Drama, distress among top players entering Open

By John FeinsteinJune 6, 2014, 11:10 am

During the three days leading up to the start of the U.S. Open every year, the most popular man on-site – certainly among those wearing media credentials – is USGA executive director Mike Davis.

A big part of the story at every Open is the golf course and its setup. Since Davis spends several years preparing each Open layout for its close-up, then several weeks making final decisions on setup, everyone wants a few minutes of his pre-Thursday time.

Davis will certainly be in demand next week to talk about re-designed Pinehurst No. 2, but the mad dash for him may not be as intense as it would normally be before the first meaningful tee shot takes flight.

That’s because the 114th U.S. Open presents a unique set of off-course-leading-to-the-golf-course story lines. Heck, the fact that the No.1 player in the world – Adam Scott – is having some Sunday difficulties of late leads to little more than a raised eyebrow.

Consider three names: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. With all due respect to Scott and his legion of female fans, these are the three most famous golfers in the world. And right now, the one with the least on his mind is McIlroy – who recently broke off his engagement and ended a three-year relationship with a glamorous tennis star.

In fact, it’s a toss-up as to who has the most tsouris (that’s Yiddish for stress) between the two old pals, Woods and Mickelson. Woods’ golf career could be in jeopardy. Mickelson’s life could be in jeopardy.

Okay, those are absolute worst-case scenarios, but let’s think about all this for a moment.

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Woods had back surgery on March 31. Since then, he has gone into hiding, breaking silence to say on his website that he has no idea when he’ll play again; and taking part at a news conference promoting the tournament he hosts at Congressional Country Club to say that he still has no idea when he’ll play again.

There have been no leaks – which usually come through agent Mark Steinberg to Tiger-friendly media outlets – since then indicating that he’s starting to fully swing a club or that the doctors have cleared him to do anything more than the “gentle” chipping and putting he has talked about.

Some people think Woods will be in England next month for the British Open, which is being played at Royal Liverpool, a golf course he dominated when the Open was last played there in 2006. But Day 1 of that championship is only six weeks away. In the grand scheme of recovery from back surgery that’s not very long. It’s worth noting, too, that the doctor who did the surgery on Woods said that an elite athlete could normally be “back in the field,” in three to four months – but might need longer than that to be as good as he was when 100 percent healthy.

If Woods was a normal human being you would think he would need at least one warm-up event before Liverpool. But Woods isn’t normal. He came back after post-Masters knee surgery in 2008, showed up at the U.S. Open, won – and played an extra 19 playoff holes – and then needed more surgery right after that.

Never count him out. But the smoke signals coming from his camp have, at least until now, not been terribly encouraging.

The world knows even less about what’s going on with Mickelson. Last Thursday, two FBI agents showed up at the Memorial wanting to talk to him. As you might expect, he suggested they speak to his lawyers. No doubt they have or will.

The Wall Street Journal subsequently broke a story saying that Mickelson is being investigated by the SEC – the Securities and Exchange Commission, not the Southestern Conference – and by the FBI for possible insider trading. Specifically, the Journal reported, there were questions about Mickelson’s involvement with billionaire investor Carl Icahn and big-time Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters in a 2011 deal involving Clorox stock.

It’s no surprise that Mickelson says he did nothing wrong. And none of us has any idea what’s involved here. We do know this: According to the Journal story, the investigation started over a year ago. When Mickelson became aware of it is anybody’s guess but since his victory at Muirfield last summer, he has not been a ball of fire on the golf course. Everyone knows the numbers for this season: no wins, no top-10 finishes and a missed cut at the Masters for the first time since 1998.

Very un-Mickelson like.

Perhaps it’s coincidence. Perhaps the psoriatic arthritis is starting to affect his game. Perhaps he’s finally starting to show his age as he approaches his 44th birthday next week.

Or, perhaps he’s got something on his mind. Those who deal with the SEC on a regular basis are unanimous in saying it is a nightmare – regardless of whether you are innocent. The SEC is relentless and doesn’t make anything easy for anyone who is being investigated – for ANYTHING. Perhaps that’s what they have to do in order to get their jobs done. But it is almost impossible to believe that the presence of SEC and FBI investigators in anyone’s life can be terribly pleasant.

All of which makes McIlroy’s emotional announcement of his break-up with Caroline Wozniacki two weeks ago seems like, well, puppy love by comparison. Not that a three-year relationship or a broken engagement should be taken lightly. Certainly McIlroy didn’t do that. But he’s 25 and she’s 22. They will both move on to other relationships and it’s possible that McIlroy now feels he’s brought closure to a phase of his life that needed closure.

Neither Woods nor Mickelson appear likely to find closure with their current predicaments in the near future. Next week, Mickelson has to deal with all the normal questions about finally winning a U.S. Open with the SEC and the FBI lurking over his shoulder. Woods, even when he comes back, will have to show the world that he can be Tiger Woods again.

Daunting tasks in both cases.

Mike Davis won’t be lonely next week but he’ll probably have more free time than usual.

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Garnett's six-shot lead dwindles to two in Punta Cana

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 10:57 pm

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic - Brice Garnett took a six-stroke lead into the wind Saturday in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He came out with a two-stroke advantage.

Garnett bogeyed three of the final six holes in the wind and rain for a 3-under 69 and a 16-under 200 total.

