Getty Images

Can anyone catch red-hot Simpson?

By Rex HoggardMay 12, 2018, 11:56 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Even on a course that has a history of favoring the late-breaking horse, this has all the makings of a runaway.

Webb Simpson, the soft-spoken father of four with the salt-and-pepper beard who doesn’t exactly have the look of a man accustomed to stepping on the throats of fellow competitors, carved up TPC Sawgrass for the third consecutive day on his way to a commanding seven-stroke advantage over Danny Lee.

In sports there are no guarantees - it’s why they prefer to go all 72 before doling out crystal on the PGA Tour - but consider that Simpson could spot his closest challenger a stroke a hole on the front nine on Sunday and still likely ease into the closing loop with a comfortable lead.

At 19 under par following a third-round 68 on a Stadium Course that was much more user friendly than many expected it to be, Simpson’s 54-hole advantage is the largest in Players Championship history.

This isn’t forgone - it never is when trap doors like the island-green 17th hole loom for any would-be champion - but anything short of a Simpson boat race certainly feels farfetched after three dominant days.

“I said to my caddie I would like to play the golf course he's playing,” Jason Day said. “He's clearly playing some tremendous golf and we're the best players in the world and he's making us not look so good.”

If Day and the rest of the field needed a paradigm of hope they could peruse The Players history books. This is, after all, where Alex Cejka rode a five-stroke lead into the final round in 2009 only to leave town with a ninth-place check and an abundance of scar tissue. In fact, of the 11 Players held since the event relocated to May, only three 54-hole leaders went on to win.


Full-field scores from The Players Championship

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos


It was no surprise that Simpson, a student of history, had no interest in premature celebrations.

“Eighteen holes, I have a lot of work to do,” said Simpson, who last won on Tour in 2014 and in eight starts at The Players has never finished better than 15th.

Although he was able to extend his lead on Day 3, Simpson wasn’t perfect, with bogeys at Nos. 8 and 14 wrapped around a birdie at the ninth and sand-shot eagle at the par-5 11th hole.

Some member’s bounces have certainly gone Simpson’s way this week, but his statistical dominance is every bit as impressive as those red numbers on the leaderboard.

For the week, he ranks first in fairways hit (34 of 42), second in greens in regulation (45 of 54) and first in strokes gained: putting, the latter being a telling statistic for a player who admits that his professional life took a bad turn when the anchoring ban took the belly putter out of his bag in 2016.

Simpson, whose unique putting action is described by his caddie as the (Matt) Kuchar-claw, has converted 39 of 41 putts from 10 feet and in, and punctuated his round with a17-footer for par at the last hole.

“I hope he doesn’t putt too well with that thing up the arm or they’ll ban that next,” joked Adam Scott, who has also dealt with his share of putting demons since the anchoring ban.

Various players made spirited attempts to close the gap on Simpson, most notably Woods who for two days largely hadn’t hit the ball close enough and when he did repeatedly failed to convert crucial putts.

But Saturday was different, with Woods igniting the early morning gallery, covering his opening nine in 6 under par on his way to a 65, his lowest score to par on Tour in 1,744 days.

“These guys are going to go low today again,” Woods predicted. “It's definitely gettable. I know there's a lot of pressure coming down the back nine here, but I think these guys, the way they have set up the golf course today, it's set up for these guys to go low.”

It was one of the few things Woods got wrong on Saturday. Other than Simpson, few players were able to make any meaningful movements, as evidenced by the fact that when Woods signed his scorecard before the leaders had even teed off he was in eighth place. When the dust finally settled on a muggy day he was tied for ninth place.

A few hours later, Ian Poulter was putting the finishing touches on another gem when he lost his way in a greenside bunker at the 18th hole and double bogeyed his way to a 69 and a spot alongside Woods. It was a particularly tough finish for the Englishman, who has a pair of runner-up finishes at The Players and knows as well as anyone how uphill the climb can be when you’re trying to play catch-up on a Sunday.

“When I was chasing Henrik [Stenson, 2009] down, Henrik played incredible golf in tough conditions. It's a hard golf course to press on,” Poulter said. “The greens need to be soft for someone to go very low to catch someone that's out in front. You're going to need to do what Tiger did on that front side tomorrow; you're going to need to be 6 under through nine.”

