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Fritsch returns from suspension, but drug policy still flawed

By Rex HoggardMarch 7, 2018, 1:57 pm

At the Monday qualifier for this week’s Valspar Championship, Brad Fritsch shot 5-over 77, a round that most players would rather forget.

But for Fritsch all 77 strokes were meaningful. Although he finished well outside the top 4 qualifiers who earned a spot into this week’s field, simply having the chance to tee it up at Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville, Fla., was a reason to celebrate.

Monday’s qualifier was Fritsch’s first official PGA Tour-sanctioned round since being suspended on Jan. 8 for violating the circuit’s anti-doping policy.

Fritsch told that he spent his time away from golf with his family, practiced when the weather allowed and occasionally checked social media.

“On Twitter the responses [to his suspension] were 99.9 percent positive,” said Fritsch, who also participated in last weekend’s Puerto Rico Open charity event. “The way the news came out and the way I presented my story, people appreciated it.”

Fritsch, who, when his suspension was announced, took to social media to explain his situation, never made any excuses. He never blamed the system or attempted to avoid responsibility. Nor did he ever fail one of the Tour’s mandated drug tests.

Fritsch turned himself in when he discovered a supplement he was taking to lose weight (BioSom) contained DHEA, an over-the-counter anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“It was my own fault,” he acknowledged.

Fritsch became the sixth player suspended by the Tour for violating the anti-doping policy, although Vijay Singh’s suspension was later rescinded. Of that half dozen, there is a pattern that has emerged.

Just two of those players – Doug Barron (2009) and Bhavik Patel (2015), a Tour member – would qualify as anything close to bona fide violations. Barron failed a drug test and in a statement following his suspension Patel referred to a “lapse of judgment.”

But Singh, Mark Hensby, Scott Stallings and now Fritsch would all fall into more non-traditional categories.

Singh admitted in an article to taking deer-antler spray, which contained trace elements of IGF-1, which is on the Tour’s list of banned substances but is not considered a violation without a positive drug test.

In 2017, Hensby was suspended for a year when he declined to take a drug test at the Sanderson Farms Championship. And Stallings – well this is where things really get surreal – was suspended for 90 days for taking DHEA, which he self-reported.

Sound familiar?

It’s what makes Fritsch’s brush with the anti-doping policy so puzzling because for the second time in less than three years an innocent mistake involving the same substance cost a player.

“My situation and Brad’s were similar, the Tour sets a policy and we’re supposed to abide by it, but Brad would probably tell you he’s not in the greatest shape and when I was going through my health issues I definitely wasn’t either,” Stallings said. “We clearly weren’t trying to gain any kind of advantage on our peers. We were trying to do things we needed to do to live a normal life.”

After three months of reflection, Fritsch said he had “nothing negative” to say about the Tour’s performance-enhancing drug policy; although, like many players he believes parts of the banned list, which is pulled from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list, could be better tailored to golf.

“I’d like to see us get away from the list we have,” Fritsch said. “So much is for fast-twitch sports. To think Sudafed [pseudoephedrine] is on the list is strange to me.”

Stallings, however, has taken a slightly more analytical approach to the Tour’s policy. It still stings the three-time Tour winner that despite multiple tests, both blood and urine, he’d taken at the Mayo Clinic while he was taking DHEA that indicated no doping, he was still suspended.

“I asked, ‘How can you take something that’s banned and pass [multiple] tests?’ I was just trying to understand why we have it in the policy, because not only did I pass your test but I went and paid for the Mayo Clinic to run an Olympic test – blood and urine – and I passed that,” Stallings said. “I asked for a meeting, and walked in and was handed a letter telling me I was suspended and [then-Tour commissioner Tim] Finchem looked at me directly and said, ‘I believe you were trying to gain an advantage.’”

Like Fritsch, Stallings took full responsibility for his actions despite the fact that a doctor had advised him to take DHEA. At this point, it’s not about guilt or innocence as much as it is an attempt to understand a policy that can be downright Draconian.

The Tour’s anti-doping policy can be confusing and, as evidenced by at least four of the six suspensions doled out since the circuit began testing in 2008, can lead to unfortunate violations.

Perhaps the biggest concern is that the policy is not entirely transparent. Violations involving what are considered performance-enhancing substances are made public, but not recreational violations.

There’s also a question of selective enforcement.

According to the policy, “The Commissioner, in consultation with the program administrator, shall consider any information submitted by the player and shall then decide whether to go forward with an anti-doping rule violation against the player.”

This is one of the key elements of Singh’s lawsuit against the Tour, which was filed in New York Supreme Court in 2013 and claimed, among other things, disparate treatment of players under the policy.

“There’s not a perfect scenario that works, but as long as the policy still grants the commissioner discretion to do whatever he wants, the policy is irrelevant to me,” Stallings said. “They can say they are WADA compliant, but when that caveat is in there it throws a grey area over the whole thing.”

Drug testing in golf, which holds itself to a higher standard than other sports, was always going to be an awkward fit, and as Stallings correctly points out there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”