Bunker Shots The Kings New Clothes

By Randall MellMarch 23, 2010, 6:25 pm

Blasting into the week ahead, from the home of a King to the LPGA's return to American soil:

Arnold Palmer Invitational

Thirteen events, 13 different winners this season.

Is that good for the PGA Tour?

Does it mean, in the absence of Tiger Woods, there’s impressive depth and a balance of power enhancing the nature of the competition?

No, not according to one of golf’s great storytellers.

Frank Chirkinian, the retired CBS producer who told his stories through a television camera’s lens while directing so many Masters, always believed parity was bad for the game.

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, is it’s always looking for a star,” Chirkinian said. “It’s the only sport where fans will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

Phil Mickelson at 2008 Arnold Palmer Invit.
Phil Mickelson at the 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational, the last time he played the event. (Getty Images)
Stars win multiple events. They dominate. There’s nothing close to a dominant figure this season with Woods gone.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational begins this week at Bay Hill in Orlando with the possibility we could have a 14th winner in 14 weeks.

Stance: Woods won Palmer’s event at 5-under a year ago, the highest winning score in relation to par at Bay Hill since Mike Nicolette won at 1-under in 1983. The winning score promises to rise this year with more birdie chances. As part of Palmer’s redesign last summer, the course was returned to a par 72 after playing as a par 70 the last three years. The fourth and 16th holes will play as par 5s again. The course has been lengthened to 7,381 yards from the 7,162 it played at a year ago.

Takeaway: Sean O’Hair hasn’t contended since his tie for fourth at the season-opening SBS Championship, but Bay Hill seems to inspire him. He finished second to Tiger Woods last year and tied for third when Woods won two years ago. With Woods absent from the field, maybe this is the year O’Hair claims the big prize.

Bunker shot: If you believe Chirkinian, the ideal scenario for the PGA Tour in Woods’ absence might have been for Phil Mickelson to win two or three times before the Masters. But Mickelson’s off to a sluggish start after a strong finish last season. Mickelson will tee it up at Palmer’s event this week looking for his first victory this year. This is the deepest the 37-time PGA Tour winner has gone in a season without winning since he won the Bell South Classic by a whopping 13 shots in 2006 and then went on the next week to win the Masters.

Kia Classic presented by J Golf

The LPGA didn’t have to wait long for its first repeat winner this season.

Japan’s Ai Miyazato won the first and second events of the new year. The problem is that it’s nearly April and that’s all the golf we’ve seen from the LPGA in 2010.

Miyazato will be looking to achieve something no LPGA player has accomplished in the 61-season history of the tour when the schedule resumes Thursday at the Kia Classic presented by J Golf at the La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. She’ll be looking to win the first three stroke-play events of an LPGA season.

Stance: The upside to the limited LPGA schedule is that nearly all the stars tee it up every week. No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, No. 2 Jiyai Shin and No. 3 Miyazato are in a field that includes everyone in the top 10 in the Rolex Women’s World Ranking. Paula Creamer is the highest ranked player in the world who won’t tee it up. She has slipped to No. 11 while recuperating from injury. Creamer is out this week with a stretched ligament in her left thumb, the same injury that caused her to withdraw from the season-opening Honda PTT LPGA Thailand and miss the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore.

Takeaway: This week is more than a strong tune-up for the year’s first major, next week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship. It’s also a qualifier. Anyone who finishes in the top 10 at the Kia Classic who isn’t otherwise qualified for the Kraft earns a spot into the major.

Bunker shot: Michelle Wie is No. 9 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking, which makes her the second highest ranked American in the world. Only Cristie Kerr hovers above her at No. 6. Watch out for Wie out west the next two weeks. She’s taking the quarter off at Stanford and should be able to completely focus on picking up where she left off when she broke through to win in Mexico late last year.

Around the rest of the world . . .

European Tour: For the first time this year, the European Tour actually stages an event on European soil. Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen is the defending champ at the Open de Andalucia in Spain, but 23-year-old Spaniard Pablo Martin is worth keeping an eye upon. Martin grew up playing the Parador de Malaga Golf course that is home to this week’s event. Martin made worldwide news when he became the first amateur to win a European Tour event three years ago.

Champions Tour: Fred Couples will be going for his third consecutive victory on the Tour when the Cap Cana Championship begins Friday at the Punta Espada Golf Club in the Dominican Republic. Couples hasn’t finished worse than second since joining the senior circuit.

Nationwide Tour: Steve Pate will be aiming to extend his record when he tees it up at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open at Le Triomphe Country Club in Broussard, La., on Thursday. He became the oldest winner (48) of a Nationwide Tour event when he won the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open earlier this month.

