Is there a strategy behind withdrawing on Tour?

By Jason SobelApril 4, 2014, 2:18 am

Not long after Dustin Johnson signed for an 8-over 80 – the highest score during the Shell Houston Open first round – then withdrew from the tournament without an immediate reason, my phone buzzed.

On the other end was a PGA Tour player. He didn’t want his name used in print and was calling just to vent, but his message came across loud and clear.

“I guess when anybody shoots 80 now,” he said, “they can WD and come up with an excuse or an injury.”

This player quickly followed by insisting he didn’t know anything about Johnson’s possible injury/illness status. He wasn’t implicating him as part of any ploy to simply take his ball and go home, cutting his losses after a round that included two double-bogeys on his first four holes, a quintuple-bogey on the sixth and a career-worst front-nine 43.

He did, however, point out that this strategy is part of an ongoing epidemic. In fact, he even used that exact word. Epidemic. So did another player via text message, independent of the first.

The message was evident: There is a large faction of players who are dubious of a few of their well-known peers.

Part of the problem lies within the current PGA Tour rules.

Competitors who withdraw during a tournament round must, eventually, provide a valid medical excuse. Those who withdraw after posting a score need no explanation.

In a way, it’s much like another hot-button issue: Slow play. If there is no direct penalty – and other than fines and warnings, there hasn’t been one for slow play in nearly two full decades – then there’s no motivation to avoid it.

When Rory McIlroy, already 7 over and sure to miss the cut, walked off the course midway through last year’s Honda Classic second round he cited a toothache. Two weeks ago, Bubba Watson blamed allergies as his reason for withdrawing from the Arnold Palmer Invitational following an opening-round 83. Johnson, who trailed by 15 strokes when he made his decision on Thursday, isn’t required to provide a reason. (Update: On Friday morning, Johnson's agent David Winkle texted: "Just a little stiffness in his back. Nothing serious, just being very careful so he's ready to roll next week.")

The underlying effect is that it harms the tournament host. As the player who called me said, “It may hurt the Tour a little with these WDs. But it hurts the title sponsor and local fans even more – especially if you’re a big draw for the event.”

The problem here, of course, is that nobody besides the player understands his level of pain or discomfort. So just as it’s irresponsible for a professional golfer to pack it in when things aren’t going his way, it’s similarly irresponsible to contend anyone is crying wolf.

While it might look suspicious on the surface, a devil’s advocate may contend that it could prove to be the right move. With the opening round of the Masters just seven days away, Johnson might have seen an opportunity to recuperate from a lingering injury or illness – or maybe just get another day of R&R before the year’s biggest tournament. If sacrificing another round in Houston while far off the cut line means he’ll be better prepared to claim a green jacket next week, is that so wrong? Well, according to many of his brethren, it is.

However, without a rule in place requiring a medical explanation for post-round withdrawal, the PGA Tour is basically issuing a bottomless get-out-of-jail-free card.

The current policy leaves plenty of room for doubt. We can impugn players for a perceived lack of effort, but maintaining that any are faking these symptoms is a weighty accusation.

Following his withdrawal at the Honda Classic last month, there was a camp of observers who believed this was the case with Tiger Woods. Well out of contention during the final round, Woods withdrew with five holes remaining because of a lingering back injury.

Those who accused him of milking it, though, found themselves eating crow this week, when Woods announced that he’d recently undergone back surgery to alleviate the issue and will miss the upcoming Masters and beyond.

Similarly, fellow elite talents Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and Hunter Mahan have recently been forced to withdraw from tournaments with ailments that, according to them, inhibited their performances.

It is important to note that even though the word “epidemic” has been tossed around, there remains an infinitesimal amount of players whose withdrawals can be considered suspicious.

Many still consider it a matter of pride to soldier on, no matter the consequences.

During the Honda last month, Brendon de Jonge raced to a 66-64 start. He then suffered a painful rib injury that led to a disappointing 76-78 weekend finish. But he did finish.

“I thought about it right at the turn on Sunday, but I figured it wasn’t getting any worse,” he said a few days later. “I didn’t feel like I was damaging it. But I’ve never withdrawn and I’d like to keep it that way.”

That’s a popular opinion within PGA Tour circles. It’s difficult to know an exact percentage, but unquestionably the majority of players feel a sense of pride toward gutting it out and continuing to compete – no matter their score, no matter their injury status.

That was the main theme of the phone call I received Thursday evening. This player didn’t like the idea that players could withdraw after a poor score without a legitimate excuse.

He’s hardly in the minority.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM ( Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.