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Randall's Rant: Backstopping needs to be stopped

By Randall MellOctober 9, 2017, 9:55 pm

Tony Finau nearly turned a simmering debate on the PGA Tour into a powder keg Sunday at the Safeway Open.

If Finau wins in Napa Valley, this growing suspicion that players are using fellow competitors’ golf balls as “backstops” while pitching and chipping blows up.

If Finau wins, the issue wouldn’t easily be dismissed today as a skirmish waged on the game’s fringe by rules geeks and conspiracy theorists.

If Finau wins, this debate explodes into a question of whether there really is something calculated in players failing to mark balls that they leave so close to the hole. It erupts into more volatile suspicions that this is becoming an accepted practice that corrupts the spirit of the game.

For those who missed it, Finau was two shots off the lead when he hit into a greenside bunker at the 12th hole at Silverado Resort’s North Course. After Jason Kokrak chipped up to about a foot behind the hole, Finau didn’t wait for Kokrak to mark his ball. He blasted a bunker shot that Finau estimated was going to race 25 feet or more past the hole. Instead, Finau’s ball collided with Kokrak’s, stopping 2 feet from the hole.

Finau saved par, and he eventually caught the leader before fading to finish solo second behind Brendan Steele.

If Finau won Sunday, he would have been left to answer questions about his intent playing out of that bunker at the 12th. He would have found himself answering the kind of questions that could have unfairly clouded his second PGA Tour title.

“I used the rules to my advantage, I guess, not knowing,” Finau said afterward.

It was important for Finau to throw in those last two words, his “not knowing,” because without those words this blows up even with a second-place finish.



Without those words, Finau faces questions about whether he was knowingly setting up Kokrak’s ball as a potential backstop, if he needed one.

To be perfectly clear, and fair to Finau, he did not violate the Rules of Golf. Nobody can impugn him that way based on how this unfolded.

But Finau could have and should have eliminated even the appearance of impropriety. He should have insisted Kokrak mark his ball.

While there is no rule that required Finau to direct Kokrak to mark his ball, the rules can be slippery here, as they so often are.

Rule 22-1 frames potential violations in these situations.

The rule states that if a player believes a ball may assist any other player, he may mark the ball, if it is his ball, or he may direct the ball to be marked, if it’s not his ball.

There’s also Decision 22/6.

That decision states that if players agree not to mark a ball so that it can be used as a backstop, those players should be disqualified.

Good luck proving collusion, but that’s exactly what skeptics suspect may be happening on Tour, even if it has evolved without some formal conspiracy. They believe there may be a standard practice developing where creating “backstops” is the implied intention.

More than a trophy hangs in the balance in these situations.

Finau took home $669,000 for finishing second on Sunday. Phil Mickelson and Chesson Hadley finished a shot behind Finau and took home $359,600 for sharing third place.

If Finau had not saved par at the 12th and fallen into a three-way tie for second, he would have taken home $462,933, as would Mickelson and Hadley.

That matters, and so do the FedExCup points at stake.

It should be noted there’s a strong contingent of the game’s followers who believe this is much ado about nothing. These observers believe “backstopping” is primarily unintended as a pace-of-play function, and they don’t want to see the game more maddeningly slowed with excessive ball marking. They believe what happened to Finau was rare, and just rub of the green.

Count Justin Thomas, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, among them.

“It MAYBE happens five times a year,” Thomas tweeted after Finau finished his round. “It’s part of the game, if I want to rush and hit a shot for that reason, it’s my right . . .”

Based on the Rules of Golf, this is simple. It’s wrong to play a shot knowing a fellow player’s ball might easily serve as a backstop if a player deems he might need it. It’s also complicated, because this is all about intent. More than that, it’s about pace of play and the possibly absurd delays taken to require a mark.

So should the USGA and PGA Tour intervene here to help Finau and others avoid igniting a powder keg in the future?

Yes, but not with new rules.

The last thing the game needs is more rules. Backstopping is something that ought to be policed by the players themselves. There’s nothing like shaming in golf as a rules enforcement. Player leadership needs to determine if there’s a problem and solve it within, because intent is too indecipherable to define with a rule.

The PGA Tour’s administration ought to step in, too, to address whether Thomas is right in his thinking, or whether there is more for players to consider. Fans should know whether the PGA Tour deems Thomas is correct in asserting he has “a right” to play quickly. This isn’t about trying to craft specific language for a new rule. It’s about examining hearts and creating awareness about the importance of even the appearance of impropriety.

There’s no definitive solution here, but if the Tour’s going to implement an integrity program to protect itself from gambling issues, then framing backstopping issues for players that will reduce the possibilities they become a powder keg some Sunday soon is worth flushing out.

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Paisley (61) leads Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship.

The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.

''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''

The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''

Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.

''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''

Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Web.com Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162

The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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McIlroy likely to join PGA Tour PAC next year

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:28 pm

ATLANTA – The upside of the PGA Tour’s sweeping changes to next year’s playoff finale, along with a host of other significant changes to the schedule, seems to be more engagement in circuit policy by top players.

Jordan Spieth served on the player advisory council this season and will begin his three-year term as one of four player directors on the policy board next year, and Justin Thomas also was on this year’s PAC.

Those meetings might become even more high profile next year.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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“I'm not on the PAC. I'm probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what's going on and give your input and whatever,” Rory McIlroy said following his round on Thursday at the Tour Championship.

McIlroy said he spoke with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about the transition to a strokes-based format for the Tour Championship starting next year. Given his take on Thursday to the media it must have been an interesting conversation.

“I like it for the FedExCup. I don't necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don't know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it's good.”

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Thomas (67) happy to feel no pain in wrist

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:03 pm

ATLANTA – When Justin Thomas arrived at East Lake he didn’t have very high expectations.

After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.

He said he didn’t hit a full shot last week and didn’t expect much out of his game at the finale, but was pleasantly surprised with his play following an opening 67 that left him tied for fifth place and two strokes off the lead. But most of all he was pleased that he didn’t feel any pain in his wrist.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I thought that I may not be playing very well because of my preparation being able to hit as few balls as I have, but no, in terms of pain, it's not an issue,” he said.

Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.

“If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn't have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don't want to do anything that's going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I'm going to get as many points for the team as possible.”

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Fowler 'pain free' and tied for Tour Championship lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:01 pm

ATLANTA – The most important member of Team USA at next week’s Ryder Cup may be the team trainer.

Justin Thomas began the season finale nursing a case of tendonitis in his right wrist and Rickie Fowler skipped the first two playoff events after being slowed by a right oblique injury.

Neither player seemed impacted by the injuries on Thursday at the Tour Championship, with Thomas tied for fifth at 3 under and Fowler tied for the lead with Tiger Woods at 5 under par.


Current FedExCup standings

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I needed the 2 1/2 weeks or so of just sitting around really not doing a whole lot,” said Fowler, who tied for eighth last week at the BMW Championship. “It was definitely the right call. If I would have played through the first or second playoff events, there was really no benefit, especially looking at the ultimate goal being ready for the Ryder Cup and to have a chance to be here at East Lake.”

Being rested and pain-free is a vast improvement over how he felt at the PGA Championship last month, when he underwent therapy before and after each round and had to wear tape just to play.

“It's nice to be back swinging pain-free because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with how it felt during PGA week for a continued amount of time,” said Fowler, who finished his day with a bogey-free closing nine to secure a spot in Friday’s final group with Woods.