Easing into the Season

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 8, 2006, 5:00 pm
The Mercedes Championships played much like a major championship. The conditions were quite difficult, no one ever reached double digits under par, many of the top names were in contention, and Sergio Garcia wasn't a factor on Sunday.
It really had the feel of a U.S. Open, minus everyone complaining about the layout ' and minus the drama.
While the tournament was tightly contested throughout, and the top of the leaderboard featured names like Appleby and Campbell and Furyk and Singh, there wasnt a lot about which to get excited.
Some of it might have had to do with the absence of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but there was more to it that just that.
Woods and Mickelson complained last year that the season is too long, and in a way they were right. The PGA Tour season is not too long; the golfing season is too long.
The final official tour event of 2005 concluded on Nov. 6. Had that really been it, we ' at least I ' would have been jonesing for the return of golf in 06. I would have needed a fix. Instead, there was the Franklin Templeton Shootout and the WGC-World Cup and the Target World Challenge and the Skins Game and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Not to mention the Father/Son Challenge and the Wendys 3-Tour Challenge and the Tommy Bahama Challenge. And events in China and Japan and South Africa and Australia.
It was an off-season overdose.
And when I returned to the office this past week I felt like I was in some kind of suffocating relationship. I just wanted to tell Golf: Hey, I think we need a break. Some time away from one another ' just a week, maybe. Its not you; its me. Actually, its you.
But this did turn out to be a pretty good tournament to kick-start the season. And now I think Im ready. Ready to make commitment to the 2006 season. If not this week, then maybe when they hit the mainland. Certainly by the Florida Swing.
Maybe I'm just bitter because my Cincinnati Bengals lost Sunday. Or maybe I'm just bitter because I didn't get to go to Maui (more likely). But while I wasnt geeked up about this past weeks tournament, I did find plenty things that provoked thought:
  • Being that the Plantation course played much like a major venue, will this be the year that Appleby nets a maiden major championship? And for that matter, will it be the year for Garcia? Though the two are separated by nine years in age (Garcia turns 26 Monday, by the way), the elder Appleby has competed in only seven more majors. Garcia has played in 29, Appleby 36. You could say that with such experience that its time for one or both of these two to finally win one. But first they have to start contending. Appleby lost in a four-man playoff in the 2002 Open Championship. That, however, is just one of three career top-10s for the Aussie in major competition, compared to 15 missed cuts. Garcia will point out that he has five top-5 finishes, two of which came last year. But in only two of those did he actually have a chance to win, the 1999 PGA and 2002 U.S. Open. In the other three, he finished an average of six strokes behind the winner.
  • Singh said Saturday evening that he felt like he had a good round in him for Sunday. He was right. Singh's 66 was the lowest score all week by three strokes, and one of only two sub-70 scores by the entire field. He said at the end of last year that he kind of coasted to the finish line, didn't put forth his normal 100-percent performance off the course. Refocused and rededicated ' he reportedly spent eight hours practicing on Christmas Day, he may be in store for another monster campaign. But this year is already looking more like '05 than '04. He had a chance to win last year's Mercedes, only to blow a 54-hole lead with a closing 74. He then blew chances to win The Honda and Bay Hill at the buzzer. This time, he lost yet again with a game-ending mistake.
  • Just about everybody with a forum to do so has offered up their opinion on whether or not Woods, Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington should have made the trip to Kapalua. I wont belabor the issue, but I do think they should have gone. Im aware that they are independent contractors and can pick and choose which events they want to play. But they should support the tour ' the one that has provided them with the lifestyle that affords them the luxury to pass on the opportunity for a $1.08 million paycheck ' by playing in a premiere event like this one ' especially considering Mercedes-Benz is undecided on whether or not they want to renew their sponsorship with the tour.
  • We know that Appleby is in the field for the 07 Mercedes. But who will join him in the winners-only event? You would have to think that Singh, Furyk, Garcia and David Toms will likely be back. But for most everyone else, its a complete toss-up. Michael Campbell, not being a PGA Tour member, will have difficulty earning a return trip, unless he should win another major or a WGC event. He was one of 11 first-timers in this years field. Of them, I would give the best chance for a repeat appearance to Lucas Glover, Geoff Ogilvy and Carl Pettersen.
  • You would have to think that Woods and Mickelson will again have the chance to turn down a trip to paradise. Goosen, too. It will be most interesting, however, to see if Goosens countryman, Ernie Els, can punch a ticket. Els, the 2003 Mercedes champion, missed 4 months last year due to knee surgery. He returned in December and promptly won in just his second start back. According to his website, Els is scheduled to compete in 18 tour events this season, but none until the Nissan Open in mid-February. Prior to Riviera, he is slated to play three consecutive tournaments in the Middle East, beginning in two weeks.
  • There were only 28 players in this weeks field, so it didnt take long to scan the list from top to bottom. Bringing up the rear on the final leaderboard were 05s two most compelling stories. Last year was like a Cinderella tale for Sean OHair and Jason Gore. It may now be 12:01 in the a.m. It will be very difficult for the two to match their precedent campaigns. Fortunately for both, they have a year of grace before they have to worry about holding onto their tour cards. This certainly isnt to say that these four rounds are a harbinger of things to come. Having talked with both players at the end of last season, it didnt seem like either one had planned on playing too much over the final two months. They likely entered this event with an accumulation of rust and just werent able to shake it under the trying conditions. Plus, Im sure that both were more interested in enjoying this experience than worrying about where they would ultimately finish.
  • Of course, the tour will next hop over to Oahu for the upcoming Sony Open. And, of course, Michelle Wie will be the center of attention. I understand that there are people unhappy about her inclusion, and plenty of others who feel saturated in Wie coverage. Well, get used to seeing her ' more and more and more of her. With two LPGA tournaments in Hawaii to start their season and the Kraft Nabisco Championship beginning at the end of March, youll be getting more Michelle over the first quarter of this year than you could ever have asked for. My advice: just sit back and enjoy it. Lets see what shes got.
    Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
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    Golf Channel Ramps Up Six Weeks of Comprehensive College Golf Coverage Culminating With The NCAA Women's and Men's Golf Championships, May 18-30

