Power Rankings: 2014 Players Championship

By Will GrayMay 6, 2014, 9:08 pm

This week marks the 26th event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season, as the Tour heads to the Sunshine State for the Players Championship. An elite field of 144 players will tee it up this week at TPC Sawgrass, where the treacherous par-3 17th hole - and its island green - awaits.

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Tiger Woods won last year, but is unable to defend while recovering from back surgery. Here are 10 players to watch this week in Ponte Vedra Beach:

1. Matt Kuchar: Basically a machine this season, with eight top-10 finishes in 11 starts including a stretch of four in a row that he just capped with a win at Hilton Head. Kuchar won here in 2012 and knows his way around the Stadium Course, and he currently leads the PGA Tour in scoring average. He remains one of the most consistent players on Tour, a trait that should serve him well this week.

2. Henrik Stenson: Remember him? The reigning Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup champ has gotten off to a quiet start in 2014, but he has three top 20s in his last four starts. Stenson was a winner here in 2009 and has an enviable track record at TPC Sawgrass, one that includes four top-15 finishes since 2006 in addition to his win five years ago. He remains somewhat under the radar, but that might not last much longer.

3. Jim Furyk: Furyk nearly pulled off an impressive comeback in Charlotte, where a final-round 65 left him one shot behind J.B. Holmes last week. It marked his fifth straight top-20 finish dating back to March, and Furyk's accuracy off the tee will prove to be an asset this week. A resident of Ponte Vedra, he's playing a home game this week and has contended as recently as 2009, when he tied for fifth.

4. Luke Donald: The Englishman has been a beacon of consistency at this event in recent years. Since 2007 he has made seven straight cuts, with only one finish worse than T-27 and a pair of top 10s (T-4 in 2011, sixth in 2012). Donald's tee-to-green consistency is rewarded at the Stadium Course, and he brings with him some momentum after a runner-up finish at Harbour Town.

5. Sergio Garcia: The center of attention a year ago, Garcia returns after a rare missed cut at Augusta National but otherwise playing some great golf in 2014. He has a trio of top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour to go along with a win in Qatar in January, and Garcia's history at TPC Sawgrass goes well beyond last year's escapades on the 71st hole. He won in 2008, was a runner-up the year prior and has six top-25 finishes here since 2006.

6. Adam Scott: The Aussie is one of four players who can move to No. 1 this week and he heads back to Ponte Vedra on the 10-year anniversary of his breakthrough win. Scott cracked the top 20 each of the last two years and tied for 14th at the Masters despite third-round struggles. He nearly moved to the top of the rankings at Bay Hill, and may not allow another opportunity to do so pass him by.

7. Jordan Spieth: Spieth is one of 15 first-timers in the field this week, a subsection that usually doesn't fare too well on the Stadium Course. But Spieth wasn't supposed to contend at the Masters, either, and he tied for second. Conventional wisdom does not seem to apply to the 20-year-old, who is now among the top 10 golfers in the world and who continues to exceed even the loftiest of expectations.

8. Rory McIlroy: The Ulsterman is on a bit of a tear, with four top-10 finishes in his last five starts including T-8 finishes at both Augusta National and Quail Hollow, where he successfully battled back from the cut line each time. McIlroy has missed three of four cuts in this event, but he did tie for eighth last year and if he is in control of the flat stick - as he was for much of the week in Charlotte - he'll be in contention come Sunday.

9. Zach Johnson: Johnson has cooled since his torrid start to 2014, but he did notch a T-14 finish last week at Quail Hollow. The veteran was a runner-up here in 2013 and boasts a strong history in this event, with four straight top-25 finishes. TPC Sawgrass is not a course where you have to be long to win - just ask Tim Clark - and Johnson's tee-to-green prowess is among the best around.

10. Lee Westwood: Westwood had eight birdies and an eagle last week in Charlotte, but the mistakes piled up and he somehow still missed the cut. Prior to that, the Englishman had been playing well, with a win in Malaysia after a seventh-place showing at the Masters. Westwood tied for eighth here last year and shared fourth place in 2010, when he held the lead after both the second and third rounds.

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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.