Stat attack!: Shriners Hospitals for Children Open preview

By John AntoniniOctober 14, 2014, 7:28 pm

Welcome to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, where the desert is hot and the golfers are hotter. In the 10 years that the Las Vegas event has been a four-round tournament, only once has the winner shot less than 20 under par.

Last year, Webb Simpson posted 24 under, en route to a tournament-record, six-stroke victory over Jason Bohn and Ryo Ishikawa. Simpson didn’t shoot higher than 67 in any round last year. In the last five years no champion has shot higher than 68, and no winner at Las Vegas has had a round in the 70s since Jim Furyk in 1999.

The field average has been in the 60s every year since the TPC Summerlin became a par-71 course in 2009. Four times in the last five years more than half of the rounds were in the 60s. The Shriners was one of four Tour events last season where players were in the 60s in more than half their rounds. Expect the low scoring to continue this week.

Going low at TPC Summerlin: 2009-2013

 Year Winner Score Field avg. Rounds in 60s 65s or better
 2013 Webb Simpson -24 69.55 208 of 405 (51.36%) 36
 2012 Ryan Moore -24 69.71 203 of 408 (49.75) 24
 2011 Kevin Na -23 68.82 249 of 418 (59.57) 37
 2010 Jonathan Byrd -21 68.96 260 of 409 (63.57) 37
 2009 Martin Laird -19 69.15 238 of 408 (58.33) 41

Tournaments with the highest percentage of rounds in the 60s in 2014

 Tournament Percent of rounds in 60s Par
 Humana Challenge 58.11% 72
 Wyndham Championship 56.77 70
 Sony Open 56.52 70
 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open 51.36 71
John Deere Classic 49.57 71

Casting his Webb

During his victory, Simpson finished in the top five in the field in Las Vegas in greens in regulation (T-2), proximity to the hole (fourth), scrambling (T-3), strokes gained/putting (first) and putting from more than 10 feet (first). Simpson made 15 putts from more than 10 feet in 2013, no other player in the field made more than 12 from that distance.

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open leaders in putting from more than 10 feet in 2013

 Player Putts made/total Percentage Tournament finish
 Webb Simpson 15 for 49 30.61% Won
 Will Mackenzie 12 for 40 30.00 T-15
 John Huh 12 for 43 27.91 T-30
 Stephen Ames 12 for 46 26.09 T-48
 Jason Bohn 11 for 45 24.44 T-2

Home cookin’

Simpson’s victory a year ago ended a streak of Shriners winners who live in Las Vegas, as Kevin Na in 2011 and Ryan Moore in 2012 didn’t have to commute far to get to TPC Summerlin. Charley Hoffman came close to making it three straight home winners a year ago, finishing fourth. In addition, Las Vegas resident Nick Watney finished second in 2011 and former UNLV player Chad Campbell was T-2 in 2009.

Can a player with ties to the host city win again this week? Eleven players in the 2014 Shriners field went to school in Las Vegas or live in the city. Seven of them have finished in the top 10.

How players with Las Vegas ties have fared in the Shriners

 Player Shriners starts Cuts made Top 10s Best finish
 Chad Campbell 11 10 2 T-2 in 2009
 Alex Cejka 8 4 0 T-24 in 2009
 Derek Ernst 1 0 0  
 Andres Gonzales 4 2 0 T-63 in 2006
 Charley Hoffman 10 6 3 Fourth in 2013
 Bill Lunde 7 4 1 Fifth in 2012
 Ryan Moore 8 7 3 Won in 2012
 Kevin Na 8 6 1 Won in 2011
 Scott Piercy 8 6 2 T-6 in 2012
 Alex Prugh 3 2 0 T-29 in 2011
 Nick Watney 9 7 4 Second in 2011

Moore than enough

Ryan Moore is the only player to shoot four rounds in the 60s at the Shriners in each of the last two years. Moore won in 2012, shooting 24-under 260, including an opening 61. It was quite an October for Moore, whose wife, Nichole, gave birth to baby Tucker two weeks later.

Last fall, Moore shot 69-63-69-68—269 to finish T-9, nine strokes back of Webb Simpson.

Simpson, by the way, has shot nine consecutive rounds in the 60s at TPC Summerlin, including four in 2010 and one in 2009. Simpson did not play the tournament in 2011 or 2012.  Carl Pettersson also has nine straight rounds in the 60s at Summerlin, having played every other year since 2009.

Here’s the list of players in this year’s field who had four rounds in the 60s in 2013. 

