Politics, Tiger and the Tour

By John FeinsteinJuly 5, 2011, 7:38 pm

It began as a slam dunk, a tap-in for the world’s greatest golfer. The AT&T National hosted by Tiger Woods swept into the nation’s capital in 2007 as a godsend for the city and as a vetted big-time event on the PGA Tour before anyone teed up a ball.

The timing was close to perfect in every way: The Tour had stripped Washington of its status as an annual PGA Tour stop in 2006, offering what had been the Booz Allen Classic a slot as part of the Fall Finish, which the sponsor turned down.

There was a considerable amount of criticism attached to both the Tour’s decision to abandon Washington and the way in which it handled that decision. Finchem certainly heard those voices. And so, when The International, one of the player’s favorite Tour events, also went dark because it lacked a sponsor, Finchem saw a perfect storm.

Woods, the best and most popular player in the world at the time, wanted his own event. He wanted it in a major city on a big-time golf course. Even though he had never played the old Tour stop in Washington, that would change if the event had his name on it and was played at a top club like Congressional.

And so, in about 15 minutes, a new PGA Tour stop was born. AT&T – then one of Woods’ sponsors – jumped on board as the title sponsor and the late Ben Brundred Jr., the longtime executive director of the D.C. stop and Congressional’s most influential member, convinced the membership to give up the club for Fourth of July weekend.

The Tour instantly slotted the tournament into a primo date – the middle week of the three between the U.S. and British Opens – and a match made in heaven was born. The new tournament was expected to step right into the first tier of non-majors along with The Players, Memorial and Bay Hill. Woods’ presence every year, along with Congressional as the site, essentially guaranteed the event's future.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

In 2007, almost every big name on Tour turned up for the inaugural ‘Tiger.’ Even Phil Mickelson, never mistaken as Woods’ best friend, showed up out of respect for the host and the venue. The crowds were huge, the weather was hot but bearable and most went home happy.

Then the Good Ship Tiger – and thus his event – began taking on water. The trouble began when Woods couldn’t play in 2008 because of major knee surgery shortly after winning the U.S. Open. Most connected to the tournament understood that Woods wasn’t going to play but the sponsors and members weren’t thrilled when he couldn’t spend a day on site glad-handing with the people who put up the cash to hold the tournament.

A month later, Woods did make it to Washington for a ‘town hall meeting,’ where Congressional’s members (full disclosure, I am one of them) were briefed by the tournament host and Finchem about the future of the event. With the tournament scheduled in Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011 – because of the U.S. Open being held at Congressional – the question was whether the Tiger Woods Foundation and the club wanted to renew their contract since the first three-year deal wasexpiring.

Woods was at the height of his popularity at that point, a little more than a month removed from winning his 14th major title. Still, he and Finchem were met with considerable skepticism that night by a membership that liked the money thetournament brought but didn’t like the intrusions it brought to club life.

At one point a woman stood up and asked Woods, “Why exactly would we want to continue doing this?”

Woods, in his uniquely dismissive way, looked at her and said, “I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to do it.”

Congressional voted to sign a new deal. Barely. The vote was 52 percent to 48 percent andprobably would not have passed if the board of directors hadn’t pushed so hard and if Finchem hadn’t implied during the meeting that the date might change in 2013 when new TV contracts were signed. The deal was for three years with both sides having an option to get out at the end of 2014 or agree to go forward for another three years.

Then came the fire hydrant.

If the Congressional membership was split on the issue of Woods’ event prior to that it wasn’t afterward. The USGA has made it clear to the club that it will not get a U.S. Open in the future if it is still hosting a PGA Tour event which means Congressional can’t show Tiger the door fast enough.

Except for this: There’s a contract for the next three years. Reportedly, the folks at Aronimink, who were less-than-happy with the way Woods conducted himself last year, were charmed last week by the new Tiger who didn’t play, but showed up and did everything but kiss babies.

So, perhaps Aronimink will take over the contract from Congressional. Maybe it will host for at least one more year to give Congressional a chance to catch itsbreath after hosting the Open. One thing is for sure: Congressional will not be the tournament’s long-term host. There has even been talk that, to keep the tournament in Washington, it might be moved to the newly-renovated TPC Farms at Avenel.

