Whan changes LPGA philosophy, identity and future

By Randall MellNovember 18, 2014, 3:15 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Nobody is having a better run in the game than Mike Whan.

Apologies to Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, but the man of the year in golf is in the women’s game.

The LPGA commissioner continues to deliver in the clutch while leading his tour to the best comeback in the sport.

Brought on five years ago to resuscitate a withering entity, Whan has breathed vibrancy back into the LPGA. His work will be on display at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., this week with the tour closing its books on one of its most remarkable seasons. It’s possible the winner of the title could walk away with $1.5 million, the richest payday in the history of the women’s game with a $1 million jackpot up for grabs in the season-long Race to the CME Globe and $500,000 there for the winner of the Tour Championship.

With his originally controversial Founders Cup and fifth major (Evian Championship), with the impressive debut of the International Crown, with news of the creation of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, with expansions into China and Taiwan and with the CME Globe’s rich payday, the once wilting LPGA is resurgent.

In Tuesday’s state of the LPGA address, Whan is expected to unveil a 2015 schedule featuring 33 to 34 events, with somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million in total purses. That could be an LPGA record haul for prize money. It’s a robust lineup given the grim state of the schedule just three years ago, when the tour shriveled to an anemic 23 events and $40 million in total purses.

While Whan doesn’t script competition, his players seem inspired by the grander stages he is building for them, delivering one delicious storyline after another. From Lexi Thompson’s duel with Michelle Wie in the first major championship of the year, to Wie’s winning the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, to Mo Martin’s and Christina Kim’s emotional wins and the budding rivalry of Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park, the LPGA is compelling theater.

“Our fan base is growing, our viewership is growing, and it’s because of everything Mike Whan has touched,” said Ricki Lasky, the LPGA’s vice president of tournament business affairs.

Player morale is high.

“I’ve been on tour nearly 20 years, and in that time there’s never been such a good feeling about what the tour and staff are doing,” said Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, an LPGA board member. “It’s been amazing to be on the board, to watch Mike in action in the rebuilding process.”

The angst that once permeated the tour is fading as confidence in Whan, chief marketing officer Jon Podany and the rest of the executive staff grows.

“I’ve been out here a long time, and players are always bitching,” Hall of Famer Juli Inkster said. “You just don’t hear that much anymore.”

Nobody appreciates the direction Whan is steering the LPGA more than Inkster and Helen Alfredsson. They were player members on the LPGA board of directors when the tour was searching for a successor to Carolyn Bivens, who was ousted in a player revolt during the 2009 season. The tour was floundering then, with Bivens’ heavy-handed tactics alienating the Tournament Owners Association and with a sour economy helping drive away title sponsors by the bunch.

Inkster and Alfredsson knew how critical hiring their next commissioner would be. Yes, every time the tour hires a commissioner, there’s a sense of urgency, but never quite like that.

“We could have lost the tour easily,” Inkster said.

Alfredsson felt the same powerful sense of responsibility in the search.

“We were still paying Carolyn Bivens, and we were paying an interim commissioner,” Alfredsson said. “It felt like this could make or break us. We needed to get this right and start mending relationships.”

Whan, 44 at the time, was an unfamiliar name when the tour’s head-hunting firm brought him in for an interview. His resume included two years as vice president at Wilson Sporting Goods in charge of the golf ball and golf glove business. He was with TaylorMade for three years as vice president of marketing, but he hadn’t been in the golf business in 10 years when the LPGA came calling. He was a successful former CEO, but he wasn’t even in a leadership position at the time. He came to the LPGA as an independent consultant after the company he last led, Mission Itech Hockey, was sold.

Ultimately, Whan’s greatest skills weren’t necessarily there to see in his resume. They came through in his interviews.

“Mike was smart, and he was so likeable, in a genuine way,” Alfredsson said. “He was up front and honest, and there was no B.S., no hidden agendas.”