    By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 24, 2018, 9:00 pm

    Golf Channel to Announce NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections on Wednesday, April 25 and Wednesday, May 2

     Golf Channel to Expand Coverage of NCAA Women’s and Men’s Regional Championships  

    Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys, a Four-Part Docu-Series Executive Produced by Rickie Fowler, Premieres on Golf Channel Monday, May 7

     More than 100 News and Tournament Hours Planned for Women’s and Men’s Championships, Back-to-Back Weeks at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.


    ORLANDO, Fla., April 24, 2018 – With conference championships underway, golf fans will be able to follow their favorite college golf programs and alma maters as they attempt to qualify and compete in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships in May at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., as Golf Channel expands its comprehensive on-air and digital collegiate golf coverage the next six weeks.

    “Through our new long-term partnership, the NCAA and Golf Channel are successfully raising the profile of college golf by shining a spotlight on the game’s future stars and the passion these programs have in competing for national championships,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive vice president of content and executive producer. “With our expanded coverage of the regional championships and partnering with OSU alum Rickie Fowler for Driven, our viewers will be treated to the most college golf coverage in network history leading into the NCAA Golf National Championships.”

    REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS SELECTION ANNOUNCEMENTS: On Wednesday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET (women) and continuing Wednesday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET (men), Golf Channel will announce the teams and individuals selected by the NCAA to participate in the women’s and men’s regional championships, the first step on the road to the NCAA Golf Championships. Live streaming coverage of selection shows will be available through the Golf Channel Mobile App or GolfChannel.com, and Golf Channel will aggregate social content for the shows using the hashtag #NCAAGolf. 

    • Women’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, April 25, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce (live) the 72 teams and24 individuals selected to compete in the four NCAA Women’s Regional Championships, May 7-9 (18 teams and six individuals per regional). 24 teams and 12 individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.
    • Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, May 2, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce the 81 teams and 45 individuals selected to compete in the six NCAA Men’s Regional Championships, May 14-16 (13 teams and 10 individuals at three regionals and 14 teams and five individuals at three regionals). 30 teams and six individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.

