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Woodland: 'Toughest year of my life by far'

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2017, 11:33 pm

ATLANTA – Making it to East Lake for the season send-off is a singular accomplishment for any PGA Tour player.

It validates months, years of hard work and commitment. It’s a reward for a season that ranks among the top 30 on the world’s biggest stage and brings a mountain of rewards that allow players to ease into next season with the closest thing the Tour has to job security.

But for Gary Woodland, the 6-foot-1 former college point guard whose intensity on the course is matched only by his approachability when the scorecard is signed, his fifth trip to Atlanta goes much deeper than a particular professional accomplishment.

“This year means more to me than any other, it really does,” Woodland said on Thursday at the Tour Championship. “This was the toughest year of my life by far. The little man has been dealing with a little bit of stuff, but it’s just never been easy.”

Woodland’s “little man” is his son, Jaxson, who was born 10 weeks premature in June. When the 33-year-old put himself into contention at the PGA Championship in August, Jaxson was still on a monitor that helped him breathe and had just gotten home from an extended stay at the hospital.

As hard as that would be on any parent, for Woodland and his wife, Gabby, at least Jaxson was fighting, at least he was part of their lives.

In March, Woodland abruptly withdrew from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play citing personal reasons and explained via Twitter that Gabby, who was pregnant with twins, had suffered from complications that resulted in the loss of one child.

Woodland, who had gotten off to his best season on Tour, returned for the Masters but understandably struggled on his way to a missed cut.


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Everything became harder - golf, being away from home, not knowing what would happen with Jaxson.

“Every off week since the Match Play my wife or my kid has been in the hospital,” he said at East Lake following a 67 that left him tied for sixth place. “The only week he wasn’t in the hospital we had to evacuate Florida, so it’s just been no off weeks and that’s been tough.”

Gabby and Jaxson bolted south Florida the week before Hurricane Irma cut a swath through the state and Woodland joined them in Kansas after the Dell Technologies Championship. When they returned home, they were without power and water for three days.

It’s been that kind of year for Woodland and family.

Everyone deals with life’s ebbs and flows, be they a Tour player or mechanic, and Woodland’s not big on excuses. That’s not the way when you grow up in Topeka, Kan., but he concedes that balancing life and work has been a challenge this season.

“The first couple of months after everything happened it was tough for me, mentally,” he said. “It was tough because I was playing so well leading up to that. I gave myself so many chances early in the year to win and just dealing mentally off the course, I couldn’t focus enough.”

It’s not surprising that while Gabby and Jaxson’s medical fortunes have improved - the “little guy” is home again and doing much better - so has Woodland’s competitive outlook.

He finished fourth at the RBC Canadian Open and played solidly at the PGA, where he tied for 22nd. But he began the playoffs squarely on the East Lake bubble at 34th on the points list.

Woodland rallied with weekend rounds of 67-67 at the Dell Technologies Championship and closed with a 69 last week at the BMW Championship to narrowly secure his trip to the East Lake promised land at 28th on the playoff points list.

For each of the 30 assembled this week at the Tour Championship it’s an accomplishment worth savoring, but for Woodland it’s something much more than simply a cushy reward for a season well played and a ticket into next year’s biggest events.

“I played well enough earlier in the year to give myself a little bit of a break,” he said. “To finish Boston and last week, which was a long week being right on the number, it’s definitely rewarding to be here this week.”

Not all seasons are created equal, which is why Woodland allows himself a moment to enjoy his accomplishment, and particularly his opening round.

“I probably should have took some time off and didn’t do it,” he admitted. “Coming back I just wasn’t putting up the scores and it became a mental grind all year.”

In three days, that grind ends and he can go back to Florida to a house that’s actually a home for the first time since March to be with his wife and “little guy.”

Woodland plans to cut back on his normal fall schedule, skipping the Tour’s stop in China, and may add a trip to Las Vegas to play the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open so he can get some practice time with swing coach Butch Harmon, who he hasn’t been able to work with since his world unraveled.

But for now he’s content to enjoy one of the game’s most significant accomplishments after what by any measure was the most trying of years.

 

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USGA receives more than 9,000 U.S. Open entries

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 4:31 pm

The field of contestants for golf's most democratic major has been set.

The USGA announced that it received 9,049 entries for this year's U.S. Open, with the deadline for entry expiring at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. That total includes 515 applications on the final day, 115 in the final hour and a buzzer-beater from Drew Caudill, a 32-year-old pro from Mount Vernon, Ohio, who beat the entry deadline by only 23 seconds.