Inkster and Alfredsson knew the LPGA needed a strong leader and a sharp business mind, but they knew it needed something more to rebuild broken relationships and broken trust with so many business partners.

“We needed a good people person,” Inkster said.

Mike Whan

LPGA founders Louise Suggs and Shirley Spork with Mike Whan (Getty)

Though Whan committed what would seem a cardinal sin in the interview process, wondering aloud if he was the right person for the job, given his limited involvement in golf, his personality proved irresistible.

“I’ve never seen anyone more comfortable in their own skin,” Lasky said.

That came through to board members.

“Juli and I looked at each other like, ‘This is the guy,’” Alfredsson said. “It was, ‘How could you not want to do business with this guy?’ He just seemed like such a good fit for our organization.”

Five years later, LPGA members can’t imagine the tour without Whan.

“I just hope he stays,” Inkster said.

That’s almost a refrain when LPGA members are asked about Whan’s leadership now. While Whan has given the tour no reason to believe he’s considering other opportunities, it’s a testament to his leadership that players fear losing him.

Webb believes that’s based in knowing the corporate world sees what LPGA members have been seeing in Whan since he arrived.

“Mike is a go-getter, and if there’s nothing left to go get, the fear is he might not be as interested,” Webb said. “I think the LPGA was a great challenge for him, and because he’s doing such a great job, there are going to be a lot of great opportunities out there for him, if he were to look. I know as a board, it’s very important for us that he knows how much we appreciate him.”

That’s why the board is looking at extending Whan’s contract again. His original deal was renewed at the end of 2012 and now runs through 2016.

“We are doing everything in our power to keep him on our team, because we know what an asset he is,” LPGA president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman said. “Hopefully, we can get an extension, but nothing has been presented to Mike at this point. We’re still talking about it.”

Whan told GolfChannel.com that he has no plans to leave and merely hopes to be around “as long as the members will have me.”

What are the secrets to Whan’s success? First, he’ll tell you it isn’t his success. A former Miami of Ohio quarterback, Whan will tell you he knows how to get the ball into the hands of skill players on his team. He hires good people. He’ll also tell you up front that he fumbles a lot. He isn’t afraid of taking risks.

“I probably make more mistakes than your average leader,” said Whan, who believes thinking bigger requires taking bigger risks.

Whan didn’t exactly take the commissioner’s job by storm. He weighed his risks before taking them.

Upon his hiring, Whan announced he wasn’t going to take over for 100 days. He was going to spend that time studying the tour. He calls it the “Listen, learn and lead” method. It would prove the most critical step in his rebuilding of the tour.

Listening and learning would spawn the formulation of two important ideas Whan used to turn around the tour.

1. Role reversal.

2. Act like a founder.

“I came out of those meetings after 100 days asking ‘What’s missing in the room?’” Whan said. “For me, it was the sponsor, the sponsor’s voice.”

Mike Whan

Mike Whan with KPMG chairman John Veihmeyer and PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua (Getty)

With that simple observation, Whan dramatically changed the nature of the way LPGA staff members think of themselves today.

“We thought we were in the business of running golf tournaments,” Whan said.

Whan sold his staff on the radical notion that this wasn’t the tour’s primary purpose. Yes, running tournaments are an integral function of the tour, but the success of the tour hinged on a greater purpose.

“Coming out of those 100 days, the first thing I said to the gang is that we are going to have to embrace the term ‘role reversal,’” Whan said. “We spend way too much time talking about pin placements, about how many players are in the field, and where the ropes are going to be, and where the media center should be.

“None of that stuff really matters to the guy who is writing the check, and we don’t spend any time talking about the check writers. Companies that don’t spend time talking about their customers, they wake up without customers. We have to start thinking like title sponsors.”

So Whan trained his staff to quit thinking about selling golf tournaments. He trained them to listen, and to learn to sell what a title sponsor needed.

“You listen to the title sponsor you want to sell to first, and then you go back to them,” Whan said. “You can’t sell on the first visit. That’s a really tough concept for some sales people.

