Being the 54-hole leader not always an envious position

By Jason SobelFebruary 8, 2012, 10:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It isn’t fun baffling a legend, especially one known as The King. A man of such royalty – even if it is just a nickname – deserves the dignity that comes with his role. He deserves to maintain that regal appearance without having to scramble for answers.

And yet, there was Arnold Palmer, a look of complete bemusement stretched across his face. This was three years ago, just days after Tiger Woods had shocked the world. This time, though, it wasn’t because of another dominant victory or clutch putt that led to an awe-inspiring celebration.

Instead, the greatest closer in the game’s history shocked us by losing. For the first time in 15 tries, Woods let a 54-hole major championship lead slip through his hands, as he watched Y.E. Yang climb past him for the PGA Championship title. He was roundly criticized for taking a conservative approach after jumping out to an early lead, a valid criticism considering his apparent strategy.


Complete coverage: Tiger Woods | AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am


Palmer is known as golf’s consummate riverboat gambler, a player who would hitch up his britches and take a mighty lash at the ball every single time. So when he was queried about Woods’ cautious game plan, The King could hardly contain his puzzlement.

The seven-time major champion wrinkled his nose and furrowed his brow, then finally explained, “I don't like that. I think he's too good to be conservative. If you have the ability like he does, why be conservative? And obviously it didn't work out.'

That condemnation could serve as a mental slogan for many of this season’s conservatives. In three of five tournaments so far, the 54-hole leader has failed to emerge as the champion. Two weeks ago, Kyle Stanley led the Farmers Insurance Open by five strokes entering the final round and lost; last week, Spencer Levin led the Waste Management Phoenix Open by six and lost, as well. In each instance, the players talked about not only how difficult it was to play with a lead, but a healthy lead at that.

“I think playing from behind was quite a bit easier,” said Stanley, who was the beneficiary of Levin’s misstep in Phoenix. “I think when you have a big lead, it's human nature to want to protect it. I think it's a little easier kind of being on the chasing side.”

“I didn't really know how hard it was until I was actually in that situation,” Levin explained. “You've got to have a little different mindset. It feels weird because at least for me I just wanted to get the holes over with, just run out real quick. It was a really strange feeling.”

Defense wins championships. Football players bark the axiom into the camera. Baseball managers impress it upon their players. Basketball coaches preach it ad nauseam.

We hear it all the time in those other sports. The intonation is that scoring is important, but preventing the opponent from scoring is of the highest priority when it comes to winning.

If we’ve learned anything recently, it’s that defense doesn’t win golf tournaments. Stanley and Levin are just the latest examples of players who led, then failed to claim the hardware, but the list is lengthy and varied. In fact, last year, just under half of all 54-hole leaders failed to win one day later.

All of which leads to the $1 million – and in some cases, a few stacks of bills more – question: Why?

“One, it's hard to win,” said Woods, who owns a 48-4 career PGA Tour record when holding the 54-hole lead. “Being a frontrunner, everyone's kind of chasing you. You're in a position where if you do make a few mistakes, it's alright because obviously you have shots to play with. … But it also depends on how many guys are chasing you, too. If you've got a whole wolf pack behind you or one or two guys, it's a totally different deal.

“I think for me, personally, I've always been excited about being in that position. I know I've played well to get there, so just trying to do the same things I did to get there and hopefully it will be enough.”

At last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Steve Marino held the 54-hole outright lead in hopes of earning his first title, but was one of only four players in the eventual top 20 to post an over-par score, getting lapped by D.A. Points in the end.

“I can just kind of put my nose down and not look up and not care about what anybody else is doing,” Points said about playing from behind. “When you've got the lead, you kind of have to be cognizant of what's going on around you. I think that's maybe the harder part.”

Call it golf’s ultimate Catch-22. Every player understands that it’s less comfortable to be playing with a lead – and yet no player would wish to be anywhere but atop the leaderboard entering the final round.

That list even includes Stanley and Levin, fresh off their Sunday miscues. When asked whether he may hit a few stray shots on a Saturday afternoon in order to pass on the lead, Stanley laughed and said, “I don't know about that.”

Levin, meanwhile, relishes another shot at finishing off a big lead. “Don't get me wrong,” he intoned. “I'd like a six-shot lead again. I think that would be great. But I think it's easier [playing from behind] from the aspect that you aren't expected to win. You know what I'm trying to say?”

Palmer doesn’t. The legendary swashbuckler was once asked about players getting weak in the knees and aiming for the fat part of the greens. He cocked his head to the side, produced a crooked little smile and spoke a truism that doesn’t often exist in today’s game: 'I don't know what conservative is.'


