Hawk's Nest: We're talking and ranking playoffs

By John HawkinsFebruary 24, 2014, 4:40 pm

The next time I get into a brawl with four angry Marines or find myself face-to-face with that Doberman down the street, I know exactly who I’m calling to get me out of trouble.

Perhaps a hastily assembled consortium of golf’s higher powers came up with a plan for the 16th WGC-Match Play Championship. A tournament steeped in forgettable finales would, on little more than a moment’s notice, produce seven holes of intense, flaw-filled drama, the last five of which occurred in sudden death.

A venue few seem to like – and has likely hosted this event for the last time – would suddenly emerge as a behind-the-scenes hero in a duel between a strapping Aussie lad who couldn’t win for losing and a French kid who just wouldn’t lose, period. Without all that desert scrub crowding his ball, Victor Dubuisson never ends up looking like David Copperfield with a cheesy goatee.

You could have turned this match off three times, gone out and bought seven bags of groceries, then arrived home to find Dubuisson still alive, wedge in hand, one-hopping shots out of burly rough to what he obviously considers gimme range. Those red trousers were a bit much, but the bulletproof vest? Superb choice of apparel.

My wife thinks I’m a bit negative in print – never mind when our kids leave the living room looking like John Blutarsky spent the weekend. Hey honey, this might have been the most compelling match I’ve ever seen. The extra holes? An instant candidate as one of my top five playoffs in recent memory, a term that comes in handy when you’re not sure how far back you want to go.

Red Shirt Division

5. Tiger Woods vs. Jim Furyk, 2001 WGC-NEC Invitational: Furyk holed a bunker shot on the first green in sudden death; Tiger finally subdued him six holes later. Longest playoff in 10 years at the time.

4. Woods vs. Els, 2000 Mercedes Championships: Both made eagle at the par-5 18th to force extras. Tiger’s 40-footer on the second hole of sudden death made this his fifth straight victory. The streak would reach six.

3. Woods vs. Rocco Mediate, 2008 U.S. Open: Just an awesome day to be a golf fan. Eighteen-hole playoff went to sudden death at Torrey Pines’ par-4 seventh, a left-to-right hole, which killed Rocco.

2. Woods vs. Els, 2003 Presidents Cup: The fellas were holing 20-footers in the dark of night, for Pete’s sake. An absolute crime this duel was halted in the name of sportsmanship, leaving the teams tied. My guess is, they’d be finished by now.

1. Woods vs. Bob May, 2000 PGA Championship: Tiger escapes with third consecutive major title, destroying May’s Jack Fleck impersonation. Brilliant shot-making from the Odd Couple of Overtimes.

Red Pants Division

5. Bill Haas vs. Hunter Mahan, 2011 Tour Championship: Haas saves par from the water on third playoff hole to win $10 million, but I’m thinking Dubuisson can do that in his sleep.

4. Bubba Watson vs. Louis Oosthuizen, 2012 Masters: Gap wedge from the straw right of 10th fairway turned Bubba into a major champion. Big man, very big shot, larger-than-life win.

3. Jonathan Byrd vs. Martin Laird and Cameron Percy, 2010 Shriners Hospital Open: The only overtime session ever decided by an ace, as Byrd jarred a 6-iron from 204 yards on the fourth extra hole. Fall Series status hurts it here.

2. Day vs. Dubuisson, 2014 WGC-Match Play: Imperfect golf played at the highest level, if you know what I mean. First par from the junk looked harder than the second, but both were outrageously good.

1. Larry Mize vs. Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, 1987 Masters: If Mize’s miracle hole-out from right of Augusta National’s 11th green isn’t the greatest shot in golf history, you won’t need more than a couple of fingers to count those better.

THE FIRST THING that hit me upon meeting Day a few years back was the kid’s size. He’s listed at 6 feet and 195 pounds, but take it from a veteran – some 195s are a lot better than others. Day’s thick shoulders and robust thighs remind me of a slightly taller version of Fred Couples, who looks like he could have been a college running back when he’s wearing a T-shirt and shorts.