“You go to a title sponsor, and you listen to them. You find out what they’re really looking for. You ask what they like about pro-ams, what they think could make them better. When you really understand what they’re looking for, you go back, and when you sell, you use their words.”

You sell title sponsors what they really want.

Whan transformed the LPGA’s relationship with the Tournament Owners Association. He rebuilt that organization’s trust and faith in LPGA leadership.

“The tournament owners needed to know Mike wasn’t there just to take their money,” said Gail Graham, the former head of the TOA and now the CME tournament director. “He was there as a partner, to help them make an investment in a property that would help them reach their marketing goals. He rebuilt those relationships.”

Whan said the creation of the Race to the CME Globe and its $1 million jackpot was role reversal at its best. It was listening to CME chairman and president Terry Duffy’s desire to have CME involved in something that covered the length of the season. It began with the Titleholders concept, where the top three players from every tournament advanced to the CME’s season-ending event, but it evolved into the CME Globe, something more precisely what Duffy envisioned.

Role reversal also led to the development of weekly partner profile sheets. They go to all the players committed to a tournament. They contain the photos and names of the “check writers” for the title sponsor behind that particular week’s event. They summarize why the sponsor got involved in the event, and what goals the sponsors have. The partner profiles also tell players where to send their thank you notes.

Whan loves telling how a partner profile sheet actually led to Christina Kim popping outside the ropes in the middle of a round when she spotted an executive who was photographed in the partner profile sheet. Kim stunned the executive knowing his name, shaking his hand and thanking him.

“Thank goodness most sports aren’t doing role reversal,” Whan said. “If Major League Baseball was big into role reversal, I would have a problem, because they deliver bigger audiences, but they don’t deliver the same experiences, because they don’t consider the check writer their customers. They consider their fans their customers.”

The “Act like a founder” concept didn’t come from Whan’s first 100 days, but it did come from listening and learning. It came from listening to Hall of Famer Louise Suggs and the other living LPGA founders. It came from a slogan offered up by Kia Classic tournament director Dennis Baggett. Whan turned it into a mantra in LPGA offices, where he posted it on signs, and where he ends meetings repeating the mantra.

“One of Mike’s strengths is consistent messaging,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA’s vice president of tour operations. “He leads by example that way. He acts like a founder. He’s working to leave the tour better than he found it.”

In Whan’s eyes, there’s a lot more work to do building the tour. He isn’t satisfied, and he isn’t done. With the schedule now rebuilt to where Whan wants it, his focus is stabilizing the LPGA’s major championships. He wants them to have the long traditions the men have built, without being so dependent on title sponsorship. With KPMG and the PGA of America absorbing the LPGA Championship next year, Whan is almost there. He only needs to find an arrangement for the former Kraft Nabisco to reach that goal. After that, he’ll be focused on creating greater exposure for his women, and then on building larger purses.

It’s all with “Acting like a founder” in mind.

“Thinking like a founder is a big thing for our organization,” Goetze-Ackerman said. “Those women who were the founders laid the groundwork for us. They thought about the sponsors. They went out and marked the golf courses themselves. They got it. They understood. Somewhere along the line, we lost that, but we’ve gotten it back. That’s been a huge idea within LPGA headquarters. Mike’s really expressed the importance of that and gotten us all thinking that way.”

It has helped Whan turn around the LPGA.

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Trio lead Kia Classic; Davies shoots 82

By Associated PressMarch 23, 2018, 3:01 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Laura Davies had a nightmare round days after contending for a title at age 54, and Caroline Hedwall, Jackie Stoelting and Hee Young Park topped the Kia Classic leaderboard.

Davies shot a 10-over 82 on Thursday at rainy Aviara Golf Club - four days after tying for second behind Inbee Park in the Founders Cup, and five days after shooting a 9-under 63 in the Phoenix event.

