Hawk's Nest: Phil sends message with FedEx fatigue

By John HawkinsSeptember 8, 2014, 3:25 pm

Two of the game’s biggest names, two funny-looking withdrawals at halftime of the BMW Championship.

On the surface, the WDs are unrelated, although it’s hard not to remember how Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley formed such a potent duo two years ago in that biennial match-play shindig vs. the Europeans.

Mickelson’s explanation for pulling out was strikingly candid — almost defiant as an ode to the independent contractor: “My primary goal is to rest and prepare for the Ryder Cup,” he announced. Those words surely delighted the neckties in Camp Ponte Vedra, which can’t quite convince its own membership that everyone else’s events aren’t as big as their own.

The Euro bout is still three weeks off, however, and if Mickelson had been in contention at Cherry Hills, he obviously wouldn’t have flown home Friday night, which forces us to read between the lines. When you’ve won five majors, 42 PGA Tour events and earned approximately a half-billion doing it, a slim shot at another $10 million doesn’t rock your planet.

Rich people don’t buy lottery tickets.

Bradley, meanwhile, bailed over a Thursday rule violation that went unpenalized, a case of guilt trumping a plugged lie in the public eye.

“It’s eating me alive,” Keegs said of the incident, which involved free relief from an embedded ball on a greenside bank at the 18th. “I know [a Tour official] approved the drop, but I just can’t be sure it was the right spot.”

You can’t touch a man who overdoses on chivalry, especially when it costs you a spot in the Tour Championship — Bradley fell from 28th to 33rd by taking himself out of the tournament. Again, there are some murky circumstances here, as Keegs’ morality needle didn’t start spiking until a fan questioned him after the round over whether the ball was truly embedded.

I’m no criminal, but if I’m cleared of any wrongdoing before some dude claims he saw my ball bounce, I get eight hours of sound sleep and keep playing. Unless Tom Watson is the one who snitched on me, I don’t give up my leap at $10 million just because I got a favorable ruling on a pure judgment call.

As a combo platter, the Mickelson-Bradley departures represent cold, hard reality in a league where massive amounts of money are paid to the contestants and the pile of obligations keeps getting taller and thicker. Mickelson is 44 years old. All that is left for him to do is to add a touch of varnish to his legacy, and he’s never been particularly stellar in the Ryder Cup.

So he walks away from the third FedEx Cup playoff tilt to reintroduce himself to his children and fall in love with the game again. He has played five tournaments in the last six weeks. His kids have started school and he hasn’t been around. At this point, the man just wants to go home.

If you work in a factory or lay bricks for a living, you probably can’t comprehend it, but the grind of competitive golf comes with a point of diminishing returns. In 2012, Camp Ponte Vedra slotted a bye week between the BMW and Tour Championship. The Ryder Cup was played at Medinah that fall — those involved in both events went straight from Atlanta to Chicago. No big deal. Captain Watson is said to have asked the Tour for an off week after Atlanta, however, allowing his squad to catch its break before heading overseas. Fair enough, but with Tiger Woods removed from the scene, Mickelson struggling to stay motivated and the first three postseason gatherings producing little suspense, this year’s playoffs have produced the biggest collective clunker in its eight-year history.

Too many format flaws + decreased starpower = a big fat shortage of buzz. This wasn’t the year to go four consecutive weeks, but if there had been a bye, how many people would have noticed?

MICKELSON HAS NEVER been a fan of bunching the playoff events together. You may recall that in the inaugural postseason series (2007), he won the Deutsche Bank Championship, then announced on national television that he’d be skipping the BMW because he didn’t like the schedule.

“They don’t listen to me,” he said at the time regarding his more vehement protests to the Tour.

“We listen to him,” a vice president replied, “but that doesn’t mean we’re going to do what he tells us to do.”

It’s not just the big boys who aren’t crazy about the system. veteran player Bob Estes tweeted on Sunday, “From day one, I’ve said that the FedEx Cup playoff should only be three events. Four is one too many.”

He may not actually know it, but I’ve hired recently retired tour pro Joe Ogilvie to serve as commissioner of the Hawk’s Nest. Ogilvie is in charge of assessing front-burner topics and how the Tour handles those matters, and so I asked him if Mickelson and/or Bradley should be fined or reprimanded for scooting out on tournaments without a suitable cause.