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Not DJ, not Poulter: Kisner most proud to take down Kuchar

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 9:34 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On his way to this week’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Kevin Kisner has beaten world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the European match play ninja Ian Poulter. But neither match could compare to his duel with Matt Kuchar early Saturday.

“I was more jacked to beat [Kuchar], really. Kuch is such a good player and our games are so similar,” said Kisner, who defeated Kuchar in the round of 16, 1 up. “We both made eight birdies this morning and I barely snuck out of there. I thought it was a lot of fun.”

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By comparison, his quarterfinal bout against Poulter wasn’t nearly as electric. Kisner won two of the first four holes when the Englishman made bogey (No. 3) and when he was conceded the fourth hole, hecruised to an 8-and-6 victory for the week’s most lopsided win.

“I don't know Ian that well, so I don't really have a history with him, other than watching him kill us in the Ryder Cup,” Kisner laughed.

Things won’t get any easier for Kisner on Sunday when he’ll play Alex Noren in the semifinals. The Swede has been dominant this week and is considered one of Europe’s top players heading into this year’s Ryder Cup.

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Hahn: 'My fault for not expecting the worst from fans'

By Grill Room TeamMarch 24, 2018, 8:35 pm

Fan behavior has made headlines all year long on the PGA Tour, and the topic of conversation doesn't look like it’s going away anytime soon.

The latest example came on Friday at the WGC-Dell Technologies March Play, when James Hahn took to Twitter to complain that a fan deliberately yelled in his backswing on the 15th hole during his match with Jason Dufner, which he lost 3 and 2.

“Whether we like it or not, this is where the game is going,” he tweeted. “My fault for not expecting the worst from fans. Just sucks to lose a match that way.”

The two-time PGA Tour winner followed up his original tweet, clarifying that he can expect bad behavior from all golf fans while still loving and respecting them.

He also pointed out a major difference in comparing golf to other sports, saying some PGA Tour players go to far greater lengths than the typical NFL star to engage with fans on a daily basis.

The incident comes on the heels of several recent player run-ins with fans, including Justin Thomas at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Sergio Garcia earlier this week at Austin Country Club.

On Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that inappropriate fan behavior related to alcohol sales is something his staff is monitoring.

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Elite Eight

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 8:25 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

Match 105: Bubba Watson (35) def. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28), 5 and 3. This was a tight match until Aphibarnrat’s short game failed him on the back nine, with a chunked chip at the 10th, a clumsy pitch at the 12th and a heavy heavy pitch at the 13th helping Watson win four consecutive holes. Watson played his way into the semifinals of this event for the second time in his career. He ended up fourth in 2011. Watson will meet the Justin Thomas in the semifinals.

Match 106: Justin Thomas (2) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 2 and 1. Thomas moved into position to win more than the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. He moved into position to take the world No. 1 ranking from Dustin Johnson. All that stands between Thomas and the top ranking now is Bubba Watson. If Thomas beats Watson in the semifinals, he is assured of going to No. 1. Thomas started slowly against Stanley, missing a 3-footer for par to lose the second hole. It marked the first time Thomas trailed in a match all week. All square making the turn, Thomas won the 10th, 11th and 12th holes and then held off Stanley the rest of the way. Thomas will meet Bubba Watson in the semifinals.

Match 107: Alex Noren (13) def. Cameron Smith (46), 4 and 2. With birdies at three of the first six holes, Noren took an early 3-up lead. Noren, however, made it more interesting than he would have liked the rest of the way. Noren lost the seventh hole with a three-putt bogey and lost the eighth failing to get up and down for par. Smith, though, never pressed Noren after getting that opening. He failed to make a birdie the entire round. Noren, who has won six European Tour events since the summer of 2015, has been knocking on the door to his first PGA Tour title this year. He lost the Farmers Insurance Open in a playoff in January and finished third at the Honda Classic last month. Noren will meet Kisner in the semifinals.

Match 108: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Ian Poulter (58), 8 and 6. Poulter gift wrapped Kisner an early 2-up lead, and Kisner pounced after that. Poulter, who was on such a torrid run until meeting Kisner, three-putted to lose the third hole with a bogey and then pulled his tee shot deep in a hazard to lose the fourth hole. Kisner birdied the fifth and sixth holes to race to a 4-up lead. Poulter had no answers. After making eight birdies in the morning Round of 16 , Poulter didn’t make a birdie against Kisner, who will face Noren in the semifinals.

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Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 6:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.

Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.

“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”

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Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”