Taylor back home – and back in the Masters

By Ryan LavnerApril 4, 2016, 6:50 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Splitting time on the PGA and Web.com tours, Vaughn Taylor didn’t have plans for Masters week a year ago.

With his career sputtering, he hadn’t qualified for his hometown event since 2008 – cruel, really, seeing how he lives about 15 minutes from the entrance of Augusta National Golf Club. And so Taylor, a multiple Tour winner and former Ryder Cupper, took wife Leot and young son Locklyn to the Masters, but as a spectator, after securing practice-round tickets. 

“I had always been a little hesitant to come back,” Taylor said Monday. “I wanted to wait until I got back in the tournament. And the way I’ve been playing and the way things were going, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back.”

But he did, improbably, shrugging off months (and years) of indifferent play to win at Pebble Beach in February and snap an 11-year winless drought.

The circumstances surrounding Taylor’s victory were even more unlikely.

He described the week before Pebble as one of the low points of his career – he had been violently ill in a hotel room in Bogota, pleading for his body to recover from a rough bout of food poisoning. He didn't have a PGA Tour card, and he only held conditional status on the Web.com circuit. He arrived at Pebble with a carry stand bag, because it was cheaper to travel. And during the final round, he not only needed to hole a 30-footer on 16, but he watched as Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson coughed up the 54-hole lead and whiffed a 5-footer on the final green.

“It was one of those when-you-least-expect-it moments,” Taylor said. 

It wasn’t until a TV interview afterward that Taylor was reminded of more than just his two years of job security. He was heading back to the Masters. 

“It’s a lot different this time around,” he said. “I got here a lot different path, and it’s special. 

“When you’re younger, you expect to play well, and you kind of take things for granted. I thought I would be in every year, but that was just being kind of young and dumb.”

Taylor led the Masters with 21 holes to go in 2007. (He eventually tied for 10th.) A year later, he qualified for his first and only U.S. Ryder Cup team, but he’s fallen on hard times since, failing to clear $600,000 in earnings from 2011-15. 

What to do, then, for that one week a year when the sport’s biggest show comes to his hometown, but he's not invited?

Some years, Taylor played golf at a neighboring course. Other times, he’d watch the coverage on TV.

“But I always wanted to be home,” he said. “I feel like I’m part of the tournament.” 

And last year, he actually was. Taylor and the family headed out to the course for the first time since ’08, just for fun. It turned into a few hours of chasing 16-month-old Locklyn around the course, keeping him from ducking under the ropes or causing a scene, but he was on the grounds nonetheless.

His plans for this year? Well, before his victory at Pebble, Taylor had a tough decision to make.

With only partial status on the Web.com Tour, he was exempt into the first five events on the schedule. That meant he would have needed to fly to Colombia for this week’s event or risk falling further down the priority list. 

“I could be in Cartagena this week,” he said with a laugh. 

Instead, he’s happy to be home. 

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.