Greens are dying, and it's killing Players scoring

By Rex HoggardMay 15, 2016, 12:11 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Blame it on increased winds. Blame it on increasingly crispy greens. You could even blame it on incensed officials after two days of record scoring.

But the real culprit on Day 3 at The Players could best be described as assisted agronomic suicide.

On Tuesday after the crowds have dispersed and the champion has deposited his winner’s check, officials will begin a renovation of TPC Sawgrass. With the end nigh for the Stadium Course’s putting surfaces there’s no reason to nurse them along, and the result – at least in practical terms for the remaining Players field – is a golf course that was transformed overnight from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.

The browner the better, with no tomorrow for the doomed blades that seemed to fade from a lush green on Thursday and Friday to varying shades of awful for Day 3.

Statistically the golf course turnaround was jarring.

For two days the Stadium Course played to a 71.06 scoring average led by Day’s record 36-hole total of 15 under par. On Saturday, under a sweltering sun and gusting winds, that average ballooned to 75.59.

Will Wilcox made a triple-bogey-7 at No. 6, Sergio Garcia made a quadruple-bogey-8 at No. 5 – that included a five-putt – and Martin Kaymer completed the hand with a quintuple-bogey-9 at the 14th hole.

But none of the mathematical madness could compare to Day’s card on Black Saturday.

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After going 38 holes without a bogey he played his next six with a bogey and two double bogeys. The world No. 1 three-putted the third from 47 feet - he’d recorded only 13 three-putts this season - and four-putted the sixth. 

It was a sign of how steep the uphill climb had become that despite a third-round 73, Day’s lead remained the same, four strokes.

“That was the hardest round of golf I’ve ever played,” said Day, who leads Hideki Matsuyama, Ken Duke and Alex Cejka at 14 under.

Others described TPC Crispy in much less flattering terms.

“Nightmare,” Vijay Singh sighed with a shake of his head after a 73.

“Crazy tough,” figured Matsuyama after a stunning 67.

“Dead. Balding,” figured Kevin Chappell after a 2-under 70 that was marred by a closing double-bogey-6 at the 18th hole.

“Borderline unfair,” was Rory McIlroy’s take after his rally was undercut by a second-nine 40 that left him nine shots off the pace.

You can’t blame Pete Dye for this. The old master had nothing to do with Saturday’s carnage. This wasn’t a design flaw as much as it was by design.

Although Tour officials dismissed the notion they dialed TPC Sawgrass back after two days of record scoring, the players and the leaderboard told a different story.

“We have done the same thing all week. We have been double cutting these greens and double rolling them and trying to get them firmed up,” said Mark Russell, the Tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “What happened today was just kind of a perfect storm with the weather. We weren't expecting a 20 mph wind all day, and the humidity 30 percent, not a cloud in the sky. And they just, you know, sped up on us.”

But then that doesn’t explain a three-putt percentage of historic proportions?

The Tour average for three-putts in a round is 2.93 percent, and on Thursday and Friday the field hovered around the norm with a 2.08 and 2.67 percent average, respectively. On Saturday that number skyrocketed to 11 percent.

“A different golf course showed up today,” Adam Scott said following a 75 that included 29 putts.

The Tour’s assessment that Saturday’s conditions remained consistent doesn’t add up when one considers there were 149 three-putts in Round 3 and more rounds in the 80s (seven) than there were in the 60s (three).

“It's funny how green these greens were on Thursday when we played and how brown they look now,” Billy Horschel said. “I'm guessing they stopped watering them a little bit.”

Whatever the reason behind the dramatic change, there seems little chance players will be given much of a break for the final turn. Again, this goes to the general poor condition of the Stadium Course’s greens and the impending makeover.

More user-friendly hole locations and less wind could help on Sunday, but that won’t bring the grass back. That agronomic ship sailed when officials decided to put some teeth back in TPC Sawgrass.

“We've been asking for the greens to get quicker, and the greens to get firmer, and they got to that point,” Horschel said. “I don't expect anything different tomorrow. I think maybe a little bit firmer and just as fast.”

With that reality looming, Graeme McDowell was asked after his round if he planned to go practice his putting. He paused, glanced down at the cart path he was standing on and mimicked a putting stroke. “Yeah, right here,” he smiled.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.