Stat attack!: Hyundai TOC statistical preview

By Golf Channel Digital, John AntoniniJanuary 1, 2014, 1:00 pm

After a six-week hiatus, the PGA Tour returns to action with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course, beginning Friday. Dustin Johnson overwhelmed the 30-man field a year ago, winning by four strokes in the tournament that was basically a two-day, 54-hole sprint, because heavy winds pummeled Maui on what would have been the first three days of play.

Read that sentence again and you’ll understand why Johnson was the perfect winner for the TOC in 2013. The key words are “54 holes” and “30-man field.” Of Johnson’s eight career wins, three have come in weather-shortened events and six came in tournaments that did not feature the Tour’s standard 132- to 156-player field. Bigger, smaller, shorter, it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s out of the ordinary. The only thing Johnson hasn’t won is a longer event, with none of his eight titles coming in a playoff.

Field size/tournament length of Dustin Johnson’s PGA Tour victories:

Event Field size Number of holes
2008 Turning Stone 132 72
2009 AT&T National Pro-Am 180 54
2010 AT&T National Pro-Am 180 72
2010 BMW Championship 70 72
2011 Barclays 125 54
2012 FedEx St. Jude Classic 156 72
2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions 30 54
2013 HSBC Champions 78 72

Thirty golfers are scheduled to participate in the 2014 Hyundai. That’s the same number as last year, as five eligible performers - Graeme McDowell, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Tiger Woods - have opted out. If no one else withdraws, the Hyundai will match the Tour Championship as the smallest field on the PGA Tour this year.

Perhaps surprisingly, one thing that doesn’t make Johnson a favorite this week is his length off the tee. It’s not that long hitters have a disadvantage on Kapalua’s wide fairways. It’s just that the length advantage is negated somewhat because the contours of the course usually add distance off the tee to everyone in the field - provided, of course, the wind isn’t blowing a gale into your face. True, Johnson led the tournament in distance of all drives in 2013 (he was second in official driving distance), but the winners from 2010-12 were all in the bottom half of the field in that statistic. (2012 champ Steve Stricker and 2010 champ Geoff Ogilvy were 17th in the field in distance, and 2011 champ Jonathan Byrd was 18th.)

Last year’s wind kept the distance of all drives down to 282.3 yards, but in 2012 the average was 296.5 yards. Both numbers were higher than the Tour average. In addition to long drives, the Plantation Course also often yields a higher percentage of fairways hit and greens in regulation. Johnson took advantage in only one of those categories. He was second in greens in regulation at Kapalua in 2013 and last in fairways hit, no doubt a result of the heavy wind. Johnson hit 48 greens, 88.89 percent, while the tournament average was 80.37 percent. In driving accuracy, Johnson hit 23 of 45 fairways. His 51.11 percent was lower than the tournament average of 67.48 percent.

The Plantation Course’s averages in 2012-13 compared to the PGA Tour:

2012

  Plantation Course at Kapalua PGA Tour
Avg. distance of all drives 296.5 yards 282.2 yards
Driving accuracy 64.44% 60.67%
Greens in regulation 81.64%  63.98%

2013

  Plantation Course at Kapalua PGA Tour
Avg. distance of all drives 282.3 yards 280.0 yards
Driving accuracy 67.48% 61.05%
Greens in regulation 80.37% 64.42%

Does Johnson have a chance to repeat in 2014? Sure. This event has had its share of back-to-back winners recently with Ogilvy winning in 2009 and 2010 and Stuart Appleby winning from 2004-06. So Johnson has the field size and the repeat factor going for him. And if the wind blows - remember he also won the 2011 Barclays in New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the East Coast - we like his chances even more.

In an effort to help fantasy golf players with their selections this week, here’s a primer on how the rest of the field has fared at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Click here for Power Rankings.

Woody Austin: The oldest player in the field first played the TOC in 1996 when it was held at LaCosta. He was 26th that year, and has finished 12th and T-18 in his two starts in Hawaii.

Sang-Moon Bae: The only Korean in the field, Bae is making his tournament debut.

Jonas Blixt: He was T-18 in his first start a year ago.

Scott Brown: Making his tournament debut. No player has won the Hyundai after qualifying for it by winning an event held opposite a top tournament since Steve Pate, who won in 1988 after taking the 1987 Southwest Golf Classic, which was held the same week as the Ryder Cup.

Jason Dufner: T-18 in his debut a year ago. The last reigning major champion to win the TOC was 2002 British Open champ Ernie Els, who won at Kapalua in 2003. With Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson opting out of this event, Dufner and Masters champ Adam Scott are the only players who can match Els this week.

Ken Duke: Making his tournament debut.

Harris English: Making his tournament debut.

Derek Ernst: Making his tournament debut.

Brian Gay: T-18 in 2009, 21st in 2011. He has never shot lower than 70, but all eight of his rounds have been under par.

Bill Haas: Making his fourth start. He has one top 10, an eighth-place finish in his debut in 2011.

Russell Henley: He’s the only player in the field who has won every PGA Tour event he has played in Hawaii, having won the 2013 Sony Open in his debut a year ago. But the Sony and the Hyundai are not compatible events: Waialae’s fairways were the second-toughest to hit in 2013, while Kapaula’s were 34th out of 43 courses. Waialae’s greens were the 29th-hardest to hit in 2013 while Kapalua’s were the easiest on Tour.

Billy Horschel: Making his tournament debut.

Dustin Johnson: With Mickelson and Woods not playing this week, Johnson is the only player in the field with a win in this event.

Zach Johnson: He’s won in Hawaii, taking the 2009 Sony Open, but as we mentioned in the Henley note, these two events can’t be more dissimilar. Interestingly, 2009 was the only time in six previous starts that he finished in the top 15 at Kapalua (T-6).

Chris Kirk: He had a pretty good debut two years ago, finishing T-7 in 2012 in his only appearance.

Matt Kuchar: He’s played four times and has three top 10s, with a best of third place in 2010. Fourteen of his previous 15 rounds at Kapalua have been at par or better. 

Martin Laird: The Scot looks like a fit for the winds of Kapalua. He was T-4 in 2010 and second a year ago. He has never shot higher than 70 in eight rounds entering 2014.

John Merrick: Making his tournament debut.

Ryan Moore: Played poorly in the wind a year ago (T-28), but he was T-6 in 2010.

D.A. Points: He was T-12 in 2012, his only appearance.

Patrick Reed: Making his tournament debut.

Adam Scott: The runner-up in 2007, Scott has three top 10s in five starts and 19 of his 20 rounds have been at par or better. The way he finished 2013, winning two of three Australasian Tour events, puts him of the short list of top contenders this week. 

Webb Simpson: T-3 in 2012 and T-11 in 2013. He has never shot a round over par at Kapalua.

Brandt Snedeker: Recovering from injuries suffered in a Segway accident in November, he was T-10 in 2008, third in 2013. 

Jordan Spieth: Making his tournament debut

Kevin Streelman: Making his tournament debut.

Michael Thompson: Making his tournament debut.

Jimmy Walker: Making his tournament debut.

Boo Weekley: He was T-23 in 2008 and T-15 in 2009.

Gary Woodland: He was 24th in 2012.

ONE FINAL NOTE: Austin is the only player in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions field to win a PGA Tour event after last year’s Masters who is not also eligible for the 2014 Masters. Austin won in Mississippi the week of the British Open and did not qualify for Augusta because the event did not award full FedEx Cup points.

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Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

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Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

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10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

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Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”