Tour needs to impose harsh methods to curb slow play

By Rex HoggardMay 16, 2012, 5:24 pm

Late Saturday afternoon at TPC Sawgrass Kevin Na was saddled with a “bad time” on the 16th hole, a ruling he disputed saying his caddie’s shadow caused him to back off the shot and exceed the 60 seconds players are allotted.

Cue the open microphone: his caddie’s shadow wasn’t over the ball when Na started his pre-shot routine on the 16th . . . ba-da-boom.

To be fair, Na is hardly alone in his struggles with slow play. It’s just his high-profile tee times on Saturday and Sunday at The Players Championship broadcast his plight into homes around the globe in excruciatingly slow detail.

And before we dismiss the issue as a media-driven non-story, consider Tiger Woods’ take on the subject de jour.

“We have gotten slower on Tour. College has gotten just incredibly slow,” said Woods, who is normally reserved when it comes to Tour policy. “It's so bad that now we are giving the guys the ability to use lasers to try to speed up play, and they are still in 5:45, six (hours) plus (rounds).”

For Woods and most other Tour types the fix is simple, instead of accumulated fines and a complicated system of warnings, the circuit’s sluggish should be penalized a stroke every time they run afoul the official’s stopwatch.

Consider Na’s bad time on Saturday was a result of his group falling “out of position” relative to the group in front of them, but according to officials by the time he reached the 17th tee Na and Zach Johnson were “back in position,” and therefore not subject to timing.

It is the perfect example of a pace of play pencil whipping.

It’s also worth noting that it takes two bad times in a single round to be assessed a stroke penalty and, as one official pointed out, Na started Sunday’s final turn “fresh,” which seems to be at the heart of the slow-play issue.

Offenses are not cumulative when it comes to stroke penalties, only fines.

For example, players are fined $5,000 for their second bad time in a single year, $10,000 for a third violation and subsequent offenses. But that’s chump change when compared with the $49,000 it would have cost Na had he been docked a stroke penalty and tied for 10th instead of seventh at The Players.

Strokes are money,” Woods said. “What's the difference between first and second right now ($1.083 million)? I would take the $5,000 (penalty) over the ($1.083 million). But that's one shot, and that's the difference. That's what people don't realize is that one shot is so valuable out here.”

The Tour’s complicated policy at least partially explains why officials haven’t doled out a stroke penalty for slow play in over two decades. It’s a truth complicated by a collective lack of will on the part of officials to enforce the rules that are in place.

According to the Tour’s pace of play policy, “if a player is determined . . . to be unreasonably slow, he may be timed individually at the (Tour’s) discretion, regardless of whether his group is out of position.”

Translation: if the Tour wanted to crack down on slow play they could target the habitually sluggish. Instead officials tread lightly and ignore the reality that recidivism is a way of life on Tour.

According to various sources, the Tour has a “time score” for every player thanks to the detailed scrutiny of ShotLink. When asked on Saturday at The Players where Na ranks on that list one Tour official hedged, “Well, he’s not fast.”

If the Tour wanted to crack down on slow play they should target the bottom 10 percent of that list, timing every shot until the repeat offender moved out of the basement or played his way off Tour, whichever comes first.

Harsh, for sure, but when you look at how the slowest players impact play on Tour, it’s a punishment that would be neither cruel nor unusual.

For good measure the Tour should also publish the list of the circuit’s slowest. Nothing says “step on it” like public ridicule. Just ask Na. (Read Randall Mell's column on the heckling of Na)

“I do need to work on what I need to. I do need to work on my pre-shot routine. I do need to play faster,” an emotional Na said late Sunday. “But the average golfer has no clue how much pressure we're playing under and how tough it is and how much of a fight it is mentally. I honestly think with all that going on, I did pretty well fighting.”

To Na’s credit he owned his issues last week at TPC Sawgrass, going so far as to say he deserved to be heckled for his constant waggles and pointing out that a recent swing change has complicated his chronically slow pace of play.

He also endeared himself to many fans with his refreshingly honest appraisal, but good intentions and a quick smile don’t make five-hour rounds any easier to stomach.

In this the Tour could lead by example. Steady declines in participation have been linked to how long a round of golf takes and its relative expense. If the Tour set the standard that it’s not acceptable to stand over a shot for 60 seconds it might make it easier for the marshal at your local course to move that foursome in front of you around in under five hours.

All it would take is the will . . . and a stopwatch.

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Aggressiveness pays off for Spieth vs. Schwartzel

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 9:32 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On Tuesday, Jordan Spieth said he hoped this week’s format would free him up and allow him to play more aggressively.

Although that wasn’t the case early in his Day 1 match against Charl Schwartzel, Spieth was able to get his week off to a solid start with a 2-and-1 victory.

After playing his first nine holes in even par, Spieth moved ahead in the match when Schwartzel made bogey at the par-5 12th hole and the American hit his approach at the par-4 13th hole to 3 feet, a shot he said was “pivotal,” and he added another birdie at the 14th hole to pull away.

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“I had a couple of iffy numbers and some swirly winds. I did not play aggressively,” Spieth said of his opening nine. “Once I got a couple numbers where I could put really nice, solid swings on, zeroed in at the target with no worry about anything else around, I did just that and it led to three or four birdies from the eighth hole on. You have to go at flagsticks to make birdies here.”

The early victory puts Spieth on a collision course with Patrick Reed, who also won his first-day match against HaoTong Li, 3 and 2. Spieth and Reed, who are a combined 7-2-2 when teamed together in the Ryder and Presidents Cup, will play each other in the final day of round-robin play on Friday.

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List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

“Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

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Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

“I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

“He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

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Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-1-0 (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm:  (4) J. Spieth: 1-0-0
(32) K. Kisner: 0-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed: 1-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 0-0-1
(48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li: 0-1-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-0-0
(60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-1-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 0-1-0 (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day: 1-0-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
(18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-0-0
(46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner: 0-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 1-0-0 (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn: 0-1-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 0-1-0 (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman: 0-1-0 (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-1-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace: 0-1-0 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-0-0 (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson: 1-0-0 (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
(58) I. Poulter: 1-0-0 (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri: 1-0-0 (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 0-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar: 0-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 1-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher: 0-1-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-1-0 (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-0-0
(61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III: 1-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-0-1
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Hot Seat: The driver is burning Tiger

By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 6:51 pm

The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.

Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:

Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods

Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.

The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.

Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.

That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create. 

Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does. 

Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.

“Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.

Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson

The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.

With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.

Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.

Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.

It doesn’t rankle Johnson.

“It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”

Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.

Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.

Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.

Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng

The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.

The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.

They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.