Watch first- and second-round coverage of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Thursday and Friday on Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET.

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PGA Tour 'career mode' to be featured in video game

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 6:02 pm

The PGA Tour announced on Monday a licensing agreement with developer HB Studios that will see Tour branding featured in HB's upcoming "The Golf Club 2019" video game.

Per a release, the game's career mode takes players “on an authentic journey through Q-School, the Web.com Tour and a 32-tournament PGA Tour season, including the FedExCup Playoffs, to become the FedExCup champion."

The initial launch will also feature "six precise replicas" of TPC courses played each year on Tour: TPC Summerlin (home of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open), TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course (Waste Management Phoenix Open), TPC Sawgrass’ The Players Stadium Course (The Players Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St. Jude Classic and future home of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship), TPC Deere Run (John Deere Classic), and TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship).

“We are so excited for the launch of 'The Golf Club 2019' featuring the PGA Tour that highlights some of our best tournaments,” said Len Brown, PGA Tour chief legal officer and executive vice president of licensing. “This will allow our fans to take the same path to the PGA Tour by earning their card through the Web.com Tour. Additionally, this will give gamers the opportunity to play under the same tournament conditions that our players face week in and week out. We are thrilled with this partnership.”

The agreement is a large step forward for a franchise which has been focused on virtual architecture, allowing users to design, play and share courses with other members of the TGC community. To date, users have designed more than 170,000 layouts. 

“We are absolutely ecstatic and proud to be an official licensee of the PGA Tour, one of the most prestigious sports organizations in the world,” said Alan Bunker, CEO of HB Studios. “This further validates that HB Studios has the No. 1 golf video game on console and PC platforms. With the inclusion of PGA Tour content and the support of this fantastic organization, it will elevate our game even higher and provide our users with an even more authentic video game golfing experience.”

The 2019 edition is the third installment in “The Golf Club” franchise following "The Golf Club" in 2014 and "The Golf Club 2" in 2017. The game is set for an August release on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC.

The PGA Tour previously licensed its branding and TPC courses to well-known developer Electronic Arts, as far back as 1990. The EA game enjoyed its greatest popularity from 1999-2013 under the name "Tiger Woods PGA Tour". Following the 2013 edition, EA's partnership with Woods and a licensing agreement with Augusta National Golf Club reached an end.

The studio developed one edition of the game for current-generation consoles in 2015 under the name "Rory McIlroy PGA Tour". The title received poor initial reviews when it launched with limited content and far fewer features than previous incarnations of the game, although EA continued to add content for up to a year.

A request for comment from EA has not yet been returned.

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Mann, LPGA HOFer, former tour president, dies at 77

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 4:46 pm

Carol Mann, an LPGA Hall of Famer, made a lasting impact on the women’s game beyond her 38 LPGA titles. She was a former tour president in the 1970s who helped develop the LPGA’s corporate structure.

Mann, 77, died in her home in Woodlands, Texas, on Monday.

She leaves a legacy as a player, teacher, TV broadcaster, writer and businesswoman.

“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”



Mann, who towered over the game as a physical presence at 6 feet 3 inches tall, was dominant in her prime. She won 10 LPGA titles in 1968 and claimed the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. She won eight titles in ’69. Her first LPGA title was a major championship, the 1964 Women’s Western Open. She also won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965.

As the LPGA’s president from 1973 to ’76, Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Mann and Volpe helped take the tour from a struggling business venture at the time to a more profitable one.

“It is always difficult to lose a member of your family,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “Carol Mann was a tremendous competitor, but an even  more amazing person.  She was special in every way, and she certainly left the game and the LPGA better than she found it. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.”

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Sponsored: Callaway's 'Insta Tips'

By Grill Room TeamMay 21, 2018, 4:35 pm

Want to improve your game? Want a quick lesson? And by quick, we mean, 5-10 seconds quick.

Joe Compitello, the director of instruction at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J., teamed up with Callaway to provide a series of Insta Tips. These quick and easy lessons will help your game, from tee to green, and keep your attention.

Click here for the full series of videos and check out a few clips below:




Aaron Wise, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods Getty Images, @TGRLiveEvents

Monday Scramble: This is their jam

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 2:00 pm

Aaron Wise asserts himself, Trinity Forest draws mixed reviews, Tiger Woods hangs out in Vegas, and somebody punches somebody else - maybe. All that and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble.

