Villegas grabs Honda lead in Round 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 28, 2013, 11:57 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – With one bold swing, Camilo Villegas turned a solid round at the Honda Classic into his lowest start in more than a year.

Villegas drilled a 3-wood from 263 yards over the water to about 8 feet for an eagle on the par-5 18th hole at PGA National for a 6-under 64 that gave him a one-shot lead and another jolt of confidence as he tries to regain his status on the PGA Tour.

Branden Grace was bullish when it came to the Bear Trap by making birdie on all three holes of the notorious stretch late on the back nine. He made it four in a row with a birdie on the 18th hole and was at 65 with Rickie Fowler, Graham DeLaet of Canada and Robert Streb.


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Defending champion Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods each opened with 70 and walked away feeling much differently about their day.

Woods played in the cool, cloudy morning and was in danger of a big number late in his round when he decided to take off his socks and shoes, don rain pants and step into a creek to play a ball half-submerged in the water. Instead of taking a drop that could have led to double bogey, he escaped with par and rallied for a 70.

''I wasn't trying to advance it very far, just make sure I got it back in the fairway and give myself some kind of wedge shot in there, which I did,'' Woods said.

McIlroy was 1 under for his day when his wedge from 105 yards sailed over the 18th green. He chipped to just inside 8 feet and took bogey when he missed the putt. It felt even worse coming on the easiest hole at PGA National, which played about a half-shot below par.

''I only had 105 yards in for my third shot and ended up taking a 6,'' McIlroy said. ''Wasn't the nicest way to finish. I saw enough pretty good golf out there to be positive going into the next few days.''

Villegas will take just about anything positive at this stage in his career.

Just four years after his back-to-back wins in FedEx Cup playoff events and climbing to as high as No. 7 in the world, the 31-year-old Colombian went into a slump so bad that over the last 18 months he lost his card last year and didn't earn it back in Q-School. A popular draw, he has received ample sponsor exemptions to get through the year and can build a full schedule. But he was middle of the pack in the Humana Challenge, and then missed the cut at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach.

''This game is great when you're playing good,'' Villegas said. ''When you're out here missing cuts and missing cuts, I don't care what people say. Yes, we're blessed to have this job, but it's not that much fun. ... The game was kicking my butt a little bit. That's a good way to put it. But I know who I am. I know I belong out here. I know how good I can be, and therefore, that's why you're just going to keep your head up and keep working.''

It was his lowest round since a 63 to start the Humana Challenge a year ago.

Villegas won the Honda Classic in 2010 at PGA National, so at least he has that to build on. Despite the good start, he wasn't afraid to risk ruining the day on the last hole.

''My caddie said, 'Where are you going to go with (this) one,''' Villegas said. ''And I said, 'I'm looking straight at that flag.' And I hit a great shot.''

Grace, part of the core of young South Africans on the rise, played the Honda Classic for the first time, though he had heard plenty about the water and trouble on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 that was dubbed the Bear Trap in honor of course designer Jack Nicklaus. He saw it on TV and talked to Charl Schwartzel about it last week.

And he brought a little trepidation with him to PGA National.

''I sat down with Charl last week at the Match Play and he said, 'Listen, the four finishing holes are quite a beast out there.' So I was a little nervous coming here,'' Grace said. ''I just thought, 'What's going to happen around that corner?'''

The first one was easy after a tee shot into 2 feet on the par-3 15th. He holed birdie putts of about 18 feet on the next two holes, and then his 3-iron barely cleared the water in front of the green on the par-5 18th, leading to a simple up-and-down to finish in style.

Dustin Johnson, coming off two missed cuts and a first-round loss in the Match Play, sorted out his issues with the driver and opened at 66 to join a group that included Lee Westwood, Sean O'Hair, Boo Weekley and Ben Kohles, who won back-to-back Web.com Tour events last year in his two starts after turning pro to earn a tour card.

Woods didn't hit it all that poorly, except for his tee shot on the par-4 sixth, with the tees moved forward 40 yards. He drove it left and down the bank into the water. Because of where it first crossed the hazard, he would have had no chance to get near the green after a penalty drop. Woods saw enough the ball to give it a shot.

He removed his shoes and socks as the gallery came to life. The ball shot out with a big splash, leaving Woods about 80 yards to a front pin. He hit wedge to 8 feet and saved par.

''I was 1 over at the time, and if that ball is not playable from where it's at, where I crossed was pretty far back,'' Woods said. ''Looking at 6 - 3 over - and all of a sudden I flip it, make par there and birdie the next.''

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Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

“It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

The Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement or the end to the lawsuit.

Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

“It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”

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PGA Tour Latinoamérica moving season finale to Doral

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 2:36 pm

PGA Tour Latinoamérica announced Wednesday that it will play its season finale, the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship, at Trump National Doral from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

The limited-field event will feature the top 60 players on the circuit's money list competing on Doral's Golden Palm Course.

“We are very happy that we will continue playing the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship in South Florida, and Doral is a tremendous community that we know will open its arms to our players and this tournament,” PGA Tour Latinoamérica president Jack Warfield said in a statement.

The PGA Tour ended its more than 50-year relationship with Doral and the resort's Blue Monster course back in 2016, when Cadillac's title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship lapsed as then-candidate Donald Trump was mounting his bid for the presidency.

“We continue to stand by our earlier statement, and the statement of other golf organizations, that Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in December 2015, referring to Trump's campaign rhetoric concerning Mexicans and Muslims.

The event was moved to Mexico City in 2017 and renamed the WGC-Mexico Championship.

The Latinoamérica Tour Championship was staged the last two years at Melreese Country Club in Miami, where David Beckham is currently attempting to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer expansion club, Inter Miami.

PGA Tour Latinoamérica's release states that the move to Doral "keeps the event in this part of the Sunshine State and allows the tournament to maintain its ties to The First Tee of Miami as a charitable recipient and sponsor." Melreese, the city's only public golf course, is home to the First Tee of Miami, which naturally opposes Beckham's efforts to close the facility and repurpose the land.

A November referendum will ask voters to decide if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham's ownership group, which seeks to create a $1 billion dollar complex comprising of the proposed stadium, youth soccer fields, a park, commercial and retail space, and a hotel.

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Im wins Web.com Player and Rookie of the Year awards

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 1:22 pm

Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Web.com Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

Im won twice on the Web.com this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.

Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.

In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.

“My first year on the Web.com Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Web.com Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”

In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.

Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.

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Former DJ advisor found guilty in embezzlement case

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 12:38 pm

A federal jury has found Nathan Hardwick, a former advisor to Dustin Johnson, guilty of embezzling $26 million in funds from his now-bankrupt real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.

Per Golf.com, citing Law.com, a 12-person jury convicted Hardwick of "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks."

As for where exactly the money went, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, once again citing Law.com, has the details:

"The alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through SugarDaddy.com."

"Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews."

Johnson in 2014 sued Morris Hardwick Schneider over a $3 million loan he believed to be an investment. Instead, Johnson argued, the money was going to make up for shortages created by Hardwick's embezzlement. Johnson later amended his suit to argue that Hardwick, who previously served on the board of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, was being used as a "pawn" by the firm's other partners. 

That suit was settled in 2016 for $2 million.