Getty Images

LPGA confident fifth major will overcome obstacles

By Randall MellSeptember 11, 2018, 8:50 pm

Maybe this is the year the jewel regains its sparkle.

The Evian Championship has the makings of something spectacular as the LPGA’s fifth major, with its picturesque backdrops on the mountainside above Lake Geneva in the shadow of the French Alps.

The setting is majestic, the views breathtaking.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan imagines Evian with a compelling future.

“I have zero doubt in my mind that five, 10, 15, 20 years from now, young women all around the world will have a dream to make it to `The Mountain,’ to see that skydiver parachuting down with their country’s flag at championship’s end,” Whan has repeated as a mantra in his vision of the event.

The problem is Evian has been more volcano than mountain, with controversy erupting with too much regularity.

Since Whan unilaterally declared Evian a major championship and moved it to September beginning in 2013, there has been something of a meteorological curse on the event.

The rainfall has been just short of a biblical plague, with last year’s finish played in hard rain, heavy wind and even hail pummeling players.

Two of the first five Evian Championships played as a major have been controversially shortened to 54 holes.

The weather issues have brought scrutiny over the LPGA’s priorities in the governance of its majors, and whether the decision to upgrade Evian was more about creating a major showcase for Group Danone than creating a major championship.

It’s why so many players were excited when Whan announced that Evian will be returning to July next year, the spot it held on the calendar before it was declared a major.

“It's a great venue, and it's a very well-run event and major championship,” defending champion Anna Nordqvist said. “I'm excited it's moving to the summer next year. Before it became a major, we always played it in July, and we always had a blast and we always had great conditions.”

Rolex Women's World Rankings

Evian Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Nordqvist and Brittany Altomare were at the center of last year’s controversial finish.

They played their third shots into the first sudden-death playoff hole in near darkness with sleet and hail pummeling them. Even with grounds crew squeegeeing the greens before they played, puddles re-formed on the green.

By allowing Nordqvist and Altomare to play to a green so obviously unfit for deciding who wins a major championship, the LPGA put the integrity of the competition in jeopardy. Neither player hit the green, avoiding the real possibility a puddle would have swallowed their shots or caused their balls to skip.

The priority didn’t appear to be identifying the best player by setting up a thorough examination of skill, concentration and resolve. The priority appeared to be to finish on Sunday, barring fire and brimstone coming down from the sky and barring the pond at the 18th hole turning to blood.

The fact that the decision to shorten the event to 54 holes was made so early in the championship only reinforced suspicions. The tour announced it was shortening the event on Thursday, after controversially wiping out an abbreviated start to set up a restart of the first round on Friday.

Nordqvist is among LPGA pros who don’t like seeing majors shortened to 54 holes, even though she won last year’s.

“Major championships should be 72 holes, unless there are certain circumstances where the golf is unplayable,” she said while preparing to defend her title. “I definitely think it should be crowned over four rounds. I feel like that would be the best for everyone.

“But given the circumstances last year, there just wasn't much we could do.”

The decision to shorten to 54 holes led to speculation the LPGA was trying to maximize Sunday’s TV window exposure, and to satisfy the needs of an important title sponsor, and to avoid the expense of a Monday finish and the complications of extending lodging in a small resort town. Whan said a terrible extended forecast was the driving force. He said the prospect of prolonging the event into a less interesting mid-week finish was a factor. He also said it was solely the LPGA’s decision, not Group Danone’s.

Whan stepped up to take the blame for Evian’s challenges, saying the move to September brought more rain and less daylight into the championship equation.

“At Evian, the challenges we face are manmade, and I’m the man who made them,” he said.

The commissioner, who gets credit for rebuilding the LPGA from its foundering state after taking over almost nine years ago, pledged a better future for Evian.

“Everything about Evian is going to work long term,” Whan said.

The week opens hopefully for this year’s field. Reigning ANA Inspiration champ Pernilla Lindberg relished practicing under blue skies on Tuesday.

“It’s so peaceful being here when the weather is nice,” Lindberg said. “Looking out over the lake just gives you good feelings.”

Georgia Hall, winner of last month’s Ricoh Women’s British Open, seconded that.

“It’s perfect weather,” she said. “I don’t think there are any complaints at all. It’s so beautiful to come here by the lake. The golf course is in really good condition, so I am looking forward to playing it.”

Trouble, however, lurks once again.

Forecasts call for a mid-day thunderstorm on Thursday with 50 percent chance of showers on Friday.

“Crossing our fingers it will stay like this,” Lindberg said.

Players want to see the sun can put a sparkle back on their jewel.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 22, 2018, 5:25 pm

After grinding out a 68 on Friday, Tiger Woods is trying to get the lead all to himself in Round 3 at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him.

