Changes recommended for NCAA individual event

By Ryan LavnerMay 29, 2013, 9:23 pm

MILTON, Ga. – Change is coming soon to the NCAA Championship, or so we can hope.

No longer will the individual champion here be a morning finisher, or a 10-tee starter. No longer will it be a secondary storyline.

Since 2009, when match play was instituted at NCAAs, the individual champion has been rendered a mere footnote. That’s a shame too, for there is an impressive list of recent winners, from Matt Hill and Scott Langley, to John Peterson and Thomas Pieters.

Well, the NCAA Championship Committee recently made a recommendation to the Sports Management Cabinet: Bring back 72 holes of stroke play.

That’s the way it used to be, remember, pre-2009, and it seemed to work – Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald are among the notable winners in this event’s illustrious history.

Of course, such a change would cause a drastic shakeup at NCAAs, which next year will be broadcast on Golf Channel.

Currently, there is a 54-hole stroke-play qualifier that determines both the individual champion and the top eight teams that advance to match play. The quarterfinal matches begin Friday, followed by the semifinals on Saturday and the finals on Sunday.

The committee has recommended, however, that the stroke-play qualifier run Friday through Sunday, then cut to the low eight teams.

Then, on Monday – the first day of TV coverage – the low 40 individuals and ties would compete in the fourth and final round of stroke play to determine the individual champion. Those individuals on an advancing team who were not in the top 40 would essentially have a day off.

On Tuesday, the top eight teams would square off in the quarterfinal matches, followed by the semis, with the finals to be held Wednesday. The cabinet could approval this proposal in two weeks, with the new format in place for the 2014 NCAAs at Prairie Dunes.

“The NCAA Championship should be four rounds,” Cal coach Steve Desimone. “It’s the best amateur event in the world, and we’re shortchanging that. We had the best tournament in the world for amateur and college golf, and we don’t have the tournament that we once had.”

No doubt, a 72-hole tournament adds credibility to this event. College teams generally play two-day, 54-hole tournaments during the season, but only because of time constraints. Every significant amateur event is four rounds.

“If it’s going to be a major, it gives it a chance to get even more credibility,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said. “This is probably the greatest amateur event in the world. The more holes you play, the better player is going to come forward.”

Some coaches contend that the current system is unfair for players who are on competitive teams.

After all, the third round at NCAAs is arguably the most stressful day of the college golf season. The top eight teams jockey for position. The individuals – sometimes unknowingly – chase the individual title.

Those players on the top eight teams have a disadvantage, however. Their burden is twofold: They’re trying to win the individual title, yes, but they also need to play conservatively enough to keep their team in the race for one of the coveted eight spots. Meanwhile, a player on a non-contending team can freewheel.

That’s been the case in recent years.

Three of the last four individual winners have begun their third and final round on the 10th hole. Half of the four finished in the morning wave. Buzzkill.

“This (proposal),” Seawell said, “would alleviate one of those pressures.”

The proposed plan still isn’t perfect, at least to some coaches.

Most notably, the prospect of having both the quarterfinal and semifinal matches on the same day is a daunting prospect. (Stretch the event a day longer, however, and then it’s an eight-day grind, including the practice round.) Said Seawell: “I think the buildup each day and night for the kids is good.”

And, yes, the fact that match play even determines the team champion still bothers Desimone.

Only once since 2009 has the No. 1-ranked team in the country left NCAAs with the trophy. That was last year’s Texas squad, with Jordan Spieth leading the way.

This season, No. 1 Cal has won 11 of its 13 starts to set the modern-day NCAA record for most victories in a season. But with the match-play final, the distinct possibility exists that the Golden Bears could return to Berkeley with the No. 1 overall seed but not a title to show for it.

“The ultimate goal should be to identify the best team in college golf, and I don’t know that any team thinks we’re doing that right now,” Desimone said. “One day of match play can erase an incredible season. Do I think that’s fair? No. No one in their right mind would say that’s fair.”

That discussion – a significant one, it should be noted – has been tabled, at least for another year.

Now, the NCAA appears ready to shine the spotlight back on the individual champion. Compared to what is currently in place – 54 holes, a secondary storyline – that’s a promising step.

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Woods, Leishman, Fleetwood grouped at Northern Trust

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 10:55 pm

While 125 players qualified for The Northern Trust this week, only 120 have decided to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Here's a look at a few of the marquee, early-round tee times where players are grouped via FedExCup standing and Tiger Woods makes his first start since a runner-up performance at the PGA Championship (all times ET):

7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

Woods starts the postseason at No. 20 in the points race, with a great chance to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. He'll look to pad his point total this week in the Garden State, making his return to competition after a week off following a strong showing at Bellerive. He'll play the first two rounds with Leishman, who has two runner-up finishes this season, and Fleetwood, who nearly caught Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open.

8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

There should be no shortage of eye-popping drives from this trio, who comprise the top three in the season-long points race heading into the playoffs. Johnson holds the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the FedExCup, having won three times since January, while Thomas will look to become the first player to go back-to-back in the playoffs and Koepka hopes to add to a career year that already includes two majors.

8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

Simpson got back into the winner's circle in impressive fashion at The Players Championship, and he heads into the playoffs off a T-2 finish last week at the Wyndham Championship. Molinari cruised to victory at the Quicken Loans National before his major triumph at Carnoustie, while DeChambeau's win at the Memorial highlighted his season that brought him to the cusp of a Ryder Cup berth.

12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

Normally featured among the points leaders at this point in the season, Spieth heads into the playoffs at No. 43 in the standings, sandwiched between a pair of players whose best results came in playoff losses. Hossler has had a quietly strong season that was highlighted by a runner-up to Ian Poulter in overtime at the Houston Open, while An lost a playoff to DeChambeau at the Memorial.

12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

There will be four green jackets among this group, as the reigning Masters champ is joined by a pair of Ryder Cup hopefuls in Mickelson and Finau. Lefty broke a lengthy victory drought with his WGC-Mexico win in March but has largely slowed this summer, while Finau notched top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors to enter the discussion for possible picks for Paris.

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Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 10:00 pm

We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.

Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.

That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.

In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.

My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.

Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.

It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.

So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?

We hope it isn’t his back.

Or his neck.

Or his knees.

Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.

Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.

Competitively, it’s all that matters.

Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.

We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?

The game soars to yet another level with that.

A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.

So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.

The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.

They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.

They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.

Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.

And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.

The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.

Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.

For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.

There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.

Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.

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Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work

By Grill Room TeamAugust 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.

"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.

Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.

Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.

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Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 5:41 pm

Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.

Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.

A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.

The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.

"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."

The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.

Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.

Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.