Expert Picks: Sony Open in Hawaii

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 8, 2013, 9:24 pm

This week the PGA Tour heads to Honolulu for the Sony Open in Hawaii, the first full-field event of 2013. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Keegan Bradley: On top of his stellar play in windswept Kapalua, he had a good start last season in the Aloha Swing starting with a middle-of-the-pack 16th-place finish at the TOC and a T-13 showing at Waialae. He also was sixth last year in par-5 performance, a key to the game this week.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: A horse for the course. He has a killer history at the Sony Open, with SIX top FIVES since he began competing in this event in 2002. Last year, he tied for runner-up honors (as he also did in 2007). I also look to his strong end to last season, where he closed with three consecutive top-15 finishes.

Group 3: Brian Gay: He opened his 2012 season at Waialae with a T-6 finish, one of four consecutive top 25s here. He also wrapped up the year on a high note in November with a fourth-place finish at Disney.

Group 4: Stephen Ames: He was off to a great start last year here, opening with rounds of 67-68-67, but a Sunday 75 pushed him down to a T-46 finish. Over the years he has picked up a nice paycheck at the beginning of the season, with five top-20 finishes and three top 10s since 2001.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Zach Johnson: After a week on brutally long Kapalua, he'll be back in his comfort zone on a tighter, shorter Waialae track.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: He's been due at this one ever since getting gutted by Paul Goydos. Bonus: He often plays well in the early part of the season.

Group 3: Rory Sabbatini: Don't ask me why, but I can see a handful of title contentions for Sabo this year.

Group 4: Justin Leonard: This is the year he finally gets back in the winner's circle - and this ball-striker's course is a good place for it, especially if the wind blows.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Webb Simpson: If not for last week's two false starts at Kapalua, which featured play being voided on consecutive days, Simpson could have conceivably started the week at the Sony Open looking to become the year's first back-to-back champion.

Group 2: John Huh: 2012 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year got off to a decent start at Kapalua, and despite an equipment change to begin his sophomore campaign he is poised to pick up where he left off.

Group 3: Russell Henley: Tough to pick a guy making his third career Tour start, but he was a two-time winner on the Tour last year and has the game (he was 24th in GIR last year) to compete at Waialae.

Group 4: Brad Fritsch: The only Tour graduate to improve his position with a tie for seventh at Q-School needs a fast start, like the rest of the Q-School/ Tour category, to make the most of the abbreviated season.

Ryan Lavner

Group 1: Carl Pettersson: Strangely streaky player at Waialae, and I'm hoping this year he breaks the trend. Since 2004, he has alternated a top-25 finish with a missed cut. Last year, he was T-2. Hope for more of the same this week, following up a solo eighth at Kapalua.

Group 2: Tim Clark: In 12 career rounds at the Sony, Clark has shot in the 60s in all but three rounds. He was T-2 here two years ago, and Clark's control game will always play well at a claustrophobic layout like Waialae.

Group 3: Brian Gay: Hasn't missed a cut at Waialae since 2000, has shot in the 70s only twice in his past 16 rounds there, and has been in the top 25 each of the past four years, including a T-6 there last year. Easy money.

Group 4: Patrick Reed: Ended his 2012 campaign with three top 25s in his last four starts, and then navigated through the final stage of Q-School to earn his card for this season. One of the game's most intriguing up-and-comers.

Will Gray

Group 1: Keegan Bradley: Seems ready to pick up right where he left off after leading the Tour in the all-around ranking in 2012. Was T-13 here last year and showed no signs of early-season rust in finishing T-4 Tuesday in Maui.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Among players in this week's field, his track record at this event is unparalleled. Gunning for his seventh top-5 finish here since 2002 and eager to break a winless drought that stretches back to 2007. Finished T-2 here last year.

Group 3: Josh Teater: A player I have my eye on for 2013, and one that quietly ended 2012 in strong fashion with four top-10 finishes in his final nine starts. Has the accuracy (19th last year on Tour in total driving, 38th in GIR percentage) to contend on a tight track like Waialae.

Group 4: Russell Knox: Like Teater, a player that ended 2012 on a high note with three top-15 finishes in four Fall Series starts. After finishing fourth on Tour last year in GIR percentage and 15th in proximity to hole, the Scot has the game to challenge here and will be looking to make the most of limited playing opportunities this season.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”