The Player of the Year race is as close as ever

By Rex HoggardAugust 29, 2013, 11:24 pm

NORTON, Mass. – Reactionary types by nature, PGA Tour players seem particularly adverse to the hypothetical.

Such was the scene on a cool, drizzly Thursday at TPC Boston as some in this week’s field at the Deutsche Bank Championship were confronted with the wildly impractical, albeit relevant, “who would get your vote for PGA Tour Player of the Year right now?”

“Uh . . . that’s a tough one,” Brandt Snedeker allowed after a few moments mulling the options.

“It’s a hard one because they both have had phenomenal years . . . it’s a tough one,” Charles Howell III followed moments later.

And so it went, the ultimate game of kick the can with most players polled firmly planted on the fence awaiting the outcome of the next three playoff stops.

It is a measure of how convoluted the current race is that Howell, like many of the frat brothers, not only unsure who he may vote for but not even convinced who is currently in the race.

In Howell’s case, he was referring to Tiger Woods, a five-time winner in 2013, and Adam Scott, who claimed his first major at the Masters in April and his second title of 2013 last week at The Barclays.

Lost in that assessment is Phil Mickelson’s season, a career victory at the Open Championship preceded by his win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, not to mention his Scottish Open triumph which is a European Tour stop but considered by most a quality win by any measure. It’s also worth noting, that Lefty has never won the Player of the Year Award.

The answers to the hypothetical are as varied as the swings on TPC Boston’s practice tee, with some players weighting major victories above all else.

“Right now, it would be Phil, Adam, then Tiger,” said Bob Estes, in a classic win, place, show assessment. “I’m pretty sure Tiger would take Phil or Adam’s year as well. It’s so hard to vote against a major and another big win.'

Most, however, would rather take a sit-and-watch approach. With three playoff events remaining and the FedEx Cup hanging in the balance any of the three contenders – to say nothing of U.S. Open champion Justin Rose or PGA champion Jason Dufner – could make the voting a formality with a hot few weeks.

“Think you’d have to do a three-way Player of the Year right now,” Snedeker said. “It’s as close as I’ve ever seen it. Whoever has a better run at the end of the year will win it.”

How to weight major victories against standard Tour wins seems to be the primary talking point when rating seasons between 2013’s top 3 and, at least to some extent, the unrealistic expectations placed on Woods every time he tees it up.

“What you are doing is comparing Tiger’s history and what he’s done this year against winning a major and another tournament,” Hunter Mahan said. “With Tiger, we put him on such a pedestal, for what a player of the year does is different for Tiger than for everyone else. We expect more out of him than just winning five times. For someone else to win five times is unheard of.”

Historically the Jack Nicklaus Award has been swung by major championship performance. In 1996, Tom Lehman won the Open Championship and Tour Championship and clipped Mickelson, a four-time winner that season, for Player of the Year.

Conversely, in 2011 Luke Donald hoisted the Nicklaus Award following a two-win season although his best finish in a major that season was a tie for fourth at the Masters.

Still, Grand Slam performance seems to be the tipping point for many when it comes to Player of the Year voting.

“Obviously majors count more. If it wasn’t it would be Tiger hands down,” said Snedeker, who won last year’s FedEx Cup but lost in the Player of the Year voting to Rory McIlroy.

For Scott, who also posted top-10 finishes at the Open Championship (T-3) and PGA (T-5), the math of scale is clearly in play over the next month. Asked, hypothetically, if another playoff victory would pull him clear of Woods in the wildly unscientific voting he could only smile.

“Yeah, I think it does, absolutely, it absolutely does,” he laughed. “I don't know. All I can do is try to go win more. Maybe two wins might do it, I'm not sure. I don't know what the other players are thinking.”

If Thursday’s polling is any indication, players are not thinking about it much at the moment, not with three marquee events and $10 million up for grabs over the next month. But time is running short for all the contenders.

Because of the condensed schedule this season, Player of the Year ballots are scheduled to be sent out after the Tour Championship which ends Sept. 22 and players will vote electronically with the results released before the start of the 2013-14 season at the Open the first week of October. By that time perhaps a singular performance will make all of the conjecture meaningless.

Or maybe, as Snedeker suggested, the Tour considers a co-Player of the Year option.

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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

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Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.