“No, because [Tim Finchem] screwed the FedEx Cup anyway when he went four in a row,” came the response. “Bradley, you can’t fine in any circumstance. I give Finchem a failing grade this year. Dustin Johnson, the website [pgatour.com], sacrificing what is best for the FedEx Cup to the Ryder Cup without getting anything in return ...”

Gee whiz, Joseph. Congratulations. You’ve just won Employee of the Month.

SOMEBODY HAS TO play with Bubba. And in final analysis, that’s what led to Webb Simpson getting a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Simpson-Watson won their first three partnered matches at the 2011 Presidents Cup, triggering an American rout at Royal Melbourne, and Simpson did most of the heavy lifting.

The pair was also a success at Medinah, wrapping a couple of 5-and-4 triumphs around a tough loss to Ian Poulter/Justin Rose. Simpson’s even-keel demeanor is a fine complement to the high-strung lefty — the more Bubba accomplishes, the more irritable he seems to become, at least on the course.

Nobody’s going to come out and say it, but Watson can be a handful as both an opponent and a teammate. He’s hard on himself, harder on his caddie (Ted Scott) and quite willing to express his opinion on just about anything. Besides, it’s not like Simpson was buried beneath a few-dozen bodies on the U.S. points list. He finished 15th — two spots behind Bradley and 10 ahead of Hunter Mahan.

Skipper Tom Watson admitted he wasn’t fully aware of Simpson-Watson’s prior success until shortly before announcing his picks last Tuesday, which is a bit scary. Simpson’s 2014 was by no means awful, although he did miss the cut at three of the four majors and the Players.

A victory in Las Vegas last fall technically makes him a 2014 champion. Otherwise, there were four top-fives, all at weak-field events. I am of the firm belief that Captain Watson had his eye on experienced Ryder Cuppers from the very start — a 65-year-old iconoclast isn’t going to pick a rookie for a road game against an opponent that is an overwhelming favorite.

THAT WAS A different Billy Horschel who won Sunday at Cherry Hills. The old Billy used to yell at his golf ball on just about every shot, good or bad, displaying an animated streak that set him apart from a vast majority of his tour-pro brethren.

It’s funny how we watch a guy on TV one week and decide whether we like or dislike him primarily by his body language and behavior. My late mother was one of the kindest people to ever walk the earth — the apple falls miles from the tree sometimes — and a huge golf fan who just didn’t care for Davis Love III.

“He’s one of the most likeable people I’ve ever covered,” I told her more than twice.

“But he never smiles,” she would say. “He looks like he just got out of the dentist’s chair.”

Horschel definitely rubbed some golf fans wrong with his histrionics, but when I met him at the 2013 PGA Championship, I couldn’t have been more impressed. Nice kid, very respectful, and if he ever makes a Ryder Cup team, America will be the better for it.

Having gone through the transcripts of Horschel’s interviews at Cherry Hills, I’m surprised nobody asked him about the changes in his on-course demeanor. He was questioned repeatedly about the 6-iron he knocked into the hazard on the 72nd hole at the Deutsche Bank, which killed any chance he had of beating Chris Kirk, and for good reason.

That was a mistake no quality tour pro should make. It says something about Horschel’s toughness that he came back and won the very next week, but let’s not get carried away with his future. The last guy to do something similar was Kyle Stanley, and we haven’t seen him since.

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Delayed start for Nelson might mean Monday finish

By Will GrayMay 20, 2018, 6:04 pm

DALLAS – Inclement weather  pushed back final-round tee times at the AT&T Byron Nelson by more than four hours, increasing the likelihood of a Monday finish in the tournament’s debut at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

With the field already scheduled to play in threesomes off split tees, the opening tee times for the day got pushed back from 9:23 a.m. CT to 1:23 p.m. because of steady rain in the area. The delay means that the final group won’t start their round until 3:35 p.m. local time.

With sunset in the Dallas area scheduled for 8:23 p.m., the leaders will likely have just under five hours to complete their rounds or face returning to the course Monday morning. Threesomes have been used for each of the first three days, and in part because of the intricacies of the new layout rounds have routinely approached 5 hours and 30 minutes in duration.

Should play spill over into Monday, those playing next week’s event will face one of the Tour’s shortest commutes, with Fort Worth Invitational host Colonial Country Club less than an hour away.

Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise share the 54-hole lead at 17 under, four shots clear of the field. They’ll be joined in the final trio by Australia’s Matt Jones, who is tied for third with Kevin Na.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.