Notes: World No. 51 is no place to be

By Doug FergusonFebruary 20, 2013, 2:03 am

MARANA, Ariz. – The road to the Masters starts in Marana. At least for some European Tour members.

Alex Noren arrived at the Match Play Championship at No. 51 in the world, and when he says this is a big week, he has more than just this tournament on his mind.

The ultimate goal is to be in the top 50 on March 31 to get into the Masters. But there figures to be a lot of movement in the coming weeks, and Noren needs to make sure he gets as many chances as possible. This is where it gets tough on the Swede and a few other international players like him.

The top 50 in the world after the Match Play are eligible for the next World Golf Championship in two weeks at Doral. So if Noren doesn't at least get by Dustin Johnson in the opening round, the Swede won't get another chance at picking up big ranking points. He is not a PGA Tour member and thus is not in the Honda Classic.

''I've got to win a few matches to keep in the top 50,'' Noren said. ''I'm trying to play good tournaments.''

Noren probably won't get much sympathy from American-based players, especially those who didn't qualify for the Match Play. One reason international players have an advantage for this WGC event is the timing. After the Tour season is over, Europe had big events in Shanghai, Singapore and Dubai. It began this year with strong events in places like Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai.

The cutoff for the Match Play was a week after Dubai.

For the next two months in Europe, the pickings are slim when it comes to ranking points. A year ago, the strongest field in Europe from Doral through its flagship BMW PGA Championship at Europe was the Malaysian Open, which awarded 36 points to the winner. Malaysia has moved this year opposite Bay Hill, and the field is likely to suffer. Louis Oosthuizen is not going back to defend.

So it's make-or-break time for guys like Noren, Shane Lowry (68), Stephen Gallacher (56) and Marcus Fraser of Australia, who is No. 54.

And while the Match Play typically offers 74 points to the winner, keep in mind that everybody in the top 64 is at Dove Mountain (except Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker), so winning a match or even two matches is not likely to make up much ground.

Chris Wood is at No. 59, but he is likely to get into Doral from being among the top 10 on the European Tour's money list. Ditto for Richard Sterne, who is No. 57. Fraser gets into Doral from the Asian Tour money list.

Still, they can't just show up. Those fields are stacked.

''I need to play well these few weeks,'' Fraser said. ''If I can play well, I'll have a chance.''

Fourteen of the 64 players at Dove Mountain are not in the Masters. Of that group, only one is an American – Charles Howell III, who grew up in Augusta.


THE ALTERNATE: It took Bernd Wiesberger some 18 hours to travel from his home in Austria to the high desert of Dove Mountain, a journey that might have felt a lot shorter if only his wedge would have stayed on the 18th green at Dubai.

Wiesberger, a two-time winner on the European Tour last year, was in the middle of the pack at the Dubai Desert Classic, when his wedge to the par-5 18th spun off the green and into the water – twice. Instead of par, he made a 9. Instead of getting some world ranking points, he got none. And that kept him from being ranked ahead of Shane Lowry and Fredrik Jacobson, when the field was set for the Match Play Championship.

Instead, he was the first alternate.

''Vienna to Washington was nine-and-a-half hours,'' Wiesberger said Monday night on the range at Dove Mountain. ''Three-hour layover and five hours to here. It was a chance worth taking. Otherwise, I'd be covered in snow.''

He still lives in Austria, a central base for travel, and the weather is not an issue because he's on the road so much. He came out to California in December and played in San Diego and Palm Springs just to stay sharp.

If anyone withdraws, Wiesberger will take that spot in the bracket. There doesn't appear to be any candidates to drop out.

''Even in the worst case, it's not a terrible thing to do,'' Wiesberger said of his long trip. ''It's a beautiful place. Hopefully, I'll get in and play well. Otherwise, I'll go back to Europe. I'm hitting it well right now. If I can get in, you never know.''

The stakes are high. This would be his only chance to get into Doral and keep alive his hopes of cracking the top 50 to get into the Masters.


TRAVELING ADVICE: For those who have never had to cross oceans and multiple time zones, Padraig Harrington has some advice.

Make sure you keep working. You'll catch up on sleep soon enough.

''It's harder when you go home and you don't have a time schedule to stick to,'' he said. ''One night's sleep deprivation has no effect on performance whatsoever. Two nights is extremely detrimental. So I know no matter how bad I sleep or how bad I feel, I can get through a round of golf. If it's really bad, it just means you have to maybe curtail practice and catch up on your sleep.''

Go to the gym.

''That's probably one of the keys,'' he said. ''We'll all wake ourselves up by going to the gym.''

