Fantasy Fact Pack: Sony Open

By Will GrayJanuary 10, 2012, 9:28 pm

The Sony Open marks the first full-field event of 2012 and, for the handful of players completing the second leg of their Hawaiian tour, a stark contrast in course layouts. Gone are the enormous greens and wide fairways of Kapalua, and in their place is a shorter course that will be more demanding both off the tee and into the green. Here is a look inside the numbers to see which players may contend for the title this weekend and help your Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge team in the process:

Drive for Dough: While Kapalua’s wide, rolling fairways offered players forgiving targets during the Hyundai TOC, finding the fairway off the tee at Waialae this week will be of greater importance. The Sony Open routinely ranks among the more difficult events on Tour for driving accuracy, but the players in contention on Sunday are typically those who are able to control their tee shots all week long. Defending champion Mark Wilson hit 41/56 fairways last year en route to the title, and eight of the top 15 in fairways hit for the week also ended up in the top 12 on the final leaderboard. With accuracy paying dividends, a consistent ball-striker like Brian Gay and former champions Zach Johnson (2009) and Jerry Kelly (2002) should merit consideration this week, each having finished the 2011 season in the top 10 overall in fairway percentage.

Power Rankings: Top 10 favorites at Waialae

Aim Small, Miss Small: Once again in contrast to what players saw at the Hyundai TOC, the greens at the Sony Open are some of the smaller targets players will encounter this season. As a result, Webb Simpson and John Senden will be two Group 1 players to consider, as both finished the 2011 season in the top 10 in greens in regulation. Another important statistic for a course with smaller greens will be proximity to hole, a category where Group 3 player and 2007 Sony Open champion Paul Goydos finished second on Tour during the 2011 season. An accurate player off the tee as well as from the fairway, Goydos also finished 15th overall last year in driving accuracy, and an area where he struggled in 2011 (par-5 performance) will likely not be a large factor on a course with only two par-5s.

Rookie Adjustment: This week, 24 players – including notable names like Erik Compton and Bud Cauley  – will tee it up in the first event of their rookie season on the PGA Tour. When making your picks this week, though, these may be players to steer clear of as rookies tend to struggle in their first Sony Open. In 2011, Chris Kirk (T-30) had the best finish among the 27 rookies in the field, and Matt Weibring is the only player in the last three years to notch a top-10 in his rookie debut (T-8 in 2009).

Friendly Confines: Several players in this week’s field feel quite comfortable walking the fairways of Waialae CC. Despite a poor showing in 2011, Group 2 player Charles Howell III has finished in the top 5 four times since 2005 and has amassed an impressive 68.06 stroke average at this event in 10 career starts. Similarly, Steve Marino has top-10 finishes in each of his last three Sony Open appearances, including a runner-up last year. David Toms is another player very familiar with this event, as he will look to rebound from a poor start at the Hyundai TOC on a course where he won in 2006 and finished runner-up in 2009. And although he has not played a full season on the PGA Tour since 2008, Shigeki Maruyama has played every Sony Open since 1999 and has four top-10 finishes in that stretch. A streaky player who knows the course very well and led going into last year’s 36-hole Sunday finale, Maruyama may be a player to target if you feel like gambling a bit with your Group 4 selection.

Injury Report: As Rex Hoggard reported, Lucas Glover plans to play in this week’s event after a paddle-boarding injury forced him to withdraw from the Hyundai TOC. Glover, seeking to play a busy schedule in 2012 in hopes of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team, should have an easier time on the flat terrain at Waialae than last week’s hilly venue. Nevertheless, those looking to use him as their Group 2 player should check back for updates before entries close Thursday morning should Glover decide not to play. (Update: Glover has withdrawn from this week's event.) In other injury news, Cameron Beckman will be making his first start since withdrawing from the McGladrey Classic in October with a back injury and Chad Collins will play on Tour for the first time since June when fractured ribs cut short his 2011 season.

Sleeper Alert: On a shorter course where accuracy is at a premium, a name to watch this week is Chad Campbell. Campbell has average length off the tee, a factor that will not hurt him at Waialae as much as it might elsewhere. His strengths, though, will be highlighted – top-10 finishes in both greens in regulation and proximity to hole in 2011.  In fact, Campbell finished first overall last year in GIR from 150-175 yards, and fifth overall from 175-200 yards, distances that will be emphasized this week on a course with several shorter holes.  In addition to favorable stats, Campbell also has a strong track record in this event, with four finishes inside the top 15, including a runner-up in 2006.  His is a name that may emerge from Group 3 to contend over the weekend; at the very least, hopefully he does not consider his “sleeper” status as a reason to stay in bed a few extra minutes as we saw with last week's sleeper.