Fighting Achilles tendon and calf problems in her left leg, Davies opened double bogey-bogey-par-bogey. She bogeyed Nos. 9, 10 and 12, had another double on 15 and bogeyed 16. The 82 was the World Golf Hall of Famer's highest score on tour since also shooting 82 in the 2013 Marathon Classic. On Monday, she jumped 208 spots to No. 155 in the world.

Hedwall, Stoelting and Park shot 66 in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills. Ariya Jutanugarn, also coming off a second-place tie in Phoenix, was a stroke back with 2015 champion Cristie Kerr, In-Kyung Kim and Nicole Broch Larsen.

Hedwall closed her bogey-free round with birdies on the par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth. The Swede played her final 10 holes in 6 under. Players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways because of the damp conditions.

''I hit it really well and started making a couple putts in my back nine,'' Hedwall said. ''I'm really happy with how I'm playing and looking forward to the rest of the days.''

Stoelting finished with a birdie on the par-4 18th. She had seven birdies and a bogey.

''I hit a lot of fairways,'' Stoelting said. ''I don't necessarily hit if far, but keeping it in the fairway is super key this week. The rough is much thicker this year than last year.''

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Hee Young Park birdied the final three holes, finishing on No. 9.

''The greens are really soft,'' Park said. ''So, easier on the second shot.''

The 40-year-old Kerr had a bogey-free round.

''I like this golf course,'' Kerr said. ''I think it's a tough golf course and you can't fall asleep on any shot. I mean, it's just a really great course. The layout. The rough is high. You got to pay attention. I think that's maybe why I play a little better here than some other places.''

Jutanugarn closed with a 5-under 31 on the front nine.

''It's rain today and a little bit windy, but my irons help me a lot,'' Jutanugarn said. ''Just start to make some putts. ... It's pretty tough for me. I always feel like the course here is really hard because the greens really bumpy, and you're not going to hit far here.''

Lydia Ko and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu topped the group at 68.

Ko also played her final nine in 31. She missed the cut last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix.

''I holed some really good putts on my back nine,'' Ko said. ''I didn't hit the ball fantastic, but just being able to hole some good birdie putts was key.''

She won the 2016 event at Aviara.

''This is a pretty tough golf course,'' Ko said. ''Putting is a huge key around this course where if you do miss a green, making those clutch par putts and then making those birdie opportunities that you get.''

Jennifer Song and Jeong Eun Lee also shot 68. Brooke Henderson had a 69, and Lexi Thompson a 70.

Inbee Park was at 71 with Singapore champion Michelle Wie and 2014 Kia winner Anna Nordqvist. Top-ranked Shanshan Feng had a 72, playing alongside Park. Defending champion Mirim Lee shot 74.

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With old clubs returned, Kim (and new clubs) starts strong at Kia

By Randall MellMarch 23, 2018, 1:53 am

Almost two months after her golf clubs went missing, the same clubs she used to win last year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open, In-Kyung Kim was happily reunited with them this week.

She fetched them and her golf bag two days ago at the Carlsbad, Calif., police department.

A man bought them as a used set from a sporting goods store in the area, with Kim’s LPGA I.D. still in the golf bag.

Notably, Kim celebrated with a return to the leaderboard Thursday in the first round of the Kia Classic.

Kim opened with a 5-under-par 67, though she didn’t use her newly rediscovered clubs. She stayed with the replacement set that she put together after her clubs went missing. Her Women’s British Open clubs never showed up after she got off a plane in Southern California upon her return home from the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

“It was really difficult at first,” Kim said of getting used to her new set of clubs. “I really worked hard, like worked a lot, went to the factory like a dozen times.”

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Kim said she made several visits to the factory folks, trying to get the loft and lies of her new clubs just the way she wanted, close to the configuration that helped her win the Women’s British Open.

“They were like, `I.K., are you ever happy?’” Kim said.

