2014-15 schedule: More events, but not all will prosper

By Rex HoggardAugust 14, 2014, 1:22 am

Consider it an embarrassment of riches.

The 2014-15 PGA Tour schedule, which was released on Wednesday, has the look and feel of previous editions – 47 events, up from 45 this season, an early West Coast swing, four major championships – but there is an undeniable shift in the circuit’s landscape this time around.

There is a distinct ebb and flow to next year’s schedule, a trend that began with the 2013-14 schedule and the Tour’s transition to a split-calendar season. While the basics remain unchanged, pods of must-play events have emerged that all but guarantee top player participation.

That evolution was expedited by the dramatic transformation of the WGC-Match Play, which will have a new date, venue and format next season.

The Match Play has moved from its traditional spot as the anchor event on the West Coast swing to the last week of May. The WGC has also jettisoned the unpopular Dove Mountain layout near Tucson, Ariz., for the friendlier confines of Harding Park in San Francisco and will use a pod-like format that will assure players at least three days of play.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, videos and photos

The move to May, however, has created a month-long run of can’t-miss events, including the Match Play, The Players, the Wells Fargo Championship and the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event.

Something will have to give and it’s likely that will be the Wells Fargo. Consider Rory McIlroy, who won the Wells Fargo in 2009 and finished runner-up there in 2012, would likely not play four consecutive weeks of top-tier events and would probably trade the Wells Fargo for a week off.

It will be a similar scenario in August for Tiger Woods.

Woods’ own event, the Quicken Loans National, has been moved from two weeks after the U.S. Open to two weeks after the Open Championship, ending on Aug. 2.

If Woods is healthy and playing well he would play the Quicken Loans, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which he has won eight times, the PGA Championship and four FedEx Cup playoff events in roughly a two-month window.

That’s seven of nine weeks in a row, nine of 11 if he were to qualify for the Presidents Cup that will be played in Korea the second week of October. And Woods is hardly the only player with a full dance card next season.

Brandt Snedeker is playing his fifth consecutive event this week at the Wyndham Championship and at 69th on the FedEx Cup list he will have at least two more starts (The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship) before his season ends.

Part of Snedeker’s plight is sponsorship related; he has endorsement deals with Wyndham and RBC, but it is an indication of the type of decisions players currently face on an increasingly crowded schedule.

It’s also why more and more players are becoming increasingly selective with their schedules. Players may love Riviera Country Club and the Northern Trust Open, but as the Tour schedule becomes more segmented tough choices have to be made.

When less is more for the top players expect to see more of the game’s marquee follow Adam Scott’s lead. The Australian has played just 13 events this season, not a single fall event last year and just twice on the West Coast.

McIlroy has played a similar schedule, with just one West Coast stop (WGC-Match Play) and four starts that were not a major or World Golf Championship.

The standard line for tournament directors has always been that the quality of an event’s golf course was always the primary way to attract a solid field, but the status quo has slowly been undercut by an increasingly segmented calendar.

The new normal is that no matter how good of a golf course you may have or how attractive your spot on the calendar, a player’s schedule is becoming more and more influenced by outside factors.

Competitive considerations have chipped away at traditional allegiances or an affinity for a particular golf course, and 2016 promises to be even more crowded.

Because of golf’s inclusion in the ’16 Games in Rio, officials with the R&A and PGA of America have already announced significant date changes. The Open Championship will be played a week earlier than it historically has been, July 14-17, in 2016 and last week the PGA announced its ’16 championship will be played two weeks later (July 28-31) than normal.

The domino effect is sure to add to an already delicate balance for the game’s top players.

The depth of next year’s Tour schedule is the best indication of the current health of professional golf. But along with that expansion there were always going to be growing pains.

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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.