Aaron Wise's learning curve lasted exactly 17 starts. That's how many events he had played as an official PGA Tour member before breaking through for his maiden win Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson. A kid plenty ready for the moment, the 2016 NCAA Division I individual champion entered the final round tied for the lead and ran away from Marc Leishman with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch. Once firmly in control, Wise made eight straight pars on his way into the clubhouse. Heady stuff for a 21-year-old.

You need look back only a couple weeks for evidence that Wise was ready for something like this. Saturday at the Wells Fargo Championship, he could have melted down on the 18th hole. With his ball sitting on a steep bank inside the hazard line, Wise thought about taking a drop next to the green but ultimately chose after minutes of indecision to play it where it was. And he whiffed. He went right under it. He thinned his next shot over the green and looked as though he was going to throw away three days of fabulous play all at once. Instead, he steeled himself and chipped in to save his bogey-5.

Although Wise couldn't run down Jason Day a day later, his tie for second played a vital role in propelling him to victory just two weeks later. Wise said he felt "oddly calm" in the final round and that his experience at Quail Hollow had filled him with the self-belief he needed to close out his first win.

Mark down Wise as yet another young force to be reckoned with, as if there was somehow a shortage of those on Tour.


1. Let's go to the golf course. The Nelson's move to Trinity Forest was met with plenty of skepticism from players, some of whom simply stayed away.

The event's OWGR winner's points and strength of field dropped to 34 and 178, respectively, from 50 and 335 one year ago. The Nelson's strength of field was the lowest for a PGA Tour event in 2018 (excluding the opposite-field Coarles) and looked more in line with what you might expect during the wraparound portion of the schedule.

It's certainly possible top players are taking a wait-and-see approach to the course, but if the Nelson does wind up sandwiched between the Wells Fargo and the PGA, Trinity Forest is not going to be any kind of warmup for a Bethpage Black or a Harding Park or an Oak Hill, not when Quail Hollow is a PGA Championship layout. 



2. And if players are waiting on positive reviews to lure them to a venue that bares little resemblance to any other course on the PGA Tour schedule, they're not going to hear anything positive from Matt Kuchar. Asked on Thursday about the layout, Kuchar answered, "If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” before adding, "I really liked Las Colinas. That place was great. I really, really enjoyed Las Colinas.” After missing the cut, Kuchar admitted his distaste for the layout negatively affected his play, leaving architecture enthusiasts surely enraged.

Objectively, Las Colinas was an immaculately conditioned TPC devoid of character, and Trinity Forest is a rugged, minimalist tract with so much character it could border on caricature under certain conditions. The two designs have nothing in common, and Tour types are generally resistant to change, a sentiment summed up well by Adam Scott: “Majorities just don’t like different, do they? This is just different than what we normally roll out and play." On the plus side, Jordan Spieth, a Trinity member, said that many of the guys who did show up enjoyed the course more and more after each round. Architect Ben Crenshaw is hoping good word will spread. 

There's nothing wrong with Trinity Forest. It was actually nice to see something a little different on Tour. But the Nelson's place on the schedule may prove an obstacle to attracting the game's best regardless of where the event calls home.



3. As for the top talent who did show up, Spieth - say it with me now - was once again let down by his putter. The club that played such a pivotal role in his three major victories has abandoned him this season. Spieth entered the week second on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and 183rd in strokes gained: putting. When he walked off the final green Sunday at Trinity Forest he was third in the field in SG: off-the-tee, fourth in SG: tee-to-green, fourth in proximity to the hole and 72nd in SG: putting. Those numbers left him 12 shots behind young Mr. Wise.

Remember when Spieth was a 21-year-old dusting the best in the world? Those were the days.

In all seriousness, the putting will get better, and when he finally matches general competence on the greens with his elite ball-striking, he'll finally capture his first trophy of the season. Don't be surprised if it happens this week at Colonial in another hometown event, one he won in 2016.



4.The aforementioned Scott remains - by the slimmest of margins - unqualified for the U.S. Open. Needing to crack the Official World Golf Ranking's top 60, Scott appeared to have done enough when he closed a final-round 65 with a birdie to pull into a four-way tie for sixth. Unfortunately, just moments later, he'd drop into a three-way tie for ninth, missing out by a single shot. 

Scott has played the last 67 majors in a row, dating back to 2001. It's a streak bested by only Sergio Garcia. Having missed this week's cutoff, he'll need to either head to sectional qualifying on June 4 or be inside the top 60 on June 11.