Much like Couples in the early 1980s, Day has also struggled to win tournaments early in his career. The Match Play triumph is just his second victory in 139 PGA Tour starts – the first was basically handed to him by Ryan Palmer at the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship.

If potential can become life’s greatest curse, Day has found a few black cats in his path. An excellent stretch of play in mid-2011, which featured runner-up finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open, led some to believe Day was ready to take the next step, but 2012 was a bust, as he fell from 14th to 113th in the FedEx Cup derby.

Amid all the happy talk from Dove Mountain last week, CBS analyst Ian Baker-Finch articulated on Day’s trophy shortage during the finals. “He gets very tight at times,” IBF said. “Especially in a situation like [last] year when he was leading the Masters with four holes to play.”

This from a giant-hearted man whose own career was derailed by mental blockage. “He realizes he has to continue doing what he does if he’s going to learn how to win,” Finch added. “He’s only won the one time, and that troubles him a bit.”

So which direction is he heading now? Day had a 3-up lead on Dubuisson with six to play but still needed another 11 holes to finish the job. Is that a sign of toughness or weakness? Sure, the Frenchman was ultra-pesky, but you could see the Aussie fighting it on a couple of occasions as regulation turned to overtime, and once overtime leaked into sublime.

You can’t leave the par putt short on 18, as Day did to allow extra holes. A 9-iron from 188 yards in fading daylight (and dropping temperatures) midway into sudden death? That’s just lousy judgment. By then, Day was taking violent lashes with his irons on approach shots – a stark contrast to his fluid moves with a 2-iron off the tee.

In a weird way, Day’s “progression” reminds me a little of the situation that confronted Adam Scott, another marvelously talented young Aussie. Scott’s collapse down the stretch at the 2012 British Open left him at the crossroads. He responded by not only winning the Masters 8 ½ months later, but doing it in a way that suggested he wasn’t about to let another opportunity slip away.

Scott played aggressive, focused golf under the greatest pressure, which Day really didn’t do at Dove Mountain. Does he have it in him to become as good as we think he can be? Father Time has all the answers.

ON THE SUBJECT of direction, the Match Play itself is probably heading somewhere, as previously noted. Instead of pontificating (guesswork) on where this tournament will be played in 2015 and beyond, I called on a few of my favorite sources and asked them for their thoughts.

“Not always that nice [weather-wise] in Vegas, but this is where it should be,” said swing coach Butch Harmon. “Action, baby. Action!”

No doubt, a legal wagering element could really give the Match Play its own crackling identity, but it’s hard to imagine Camp Ponte Vedra taking such a dangerous leap. Sexy ideas just aren’t the Tour’s style. Besides, there probably isn’t a golf course in Las Vegas suitable for an event of this caliber, and the lack of spectators could make Dove Mountain look like TPC Scottsdale.

“Vegas is the dream city but the weather is too dicey,” said Geoff Shackelford, an author/blogger with an advanced degree in course architecture. “It’s a tie for me between Sherwood [near Los Angeles] and PGA West-Stadium [near Palm Springs]. Both have great risk-reward holes, though Sherwood has less chance of great weather.”

San Francisco’s Harding Park is the first place that crossed my mind – a notion seconded by veteran Tour pro Joe Ogilvie. It’s such a Tour favorite that it has been re-branded with TPC status, a designation for wish you may or may not wish. Again, the climate is a potential factor, with February’s high temperatures averaging in the upper 50s.

Of course, if you’re going to San Francisco for the weather, you’re probably one of those people who thinks the Super Bowl should be played in New Jersey every other year.

Bottom line? There is no perfect location, even out West if we’re talking the first two months. “We’re looking at a lot of different options,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem confirmed Sunday. “I wouldn’t rule out anything at this point. We haven’t moved in any one direction. We don’t have any particular agenda.”

