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USGA again gets it wrong at Shinnecock Hills

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 1:06 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For two days there was harmony at the 118th U.S. Open. The USGA presented a demanding test. Players, however, insisted it was fair.

Thursday was a grind, with a relative par of 76.47 thanks to an exacting golf course and winds that threatened to torpedo the championship’s return to the East End of Long Island, but cooler heads prevailed.

The USGA softened the setup and the collective took a deep breath. Nothing to see here.

It wasn’t until the early groups on Saturday made the turn under bright sunny skies and a building breeze that things began to go wrong. Putts that had been challenging suddenly became impossible and greens that had been on the slower side of the normal U.S. Open threshold began to turn a muted brown.

It was happening again, the ghosts from 14 years ago echoing across the rolling layout like an alarm. It was 2004 all over again.

“They've lost the golf course,” Zach Johnson told Sky Sports. “When you have a championship that comes down to sheer luck, that's not right.”

Replace Johnson with Kevin Stadler or J.J. Henry and it was as if the entire championship had been transported back to the ’04 U.S. Open, when these same rolling greens turned crusty and then cruel.

On that Sunday 14 years ago, Stadler and Henry were the first group off and their adventure on the seventh green added up to a dozen collective strokes and led the USGA to break out the hoses, but it was too late.

USGA CEO Mike Davis called that day a “double bogey” in the association’s history. At last year’s U.S. Open when he was asked about the 2004 championship, he said, “That will not happen again. If it does, I’m retiring.”

Shinnecock Hills hasn’t quite bottomed out like it did in 2004, but it’s close.

“Maybe they got more wind than they thought they’d get,” Brendan Steele said. “The course was fair the first two days, today I thought it was getting sketchy.”

Steele wasn’t alone in his assessment of Saturday’s set up miscue.

“They lost the golf course today, certainly on the back nine,” said Henrik Stenson, who was alone in sixth place at 5 over par.

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Unlike 2004 when the primary concern was the seventh green, on Saturday it was the 13th and 15th greens, which featured hole locations cut on knobs and dangerously close to the edge.

“When you have L wedge in your hand and you hit to the spot you want to and you almost make the putt and it blows of the green 20 yards, it starts to become a point where, 'Did these guys screw up? Did they not see this coming?'” said Pat Perez of his episode on the 15th hole. “The pin didn’t have to be where it was.”

Brooks Koepka, who is 18 holes away from winning his second consecutive U.S. Open, had a similar adventure on the 15th hole when his approach trickled into a greenside bunker.

“I don't have anything nice to say about that green [No. 15] and the pin location, so I'm just not going to say it,” said Koepka, who is tied for the lead at 3 over.

There will be those who say this is nothing more than typical players carping and that the play-for-pay types simply need to toughen up. But that ignores just how bad things got on Saturday and the facts.

The USGA’s own weather forecast called for gusts to 20 mph and warm, dry conditions, and yet the association rolled the dice with what turned out to be borderline hole locations.

“There were some aspects today where well-executed shots were not rewarded. We missed it with the wind,” Davis said. “We don’t want that. The firmness was OK but it was too much with the wind we had. It was probably too tough this afternoon – a tale of two courses.”

Officials made similar comments in 2004 when these same greens became crispy, but by then it was too late. Fourteen years ago play was suspended during the final round and crews were called in to water certain putting surfaces between groups, but the damage was done.

It was a dark moment for the USGA that Davis and Co. have spent the last decade trying to untangle, which makes Saturday’s miscues so surprising. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not again, not like this with the technology officials had available to them.

Unlike in ’04, officials have an opportunity for a real-time mea culpa, a chance to salvage a week that started with so much, but it won’t be easy. Sunday’s forecast is similar to what it was for Round 3, which means the options are limited. Crews were already starting to water greens as the day’s final group made the turn and Davis was clear on how he planned to ease up on the final day’s set up.

“The message was loud and clear to the grounds staff and to our team that handles the agronomy part of it is that let's slow the course down. We must slow the course down tonight, and we will,” Davis said. “That probably means more water applied and just making sure the greens are right.”

There had been a steady drumbeat since last year’s championship, which was won by Koepka with a potentially embarrassing 16-under total, that the championship had lost its way and veered too far in favor of the player. Saturday’s show may have struck a more traditional tone, but at what cost?

“Be careful what you wish for. We've all been asking for a real U.S. Open again. So I guess we got one for sure this week,” said Justin Rose, who is a stroke off the lead.

Maybe this was an over-reaction to what happened last year at Erin Hills or maybe it was simply an unthinkable lapse in judgment, either way the challenge now is making sure Sunday isn’t a sequel of what happened in 2004.