Four rounds in the 60s at TPC Summerlin in 2013

 Player Rounds in 2013 Finish Consecutive 60s at TPC Summerlin
 Webb Simpson 64-63-67-66 Won 9
 Jason Bohn 67-64-69-66 T-2 4
 Ryo Ishikawa 67-66-68-65 T-2 4
 Charles Howell III 67-69-67-65 T-5 5
 Ryan Moore 69-63-69-68 T-9 8
 Carl Pettersson 68-67-69-66 T-12 9
 Andrew Svoboda 68-67-67-69 T-15 4

Picking up where he left off

Billy Horschel, the 2014 FedEx Cup champion, makes his 2015 season debut at the Shriners. He took a short, one-month break to enjoy his windfall for winning the BMW Championship, the Tour Championship and the $10 million annuity that goes with the Cup – not to mention the birth of his first child, daughter Skylar, two days after the Tour Championship ended. Now he returns, hoping to extend his winning streak to three straight events. 

Since 2000, two players have ended one year with a win and began the next season the same way.  Tiger Woods has done it three times and Jonathan Byrd did it once. We’re not talking about a season-ending/season-opening tournament, but the last and first start by a particular player in the given years.

Players who won their last start of one season and first start the next since 2000

 Player Last start First start
 Tiger Woods 1999 WGC-American Express 2000 Mercedes Championship
 Tiger Woods 2006 WGC-American Express 2007 Buick Invitational
 Tiger Woods 2007 Tour Championship 2008 Buick Invitational
 Jonathan Byrd 2010 Shriners Las Vegas 2011 Hyundai T of C

One final thought: Martin Laird, T-3 last week at the Frys.com Open, has a strong resume in Las Vegas. The Scotsman made the Las Vegas stop his first PGA Tour win in 2009 and he was second a year later. In 2010 Laird lost a playoff to Jonathan Byrd, who became the first player to win a playoff with a hole-in-one, ending Laird’s hopes of a repeat victory with an ace on the fourth extra hole.

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc

 

Getty Images

Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am

By RYAN GRIFFITHS

Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.


Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades


Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

Getty Images

Wrongfully convicted inmate who turned to golf artistry freed

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 12:35 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York prison artist who never played golf but became known for drawings of lush courses he could only imagine was set free Wednesday after authorities agreed that another man committed the murder that put him behind bars for nearly three decades.

Valentino Dixon walked out of Erie County Court into bright sunshine and hugs from his mother, daughter and a crowd of other relatives and friends, ready for a meal at Red Lobster and vowing to fight on behalf of others who are wrongly convicted.

"I love y'all," Dixon shouted after trading the green prison uniform he wore in court for jeans and a T-shirt. "It feels great."

Earlier Wednesday, a judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.

"There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying," Lamarr Scott, who has been in prison for 25 years for an unrelated attempted murder, told the court. "I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with."

Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to the crowded corner where the fighting broke out. Scott was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, concurrent with his current term.

Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, and its 5- to 15-year sentence, which she said he had satisfied.


Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon


"You are eligible for release today," the judge said, igniting applause and shouts from courtroom supporters.

"Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don't be misguided in that at all," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing. He described Dixon as "an up-and-coming drug dealer in the city of Buffalo" at the time of the shooting and said Scott was Dixon's bodyguard.

"Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of," he said, "but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon's gun."

While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom. Articles in Golf Digest and elsewhere have drawn public attention to Dixon's case. NBC Sports' Jimmy Roberts spotlighted Dixon in a 2013 segment for his "In Play" series on Golf Channel.

“I’ve worked in this business for close to 40 years, and this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever been a part of," Roberts said after learning of Dixon's release. "I’m a sports reporter, but we helped get a man out of prison. I’m humbled and dumbstruck.”

Georgetown University students made a documentary as part of a prison reform course last spring. The class worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to have the conviction overturned.

"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," said Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative. Howard taught the course with childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

Dixon said he will keep drawing, while working on behalf of other prisoners.

"If you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," he said. "So we have a lot of work ahead of us."

His daughter, Valentina Dixon, was a baby when her father went to prison. She brought her 14-month-old twins, Ava and Levi, to court from their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"We're definitely going to go shopping and go explore life," she said. "I can't wait to get him a cellphone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Dixon's mother, Barbara Dixon, said she was in shock after relying on her faith while fighting for his release.

"We're going to Red Lobster," she said when asked what was next. "And everybody's invited."

Getty Images

Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

Getty Images

Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.


Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.