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Punch Shot: Bad call to end 18-hole U.S. Open playoffs?

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 26, 2018, 7:56 pm

The USGA announced a major change to its playoff format on Monday. writers Rex Hoggard and Will Gray weigh in with their thoughts on the decision:

Hoggard: Big news today from the USGA. A few decades of tradition have been changed with officials announcing the playoff format for the U.S. Open will go from an 18-hole Monday finish to a two-hole aggregate playoff. Willy, there's a lot to unpack here. Thoughts?

Gray: I'm conflicted. This makes a ton of logistical sense, as it's in everyone's best interest to crown a winner Sunday night. But there's admittedly a part of me that will miss the occasional 18-hole Monday slog to decide the most grueling major. For something that popped up only about once per decade, I'm a little sad to see it kicked to the curb.

Hoggard: Spoken like a guy who never had to hang around for a Monday playoff at the U.S. Open. It is worth noting that the last Monday playoff at the Open was 2008, and we all know how historic and entertaining that was, but otherwise it leads to an anti-climactic finish in front of far fewer fans. Tiger v. Rocco was great, but the odds of that happening are always low.

Gray: Yes, there won't be any oral histories about Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks tangling at Southern Hills 17 years ago, but they can't all be instant classics. Can we at least agree that the move to a two-hole aggregate seems a bit ... random?

Hoggard: Random works. Odd may be a better way to describe. It seems the USGA tested the waters with the U.S. Women's Open, which went to a three-hole playoff a few years ago, and had some success. It seems the game's rules makers (R&A, USGA, PGA of America, Augusta National) would consider some sort of uniform answer instead of everybody doing their own thing. Three-hole playoffs just feel right.

Gray: I agree that of the four options, I like three-hole the best (kudos, PGA of America). A single good shot holds a ton of weight, but a single bad shot won't necessarily end the tournament. Goldilocks style. But it does seem like the USGA surveyed the landscape, saw that one-, three-, and four-hole playoff options were already taken, and went for door No. 4.

But given that USGA exec Mike Davis said as recently as June that the playoff format wouldn't change on his watch, are you surprised that they made the change?

Hoggard: Strange, indeed, but then it's been a busy few days for Davis (see last week's dinner with Jack Nicklaus), so maybe he was distracted. I will say that although I'm a fan of moving away from the 18-hole playoff, social media is curiously filled with folks who, like you, enjoy their blazers blue and their playoffs of the 18-hole variety. Odd that in this day of instant media this is so popular.

Gray: It was unique! Here I am thinking brand differentiation is a positive. Alas.

Hoggard: You have an old soul, young Will. I will also point out that a lot of this will depend on what two holes the USGA uses for the playoff. With par being such an important number at the U.S. Open, this could quickly fade into a blur of fairways, greens and uninspired golf.

Gray: Yes, but remember this is the U.S. Open we're talking about – the only major championship where par is malleable. Perhaps the dream scenario is just to play a par-9 couplet for the title.

Hoggard: Here's my worry: the final two holes at Shinnecock Hills, site of this year's championship, go par 3, par 4, and they likely would be the playoff stops. Not a lot of room for separation there. The Players seems to have gotten it right with a three-hole overtime on Nos. 16, 17 and 18, which give you the best chance for two-way traffic.

Gray: It's a valid point that course routing would have a big role in dictating the best possible option. Hard to think that a par 3 as one of only two playoff holes is ideal, but I think back to Chambers Bay and recall that Nos. 1 and 18 running side-by-side would have made for a pretty sweet scene. That three-hole run at TPC Sawgrass works on a variety of fronts.

But the 18-hole option is gone now, for better or worse. Does that mean that (gasp) the Masters and its sudden-death format is the worst of the four major playoff options – or at least the most arbitrary?

Hoggard: It is certainly the least-imaginative, but then when it comes to the Masters you could probably have a "putt off" on the 18th green and it would still be entertaining. Augusta National would be the perfect place for a two-hole playoff, No. 18 first and then the 10th.

Gray: An Amen Corner playoff remains the dream, even if the sunlight of early April won't allow it. Build some floodlights behind the 13th green, I say. But back to the original topic, I guess we'll just have to wait and see how it plays out. You and I have both certainly felt the media center tremors that the U.S. Open is overdue for the p-word, meaning that we're sure to get one this summer.

Hoggard: No chance we don't get a playoff this year and you and I both will be over the moon when it finishes Sunday. We can talk about how cool the old format was on the plane ride home on Monday. Kudos, USGA.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.