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Players return to more familiar Quail Hollow

By Rex HoggardMay 1, 2018, 8:38 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Earlier this year Johnny Harris, the president of Quail Hollow Club, circulated a five-minute video to PGA Tour players.

Although Quail Hollow has been a popular stop on Tour since it first hosted the Wells Fargo Championship in 2003, the message was clear – come back to the golf course you know and love.

There was a concern among tournament officials that last year’s PGA Championship, which was played at Quail Hollow, had left some players unimpressed with the layout, which underwent a series of renovations in the years leading up to the 2017 PGA.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked in the video of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

True to his word, on Tuesday as players made their way around the course to prepare for this week’s event, there was an actual lemonade stand perched on the back of the fourth tee box.

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The message was clear. While few, if any, would question the outcome of last year’s PGA, which was won by Justin Thomas, it was not the golf course that made the Wells Fargo one of the circuit’s most popular events.

“The course has maybe gotten a little more criticism than maybe [Harris] is comfortable with,” said Johnson Wagner, who is a member at Quail Hollow. “He said to me that he feels like the course was set up pretty difficult for a major and guys weren’t used to that out here.”

The most glaring changes prior to the ’17 PGA were to the first, fourth and fifth holes, and they all lived up to that billing ranking as the second-, 13th- and ninth-toughest holes last August.

The sum total of those changes, along with much different conditions in August compared to May, was a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017, compared to a 72.95 average for the ’16 Wells Fargo Championship played at Quail Hollow.

The mental impact, however, went much deeper.

While most agree the changes to Quail Hollow made the course harder for the PGA Championship, opinions vary on whether the nip/tucks made the course better.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Scott Brown, who tied for 13th at last year’s PGA. “The golf course the way it was was pretty awesome. Just from hearing guys talk, the vast majority haven’t really agreed with a lot of the changes they made.”

Which explains why Harris and tournament officials were proactive in pointing out that this year’s event would be more familiar for players.

Last month’s “green sheet,” which is sent to players in advance of tournaments, said the par-4 first hole will play 495 yards this week, compared to 524 yards for the PGA Championship; and the back tee at the fourth, well that’s open for anyone who wants some lemonade. In fact, Quail Hollow will play 7,554 yards this week, compared to 7,600 yards for the PGA.

The first hole, which Brown jokingly referred to as a par 5, was the biggest concern for many players. At the PGA, the opener played to a beastly 4.388 scoring average, among the Tour’s 50 toughest holes, compared to a 3.942 average a year earlier during the Wells Fargo.

“It’s easy to mess a great golf course up. They made some great changes, I thought Nos. 4 and 5 were fine, but No. 1 is just an absolute monster hole now,” said Chris Stroud, who tied for ninth place at the PGA. “I understand why players wouldn’t want them to mess with it, but a lot of it has to do with how good players are now.”

For this week’s event the course will also revert to over-seeded perennial rye grass for the fairways and rough, and the greens and approaches will be Bermuda grass. The set up will also be in the hands of PGA Tour officials, not staff from the PGA of America, which should promote a more player-friendly layout.

“We have our own rules officials to set it up however they want, but the PGA [of America] was probably just guarding against conditions in the summer time, a little harder and a little faster, we have to give ourselves options,” Stroud said. “There’s no perfect option.”

The green sheet said rough heights will be maintained at about 2 inches and that “hole placements will also return to the traditional setup used by the Tour since 2003.”

Although Quail Hollow had to endure a few more slings and arrows than officials are accustomed to, the ’17 PGA did provide valuable feedback for future events. The course is scheduled to host the 2021 Presidents Cup, which will be played in late September, and could become an occasional major venue with the PGA Championship’s move to May beginning in 2019.

“We learned a lot about Quail Hollow and that it’s a better golf course when it’s over-seeded and the rough is shorter than it is with Bermuda and deep, nasty rough,” Wagner said.

Judging by this year’s field, which includes six of the world’s top 10 players, Harris also learned the value of guerrilla marketing and how to make lemonade out of perceived lemons.

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Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

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Glover (64) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

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Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.

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“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

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McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”

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McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”