That gauntlet now falls to the likes of Day, who was on the other side of one of those lopsided races in 2016 when he began the final round at TPC Sawgrass leading by four and cruised to a four-shot victory.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, whose 69 on Saturday moved him to 10 under par and into third place, could press the issue; or maybe it’ll be Jordan Spieth, who matched Woods’ 65 earlier in the day and was tied with the 14-time major champion at 8 under.

But then every possible scenario ends with the same conclusion: Ultimately it will be Simpson who decides if Sunday’s last turn is a coronation or something closer to an actual contest.

Getty Images

Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.

Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.

"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.

While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.

"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 25, 2018, 1:03 am

Jeff Golden has offered more detail on what transpired at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, writing in a long statement on Twitter that Marc Dull’s caddie was “inebriated” before he allegedly sucker-punched Golden in the face.

In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Charlotte County Police responded to a call May 13 after Golden claimed that he’d been assaulted by his opponent’s caddie in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club, where he was competing in the Mid-Am finals. Golden told police that the caddie, Brandon Hibbs, struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

Golden posted a 910-word statement on the alleged incident on his Twitter account on Thursday night. He said that he wanted to provide more detail because “others have posed some valid questions about the series of events that led to me withdrawing” from what was an all-square match with two holes to play.

Golden wrote that both Dull and Hibbs were rude and disruptive during the match, and that “alcohol appeared to be influencing [Hibbs’] behavior.”

Dull, who caddies at Streamsong Resort in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’ve never seen an opposing caddie engage in so much conversation with a competitor,” Golden wrote. “On the eighth hole I had become extremely frustrated when my opponent and caddie were talking and moving. I expressed my disappointment with their etiquette to the rules official in our group.”

On the ninth hole, Golden informed the official that he believed Hibbs had broken the rules by offering advice on his putt. Golden won the hole by concession to move 2 up at the turn, and Hibbs removed himself from the match and returned to the clubhouse.

Golden wrote that after the penalty, the match “turned even nastier, with more negative comments from my opponent on the 10th tee.” He added that he conceded Dull’s 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 because he was “sick of the abuse from my opponent, and I wanted the match to resemble what you would expect of a FSGA final.”

Though there were no witnesses to the alleged attack and police found little evidence, save for “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip,” Golden wrote that the inside of his mouth was bleeding, his face was “throbbing” and his hand was also injured from bracing his fall. X-rays and CT scans over the past week all came back negative, he said.

Golden reiterated that he was disappointed with the FSGA’s decision to accept his concession in the final match. He had recommended that they suspend the event and resume it “at a later time.”

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Asked last week about his organization’s alcohol policy during events, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that excessive consumption is “highly discouraged, but it falls more broadly under the rules of etiquette and player behavior.”

Dull, 32, was back in the news Wednesday, after he and partner Chip Brooke reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. They lost to high schoolers Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber, 4 and 3.

Getty Images

D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:50 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Amy Olson crossed paths with her coach, Ron Stockton, on her walk to the 18th tee at the Volvik Championship.

''Make it another even $20,'' Stockton said.

The coach was already prepared to give his client $35 for making seven birdies - $5 each - and wanted to take her mind off the bogey she just had at 17.

Olson closed the first round with a 6-under 66, putting her into the lead she ended up sharing later Thursday with Moriya Jutanugarn , Caroline Masson and Danielle Kang.

Do small, cash incentives really help a professional golfer?

''Absolutely,'' said Olson, who graduated from North Dakota State with an accounting degree. ''He'll tell you I'm a little bit of a hustler there.''

Olson will have to keep making birdies - and petty cash - to hold her position at Travis Pointe Country Club.

Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee, Nasa Hataoka, Lindy Duncan, Morgan Pressel, Megan Khang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff were a stroke back at 67 and six others were to shots back.

Ariya Jutanugarn, the Kingsmill Championship winner last week in Virginia, opened with a 69.

The Jutanugarn sisters are Korda are among six players with a chance to become the LPGA Tour's first two-time winner this year.

Moriya Jutanugarn won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles.

''What I feel is more relaxed now,'' she said. ''And, of course I like looking forward for my next one.''

Olson, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the LPGA Tour's streak of having a new winner in each of its 12 tournaments this year.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


She knows how to win. It just has been a while since it has happened.

Olson set an NCAA record with 20 wins, breaking the mark set by LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, but has struggled to have much success since turning pro in 2013.

She has not finished best finish was a tie for seventh and that was four years ago. She was in contention to win the ANA Inspiration two months ago, but an even-par 72 dropped her into a tie for ninth place.