Actually, only five of Kim’s “lost” clubs turned up with her golf bag at that sporting goods store. Still, Kim was happy to get three wedges, two hybrids and her golf bag back.

“It’s kind of good to have a conclusion,” Kim said.

Kim can thank a “What’s in the bag?” segment with Ladies European Tour TV analyst Alison Whitaker for leading to the retrieval of her clubs. Kim explained to Whitaker how her clubs went missing during the telecast of the HSBC Women’s World Championship three weeks ago.

A golf fan in the San Diego area saw Golf Channel’s telecast of that segment.

“One of his friends bought the tour bag,” Kim said. “The other friend knew about my story, and he was like, `No, dude, that's not for selling. It's stolen.’”

Kim was delighted to meet the men who returned her clubs when she picked them up at the Carlsbad Police Department.

“Just good for me,” Kim said.

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Ko (68) off to best start of year at Kia Classic

By Randall MellMarch 23, 2018, 12:39 am

Lydia Ko didn’t take long to put last week’s missed cut behind her Thursday at the Kia Classic.

She got off to her best start of the year.

With a 4-under-par 68, Ko finished the day in a tie for eighth, just two shots off the lead at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.

“I would say I didn't hit the ball fantastic, but just being able to hole some good birdie putts was key,” Ko said.

Ko scrambled her way to her low opening round of the year in light rain. She hit just seven of 14 fairways and 11 greens, but only needed 25 putts.

“This is a pretty tough golf course,” Ko said. ”I think putting is a huge key around this course, where if you do miss a green, making those clutch par putts and then making those birdie opportunities that you get.”

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Aviara’s poa annua greens have been known to give players fits, but Ko had her flatstick working. After making the turn at 1 over, she made five birdies on her second nine.

Ko, 20, won at Aviara two years ago but missed the cut there last year.

“I love Carlsbad,” Ko said “I would say it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s nice to come back to a place where you’ve played well and love the area.”

Ko, seeking her first victory since July of 2016, has her new coach, Ted Oh, working with her in Carlsbad this week. Oh made the trip to Asia last month, helping Ko to her tie for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. But, she missed the cut in Phoenix last week in her next start.

“All I can do is try my best,” Ko said. “Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this good momentum going.”

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 2

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:32 am

Here is how things played out on Day 2 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Click here for Day 1 match results:

Group 1: Adam Hadwin (38) def. Dustin Johnson (1), 4 and 3: After a dominating performance at last year’s Match Play, where he never trailed in any match, Johnson is already mathematically eliminated. He got routed on Thursday by Hadwin, after the Canadian built a 2-up lead at the turn and then poured it on with wins on the 11th and 13th holes.

Group 1: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Bernd Wiesberger (52), 5 and 4: Kisner made three consecutive birdies midway through the front nine to set the tone, then kept the pressure on Wiesberger, who knocked off DJ on Wednesday, to earn the full point and stay in the mix to advance.

Group 2: Justin Thomas (2) def. Patton Kizzire (48), 3 and 1: After DJ’s early exit, Thomas now has a clear path to world No. 1, if he can win the Match Play this week. Thomas did his part, improving to 2-0 after taking a 3-up advantage and then making birdie on 16 and 17 to close out Kizzire. That sets up a winner-take-all match against Francesco Molinari on Friday.

Group 2: Francesco Molinari (21) def. Luke List (60), 3 and 2: Molinari dropped seven birdies on List and won the 13th, 14th and 16th holes to move to 2-0 this week.

Group 3: Chez Reavie (43) def. Jon Rahm, 1 up: On the verge of surrendering a big lead against Rahm, Reavie’s par on 18 was enough to secure a 1-up victory. He led 3 up with three to go, but Rahm birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to send the match to the last. But there, from just short of the green, Rahm hit his pitch shot well past the flag and couldn’t make birdie. Now 0-1-1, Rahm, last year's finalist, is now eliminated.

