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DJ finds groove with less-is-more approach

By Rex HoggardAugust 25, 2017, 8:18 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – When things aren’t going the way a player would have hoped on the course the default plan is normally more – play more, practice more, press more.

But then Dustin Johnson isn’t most players.

A man of few words, Johnson’s change in competitive fortunes this week at The Northern Trust can be summed up in one word – less.

Less speed going back, as in a slower back swing, and less work on the range following a week spent relaxing and spear fishing in the warm clear waters of the Bahamas following the PGA Championship.

We’re not talking Hideki Matsuyama back swing slow, just enough of a pace adjustment to allow the bomber to find the rhythm in that powerful swing that made him literally unbeatable for a solid stretch this spring and the consensus favorite heading into the Masters.

There’s no exact explanation for how things got out of sync. The injury that forced him to withdraw from the Masters is an easy enough starting point, but that flawless swing just hasn’t been the same since.

“I'd have liked to play better in the majors. Getting hurt before Augusta, which is going right into the major season, didn't really help, especially for the momentum and how good I felt like I was swinging, and everything was going in a really good direction,” he said. “But I feel like I've got it back on the right track. I feel like I'm swinging well again.”

Although he hasn’t been willing to blame his pedestrian play on that lower back injury, he did say on Friday at Glen Oaks that he’s been “fine the last month or so,” which suggests there was a healthy slice of the summer when he wasn’t 100 percent.


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For two days on Long Island, however, he’s looked more like the March DJ, when he won back-to-back World Golf Championships, than the June DJ, when he missed back-to-back cuts at the Memorial and U.S. Open.

He’s fifth in the field this week in driving distance, fourth in greens in regulation and first in strokes gained-tee to green, a statistical snapshot of a player’s advantage over the field average.

Put another way, he looks like the world’s top-ranked player, an advantage he has maintained despite his relatively average play this summer which includes just a single top-10 finish since the first week of May.

“Besides the bump on [Nos.] 4 and 5 for him, if he hits the two fairways, he's probably at 10 under,” said Jon Rahm, who went head-to-head with Johnson at both of his WGC victories this year. “Yesterday he hit it unbelievably good. He shot 5 under missing putts. Not many people were probably able to say that yesterday.”

That “bump” came on Nos. 4 and 5 on Friday, when Johnson played his second shots from the wrong holes following wayward drives and resulted in back-to-back bogeys on his way to a 1-under 69.

“I just hung back a little bit on both those drives,” Johnson explained. “One I held on to and it sliced, and the other one I released, and it just went straight down the left side.”

Johnson also added a new putter to his bag this week, a TaylorMade prototype similar to the Scotty Cameron he used to win the 2016 U.S. Open, but statistically he’s not exactly killing it on the greens and he conceded that it hasn’t been his putting that’s held him back the last few months.

Johnson’s advantage begins with his driver and ends with a vastly improved wedge game that ultimately laid the foundation for both his first major victory in ’16 at the U.S. Open and his ascent to the top of the World Golf Ranking. But neither area had been living up to the ridiculously high standard that he set earlier in the season.

That was until he arrived in New York. For two rounds, DJ’s play and position on the leaderboard have been more familiar, which is particularly imposing on a course like Glen Oaks, which qualifies as a bona fide bombers ballpark.

“This one is right up DJ's alley, but there's not many courses that don't fit him,” said Fowler, who is tied for the lead with Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Jhonattan Vegas at 6 under. “Long courses, they become somewhat shorter for him, and the shorter courses, can basically take driver and lob-wedge and putter.”

That Johnson took a distinctly less-is-more approach to his return to form is only apropos for a player who has a history of doing things at a slightly different pace.

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament.


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"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to GolfChannel.com that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.


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Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.