''Once we made the turn coming back, all those holes coming in toward the north, it was all we wanted and then some,'' Garnett said. ''I kind of took advantage of some holes going out, some holes downwind, some par 5s, and then we were just trying to leave it in the right spot those last four or five holes. Pars are pretty good scores on those holes.''

Canadian Corey Conners was second after a 67, and Tyler McCumber also had a 67 to get to 12 under. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped out Friday, finishing last in the 132-man field in his PGA Tour debut. He shot 77-82 playing as an amateur on a sponsor exemption.

A stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, Garnett opened with a bogey, birdied Nos. 2, 4 and 6, eagled the par-5 seventh, and made two more birdies on the par-3 ninth and par-5 12th. He bogeyed the par-4 13th, par-5 15th and par-3 17th.

Full-field scores from the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship

''I looked once and the lead was a little bigger than what it is now,'' Garnett said. ''The eagle was huge, kind of gave me that confidence that I can push it on out and stretch it a little bit more. That wind was tough and I'll take a two-shot lead into tomorrow.''

The 34-year-old Garnett is winless on the PGA Tour. He won twice last year on the Web.com Tour.

''You've got another 18 holes. So much can happen,'' Garnett said. ''Just going to try to keep the golf ball in front of me. I have that self-belief this week and that's what I had last year when I won, so I'll just keep my head down and just keep going.''

Conners had five birdies and a bogey on the front nine and added a birdie on No. 12.

''Really happy with the round,'' Conners said. ''I got off to a nice start, made a bunch of birdies on the front nine and kind of held it together on the back nine. It was playing really difficult. The wind was really blowing out there, made things challenging.''

McCumber, the son of 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber, has played his last 39 holes with a bogey.

''Second shots have been pretty solid,'' McCumber said. ''Putting pretty well, short game is pretty good. Just really being in the right areas and staying below the hole.''

Tom Lovelady was fourth at 11 under after a 68. Seamus Power (71), Denny McCarthy (71) and Seungsu Han (72) were 10 under.

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Poulter incorrectly told he's in Masters before loss to Kisner

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 10:33 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Ian Poulter was not happy, and it was only partially because of his blowout loss to Kevin Kisner in Saturday’s quarterfinals at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Following his morning victory in the round of 16 over Louis Oosthuizen, the Englishman was incorrectly informed that by making it to the Elite 8 at Austin Country Club he was assured enough Official World Golf Raking points to move into the top 50 and qualify for the Masters in two weeks.

“I should never listen to other people,” Poulter said following his 8-and-6 loss to Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals. “When you finish a round of golf and the press and everybody is telling you you're in the Masters, and then you get a text message 10 minutes before you tee off to correct everybody, to say, ‘Oh, we've made a mistake, actually, no, that was wrong, you're not in. You need to go and win.’

“Not that that's an excuse in any form or factor, it's a little disappointing.”

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Poulter actually needed to advance to the semifinal round to move into the top 50. Instead, his last chance to qualify for the Masters is to win next week’s Houston Open, although he was unsure if he’d play the event.

“I don't know yet, I haven't decided,” said Poulter when asked if he’d play next week. “I'm tired. It's been a long week. It's been a draining week. I'll wait until Monday night and if I have the energy then I will.”

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Not DJ, not Poulter: Kisner most proud to take down Kuchar

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 9:34 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On his way to this week’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Kevin Kisner has beaten world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the European match play ninja Ian Poulter. But neither match could compare to his duel with Matt Kuchar early Saturday.

“I was more jacked to beat [Kuchar], really. Kuch is such a good player and our games are so similar,” said Kisner, who defeated Kuchar in the round of 16, 1 up. “We both made eight birdies this morning and I barely snuck out of there. I thought it was a lot of fun.”

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By comparison, his quarterfinal bout against Poulter wasn’t nearly as electric. Kisner won two of the first four holes when the Englishman made bogey (No. 3) and when he was conceded the fourth hole, hecruised to an 8-and-6 victory for the week’s most lopsided win.

“I don't know Ian that well, so I don't really have a history with him, other than watching him kill us in the Ryder Cup,” Kisner laughed.

Things won’t get any easier for Kisner on Sunday when he’ll play Alex Noren in the semifinals. The Swede has been dominant this week and is considered one of Europe’s top players heading into this year’s Ryder Cup.

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Hahn: 'My fault for not expecting the worst from fans'

By Grill Room TeamMarch 24, 2018, 8:35 pm

Fan behavior has made headlines all year long on the PGA Tour, and the topic of conversation doesn't look like it’s going away anytime soon.

The latest example came on Friday at the WGC-Dell Technologies March Play, when James Hahn took to Twitter to complain that a fan deliberately yelled in his backswing on the 15th hole during his match with Jason Dufner, which he lost 3 and 2.

“Whether we like it or not, this is where the game is going,” he tweeted. “My fault for not expecting the worst from fans. Just sucks to lose a match that way.”

The two-time PGA Tour winner followed up his original tweet, clarifying that he can expect bad behavior from all golf fans while still loving and respecting them.

He also pointed out a major difference in comparing golf to other sports, saying some PGA Tour players go to far greater lengths than the typical NFL star to engage with fans on a daily basis.

The incident comes on the heels of several recent player run-ins with fans, including Justin Thomas at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Sergio Garcia earlier this week at Austin Country Club.

On Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that inappropriate fan behavior related to alcohol sales is something his staff is monitoring.