If the North Dakota player wins the Volvik Championship, she will earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama. If Olson finishes second or lower in the 144-player field, she will enjoy an off week with her husband, Grant, who coaches linebackers at Indiana State.

''I'll make the best of it either way,'' she said.

Olson was at her best in the opening round on the front nine, closing it with four birdies in a six-hole stretch. Her ball rolled just enough to slowly drop in the cup for birdie on the par-3, 184-yard 13th. She had three birdies in five-hole stretch on the back, nearly making her second hole-in-one of the year at the par-3, 180-yard 16th. A short putt gave her a two-stroke lead, but it was cut to one after pulling and misreading a 6-foot putt to bogey the 17th.

Even if she doesn't hold on to win the tournament, Olson is on pace to have her best year on the LPGA Tour. She is No. 39 on the money list after finishing 97th, 119th, 81st and 80th in her first four years.

''Two years ago, I started working with Ron Stockton and whenever you make a change, it doesn't show up right away,'' Olson said. ''That first year was tough, but we've turned a corner and I've just found a lot of consistency in the last year. And, it's a lot of fun to go out there and play golf a little more stress free.''

Stockton helped her stay relaxed, walking along the ropes during her morning round.

''Maybe some people feel a little more pressure when their coach is there,'' she said. ''I'm like, 'Great. If he sees the mistake, he knows what can go wrong and we can go fix it.' So, I like having his eyes on me.''

Getty Images

Club pro part of 6-way tie atop Sr. PGA

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:04 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Nevada club professional Stuart Smith admitted sleeping on the lead of the biggest tournament available to him might be a problem.

''I can't say, 'Oh, it won't bother me.' But to me, it's fun,'' Smith said after shooting a 5-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Championship.

Smith closed his morning round with a double bogey on the par-4 18th, and Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Wes Short Jr., Barry Lane and Peter Lonard matched the 66 in the afternoon.

One of 41 club pros in the field at Harbor Shores for the senior major, Smith is the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.

''To see my name on the board out there, it's not like I'm blind to the leaderboard, that was cool,'' said Smith, who is playing in his fourth Senior PGA and third at Harbor Shores - where he has made the 36-hole cut the previous two times.

''All my members are taking pictures and I know at home my members are pulling up that screen and like I tell them, going to the middle and looking down. So it probably took them a while to find my name today."

Petrovic, who was among the leaders in the Regions Tradition last week before a poor final round, said it was a little bit of a surprise when he heard Smith was at 7 under through 17 holes.

''There was a little bit of buzz, we were talking about it,'' he said. ''I heard somebody say 7 under and I said 'who is it? And we looked up, but we didn't know who the player was. In a tournament like this, you know how it is, there's always one guy, one smart-alec that shoots 7, 8 under in the first round.''

Smith, who birdied five consecutive holes starting at the seventh, played college golf at UCLA and knocked around the mini tours and South Africa for several years without ever gaining his tour card. He was college teammates with some of the players in the field, including Corey Pavin, Duffy Waldorf and Steve Pate, but said he no longer seeks the tour life.


Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship


''It's just not me anymore,'' he said. ''So that's why maybe I do have an advantage this week because it's just fun to me. It's like my wife said - just enjoy the ride.''

Petrovic had seven birdies in his round while McCarron and Lonard played bogey-free rounds. Short holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par 4 12th and made eagle on the par 5 ninth hole, his last hole of the day.

McCarron is the only one of the six leaders with a major on his resume. He won the Senior Players Championship last year, and played The Players Championship recently.

''It was a lot of fun being on that stage, of course being at The Players with the best players in the world playing one of the best golf courses in the world,'' he said. ''I think the preparation there and just being on that stage helped me going into last week in Alabama, and certainly this week.''

The top two money winners on the PGA Tour Champions are not in Benton Harbor. Defending champion Bernhard Langer is skipping the event to attend son Jason's high school graduation, and Steve Stricker is playing the PGA Tour event in Texas.

Paul Goydos, a five-time senior winner including the 2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and Chris Williams of South Africa shot 67. Joe Durant, David Toms, Kenny Perry, Jerry Pate and Fred Funk were among 15 players at 68.

Colin Montgomerie, who won the first of consecutive Senior PGA titles here in 2014, shot 69, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, coming off a win last week in the first major of the year at the Regions Tradition, opened with a 70.