Would move back to March actually improve Players?

By Rex HoggardMay 10, 2017, 8:40 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Hindsight is the ultimate arbiter, and as momentum builds for The Players to pack its bags and move back to the cooler confines of March, it’s worth revisiting the rationale for the event’s shift to May a decade ago.

Eleven years ago, the PGA Tour told anyone who would listen that, well, the grass would be greener in May.

“We have warmer weather and drier weather, which means we can prepare the golf course in a more consistent fashion and keep it firmer and faster at a much higher percentage of the time,” then-commissioner Tim Finchem said in March 2006. “We like the date change, we like the position on the schedule and we like what it does for our ability to set up the golf course and for television.”

There were other factors beyond growing grass and overcast skies, like the long shadow cast by the Masters that made it tough for The Players, which was normally about two weeks before the year’s first major, to stand out.

“I wasn’t on the Tour at the time, but I think the reason they moved it to May is they hated being the run-up to the Masters,” said Billy Horschel, who never played the event in March but lives in Ponte Vedra Beach. “They felt they had a great product and they wanted to be considered the fifth major and they wanted to move it away from the Masters.”

On that front, mission accomplished. But the conditioning of TPC Sawgrass didn’t necessarily get better in May. In fact, some would say the course, which transitioned to Bermuda grass from the over-seeded bent grass, suffered from an agronomic perspective in the new time slot.

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Three years ago, players weren’t allowed to practice early in the week on three of the Stadium Course’s greens because of a combination of factors, including a cold and wet winter and the “misapplication” of a product designed to combat the wintery conditions. The fact that players are raving about the condition of the course this week is a testament to the troubles the staff at TPC Sawgrass have had getting the layout championship-ready since the move to May.

“The course you see this year is the best you’re ever going to see it. We’ve had a great winter, no rain, a lot of sunshine and a lot of warmth the last two and a half months to get the course in the shape it is,” Horschel said.

So it’s little surprise that new commissioner Jay Monahan has been singing the praises of a March Players since he took office in January.

Although he declined to address a potential move on Tuesday, it’s generally understood in Tour circles that a move back to March, which some say could come as early as 2019, is a key component of a schedule makeover that would include an earlier finish to the season (Labor Day) and the possible move of the PGA Championship to May.

But the question remains, is the tournament better in March than it is in May?

Well, that’s complicated.

“The course changes significantly. March will play tougher,” said Luke Donald, whose record at The Players in March - he tied for second in 2005 two years before the move - is markedly better than in May. “Tee to green the course was harder so there was more relevance to your short game. The bent [grass] greens were faster and broke more so you had to have more visualization, more touch. You also had to control your ball flight because it was much more windy in March.”

But if that’s a vote for a potential move back to March, it’s not unanimous.

“Softer, over-seeded, ball doesn’t run as far, fairways play wider, greens play wider,” said Paul Casey of a March date. But when pressed as to whether that would make the course a better test: “No, just makes it a little easier because it’s wider and you can throw darts.”

Firm and fast was among the primary selling points to move the event to the warmer confines of May - highs this week at TPC Sawgrass will hover around the 90-degree mark - but that hasn’t necessarily translated into a better test.

“It’s a better test [in May], but the over-seed is a great test,” Casey added, before mulling the question for a few moments. “Yeah, let’s go back to March.”

In this case, “better” seems to mean harder. In the 10 years before the event moved to May in ’07, the scoring average was 73.483, almost a stroke higher than it has played the last decade in May (72.504), and the average winning score in May over that same span is 12.3 under par compared to 11.3 under in March.

“The best player is still going to win, but it’s a more challenging test in March than it is in May, because of the weather,” Horschel said.

There is no shortage of reasons to move The Players back to March, solidifying the Florida swing being among the more understated opportunities, but whether it’s a better event in March than May depends on who you ask, and what year it is.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 9:20 am

Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.

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McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:53 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.

McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.

But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.

Said Harmon:

“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.

“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”

McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.

“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”

McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.

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How The Open cut line is determined

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:57 am

Scores on Day 1 of the 147th Open Championship ranged from 5-under 66 to 11-over 82.

The field of 156 players will be cut nearly in half for weekend play at Carnoustie. Here’s how the cut line works in the season’s third major championship:

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• After 36 holes, the low 70 players and ties will advance to compete in the final two rounds. Anyone finishing worse than that will get the boot. Only those making the cut earn official money from the $10.5 million purse.

• There is no 10-shot rule. That rule means anyone within 10 shots of the lead after two rounds, regardless of where they stand in the championship, make the cut. It’s just a flat top 70 finishers and ties.

• There is only a single cut at The Open. PGA Tour events employ an MDF (Made cut Did not Finish) rule, which narrows the field after the third round if more than 78 players make the cut. That is not used at this major.

The projected cut line after the first round this week was 1 over par, which included 71 players tied for 50th or better.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:30 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)