A quality layout in a golf-friendly metropolitan area would serve as a good start. “Anywhere but where it is,” cracked one of my sources, although I’m sure he wasn’t kidding.

I’M NOT ENTIRELY sure what I found more amazing – Dubuisson’s back-to-back par saves from the Cactus Penitentiary or the fact that he entered the Match Play ranked 30th in the world. I know he won the Turkish Open a few months ago, which ended up with a very nice field (featuring Woods), and finished solo third at the European Tour’s 2013 season finale in Dubai.

From there, however, Dubuisson’s performance portfolio gets rather thin. A few top fives in Europe shouldn’t be enough to get you into the top half of the Match Play bracket, yet more evidence that the world ranking imparts too much emphasis on what players have done over the last few months.

It matters because the most important tournaments rely heavily on the world ranking to grant exemptions (top 50). There is a self-perpetuating effect in Europe, which makes it easier for good players overseas to climb faster than good players on the PGA Tour. The kicker? More top Euros play over here than do top Americans over there.

Roberto Castro had six top 15s in the final three months of the 2013 PGA Tour season. Three of them came in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Another occurred at the PGA Championship, and there was a solo second at the AT&T National. Still, he finished 70th in the ranking at the end of the year.

 “WGCs are the new Q-School for international players,” Castro tweeted this past weekend. “Play well in Europe. Make a run at a WGC. Welcome to the PGA Tour.” As a man paid to dispense balanced perspective, I can’t say factually that Castro is wrong or right, but I do know which way I’m leaning.

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Bubba donates $200,000 of winner's check to charity

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 6:27 pm

Bubba Watson earned $1,260,000 for winning the Travelers Championship, and he left a pretty hefty tip for the tournament.

According to the Travelers Championship's Twitter account, Watson donated $200,000 to aid in the event's charities, of which the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is the primary beneficiary.

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, founded in 1988 by actor Paul Newman, offers a summer camp experience for children with physical and medical limitations.

Click on the video above for the "Golf Central" feature on the camp.

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Daly WDs from U.S. Sr. Open, blames USGA for denying cart request

By Ryan LavnerJune 25, 2018, 5:13 pm

John Daly has withdrawn from this week’s U.S. Senior Open because of a knee injury.

In a tweet, Daly said that he has “deteriorating osteoarthritis” in his right knee but that the USGA denied his request for a cart this week at The Broadmoor in Colorado.

“Don’t know what’s ahead for me,” he tweeted.

Daly said that he is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires players or caddies to submit medical documentation proving “substantial impairment” and that the use of a golf cart is necessary. The USGA can deny the use of a cart if providing it to a player “fundamentally alter(s) the fairness of the competition.”

A USGA spokesperson confirmed Monday that Daly requested the use of a cart but declined to comment on Daly’s condition or the specific reasons why his request was denied, “as it is considered private, personal information.”

“Consistent with the ADA, we review each request for cart usage on a case-by-case basis,” the USGA said in a statement. “We deeply respect the privacy of all of our players.”

After this story was posted, the USGA posted an additional statement through its Twitter account, saying that Daly’s request “did not support a waiver of the walking condition. We offered Mr. Daly the opportunity to provide additional information to support his request for a cart. He informed us this morning that he decided to withdraw.”

The USGA added that Scott Verplank also followed the USGA process and that the additional information he provided supported his request for a cart this week.

Daly has three top-10s in eight starts this season, including a tie for seventh last week in Wisconsin. Prior to that, he withdrew from each of his previous three events. He was replaced in the field by David McKenzie.  

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Kang grouped with world No. 1, USWO champ at KPMG

By Randall MellJune 25, 2018, 3:36 pm

Defending champion Danielle Kang will be grouped with Rolex World No. 1 Inbee Park and reigning U.S. Women’s Open champ Ariya Jutanugarn in the first two rounds of this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club outside Chicago.

