Hawk's Nest: Tiger's tourney not what it used to be

By John HawkinsJune 30, 2014, 2:45 pm

You think golf has some stupid rules? My brief dalliance with World Cup soccer has ended because of a lack of sufficient street cred. Why do teams dress 23 players and only 14 can play? Why do they call it a “hand ball” if it hits your shoulder? Why does every referee look like he just failed a lie-detector test and still lives in a guesthouse once owned by Ma Barker?

As each match begins, the participants emerge from the stadium tunnel while holding hands with the children. Very touching, and once the country’s national anthems have been sung, you’d swear the Righteous Brothers will be showing up any minute.

Then the clock starts. And never stops.

In soccer, sportsmanship is obviously a four-letter word, much like “dive” and “fake.” I’ve seen better acting over the last few weeks than in any Kevin Costner movie, but it’s the offsides thing that really itches my britches. In a game where two goals amounts to a big day at the office, why are there restrictions on where players can go?

Hey, I tried my best to catch the World Cup fever. All I got was the sniffles and a yellow card for failing to leap over high buildings in search of the drama.

DIFFERENT YEAR, SAME story. When the PGA Tour returned to Washington, D.C. in 2007, there were two big reasons to believe the tournament would quickly become one of the biggest non-majors on the schedule. Tiger Woods + Congressional seemed like a can’t miss in the early-summer slot previously held by the Western Open, which morphed into a FedEx Cup playoff event and continues to thrive.

That hasn’t been the case in the nation’s capital. Fields have gotten progressively weaker, which makes no sense, given the quality of the venue. Players say they want to compete on the best courses and will tell you it influences where they decide to play, leaving us to wonder if resentment of Woods has something to do with the poor attendance.

“Puzzling to me but true, players haven’t made it a priority to support a guy who bought all our primary and secondary homes, like they have with Arnie and Jack,” one veteran Tour pro told me.

As sure as I was that the product at Congressional has gotten weaker, I was still surprised by the results. The world ranking tabulates strength of field at every tournament to determine value for player performance. The U.S. Open, for instance, was worth 789 total points (Martin Kaymer received 100 for winning), about twice as many as were dispersed at Colonial.

The Quicken Loans National had just 305 – nine fewer than the week before in Hartford, which was an unhealthy event just a few years ago before Travelers stepped up as the title sponsor to salvage the its existence. Just five of the top 20 players in the world were at Congressional. The two highest ranked players in the field (Woods and Jason Day) missed the cut.

Here’s a look at how the D.C. Tour stop has fared in terms of point distribution during the tournament’s eight years:

2007 507
2008 298
2009 329
2010 308
2011 252
2012 289
2013 280
2014 305

And while we’re at it, let’s take a quick look at how a few other events have done in 2014:

Arnold Palmer Invitational   406
Shell Houston Open   461
RBC Heritage (Hilton Head)  332
Memorial      541

So the Tiger tourney started with a very strong cast – deeper than Bay Hill, comparable to Memorial – but immediately dropped off to a standard of a mid-level tournament. Very strange. How does that happen? I talked to several Tour pros and got a variety of answers.

“It’s a combination of run-up to the British Open and Tiger and Tim [commissioner Finchem’s] reluctance to make a phone call to the guys to support the event,” says one. “The D.C. market is a very critical one to us. Everybody should know that.”

Jim Furyk was a regular at the tournament until passing on it this year. “I’ve always played,” he said. “It’s a great course. I skipped to be with my family for the month – I needed to cut a couple of events this year and it fit best in my schedule not to play. It probably fits bad for a lot of guys between majors and summer vacations with families.”

When you look back at the old Western Opens, however, the fields were always outstanding, and it was almost always played over Fourth of July weekend. I think D.C. hasn’t lived up to its potential for a deeper reason: the game’s top-tier players can be choosier about where they compete because they’re not playing to pay the bills.

The FedEx Cup format, which also started in ’07, made the season much more back-weighted – there aren’t many weeks off for the big boys between mid-July and the end of September. You need to go into that stretch mentally refreshed and physically ready.

Tiger might have made them all rich, but he didn’t make them stupid.

POOR PATRICK REED. The guy gets ambushed for calling himself one of the top five players in the world, and then he starts playing like No. 105. Reed was on fire until telling everybody how good he was after winning at Doral, which I found kind of cool, although most golf fans didn’t.

Reed absolutely vanished after the victory in Miami, missing the cut in five of his next eight starts and managing no better than a T-35 in the three events where he did make it to the weekend. He also became a father for the first time.

Then came this past weekend, when his two-stroke lead after 54 holes turned into a tie for 11th.

It takes a lot of work to fall that far over the course of 18 holes, even on a Sunday, further proof that Reed obviously annoyed the golf gods with his strong sense of self-belief. Pragmatically speaking, however, there is a more adequate explanation for Reed’s slump – and the Congressional thump.

You can go back and look at the career trajectories of many ultra-talented young players. They light it up early and think they’ve got this game by the scruff of the neck, then falter. Woods certainly dealt with that scenario after his four-victory season in 1997, although he would blame his poor ’98 on swing changes. After the fact, of course.

Another factor to consider: Reed’s first two wins came against weak fields at the Wyndham Championship and Humana Challenge. I can’t state it often enough – it’s so much easier to win a Tour event when 80 percent of the game’s top players are home watching football.

His triumph at Doral was obviously a big deal, but that was a weird week that included numerous ill-advised pins during the second round, when the wind destroyed scorecards without any discretion. It was also the first trip to a venue that had undergone a substantial redesign. The veterans and top-tier guys lost a valuable advantage. Experience and local knowledge basically became worthless.

As for the backlash to his boastfulness, Reed played it very smart when asked about it last Saturday evening. He said there hasn’t been any. “I haven’t heard anything negative from the guys out here,” was his response. “They all believe in themselves, believe they’re one of the top players. You have to. You can’t play this game with a lack of confidence.”

Boy, if that’s not a commercial answer, I don’t know what is. Give the young man some credit. At least he finally made it back to the media center and and fielded the question.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.