This marks the seventh straight year that the USGA has received more than 9,000 entries, but the total marks the second straight year of a decline in applications. At least 9,860 players entered each year from 2013-16, topping out in 2014 when 10,127 applications were received. But last year there were 9,485 entries for Erin Hills, and this year's return to Shinnecock yielded only one more application than the USGA got in 2005.

For the vast majority of entrants, the next step is a spot in 18-hole local qualifying which begins April 30 and runs through May 17. The fortunate few advance from there to 36-hole sectional qualifiers, played May 21 in Japan and June 4 across 11 other sites in the U.S. and England.

A total of 54 players are already exempt into the 156-man field, including 12 former winners. The only remaining ways to earn an exemption from qualifying are to win either The Players or BMW PGA Championship next month, or be ranked inside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The U.S. Open will be played June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., which is hosting the event for the first time since 2004.

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Report: Houston Open may move to Memorial Park in '19

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 3:48 pm

Still without a permanent spot on the PGA Tour schedule, the Houston Open appears to be on the move.

According to a report from the Houston Business Journal, there is a proposal in place to shift the tournament downtown in 2019, returning to Memorial Park Golf Course which previously hosted the event from 1951-1963.

While formal relocation plans have not been announced, the tournament officially reached the end of an era this week when the Golf Club of Houston, which has hosted the event since 2003, informed the Houston Golf Association that it would no longer serve as tournament host moving forward.

"We received notice this week from the Golf Club of Houston regarding the club's decision to no longer host a PGA Tour event," read an HGA statement obtained by GolfChannel.com. "Currently, the HGA's focus is on securing a long-term title sponsor. The Golf Club of Houston has been a great venue for the Houston Open dating back to 2003 and we look forward to maintaining a great relationship with the club."

Such a move would be a win for Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, who has expressed an interest in returning the tournament within city limits. The Golf Club of Houston is located in Humble, a suburb 20 miles northeast of downtown.

"This move would place the tournament on center stage in downtown Houston, creating a central location for the city to rally around," read marketing materials cited in the Business Journal report. "Houston Proud Partners of the Houston Open would have the opportunity to collaborate with the Houston Golf Association on this historic move and make a lasting statement that would be seen for generations."

The Houston Open's lineage dates back to 1946, but its future remains in question. Shell Oil ended its 26-year sponsorship of the event in 2017, and this year it was played without a title sponsor and financed in part by the HGA.

The tournament has also carved out a niche with its pre-Masters slot on the schedule, where it has been played every year but once since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007. But next year that coveted position will go to the Valero Texas Open, leaving Houston's place on a revamped 2019 schedule in question.

The Houston Open remains one of only two tournaments on the current Tour calendar without a title sponsor. Earlier this week Charles Schwab signed a four-year deal to sponsor the Fort Worth Invitational beginning in 2019, and a report this week indicates the other unsponsored event, The National, may be on the verge of moving from the Washington, D.C. area to Detroit.

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With baby on the way, Piller WDs from Zurich

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 2:45 pm

AVONDALE, La. – With wife Gerina set to give birth to their first child, Martin Piller figured he’d need to check his phone every few holes at the Zurich Classic.

He didn’t even make it that far.

Piller withdrew before the start of the first round Thursday.

Piller’s partner, Joel Dahmen, who only got into the field because of Piller’s status as the team’s A player, was allowed to remain in the event.

Piller was replaced in the field by Denny McCarthy. The new team of McCarthy-Dahmen will tee off at 2:36 p.m. ET.

The format change at the Zurich should make things easier for the new teammates. The first round is now best ball, not alternate shot.

The only event that Gerina, a three-time U.S. Solheim Cupper, has played this season was the Diamond Resorts Invitational in January. The couple’s baby was due May 3, and she said that she plans to take off the entire year.

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China's Jin (64) leads by one in Beijing

By Associated PressApril 26, 2018, 12:28 pm

BEIJING – Daxing Jin took a one-stroke lead at the China Open after shooting an 8-under 64 Thursday in the first round.

Jin's bogey-free round at the Topwin Golf and Country Club included six birdies and an eagle on the par-5 eighth. The 25-year-old Jin is playing in only his eighth European Tour event and has made the cut only once.

Matt Wallace (65) had an eagle-birdie finish to move into a tie for second with Nino Bertasio, who also produced a bogey-free round. Alexander Bjork and Scott Vincent (66) were a further stroke back.

Defending champion Alexander Levy, who won last week's Trophee Hassan II in Morocco, is in a large group five shots off the lead at 3 under.