The renovated golf course got good reviews from the senior players last fall but does not carry the reputation of being a top-notch course among most Tour players. Davis Love’s long-ago line about Avenel still resonates: “It isn’t a bad golf course…unless you have to drive past Congressional to get there.”

This year’s AT&T field wasn’t much better, if at all, than the fields at Hartford two weeks ago or John Deere this week. Most of the big names were either resting or playing overseas to get ready for the British Open. The obligation to the world’s 17th-ranked player to show up at his event apparently isn’t the same as the obligation to show up to play for an event hosted by the greatest player of our time.

And the world’s former No. 1 is still day-to-day, when it comes to playing golf. Last week he was Billy Payne with a goatee.

Of course a year from now he might be No. 1 again and the tournament might be back at Congressional. But nobody knows. And the future of a Tour stop that was once as glittering and glitzy as anything you could find outside the four majors is murky and uncertain.

Like its host, it is day-to-day. 

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Runner-up McIlroy: 'I should have closed it out'

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 5:18 pm

After taking the 36-hole lead by three and taking a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round, Rory McIlroy failed to keep pace with Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.

Struggling with a two-way miss throughout the weekend, McIlroy fell four down to Molinari through 10 holes.

The Ulsterman attempted to mount a late charge, with birdies at 12 and 17, but when his eagle putt at the 72nd hole came up inches short, and when Molinari's ball opted not to spin back into the water, the comeback bid came to an end.

His final round of 2-under 70 left him in solo second, two shots behind the champion.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

"I’m just disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was in a great position after two days and struggled yesterday and sort struggled today again, as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead of me, and I couldn’t claw that back.

“I played some good golf coming down the back nine, hit some better shots, but I need to work on a few things going forward."

McIlroy ended an 18-month worldwide winless drought earlier this year with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but hasn't claimed victory on the European Tour in two years, since the Irish Open in May of 2016.

"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week," McIlroy said. "But that’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win, I need to do a little more work, and I’m looking to forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."

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Molinari holds off McIlroy to win BMW PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 3:20 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England - Francesco Molinari's path to the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship was drama-free until he sized up his approach to the 72nd hole.

Rory McIlroy, his closest rival three strokes back, had just hit to 20 feet to set up an eagle chance. Molinari was between clubs for his third shot and faced a delicate wedge over the water protecting Wentworth's pretty 18th green.

His ball landed short of the pin and span back toward the water. The spectators held their collective breath - so did Molinari - but it came to rest on the fringe, just short of trouble.

''Just a bit of luck at the right time,'' Molinari said, with a smile.

After McIlroy came up inches short with his eagle putt, Molinari rolled in for par from 6 feet for a 4-under 68 that secured a two-stroke victory at Wentworth on Sunday. It was the fifth win of his career, and his most satisfying.

''If I could pick one tournament to win in my career, it would be this one,'' the Italian said at the prizegiving ceremony.

A Sunday shootout between Molinari and McIlroy at the European Tour's flagship event never really materialized.

They entered the final round tied for the lead on 13 under but while McIlroy sprayed his drives left and right, Molinari was the model of consistency and established a three-shot cushion by the turn after birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8.

From there on, it was a clinic in front-running from Molinari, who laid up when he needed to and picked up his only shot on the back nine with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 12th.

McIlroy birdied the par 5s at Nos. 17 and 18 but mounted his victory charge too late.

''I didn't feel intimidated at all,'' Molinari said of his head-to-head with the former world No. 1. ''It's just the last couple of holes, he's basically thinking eagle, eagle. I'm thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.

''Sometimes I just get too drawn on what the other guy is doing, and I was really good today, hitting good shots and focusing on my process and not worrying about anything else.''

Molinari played his final 44 holes bogey-free. He only dropped two shots all week, one of them coming on his first hole.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

He will likely climb into the world's top 20 on Monday and has moved into the automatic qualifying places for the European team for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn't played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called ''Miracle at Medinah.''

''I'm playing well enough that I shouldn't really worry too much about that,'' Molinari said. ''I should just keep doing my own thing and hopefully things will take care of themselves.''

Molinari previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Alex Noren last year.

On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.

It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.

With a 67, Noren was tied for third with Lucas Bjerregaard (65), a stroke back from McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 2014 winner at Wentworth, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him with a three-shot lead.

He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par 5s coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.

''With a 36-hole lead,'' McIlroy said, ''I should have closed it out this week.''

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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”