It's DJ's time, but he's no lock

By Rex HoggardApril 5, 2017, 6:22 pm

UPDATE: Dustin Johnson injured his lower back in a fall down a staircase Wednesday at His Augusta rental home. He hopes to be able to play Thursday. More details here.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – No Arnie. No Tiger. No Par 3 Contest.

Oh, and no favorite, at least if history is any indication.

In the strangest of starts to the year’s first major, it’s the absence of so many Masters staples – from the late Arnold Palmer who will be missed on the first tee early Thursday morning to the second consecutive year without Tiger Woods, who continues to recover from what is increasingly becoming a more concerning back ailment – that has defined the proceedings at Augusta National.

The last straw came on Wednesday when a wall of thunderstorms forced officials to cancel the annual Par 3 Contest for the first time after just a few holes had been played.

Of course, those narratives will quickly give way to the competitive complexities of what is always one of the year’s most eventful tournaments. They always do.

Players will quietly mourn Palmer’s passing and lament another missed major for Woods, but attention spans have a tendency to be in direct relation to the action on the field, and if potential is any indicator this year’s edition is destined to be riddled with distraction.

It’s a conversation that begins, and very well may end, with Dustin Johnson. The bomber has won his last three starts, including a pair of World Golf Championship stops, and has evolved from an athletic curiosity into a bona fide force of nature.

“The confidence he has right now when he plays well, he’s like Tiger and no one can beat him,” said Butch Harmon, Johnson’s swing coach. “Dustin knows that.”

Johnson is first on the PGA Tour this season in strokes gained: tee-to-green, driving distance, greens in regulation and pretty much every other measure of ability. He’s confident and completely indifferent to the background noise that’s such a large part of any major, particularly this major.

He’s also the man to beat according to those in Las Vegas who determine such things, but we may want to hold off on fitting DJ for a green jacket just yet.

His record at Augusta National is decent, but not dominant. In seven trips down Magnolia Lane he finished in the top 10 just twice, albeit both of those performances came in the last two years and his tie for fourth place last year was still a distant four strokes behind eventual champion Danny Willett.

Johnson’s recent form aside, penciling him in as the undisputed favorite ignores Jordan Spieth’s body of work amid the Georgia pines. The 2015 champion has started every Sunday he’s played the Masters in the day’s anchor group and if not for a momentary lapse last year on the back nine he’d be well on his way to a closet full of green keepsakes.

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For all the talk of how Spieth’s performance on the 12th hole during the final round last year - a quadruple-bogey-7 that included two shots that found the creek, may haunt him this week, his resilience is born from a resume that runs much deeper than just a pair of untimely iron shots.

“I think we know, and the other players that are playing next week know, that we strike fear in others,” Spieth said last week at the Shell Houston Open. “So that’s our idea, that’s going to be my confidence level going in, and we’ll step on the first tee ready to play.”

That Johnson’s dominance and Spieth’s ghosts have consumed the lion’s share of pre-tournament talk have in a curious way paved a more direct path for the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.

This is, after all, the only item on McIlroy’s “to do” list that remains to complete the career Grand Slam and since winning the Open in 2014 it’s been the elephant in the Augusta National clubhouse for the Northern Irishman. But this week those whispers have been downright subdued thanks to a crowded list of talking points.

“It's been a relatively quiet buildup to the Masters for me, which has been quite nice,” said McIlroy, who missed much of the early season while nursing a rib injury. “It's made for a bit of a change from the last couple of years, especially '15, coming off the back of two major wins in a row and going for the career Grand Slam.”

Day can relate to that relative obscurity. After being unseated atop the World Golf Ranking by Johnson at the Genesis Open, the Australian has been understandably distracted as his mother, Dening, continues her battle against lung cancer.

Although Day has just a single top-10 finish this season and arrived at Augusta National with admittedly less preparation, the lower expectations may actually work in his favor at an event that stands above all others on his wish list.

“I think that the biggest thing for me is that I'm really thankful just to be here,” Day said. “When you get in a situation like I am in the world rankings, you're just so used to coming here and playing Augusta National and playing on the Tour every single year. That's just your job. But I think the overall outlook on it is I'm actually thankful.”

Nor does the Johnson narrative acknowledge a central tenet of Augusta National that gives experience equal footing with form. What else could explain Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who were both well into their retirement years when they last contended at the Masters?

At 46, Phil Mickelson would qualify as an elder statesman whose window of opportunity is firmly still open, or perhaps Lee Westwood, who at 42 years old finished tied for second last year, could finally deliver on all that major promise.

Conversely, the conventional wisdom that Augusta National is no place for first-time winners (Fuzzy Zoeller was the last to win his first start in 1979) may be challenged this year considering a rookie list that includes Jon Rahm, who is already a winner this year on Tour, world No. 10 Alex Noren and European Ryder Cup star Thomas Pieters.

“It's much easier for a first-timer to win here because the greens have been so much more receptive the last seven, eight, 10 years since the course has been lengthened and the greens aren't the only defense,” Mickelson said when asked about Rahm’s chances. “What that allows you to do is miss it in a spot that normally would be bad but you can get away with it because the greens are more receptive. I think ... players who have not played here as many times are able to recover because the greens will receive shots that they didn't use to receive.”

Johnson has come by his status as Masters favorite honestly and there is no doubt he’s the man to beat. There’s no Arnie, no Tiger and no telling what’s in store over the next four days.

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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.