    GOLF CHANNEL TO EXPAND REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: New for 2018, Golf Channel will feature expanded coverage of the final day of the NCAA women’s and men’s regional championships, Wednesday May 9 and Wednesday, May 16, respectively. Beginning within Morning Drive, Golf Channel’s daily lifestyle news show, and continuing hourly throughout the day via live Golf Central news updates from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET that will be published to Golf Channel Digital and Golf Channel’s social media handles. Coverage will conclude with live news segments, featuring highlights and interviews, announcing the teams and individuals who qualified for the women’s and men’s national championships.

    RICKIE FOWLER AND NBC SPORTS COLLABORATE ON FOUR-PART DOCU-SERIES DRIVEN: OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: NBC Sports Group is teaming up with PGA TOUR superstar Rickie Fowler to give viewers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look into Fowler’s alma mater in a four-part documentary series – Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys. Driven, executive produced by Fowler, will premiere Monday, May 7 at 10 p.m. ET and continue Monday, May 14 (10 p.m. ET) and Monday, May 21 (8 p.m. ET). The finale will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16, recapping their season that culminates with a run at a potential 11th national championship, taking place on their home turf.

    NCAA GOLF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: Contested in back-to-back weeks, May 18-30 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Golf Channel will dedicate its full suite of production resources to the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships, featuring nearly 30 combined hours of live tournament coverage. In addition, Golf Central will feature nearly 30 hours of combined pre-and post-event live news coverage produced on location, as well as daily news updates on Morning Drive and Golf Channel Digital.                                             

    Golf Channel NCAA Women’s Golf Championships Coverage

    Monday, May   21       

    Individual National   Championship  

    4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

    Tuesday, May   22          

    Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

    11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

    Tuesday, May   22                 

    Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

    4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

    Wednesday, May   23            

    Team National   Championship  

    4-8 p.m. ET (Live)


    Golf Channel NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage

    Monday, May   28      

    Individual National   Championship  

    4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

    Tuesday, May   29          

    Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

    11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

    Tuesday, May   29                 

    Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

    4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

    Wednesday, May   30            

    Team National   Championship  

    4-8 p.m. ET (Live)


    COLLEGE CENTRAL – GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL COVERAGE: Golf Channel is providing comprehensive coverage leading up to and during the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships as part of College Central,Golf Channel Digital’s home for college golf. Led by Jay Coffin, Ryan Lavner and Steve Burkowski, College Central will be the source for all things college golf, including tournament results and scores, features and columns, video highlights and breaking news.

    CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS NEWS COVERAGE: Golf Channel will cover the conference championships with scores and analysis across its on-air news platforms - Morning Drive and Golf Central – and online within College Central.

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    With help from partner, Burns could secure Tour status

    By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 8:33 pm

    AVONDALE, La. – This week Sam Burns has yet another chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, but his partner may determine whether he’s ultimately successful.

    In an interesting twist, Burns is burning one of his seven available sponsor exemptions this week at the Zurich Classic. He is 80 non-member points shy of securing special temporary membership, which would allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.

    Burns needs at least a two-way tie for fourth to earn the necessary points, but it won’t all depend on how he plays this week. The Zurich is a two-man game, with two rounds apiece of fourballs and alternate shot.

    Burns' partner this week is William McGirt. Their games couldn’t be more different – Burns ranks eighth on Tour in driving distance, at 309 yards per pop, while McGirt is 143rd (290) – but they hope to compliment each other over four days at TPC Louisiana.

    Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

    “I got a good pair of spurs sharpened up last week while I was in San Antonio,” joked McGirt, who is looking for his first top-10 since the fall. “I told him I was going to ride him hard this week. It’ll be fun.”

    Burns will have at least two (and maybe three) more opportunities to earn status, with starts lined up next week at the Wells Fargo Championship and also at the Memorial. He doesn’t face quite as much pressure because he won earlier this month on the Web.com Tour and currently sits fourth on the money list, essentially locking up his PGA Tour card for next season.

    “It’s obviously nice to have that win,” he said, “but at the same time you have to be careful and make sure you play enough out there to where you’re secure for sure. You don’t want to get at the end of the year and then have two or three events left and you have to make a certain amount of money to get your card.

    “So I’m just going step by step, tournament by tournament, and trying to figure out what’s the best route.”   