Here’s a look at some of the notable groupings (all times ET):

Kang, Park and A. Jutanugarn: 9:10 a.m., Thursday; 2:20 p.m., Friday.

Kang broke through to win her first LPGA title at Olympia Fields last year and is looking to join Se Ri Pak and In Gee Chun as the only players to claim major championships as their first two LPGA titles. Park is aiming to win this major for the fourth time. She is the last player to win it back to back. (Actually, she won it three times in a row, 2013-15). Jutanugarn is looking to win back-to-back majors after claiming the U.S. Women’s Open a month ago.

Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko and So Yeon Ryu: 2:10 p.m., Thursday; 9 a.m., Friday.

Thompson is seeking her first victory this year, but she arrives in good form. She tied for third Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, her third consecutive top-10 finish. Ko won the LPGA Mediheal Championship in April and also is coming off a top-10 finish last weekend, her fourth in her last six starts. Ryu won the Meijer Classic two weeks ago.

Michelle Wie, Charley Hull and Nelly Korda: 2 p.m., Thursday; 8:50 a.m. Friday.

Wie won the HSBC Women’s World Championship in March and has been flirting with another victory ever since. She has six finishes of T-15 or better this season, including a T-10 finish at the U.S. Women’s Open. Hull’s first LPGA title felt like a major at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in 2016, but she’s looking to claim a real one this week. She finished top 10 in both of the women’s majors played so far this year. She was T-6 at the ANA Inspiration and T-10 at the U.S. Women’s Open. Korda would like to follow Kang’s lead and become another first time LPGA winner at the Women’s PGA. She tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open a month ago and followed that up with a T-9 finish at the Meijer Classic two weeks ago.

Here's a look at full tee times:

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Monday Scramble: Again and never again

By Ryan LavnerJune 25, 2018, 3:00 pm

Bubba Watson takes title No. 3, Paul Casey folds, Rory McIlroy's putting struggles continue, Phil Mickelson apologizes, Ho-sung Choi stars and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Bubba Watson still defers to 2015 as the best year of his career. That’s when he won in Los Angeles, Augusta, Shanghai and the Bahamas. During the PGA Tour wraparound season, however, he won only twice, and it wasn’t nearly enough to top Jordan Spieth for Player of the Year honors.

This season might be different.

There are still two majors and the playoffs left, and voters tend to weigh major victories more heavily, but the 39-year-old Watson has to be considered the current favorite for Player of the Year.

He’s the first three-time winner of the campaign, and his three titles have come on a variety of courses and even formats – at Riviera, at the Match Play, at TPC River Highlands. The common denominator is a strong field, and Watson prevailed again Sunday after a closing 63.

The only issue for Watson’s POY candidacy: He’s entering a portion of the schedule (July-September) in which he’s never won. He has only one top-25 at The Open. He hasn’t contended at the PGA since a playoff loss in 2010. He has stated that he isn’t particularly fond of East Lake, site of the all-important FedExCup finale.

But maybe this is the summer it all changes and Watson becomes the Tour’s top player for the first time in his career.

1. Just 71 yards. Tight lie. Downwind. Tucked pin. Desperately needing birdie.

Of the many spectacular shots that his boss has hit in his career, caddie Ted Scott put his hand on Watson’s shoulder and told him this was the best yet:

2. Watson’s final-round 63 was the lowest closing score by a winner on Tour this season. His round included six birdies and no bogeys over his final 10 holes, as he chased down a sputtering Paul Casey and eventually passed him, erasing a six-shot deficit. 

3. It wasn’t a surprise, of course.

Watson has three wins, six top-10s and eight top-25s at TPC River Highlands. His scoring average there: 67.48. His career earnings are north of $4.7 million.

“I feel like this is my home course,” he said. “I can play golf around here.”