He also mentioned stayed properly hydrated and eating proper foods. But his greatest piece of advice? Leave the television off.

''If you wake up in the middle of the night, you're wide awake, do not put on the television,'' Harrington said. ''That's the golden rule. Just lie there. Look at the four walls. But the minute you put on the television, that's it. You ain't ever getting back to sleep.''


DIVOTS: The San Francisco Chronicle reports that CordeValle Golf Club is in line to get the 2016 U.S. Women's Open. It would be the first U.S. Women's Open in California since 1982. CordeValle has hosted the Frys.com Open on the PGA Tour the last three years. ... Andrew Coltart, a two-time winner on the European Tour who played in the '99 Ryder Cup at Brookline, has been selected as Europe's coach for the Palmer Cup the next two years. The Palmer Cup is matches between American and European college players. ... Sony Open winner Russell Henley began his rookie season with nine of 10 rounds in the 60s. He has failed to break par his last four rounds. ... Jeff Maggert (1999) and Darren Clarke (2000) are the only players to beat the No. 1 seed on their way to winning the Match Play Championship. ... Dave Thomas, a four-time Ryder Cup player and renowned course designer, has been awarded Honorary Life Membership on the European Tour.


STAT OF THE WEEK: The top four players from the FedEx Cup standings on the PGA Tour are not at the Match Play Championship.


FINAL WORD: ''Stay confident, trust what it is you've been working hard to do, and never, ever, ever tell yourself you're in bad form.'' – Ian Poulter, on the key to overcoming a bad stretch of golf in match play.

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Golf Channel, Loch Lomond Partner on Claret Jug Tour Ahead of 147TH Open

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

Award-Winning Independent Scotcb Whisky Sponsoring Tour to Select U.S. Cities; Will Include Special Tastings and Opportunities for Fans to Engage with Golf’s Most Storied Trophy

Golf Channel and Loch Lomond Group are partnering on a promotional tour with the Claret Jug – golf’s most iconic trophy, first awarded in 1873 to the winner of The Open – to select U.S. cities in advance of the 147TH Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Loch Lomond Whisky’s sponsorship of the tour further enhances the brand’s existing five-year partnership with the R&A as the official spirit of The Open, initially announced in February.

“We are proud to partner with Golf Channel to support this tour of golf’s most iconic trophy,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group. “Whisky and golf are two of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, and following the news of our recent partnership with the R&A for The Open, being a part of the Claret Jug tour was a perfect fit for Loch Lomond Group to further showcase our commitment to the game.”

“The Loch Lomond Group could not be a more natural fit to sponsor the Claret Jug tour,” said Tom Knapp, senior vice president of golf sponsorship, NBC Sports Group. “Much like the storied history that accompanies the Claret Jug, Loch Lomond’s Scottish roots trace back centuries ago, and their aspirations to align with golf’s most celebrated traditions will resonate with a broad range of consumers in addition to golf fans and whisky enthusiasts.”

The tour kicks off today in Austin, Texas, and will culminate on Wednesday, July 11 at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe one week prior to The Open. Those wishing to engage with the Claret Jug will have an opportunity at one of several tour stops being staged at Topgolf locations in select cities. The tour will feature a custom, authentic Scottish pub where consumers (of age) can sample Loch Lomond’s portfolio of whiskies in the spirit of golf’s original championship and the Claret Jug. The Claret Jug also will make special pop-up visits to select GolfNow course partners located within some of the designated tour markets.

(All Times Local)

Monday, June 18                    Austin, Texas              (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 19                    Houston                      (Topgolf, 5-8 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 20               Jacksonville, Fla.        (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Monday, June 25                    Orlando, Fla.               (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 4                 Washington D.C.        (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Ashburn, Va.)

Monday, July 9                       Edison, N.J.                (Topgolf, Time TBA)

Wednesday, July 11               Lake Tahoe, Nev.       American Century Championship (On Course)

Fans interacting with the Claret Jug and Loch Lomond during the course of the tour are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag, #ClaretJug on social media, and tag @TheOpen and @LochLomondMalts on Twitter and Instagram.

NBC Sports Group is the exclusive U.S. television home of the 147TH Open from Carnoustie, with nearly 50 live hours of tournament coverage, Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22. The Claret Jug is presented each July to the winner of The Open, with the winner also being given the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” until the following year’s event is staged. The Claret Jug is one of the most storied trophies in all of sports; first presented to the 1873 winner of The Open, Tom Kidd. Each year, the winner’s name is engraved on to the trophy, forever etched into the history of golf’s original championship. It is customary for the Champion Golfer of the Year to drink a favorite alcoholic beverage from the Claret Jug in celebration of the victory.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).