Group 3: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Keegan Bradley (63), 1 up: Bradley once again kicked away a late lead. One day after coughing up a 2-up lead with three to play, he squandered a 1-up lead with three to play against Aphibarnrat. Bradley made bogey on 17, then was stymied behind a tree after his drive on 18. Barnrat rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to improve to 2-0.

Group 4: Jordan Spieth (4) def. Haotong Li (34), 4 and 2: Spieth held up his end of the deal, winning the fifth hole with a birdie and never trailing from there. He poured it on late with the Chinese star, winning the 13th, 14th and 16th holes. He'll play Reed, his Ryder and Presidents Cup partner, on Friday in a winner-take-all match.

Group 4: Patrick Reed (19) def. Charl Schwartzel (49), 1 up: In a wild match that saw that only three halved, Reed hung on to defeat Schwartzel, 1 up. Two up with three holes to play, Reed lost the 16th, escaped with a bogey halve on the 17th and then was out of position on the final hole. But he nearly holed his wedge shot, rattling the stick and leaving his ball on the front edge for a conceded birdie and narrow victory.

Group 5: Cameron Smith (46) def. Hideki Matsuyama (5), 1 up: One down with five to play, Smith won the 14th with a par, then chipped in for birdie on 16 to take a 1-up lead. At 2-0, he’s now in control of the group.

Group 5: Patrick Cantlay (30) def. Yusaku Miyazato (53), 1 up: In control throughout, Cantlay bogeyed the 17th hole to return the match to all square. On the home hole, he busted a drive to the front-left corner of the green, then made birdie to win and improve to 1-1.

Group 6: Rory McIlroy (6) def. Jhonattan Vegas (44), 2 and 1: Needing a victory to avoid an early exit, McIlroy won two consecutive holes before the turn and then added a win on 13 to give himself the cushion he needed down the stretch, holing a 6-footer for par on 17 to close out Vegas. McIlroy now has a chance to advance with a victory over Harman on the final day of pool play.

Group 6: Brian Harman (18) def. Peter Uihlein (57), 4 and 2: Harman never trailed in knocking off Uihlein, who soundly defeated McIlroy on Day 1. With 1 ½ points, Harman is in the driver’s seat, but he needs at least a halve against McIlroy on Friday (and a Uihlein loss) to advance.

Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) def. Dylan Frittelli (41), 2 up: All square with six holes to go, Garcia birdied 13, won 14 with a par and then drove the 18th green for a conceded birdie to close out Frittelli, the former Texas Longhorn, and improve to 2-0 this week. He'll play Schauffele in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

Group 7: Xander Schauffele (20) def. Shubhankar Sharma (62), 3 and 1: Schauffele improved to 2-0 this week by thoroughly handling Sharma, the darling of the recent WGC-Mexico event, never leading by fewer than 2-up on the back nine and playing 3 under.

Group 8: Jason Dufner (42) def. Jason Day (8), 3 and 1: Dufner took down one of the pre-tournament favorites with a steady closing stretch. Five of his six wins came after Day bogeys, but Dufner turned an all-square match on 14 tee into a 3-and-1 victory.

Group 8: James Hahn (56) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 3 and 1: Hahn jumped all over the South African, winning the first three holes and never holding less than a 2-up lead on the back nine. With his victory, each player in the group has a 1-1 record.

Group 9: Tommy Fleetwood (9) def. Kevin Chappell (33), 7 and 6: Avenging an opening-day loss, the Englishman won the first four holes and needed to make only three birdies in a monster rout of Chappell. The 2017 Presidents Cupper made five bogeys and conceded two other holes but still has a chance to win the group.  

Group 9: Ian Poulter (58) def. Daniel Berger (26), 2 and 1: Playing this event for the first time since 2015, Poulter improved to 2-0 on the week with a solid victory over Berger, one of many young American up-and-comers. Using the same putter that he put in play at the epic 2012 Ryder Cup, Poulter won three of the first four holes and never backed down. He is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday. 