Iowa State Cyclones cheerleaders pause at a memorial in the Jacobson Building honoring Celia Barquin Arozamena, at Jack Trice Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Ames, Iowa. Getty Images

Iowa State honors Arozamena before football game

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 4:57 pm

AMES, Iowa - Iowa State honored slain golf star Celia Barquin Arozamena with an elaborate ceremony ahead of the Cyclones' game against Akron on Saturday.

Iowa State's band used a formation that spelled out Barquin's initials, and both teams wore a decal on their helmets in her memory.

A tribute to Barquin played on a video screen before a moment of silence, and fans were also asked to wear yellow, one of Iowa State's main colors and a nod to Barquin's Spanish roots. Most of the roughly 60,000 fans in attendance complied with yellow and with golf shirts on a chilly morning in central Iowa.

"I think it's fantastic. The tribute is amazing. But ultimately, it would have been perfect if she could have been here for her tribute, which was going to happen anyway." said Ed Hamilton, a retired police officer from nearby Ankeny, Iowa.

Barquin, the Cyclones' first conference champion in 25 years, was finishing up her degree at Iowa State and working toward her ultimate goal of becoming a professional golfer.

A memorial honoring Celia Barquin Arozamena at Jack Trice Stadium. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

Barquin competed in the U.S Women's Open earlier this summer, and coach Christie Martens said she was approaching "the pinnacle of her career."

"Iowa State fans are very loyal. We haven't had too many winning football teams over the years. Yet the fans turn out. There's a great loyalty here -- but it spills into other sports as well," said Iowa State fan Kent Hollrah of Denison, Iowa.

Collin Richards, also 22, has been charged with first-degree murder in Barquin's death. Police said Richards stabbed Barquin and left her body in a pond on the course, where it was found after other golfers noticed her abandoned bag.

Cyclones coach Matt Campbell also wore an Iowa State golf hat on the sideline to show solidarity with his colleagues.

"Be with all of us today Celia, your legacy will forever live on & we are forever grateful for your impact. Much love from your Cyclonitas," Iowa State linebacker Willie Harvey tweeted earlier Saturday, using the nickname that Barquin had for her teammates.

Getty Images

Tiger, Bryson testing each other's golf balls ahead of Paris

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2018, 4:21 pm

ATLANTA – The U.S. Ryder Cup team won’t arrive in Paris for next week’s matches until Monday, but one pairing already seems to be penciled into captain Jim Furyk’s lineup.

Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau have become regular practice-round partners, and when Furyk made both captain’s picks, it added to the notion that they would be paired during the team sessions in France. On Tuesday at East Lake, Woods and DeChambeau teed it up yet again.

Both Woods and DeChambeau play Bridgestone golf balls, although they use different models.

“The two are very similar, they are very numbers-oriented and that translates to their feel on the course, but they get fitted to two different golf balls,” said Adam Rehberg, Bridgestone Golf’s ball-fitting manager.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Woods plays the company’s Tour B XS, which is softer and spins more, while DeChambeau plays the Tour B X, which is designed to take spin off shots.

Although DeChambeau played a version of the company’s golf ball that was close to what Woods now plays earlier in his career, he appeared to be preparing for a pairing next week during Tuesday’s practice round.

“I’ve seen some chipping of the other’s ball during practice rounds, getting used to it,” Rehberg said. “There’s been some sharing of golf balls internally between those guys. It’s almost like the worst kept secret in golf. It seems they are going to be paired up one way or another.”

The rules for the Ryder Cup were changed in 2006. They allow for foursomes teams to change golf balls between holes but not during a hole, which explains the duo’s interest in becoming comfortable with the other’s golf ball, particularly around the green and for chip shots.

Getty Images

Casey: RC teams planning Lyle, Celia tributes

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2018, 3:58 pm

ATLANTA – Throughout this season Paul Casey has been in regular contact with European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn, with most communication being via text messages that the Englishman said always included an eclectic range of emojis.

But when the Dane decided to make Casey one of his four captain’s picks, it had to be a phone call.

“He called on Monday (Sept. 3). I was in the parking garage at the Philadelphia Marriott,” Casey said this week at the Tour Championship. “It was rewarding, emotional, so many things.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Since being named to the team, Casey said his communication with Bjorn and the other members of the European team has been via WhatsApp, which allows the team to share ideas and finalize plans for next week’s matches. Casey said the exchanges have mainly featured good-natured teasing and a some silly pictures, with a few serious moments.

The European team, in coordination with the U.S. team, is planning to honor Jarrod Lyle, a former PGA Tour player who died last month following his third bout with leukemia, next Thursday in France. There is a public memorial service planned for Lyle on Thursday in Australia.

Casey also said the team is coordinating a plan to also honor Celia Barquín Arozamena, a top college player from Spain who was murdered this week in Iowa.