4. Even with a drought-busting victory earlier this year at Innisbrook, Casey on Sunday couldn’t shake his reputation as a talented ball-striker who has trouble closing.

Staked to a five-shot lead after the opening hole, Casey shot 2 over in the final round – including crushing bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 – to finish three shots back of Watson. His was the worst score of anyone inside the top 35.

Casey has 53 top-10s on Tour but only two wins. Odd.

5. Without question, Casey wasn’t as sharp as his third-round 62, but it didn’t help to be in the final group behind J.B. Holmes.

Indeed, one of the Tour’s most notorious slowpokes was at it again at TPC River Highlands.

After icing Alex Noren with a 3-minute standoff with his ball at Torrey Pines, Holmes dropped at least a hole behind on the closing stretch Sunday.

It clearly affected both quick players in the final group, Casey and Russell Henley. Yes, it’s a shame that Holmes can continue to disrupt the competition without repercussions, but Casey needed to be prepared for that situation.

6. Another stellar week of ball-striking was for naught last week for Rory McIlroy. He tied for 12th, but his statistics really told the story at TPC River Highlands:

Strokes gained: tee to green: First

Strokes gained: putting: Last

Since that highly publicized lesson with Brad Faxon resulted in an emphatic victory at Bay Hill, McIlroy has only had negative strokes-gained weeks on the greens.

That’s not a knock on Faxon’s methods. It’s more a reflection that even the poorest putters on Tour can find a spark for a week.

7. Well, it’s official: Jordan Spieth is mired in the worst slump of his young career.

Never before has the 24-year-old gone six consecutive starts without a top-10 finish. But that’s exactly what Spieth has done now, dating to the Masters.

The Travelers may have been his biggest head-scratcher yet. He shared the first-round lead after a 63, then played 3 over the rest of the week and finished outside the top 40.

It wasn’t his suddenly suspect putting that let him down, either. He finished the week ranked 21st in strokes gained: putting; once again, it was his long game (he was 60th in strokes gained: tee to green).

Spieth didn’t sound concerned afterward. He said that his putting is the “best it’s been for a couple of years” – keep in mind he was ranked ninth and second, respectively, in 2015-16 – and now it’s just a matter of sorting out his alignment with his long game.

He didn’t rule out adding another start before his title defense at The Open – the most likely landing spot is the Deere, where he won in 2013 and ’15 – but he also took three weeks off before capturing the claret jug last year at Royal Lytham.

8. U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka said he never thought about pulling out of the Travelers because of fatigue, and he was rewarded with a Sunday 65 to post a top-20 finish. He also wasn’t surprised by the number of “stupid mistakes and mental errors” he made, a product of being wiped out after a long, trying week at Shinnecock.

Last year, remember, Koepka didn’t play another event after his win at Erin Hills and followed it up with a tie for sixth at The Open. This time, at least, he has a few extra reps before heading to Carnoustie.

“I’m shutting it down for a while,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need to play. I feel like my game is in a good spot.”

9. Four days too late, Phil Mickelson finally offered an apology for his actions during the third round of the U.S. Open – and it’s precisely what many thought Mickelson would say after he finished his week at Shinnecock Hills.

Since he was still fired up after his Saturday round, fine, let him blow off steam, continue to be defiant and provide an excuse (albeit a confusing one). But the next day, after some time to reflect? Fall on your sword and show some contrition. That’s on the first page of the PR handbook.

And yet Mickelson didn’t talk at all to reporters after the final round, and he only issued a statement three days later, after “a few days to calm down.”

“My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” he said. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

That’s a step in the right direction, but he’s sorry for what exactly? Sorry that he deliberately broke the spirit of a rule? Sorry that he made a farce out of the competition? Sorry that he didn’t withdraw? Sorry that he told fans and fellow players to “toughen up” if they were offended? Sorry that he offered a lame excuse about wanting to break that rule for years? Sorry that he didn’t just admit that his window to win the U.S. Open is almost closed?

