Grading the PGA Tour season at the halfway point

By Rex HoggardApril 15, 2014, 8:20 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – It’s part of the new wraparound reality that this week’s RBC Heritage, the ultimate after-party following last week’s Masters madness, is the halfway house of the 2013-14 season.

Harbour Town Golf Links is the official midpoint of the season, the 23rd of 45 events (including the four playoff tournaments) and that means midterms are due.

Missed opportunities. With the transition to the split-calendar schedule, the Tour also had to adjust its qualifying system to what became the four-event Finals to determine who would earn status.

While the new qualifying format worked well enough, there have been growing concerns that the 50 players who earned cards last fall have struggled to find playing opportunities.

Benjamin Alvarado, who secured the final Tour card at last year’s Finals, has played just one event this season (Valero Texas Open) and Will Wilcox, who took the second-to-last card, has just six starts.

It has become such an issue that it will be atop the agenda at Tuesday’s Player Advisory Council meeting at Harbour Town. Grade: C

Truth in advertising. Seems Patrick Reed’s assessment that he is a top-5 player, which drew the ire of players and press alike, was not that far off the mark.

Reed, a two-time winner on Tour this season, missed the cut at his first Masters last week with rounds of 73-79, while the real top-5 heading into the year’s first major – Tiger Woods (did not play), No. 2 Adam Scott (T-14), No. 3 Henrik Stenson (T-14), No. 4 Jason Day (T-20) and No. 5 Phil Mickelson (missed cut) – didn’t fare much better at Augusta National.

Still, Reed’s play this season, if not his public relations savvy, has been beyond reproach. Grade: A-

Status quo. Up is down, black is white, 50 is the new 30, this season has been the “bizarro world” edition of Tour golf.

Consider that the top 10 players to start the season in the World Golf Ranking have a combined one victory during the 2013-14 cycle and the game’s biggest stars have particularly struggled on Sundays.

Matt Kuchar blew a four-stroke, 54-hole lead on Sunday at the Shell Houston Open; Adam Scott failed to convert a seven-stroke advantage after 36 holes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Rory McIlroy was two clear through three rounds at the Honda Classic and lost to Russell Henley.

And to top it off, the back nine on Sunday at the Masters – normally as automatic as taxes and pimento cheese sandwiches – failed to produce the traditional roars.

Truth is, the only thing that has been a certainty is the top players’ inability to convert. Grade: B-

Mother Nature. While the Northeast continues to await a spring thaw and the season’s first tee shot, the particularly harsh winter has also had a profound impact on play at the highest level.

Perhaps the most glaring blow could be found last week at Augusta National, which played for the first time without the iconic Eisenhower Tree – which guarded the left side of the 17th fairway – along with extensive damage to many of the club’s signature pine trees.

“I got lucky this year because some of the tops of trees were down on 11, so it made 11 a lot easier for me,” Masters champion Bubba Watson said on Sunday. Grade: F

Left out. Perhaps it should have been no surprise that Phil Mickelson missed the cut last week at Augusta National. The 2014 Masters marked the first time in his career he hadn’t driven down Magnolia Lane with at least one top-10 finish on Tour (he did finish runner-up at the European Tour stop in Abu Dhabi) and consequently he failed to advance to the weekend at the year’s first major for just the second time in his career.

“I’ve got some issues,” said Mickelson after an opening-round 76 at the Masters.

And his issues are even more concerning considering what is on the line at June’s U.S. Open. Lefty can complete the career Grand Slam with a victory at Pinehurst, but first he has a lot of questions to answer. Grade: Incomplete

Midterm Most Valuable Player. Dr. Charles Rich, the Park City, Utah, neurosurgeon who performed Tiger Woods’ microdiscectomy earlier this month.

The procedure alleviated pain from a pinched nerve, and while the squeeze is on now to see when the world No. 1 returns, it was, according to fellow Tour player Jason Bohn, the best thing for Woods.

“You don’t understand how much pain you have with a pinched nerve. It hurts just to go to the bathroom,” said Bohn, who had the same procedure in 2008.

It’s also worth noting that Bohn said his recovery from the procedure took about six to eight weeks before he could start hitting golf balls again and another three to four weeks to regain the swing speed and muscle to play Tour golf. If Woods maintains a similar timetable, he could return as early as late June. Grade: A

Pre-matrimonial bliss. Some LPGA Tour types took exception to Golf Digest’s decision to have Paulina Gretzky, Dustin Johnson’s fiancée, on the cover of this month’s fitness issue, but imagine how DJ feels?

The bomber has a victory this season (WGC-HSBC Champions), two runner-up showings (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and Northern Trust Open) and at No. 3 on the points list is a virtual lock to make this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, and yet he hasn’t been on the cover of Digest. Grade: B

Midterm Player of the Year. While Jimmy Walker has been the season’s most steady player – three victories and 5 top-10 finishes – the mid-term hardware goes to Bubba Watson.

The small town guy named Bubba has two wins, including a bookend green jacket, two runner-up showings, and perhaps most impressive, he has not missed a cut in nine starts.

Who knew Bubba Golf could be so consistent? Grade: A+

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.