Torrey Pines still on USGAs mind
What about Torrey Pines?
The public course in San Diego staged one of the most memorable U.S. Opens of the decade when Tiger Woods, on a shredded knee, birdied the 72nd hole in regulation to force a playoff, then beat Rocco Mediate in 19 holes.
“It’s still in the conversation,” USGA executive director David Fay said in an interview last week.
Whether Torrey Pines belongs in the same tier as Pebble Beach, Oakmont and Pinehurst No. 2 is up for debate. Even though its championship featured an unforgettable duel, so did Valhalla for the 2000 PGA Championship.
Even so, the course has what it takes – plenty of room, plenty of interest.
“Every time we announce an Open site or sites, people look at that as, ‘My God, what about these other worthy candidates who weren’t picked? Does that mean they’re gone forever, out of favor?’ That’s not the case at all,” Fay said. “Torrey Pines and the city of San Diego remain interested, and we remain interested.”
The question is when. Although 2018 is the only vacant year the rest of the decade, it’s hard to imagine the U.S. Open being played in California in consecutive years. The next seven U.S. Opens will be played in Maryland (Congressional), San Francisco (Olympic Club), Pennsylvania (Merion), North Carolina (Pinehurst), Washington state (Chambers Bay), Pennsylvania (Oakmont) and Wisconsin (Erin Hills).
Erin Hills completes what Fay refers to as all five subsets of public golf – resorts (Pebble, Pinehurst), state-owned (Bethpage Black), county-owned (Chambers Bay), municipal golf (Torrey Pines) and private ownership of a fee course (Erin Hills).
Even though the USGA is going to more courses the public can play, Fay said it would not ignore private country clubs that have so much U.S. Open history, such as Oakmont and Shinnecock Hills.
Where does that leave new country clubs?
“That probably will be harder,” Fay said. “First of all, there are fewer country clubs designed to host big events. It will be difficult. But just as you say that, you never know. It will happen down the road.'
SOMETHING NEW: Among those on the range Sunday at Pebble Beach were a half-dozen players with hopes of winning the U.S. Open, from Dustin Johnson to Graeme McDowell to Ernie Els to Phil Mickelson to Tiger Woods … and Adam Scott?
Scott had missed the cut by one shot on Friday, yet hung around the Monterey Peninsula and was practicing Sunday afternoon. His private plane will not be ready for a few more months, so Scott chose to take the charter flight Monday provided by the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
That led to the next question: Why is Scott playing in Hartford?
“I’m playing well,” he said with a shrug. “And with my record, you never know.”
He was referring to his tendency to play well in tournaments where he is making his debut, and it is a remarkable record. Scott won the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2003 on a sponsor’s exemption. A year later, he felt he was playing well despite missing the cut in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, so he entered the old Booz Allen Classic and won.
Scott finished in the middle of the pack at The Players Championship, felt he was close, and decided this year to play the Texas Open for the first time. He wound up winning.
The 29-year-old Australian, who continues to play an international schedule, already has played 37 different events on the PGA Tour, including six that no longer exist. The PGA Tour is contemplating a policy that requires top players to add one tournament to their schedule from a group of designated events.
“I should be exempt from that one,” Scott said with a laugh.
GOLFING VACATIONS: Ernie Els spent the week before the U.S. Open playing some of the best courses in the north, from Shinnecock Hills to Pine Valley. It was his way of getting ready for a major.
But there are other players who never travel to play golf except for a tournament or corporate outing. Tiger Woods has yet to play Pine Valley or even Seminole in south Florida.
Steve Stricker said the best course he played outside of a golf tournament was in Chicago. It made such an impression he couldn’t remember the name of it except that it had “Lakes” in the name (and it wasn’t Kemper Lakes).
“We just play so much out here,” Jim Furyk said, who said his best courses were Cypress Point and Shinnecock Hills, both of which he played during weeks of PGA Tour events.
But he will travel overseas for golf, having taken one trip to play Royal County Down, Royal Portrush and Ballybunion in Ireland.
“The guy trips are for football,” said Furyk, mainly the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ohio State.
EUROPEAN SUPREMACY: The PGA Tour has 20 active members from Europe this year, and they sure seem to be winning a lot of tournaments lately.
Justin Rose of England won his first PGA Tour event at the Memorial, and Lee Westwood won the following week in Memphis. Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who had not taken up membership this year, won the U.S. Open.
It was the first time since the PGA Tour broke away from the PGA of America in 1969 that Europeans have won three weeks in a row.
International players have won seven of the last eight tournaments on the PGA Tour, a streak that began with Rory McIlroy winning the Quail Hollow Championship.
DIVOTS: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the only players who have finished in the top 10 at both majors this year. … Paula Creamer’s gutsy return from a thumb injury won’t include the CVS Charity Classic next week. She withdrew from the charity event run by Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade, saying it might be too much to play four straight weeks, including a pair of LPGA majors. Creamer was replaced by Ricky Barnes. … Ryan Moore wasn’t a big fan of the way the course was set up at Pebble Beach, saying this to The Tacoma (Wash.) New-Tribune, “In their minds, this is a great golf tournament. This is how golf should be. It should be torture, apparently.” … Ten years after a winning at Pebble Beach with a record 12-under par, Tiger Woods was under par for one of 72 holes – the 18th on Saturday – at this U.S. Open.
STAT OF THE WEEK: In the last three U.S. Opens, the winner shot his highest score in the final round.
FINAL WORD: “I’m always trying to learn from somebody that does something better than me.”– Tom Watson.
Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut
Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.
Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.
Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.
Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.
While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:
No prob Doug. I’m +11 now and tweeting during my round. I’m playing as hard as I can. I have 8 holes left if you want to come out and kiss my ass. https://t.co/UMeFWFKLVP— Jake Owen (@jakeowen) May 24, 2018
New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead
After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.
The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.
"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."
The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.
"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."
Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.
Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.
"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."
McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead
VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.
Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.
The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.
McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).
''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.
''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''
McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.
After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.
Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.
Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.
Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain
After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.
The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.
"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."
Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.
"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."
Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.
Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.
"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."