5. I understand golf is different than basketball and football, but the concern over how gambling might negatively impact the game feels a little like pearl-clutching. Yes, some idiot with money on the line could yell in somebody's backswing on the 72nd hole. That absolutely could happen. And yet, somehow we survive every Open Championship and every other tournament played in countries that allow gambling.

Then again, fans outside the U.S. don't yell mashed potatoes or baba booey.

I take it all back. We've made a huge mistake.



6. You might not be familiar with the name Adrian Otaegui, but that could change in a hurry if he keeps up his current form. The 25-year-old Spaniard just backed up a runner-up at the Volvo China Open with a win at the Belgian Knockout.

He's finished in the top 20 in each of his last six European Tour starts and he hasn't finished worse than T-40 in nine events. Both of his wins in the last year have come via match play (or something close enough in the case of the Knockout). With the victory, Otaegui is now up to 77th in the world, making him the fourth-highest Spaniard behind Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, and Rafa Cabrera Bello. 

7. While we're on the subject of the Belgian Knockout, two notes about the format. First, credit again goes to Keith Pelley and company for being unafraid to try something other than 72 holes of stroke play.

The rechristened Belgian Open, which had been dormant since 2000, featured 36 holes of normal stroke play qualifying before giving way to nine-hole, head-to-head stroke play in the knockout rounds. Considering how divisive the WGC-Match Play's round-robin format has become, early-stage stroke play does seem like an easy enough solution when it comes to both cutting the field and protecting the game's biggest stars from a Day 1 exit.

8. For the second time in as many events, the LPGA shortened an event due to weather.

At least the circuit was able to finish three rounds this time. Two players actually got in 56 holes, with Ariya Jutanugarn defeating Nasa Kataoka in a playoff. The victory is Ariya's first of 2018, but the Jutanugarns' second, following Moriya's breakthrough last month in L.A.

9. The Most Interesting Man in the World, Miguel Angel Jimenez, captured his first senior major at the Regions Tradition, but how about Steve Stricker's start to his PGA Tour Champions career? He's gone T5-1-1-T2-T2. Look out, Langer.

Didn't mean to shortchange Jimenez there. Just figured this image summed up the moment.

10. It never ceases to be amazing, by the way, the fine line between the wilderness and a PGA Tour card. Michael Arnaud had made just one Web.com start this year, and he shot an 81. He made only two of five cuts on the Web all last year. On Tuesday, he was in Oklahoma preparing to play an Adams Tour event when he was informed that he had been moved up to first alternate at the BMW Charity Pro-Am. So he took his chances and raced to South Carolina. He was the very last man into the field. And now he's a Web.com winner, inside the top 25 on the money list. All it takes is one great week to rejuvenate a career. 


Our Ryan Lavner normally writes this column, but he's on NCAA duty the next couple weeks. That said, he is checking in with this story about an alleged fist fight at the Florida Mid-Am! Here's a little taste:

In a one-paragraph post on its website, the Florida State Golf Association declared Marc Dull the winner of the 37th Mid-Amateur Championship on May 13 after his opponent – in a tie match with two holes to go – was unable to return because of an “unfortunate injury” sustained during a lengthy weather delay.

Left unreported was what allegedly happened.

According to a police report (see below) obtained by GolfChannel.com, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office received a call that afternoon from Dull’s opponent, Jeff Golden, who claimed that he’d been assaulted in the parking lot at Coral Creek Club, the tournament host site in Placida. In a statement provided to police, Golden said that he was sucker-punched in the face by Dull’s caddie, Brandon Hibbs.

You know you want more. Click here.

This week's award winners ...

A master class in big timing: Hosting his annual Tiger Jam event at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Tiger Woods "challenged" World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a showdown, but rather than wait and see who won, Woods got up on the tee, unleashed a drive, and simply walked away, going full mic drop.

This may have been a savvy play by Tiger, considering Mullins won a WLD event last summer with a drive of 374 yards.

Life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last: We compiled a photo gallery of some of Woods' best celebrity interactions at Tiger Jam over the years, but this image tops them all:

Who needs local knowledge? Tip of the cap to Hideki Matsuyama and his caddie for this read. "I think we start this a good 10 feet left, let it funnel right, and then it should take a hard left at the hole."

Kuchar should have just done that.

Belgian Wave: Is this the opposite of a Belgian Dip?

New rule: Backstopping is absolutely fine as long as we stop marking balls altogether.

And finally:

I like to think we have a lot in common, as I randomly pick up this column, quickly put it back down, and then try to (not-so) casually slip away. Cheers, buddy.