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Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

“Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

“Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

“Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

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Only putting is holding McIlroy back

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

“I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”

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Rosaforte Report: Toski lively, singing and ready to go home

By Tim RosaforteJune 22, 2018, 6:41 pm

Bob Toski sounded pretty good for a man near death last week. When we spoke on Friday, the 91-year-old teaching legend and former PGA Tour leading money winner was alive and feeling well. Especially when he was talking about giving lessons, swinging a golf club again, and going down to the piano bar at Arturo’s near his home in Boca Raton, Fla., to sing his favorite song, “Sentimental Journey."

“It’s been quite a journey,” Toski said in total bliss. “But I’m going home tomorrow.”

Going back 10 days, to June 12, Toski suffered a severe heart attack that had him on life support, in critical condition, at a hospital not far from the South Florida golf community where he’s pro emeritus at St. Andrews.

He opened 15 minutes on the phone on Friday by asking how much he owed me for the publicity he got during the U.S. Open. Typical Toski. His heart may have skipped a beat, but he hadn’t.

At no more than 120 pounds, still larger than life.

Bob Toski from his hospital bed in South Florida

“This is the mouse,” he said when asked to confirm it really was him on the phone. “The Mighty Mouse.”

We were laughing now, but there was a moment one night during “Live From the U.S. Open” when I got a message from the Boca hospital which sounded grim (hospital staff used a defibrillator on him six times during his stay). That’s when one of the friends by his side texted me and said it would be just like “Tosk” to sit up straight and ask everybody what was going on.

Essentially, that’s what happened. And now here he was on the phone, cracking off one-liners, talking about Brooks Koepka’s win at Shinnecock, giving his take on the USGA and course setup, asking how much I’d been playing, and giving his love to everybody at “The Channel.”

He invited me down for a lesson at St. Andrews and dinner at Arturos. “In a month’s time,” he said, “I’ll be ready to go.”

He sounded ready right now, singing a line from his favorite song, from his hospital bed in the happiest of voices, “Gotta set my heart at ease.”

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Spieth fades with 3-over 73: 'It's just golf'

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:10 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – After finding nothing but positives for his first five trips around the course, Jordan Spieth finally suffered a setback at TPC River Highlands.

Spieth won the Travelers Championship last year in his tournament debut, and he quickly bounced back from a missed cut at Shinnecock Hills by firing a 7-under 63 in the opening round this week to take a share of the lead. Out early during the second round with a chance to move even further into red figures amid calm conditions, he instead went the other way.

Undone by a triple bogey on the par-5 13th hole, Spieth was 5 over for his first 14 holes and needed an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole for the second straight day simply to salvage a 3-over 73. The score knocked him back to 4 under for the week and six shots behind Brian Harman.

Despite finding three fewer fairways, three fewer greens in regulation and taking five more putts than he did in the opening round, Spieth still put a positive spin on a lackluster result.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I actually felt like I had better control of my golf swing than I did yesterday. I really struggled with my swing yesterday and I kind of got some good breaks,” Spieth said. “It’s just golf. It’s kind of like yesterday I got three or four shots extra out of the round, and today I lost three or four based on how I felt.”

Spieth was happy with his opening-round effort, but even after finishing late in the day he still went straight to the driving range that lines the ninth fairway at TPC River Highlands – not exactly standard behavior after grabbing a share of the lead.

“So it’s not like things are on,” he said. “Sometimes it can get disguised by rounds, but it’s not far off. It really is close.”

Spieth has lamented a lack of quality chances to win this year, which he has previously described as being within six shots of the lead heading into the final round. He’ll have some work to do to meet that mark this weekend in defense of his title, as his round hit a snag on No. 13, his fourth hole of the morning, when he pulled his tee shot out of bounds and then hit his subsequent approach into the water.

“For whatever reason, it’s a large fairway but it’s always just killed me,” Spieth said. “I don’t know what it is about the hole, but that hole I get on the tee and for whatever reason I struggle. … I just hit a bad shot at the wrong time there.”