flag in the 2016 Olympics.

But the announcement over the weekend that the World Cup was going to Royal Melbourne this fall under a new format piqued his interest.

Northern Ireland, for the first time, can field its own team.

''That might change things a little bit,'' McIlroy said before leaving TPC Sawgrass.

Graeme McDowell certainly hopes so.

''I need my partner in crime in Melbourne,'' he said. ''Regardless whether Rory wants to play or not, I want to play this year. If it works, I'd like him to be there, as well. But we'll see.''

McDowell spoke before he was aware of the change in format and that Northern Ireland can choose to have its own team.

Padraig Harrington smiled when told that Northern Ireland could have its own team. ''It suits me,'' he said. Harrington is the highest-ranked player from Ireland.

The $8 million purse will be divided with $7 million of it for the individual competition (which also provides world ranking points) and $1 million for the team. It will be stroke play, combining the scores of the two-man teams. The field will be capped at 60 players. Countries are allowed no more than four players – provided the additional two are inside the top 15 in the world – but the two players with the highest ranking will be the team. If the cutoff were now, and everyone wanted to play, Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker (No. 5) would represent the United States in the team competition.

Players and countries are selected from the world ranking until the 60-man field is set. There likely will be no more than about 18 teams.

Perhaps the strangest part of this World Cup? Royal Melbourne will hold two events in successive weeks. The Australian Masters will be Nov. 14-17, followed by the World Cup of Golf Nov. 21-24.

OPEN AND OUT: Louis Oosthuizen isn't making big plans to see Merion ahead of the U.S. Open because he's not sure he will be there. His wife, Nel-Mare, is expecting their third child on the Saturday of the tournament.

In a perfect world, she will have the baby the weekend before.

''But if it's during the U.S. Open, I won't play,'' Oosthuizen said. ''If it's Monday and she hasn't gone into labor, I probably won't go. When the doctor said the date, I looked at the calendar and said, 'Wow. Well done.' But family is more important.''

His other two children were born in December and February, so the South African hasn't had to cope with babies born around the majors.

OGILVY GETS HIS MATCH: Geoff Ogilvy missed out on the Match Play Championship in Arizona when he plunged in the world ranking, a tough blow for a guy who has won the event twice and reached the championship match another time.

But he won't be shut out from his favorite format.

Ogilvy was on the charter from Sawgrass to Bulgaria to take part in the World Match Play Championship that starts this week. His agent called him a few weeks ago to make sure he had no plans to play the HP Byron Nelson Championship and to let him know he might get in the Match Play.

''It wasn't even on my radar,'' Ogilvy said after missing the cut at The Players.

Nicolas Colsaerts is the defending champion in a 24-man field that includes Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson. There are eight groups of three players who play a round-robin format with the top two advancing to single elimination.

''It's a good format for me, probably – hopefully,'' said Ogilvy, who is having a year to forget. He not only failed to qualify for the Match Play in Arizona, he narrowly missed out on the Masters. He already has missed seven cuts this year. Match play is his favorite format, so maybe this can shake things up for him.

''Besides, when am I ever going to go to Bulgaria again,'' Ogilvy said. ''And it's a match play tournament. And they're getting us there easily. And I wasn't going to play Dallas, anyway. Why not at this point?''

DIVOTS: Jimmy Walker has made 22 consecutive cuts, the longest active streak on the PGA Tour and only 120 tournaments short of Tiger Woods' record. ... Sandy Dawson of Australia, former captain and now president of Royal Sydney Golf Club, has been appointed captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews for 2013-14. He is only the second Australian appointed to the post. ... Ernie Ransom, president of Pine Valley Golf Club from 1977 through 2001, died last week at age 86. ... Phil Mickelson has confirmed that he will return to the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, a week before the British Open. ... The European Tour returns to Denmark next year for the first time since 2003. The tournament will be called Made in Denmark.

STAT OF THE WEEK: For the second time in his career, Woods won his last tournament before the Masters and his first tournament after the Masters.

FINAL WORD: ''Nobody has ever sued the Tour for being cleared of getting a drug violation.'' – Harrington on Vijay Singh's lawsuit.

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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”