So many questions remain.

10. One question that seemingly WAS answered Monday: Mickelson won’t partner with Tiger Woods again at the Ryder Cup.

It wasn’t that absurd of a consideration, the two aging warriors and rivals whose relationship has thawed in recent years. It’s possible it’s their final Ryder Cup together, and perhaps this time, 14 years later, they’d bring out the best (and not the worst) of each other.

But U.S. captain Jim Furyk laughed off the idea Monday, saying that it’s not a “good idea” and that if the two stars heard it on TV they “just fell off the couch laughing.”

OK, then.

11. If you’re reading this column over lunch, well, sorry, but Greg Norman recently had a photo shoot for ESPN the Magazine’s “Body Issue,” and the results were nothing short of horrifying.

The Shark is still crazy-fit at 63, but he's also a similar age to my parents and at some point this just becomes weird.

Growing up, my favorite player to watch was Tiger Woods.

Over the past few years, it’s been a joy to watch Rory McIlroy up close.

But there’s no one, anywhere, at any time, who is more entertaining to watch than Ho-sung Choi. I’d never heard of him before last week, and perhaps we’ll never hear of him again, but what a thrill it was for him to come into our lives. His WILD body English after shots, his twisting and contorting and pirouetting, was beautiful and mesmerizing.

Playing in the Korea Open, Choi nearly stole one of the two available spots into The Open. Perhaps the powers-that-be can offer him a special exemption into Carnoustie – you know, for the good of the game and all that.

This week's award winners ... 

Another Rules Investigation: Bryson DeChambeau. After photos surfaced of DeChambeau using a compass during the Travelers, Tour officials informed him that they’re looking into whether it’s an allowable device during competition. He uses the compass to check the “true pin locations,” since he says sometimes the Tour-issued sheets are slightly off. Credit him for his response afterward: “It’s just funny that people take notice when I start putting and playing well.” He's now up to eighth in the Ryder Cup standings ...

Best This Decade: Stewart Cink. Following up a fourth-place showing in Memphis in his previous start, Cink closed with 62 in Hartford to share second. It’s the first time since 2008 that Cink had consecutive top-5s on Tour.

Awkward: Paul Casey/Peter Kostis dynamic. As his student kicked away a five-shot lead in the final round, we would have loved to watch Kostis’ reaction in the CBS booth.

Must Be a FSU Thing: Chase Seiffert. A former teammate of Koepka’s, Seiffert parlayed a Monday qualifying spot into a top-10 at the Travelers, earning a spot in two weeks at The Greenbrier.  

Making It Look (Big) Easy: Jovan Rebula. The rising junior at Auburn won the British Amateur to earn a spot into the first two majors of 2019, provided he remains amateur. Even more interesting: Rebula will join his uncle, Ernie Els, at Carnoustie.  

Time to Go Low: Thorbjorn Olesen. The best score for the first three rounds of the BMW International Open was 67 … and then Olesen hung an 11-under 61 in the final round to finish one shot out of a playoff. Meanwhile ... 

Home Hurt: Martin Kaymer. Trying to score a victory in his home country, Kaymer bogeyed the 71st hole when he thinned a wedge shot over the green. He finished one stroke shy of Matt Wallace.

Can’t Make This Up: Marc Dull. You might remember the name from the two stories we published about him last month – he’s the Florida amateur whose "inebriated" caddie allegedly sucker-punched his opponent during a rain delay at the State Mid-Am. Well, he found himself in another rain delay, this time in a playoff for the State Amateur. His opponent, Gabriel Lench, emerged unscathed during the rain delay and won on the second extra hole.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Daniel Berger. Technically, he earned a paycheck (T-67), but the week was a massive disappointment for a player who A) lost in a playoff at the Travelers last year and had a tie for fifth in his other prior appearance, and B) tied for sixth at the U.S. Open after holding the 54-hole lead. Sigh.