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Watch: Dechambeau simulates dew on East Lake range

By Grill Room TeamSeptember 18, 2018, 11:02 pm

Bryson DeChambeau has certainly lived up to his nickname of "Mad Scientist" since joining the PGA Tour, using his eccentric style to win four events, including the first two tournaments of this year's FedExCup Playoffs.

And he's staying on brand at the season-ending Tour Championship, where he enters as the favorite to capture the FedExCup title.

The 24-year-old was spotted on the East Lake range Tuesday, preparing for potential morning dew on the golf ball this week - by having a member of his team spray each golf ball between practice shots:

While this type of preparation might come off as a little excessive to the average golfer, it's rather mild for DeChambeau, considering that in the last two weeks alone he has discussed undergoing muscle activation tests and measuring his brain waves.

DeChambeau goes off with Justin Rose on Thursday at 2 p.m. He could finish as low as T-29 and still have a mathematical chance of winning the season-long FedExCup.

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Fewer goals but more consistency for Thomas in 2018

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

ATLANTA – After winning last year’s FedExCup, Justin Thomas was asked about his goals for the season and he quickly went to his phone.

A list of 13 “goals” had been typed in, a rundown that ranged from qualifying for the Tour Championship to finishing in the top 10 in half of the circuit’s statistical categories. Nearly every goal had a “Y” next to it to denote he’d accomplished what he wanted.

Thomas was asked on Tuesday at East Lake how his goals are shaping up this season.

“I haven't looked in a while. I really haven't. I'm sure if I had to guess, I'm probably around 50 to 60, 70 percent [have been completed],” he said. “I definitely haven't achieved near as many as I did the previous year. But we still have one week left to knock a big goal off.”

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Thomas pointed out that although he didn’t add to his major total this season or win as many times as he did last year, he still feels like he’s been more consistent this year.

He has more top-25 finishes (19) than he did last year (14), missed fewer cuts (two compared to six last season) and has improved in nearly every major statistical category.

“It's been a really consistent year, and I take a lot of pride in that,” Thomas said. “That's a big goal of mine is to improve every year and get better every year, so if I can continue in this direction, I feel like I can do some pretty great things the rest of my career.”

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Woods' probation for reckless driving ends one month early

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 9:00 pm

Tiger Woods' year-long probation stemming from last year's DUI arrest has been terminated a month early.

According to Sam Smink of WPTV, Woods, 42, was let off probation early for successfully completing all regular and special conditions of his probation after pleading guilty to reckless driving and entering a diversion program last October.

Under the conditions of the program, Woods was required to pay a $250 fine and court costs, attend a DUI school and undergo a substance abuse evaluation and treatment program. He was also subject to random drug and alcohol testing under the program.

The 14-time major champ was arrested on charges of DUI in May of 2017 after he was found unconscious behind the wheel of his parked Mercedes-Benz in Jupiter, Fla.

Although tests showed Woods was not under the influence of alcohol at the time, he admitted to taking several pain and sleep medications to cope with his fourth back surgery which was performed in April.

Since his arrest, Woods has returned to competition, rising to 21st in the Official World Golf Ranking after a pain-free campaign in 2018.

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Players wrapping their heads around FedEx changes

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 8:01 pm

ATLANTA – Even players who have known the details of the PGA Tour’s plan to dramatically change the way it crowns a FedExCup champion were still digesting the details on Tuesday at the Tour Championship.

“I think it’s maybe easier to follow for people at home. Kind of definitely strange and very different to be on 10 under par starting on the first tee,” said Justin Rose, who begins this week’s finale second on the points list.

Next year when a new strokes-based system will decide the season-long race, Rose would begin his week at East Lake 8 under, two strokes behind front-runner Bryson DeChambeau and eight shots ahead of Nos. 26-30 on the points list.

Most players said the new format will be an improvement over the current model, which is based on a complicated points structure. That’s not to say the new plan has been given universal support.

Current FedExCup standings

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Under the current format, the 30th-ranked player has a .4 percent chance of winning the cup, while the first player on the points list has a 27 percent chance. Those odds remain virtually identical under next year’s strokes-based format.

“I’m not saying the 30th guy should have the same shot as the fifth guy, but just make the odds a little bit better. Give them a 5 percent chance,” Billy Horschel said. “The strokes could be distributed differently. Maybe put the leader at 6 under [instead of 10 under] and then you go down to even par. Five or six shots back, over four days, you still have a chance.”

There will no doubt be a period of adjustment, but after more than three years of planning, most players were pleased with the general elements of the new plan if not all of the details.

“It's never going to be perfect,” said Justin Thomas, last year’s FedExCup champion and a member of the player advisory council. “No system in any sport is ever going to be perfect, and the Tour has done such a great job of talking to us and trying to get it as good as possible. But it's just hard to understand the fact that you could be starting behind somebody else and still somehow win a golf tournament or an official win.”