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    Spieth-Palmer draw Rahm-Bryan early at Zurich

    By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:49 pm

    AVONDALE, La. – The PGA Tour’s only team event gets underway Thursday at the Zurich Classic. Here are some featured groups to watch at TPC Louisiana.

    Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley/Daniel Berger-Gary Woodland: 8:39 a.m. ET Thursday off 10 tee, 2:08 p.m. Friday off 1: 

    The Bama boys, Thomas and Cauley, team up for the second consecutive year, after tying for fifth a year ago on the strength of a final-round 61. Berger teamed with Thomas Pieters a year ago but missed the cut, so he’ll try his luck with Woodland, who also shares a management team at Excel Sports.

    Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer/Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan: 8:52 a.m. Thursday off 10, 2:19 p.m. Friday off 1: 

    Spieth and Palmer finished fourth a year ago, five shots back of the leaders. Spieth is making his first start since his epic Sunday run at the Masters. Rahm and Bryan have opposite strengths – Rahm is one of the game’s preeminent drivers, while Bryan, statistically, is one of the worst – but the Spaniard is coming off a European Tour victory at home. Another wrinkle here: Even though no world-ranking points are on offer this week, Rahm is set to supplant Spieth as the third-ranked player in the world.

    Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels/Brooks Koepka-Marc Turnesa: 1:31 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:42 a.m. Friday off 10: 

    Two stars with questionable sidekicks. Ruffels is an up-and-coming Australian who has been playing primarily in Latin America. (He also shares a manager with Day.) Turnesa, meanwhile, got the call late last week from Koepka, who is finally ready to return from a 15-week layoff because of a wrist injury. They both play out of Medalist in South Florida, but Turnesa, 40, has turned his attention to real estate instead of professional golf.

    Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay/Jonas Blixt-Cameron Smith: 1:44 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:53 a.m. Friday off 10: 

    Reed makes his first start as Masters champion after taking off the past two weeks. This duo tied for 14th last year, undone by a Saturday 75 in foursomes play. Blixt and Smith are the defending champions, after shooting 27 under par last year and holding off Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a playoff. Blixt doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour since then, while Smith tied for fifth at the Match Play and the Masters.

    Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson/Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar: 1:57 p.m. Thursday off 1, 10:04 a.m. Friday off 10:

    Rose and Stenson, who have proved to be a formidable pairing in the Ryder Cup, were a stunning missed cut last year, after shooting 6 under par for two rounds. Watson teamed up with J.B. Holmes to finish fifth last year, while Kuchar is making his first start in this event since 2009.

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    Zurich Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:09 pm

    The PGA Tour tries team competition for the second year in a row at the Zurich Classic. Here are the key stats and information for play at TPC LouisianaClick here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

    Purse: $7,200,000 ($1,036,800 to each winner)

    Course: TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards)

    Defending champions: Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt (-27) in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner

    News and notes

    • All four reigning major champions - Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed - are in the field this week. This is the first time all four reigning major winners have played this event since 1984 (Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Tom Watson, Hall Sutton).

     Both members of winning team this week will earn an official PGA Tour victory, two-year Tour exemptions, and exemptions into the Players and PGA Championships.

    • That said, no Official World Golf Ranking points are awarded from this event and winners will not earn exemptions into the 2019 Masters.

    Notable teams in the field 

    Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson

     Rose won this event in 2014, when it was individual stroke play. From 2012-16, he was a combined 60 under at TPC Louisiana in stroke play, seven shots better than any other player.

     Rose has dramatically improved his performance on the greens from last season, moving from 123rd in strokes gained-putting to 10th.

     Stenson's last three starts look like this: solo 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T-6 at the Houston Open, and T-5 at the Masters.

    Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan

     Rahm is coming off a victory at the Spanish Open, his second worldwide win in 2018 and fifth since Jan. 2017.

     Rahm outdrives Bryan by an average of 30 yards off the tee, 305.1 to 276.3.

     Rahm is second on Tour in the strokes gained-off the tee, while Bryan is 210th, last among qualifying players.

    Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay

     Reed is just the fifth reigning Masters champ to play the Zurich since 2000, joining Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson (twice), and Bubba Watson.

     Reed has gone T-2, T-7, T-9, WIN in his last four starts.

     Cantlay broke through for his maiden PGA Tour win earlier this season at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.