Group 10: Paul Casey (10) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 4 and 2: A winner at the Valspar, Casey stayed hot in Austin, taking a 3-up lead at the turn and improving to 2-0 this week. He needs only a halve on Friday to advance.

Group 10: Russell Henley (51) def. Matthew Fitzpatrick (31), 2 and 1: Shaking off a narrow loss to Casey on Wednesday, Henley took control of an all-square match by winning the 12th and 14th holes and then rolling in a tricky 25-footer on the 17th green to put away Fitzpatrick. Still alive in pool play, Henley needs to beat Kyle Stanley, and hope Casey loses, to force a playoff.

Group 11: Bubba Watson (35) def. Marc Leishman (11), 3 and 2: Coming off an impressive opening victory, Watson erased an early deficit, then won Nos. 12-14 to put away Leishman, who is now eliminated. Watson is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday.

Group 11: Branden Grace (23) def. Julian Suri (64), 2 and 1: After a shaky start, Grace made four birdies over his last 11 holes to knock off the surprise Day 1 winner, Suri, who was the last man into the field. Watson is still in control of the group heading into the final day.

Group 12: Tyrrell Hatton (12) def. Brendan Steele (36), 3 and 2: All square through 12 holes, the Englishman made four birdies and an eagle over his last eight holes to improve to 2-0 this week. Hatton needs only a halve Friday to advance.

Group 12: Alexander Levy (55) def. Charley Hoffman (22), 1 up: Levy led from the sixth hole, but Hoffman slowly cut into the deficit and took the Frenchman to the final hole. Levy’s par was enough to notch his first point and stay alive in pool play.  

Group 13: Alex Noren (13) def. Thomas Pieters (39), 5 and 4: Noren made quick work of Pieters in what could be a match of future Ryder Cup teammates. Noren built a 4-up lead after seven holes and then cruised from there, moving to 2-0 this week and eliminating Pieters. In 30 holes this week, Noren has made 12 birdies and no bogeys.

Group 13: Tony Finau (29) def. Kevin Na (61), 3 and 2: In a contrast of styles, the powerful Finau birdied the first three holes and never looked back against Na, setting up a battle of unbeatens in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Satoshi Kodaira (40), 1 up: Four down through seven holes, Mickelson was on the verge of being eliminated before running off a series of wins, including on 16 and 17 to push the match to the final hole. Then, on 18, he pitched to 8 feet and drained the birdie putt to complete the remarkable comeback.

Group 14: Charles Howell III (59) def. Rafa Cabrera Bello (17), 3 and 1: After knocking off Mickelson on Day 1, Howell pulled away from Cabrera Bello late, winning the 14th, 15th and 17th holes – only one of which with birdies – to take control of the lead. At 2-0, Howell is assured of at least a playoff.

Group 15: Webb Simpson (37) def. Pat Perez (15), 3 and 1: Matched up against the fiery Perez, Simpson seized control of the match with wins on the 11th and 12th holes, sank a 20-footer on 15 and then won the 17th after Perez put his tee shot in the hazard. Now 1-0-1, he’ll have a winner-take-all match against Kim on Friday.

Group 15: Si Woo Kim (50) def. Gary Woodland (24), 5 and 3: Kim won the first hole and never looked back, grabbing a 3-up lead at the turn and leading by as much as 5 up after 12 holes. He is now 2-0. 

Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) def. Yuta Ikeda (47), 1 up: Though he wasn’t nearly as hot as in his opener against Johnson, Kuchar played solidly, going 3 under (including concessions) and making par on 17 to edge ahead of Ikeda and eke out a narrow victory. 

Group 16: Ross Fisher (27) def. Zach Johnson (54), 2 up: After a remarkable comeback against Kuchar to earn a halve on Day 1, Johnson couldn’t summon the same magic on Thursday. Though he won the 15th to cut Fisher’s advantage to 1 up, Johnson couldn’t convert birdie putts on the last three holes.