Woods, Westwood two realistic contenders Sunday

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2013, 8:51 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – This much seems certain, one way or another a major drought will end at the Dust Bowl Open on Sunday.

With respect to the pack, this has all the markings of a two-man race – one man looking to get off a five-year major schnied, the other hoping to reach the mountain after 40 years of major misses – on a golf course that is showing no signs of letting up despite the R&A’s best efforts with hoses.

He would never say as much, but when Tiger Woods sets out on Sunday in the penultimate group at the 142nd Open Championship it will mark his best chance to date to win what has turned out to be his most elusive major – No. 15.

Woods will start the final turn two strokes behind Lee Westwood, but if Saturday’s spell was any indication that could change in a matter of minutes.

Consider that Saturday’s action seemed to turn with each gust of wind. Through three holes Woods found himself two shots clear of Westwood and pacing the field, four holes later it was the Englishman three shots clear of the world No. 1.

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Call it a Muirfield minute, made possible by a crusty course blown so dry that the R&A may want to consider banning lighters and matches for fear the ancient links will accidentally combust.

Westwood emerged from the dust late Saturday, with birdies on two of his last four holes for a 68 and a 3-under total. It was almost enough to make one forget the lifetime of heartache Westwood has endured at the majors.

“I've had lots of chances, sometimes I've played well, other times I've played not too well,” Westwood said. “I know what it takes. Even though I haven't won a major, I know what it takes to win one. It's just a case of going out there tomorrow and having the confidence in my game, which I've got, and putting it to the test.”

As much focus has been on Westwood’s recent move to Sean Foley’s stable and a series of impromptu lessons from Ian Baker-Finch, it has been his attitude that has steadied his every step this week on the East Lothian links.

That was particularly evident on Saturday paired with Woods. Each time the game’s alpha male took a step in his direction, Westwood coolly countered. But on Sunday he will be playing history, as well as a bouncy links and the best player of his generation.

Westwood has finished in the top 3 at every major and his history of heartache includes a runner-up at the 2010 Masters and Open Championship and ties for third at the ’11 U.S. Open and ’12 Masters.

“You try and picture yourself winning the Open Championship tonight, but forget about it tomorrow and go and tee off down the first, and focus on it in the middle of the fairways with the first tee shot and then go from there,” he said late Saturday.

And besides, it’s not as though Woods’ Grand Slam record since 2008 is the stuff of legend. In his quest to win his 15th major, Woods has six top-10 finishes in his last 16 majors, but with each try the pressure has built.

There’s also the reality that Woods has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes, but then he hasn’t played a venue so uniquely suited to his skills since 2006 at Hoylake.

The brown and bouncy links have proven to be the perfect canvas for Woods, who has lived on a steady diet of fairway woods and long irons off tees – he hit his only driver this week on the par-5 fifth on Saturday – and near flawless ball-striking from the parched turf.

“I’m only two back with one guy ahead of me and we’ll see what they do tomorrow,” said Woods, whose round was marred late when his second shot into the par-5 17th hole “spun” into the cool wind and into a cross bunker.

Late Friday, the question du jour was who had the most pressure on them on Day 3, Woods or Westwood? But on the eve of the final round it will be who will handle the pressure on Sunday, because it will be inevitable.

“I’ve got 14 of these things,” Woods said. “I know what it takes to do it, but it’s not just us. There are a lot of guys who have a chance.”

Given Saturday’s turbulent leaderboard, Woods may have a point.

There are 16 players within six strokes of the lead, a margin of error at Muirfield that can be covered in a few holes if Saturday’s action was any indication.

Among the supporting cast, Hunter Mahan should draw the most attention following a round-of-the-day 68 on Saturday to move to 1 under par and earn a spot in the final tee time for the second consecutive major.

Although Mahan came up short last month at Merion, the ballstriker had the look of a player who had paid his dues and was ready to make that final major step.

“It can be overwhelming at times being in the last group,” said Mahan, who has one top-10 in eight Open starts. “You have to believe before you can win. I think you actually have to see it happening.”

Angel Cabrera, whose two PGA Tour wins are both majors, would also be considered a serious contender despite his third-round 73 that left him in a large group at 1 over; along with Zach Johnson, fresh off his own heartbreaking overtime loss last Sunday at the John Deere Classic, whose game also seems perfectly suited for the links exam.

Or maybe the gatecrasher will be Adam Scott, gutted at last year’s Open Championship by Ernie Els and suddenly looking more comfortable in the major spotlight after his Masters breakthrough.

All eyes, however, will be on Westwood and Woods, both playing for more than a date with the engraver and the claret jug. They will be separated by 10 minutes and a few hundred yards on Sunday at Muirfield, but this will be a mano-y-mano match. The only question is who blinks first?

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Garcia 2 back in storm-halted Andalucia Masters

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 7:08 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Ashley Chesters was leading on 5-under 66 at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters when play was suspended because of darkness with 60 golfers yet to complete their weather-hit first rounds on Thursday.

More than four hours was lost as play was twice suspended because of stormy conditions and the threat of lightning at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain.

English journeyman Chesters collected six birdies and one bogey to take a one-shot lead over Gregory Bourdy of France. Tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia was on 68 along with fellow Spaniards Alvaro Quiros and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, and Australia's Jason Scrivener.

''It's a shame I can't keep going because the last few holes were the best I played all day. Considering all the delays and everything, I'm very happy with 5 under,'' Chesters said. ''The forecast for the rest of the week is not very good either so I thought I'll just make as many birdies as I can and get in.''

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Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

“It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

The Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement or the end to the lawsuit.

Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

“It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”

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PGA Tour Latinoamérica moving season finale to Doral

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 2:36 pm

PGA Tour Latinoamérica announced Wednesday that it will play its season finale, the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship, at Trump National Doral from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

The limited-field event will feature the top 60 players on the circuit's money list competing on Doral's Golden Palm Course.

“We are very happy that we will continue playing the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship in South Florida, and Doral is a tremendous community that we know will open its arms to our players and this tournament,” PGA Tour Latinoamérica president Jack Warfield said in a statement.

The PGA Tour ended its more than 50-year relationship with Doral and the resort's Blue Monster course back in 2016, when Cadillac's title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship lapsed as then-candidate Donald Trump was mounting his bid for the presidency.

“We continue to stand by our earlier statement, and the statement of other golf organizations, that Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in December 2015, referring to Trump's campaign rhetoric concerning Mexicans and Muslims.

The event was moved to Mexico City in 2017 and renamed the WGC-Mexico Championship.

The Latinoamérica Tour Championship was staged the last two years at Melreese Country Club in Miami, where David Beckham is currently attempting to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer expansion club, Inter Miami.

PGA Tour Latinoamérica's release states that the move to Doral "keeps the event in this part of the Sunshine State and allows the tournament to maintain its ties to The First Tee of Miami as a charitable recipient and sponsor." Melreese, the city's only public golf course, is home to the First Tee of Miami, which naturally opposes Beckham's efforts to close the facility and repurpose the land.

A November referendum will ask voters to decide if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham's ownership group, which seeks to create a $1 billion dollar complex comprising of the proposed stadium, youth soccer fields, a park, commercial and retail space, and a hotel.

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Im wins Web.com Player and Rookie of the Year awards

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 1:22 pm

Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Web.com Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

Im won twice on the Web.com this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.

Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.

In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.

“My first year on the Web.com Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Web.com Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”

In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.

Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.