Lowry shocks good friend McIlroy at Match Play

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2013, 2:37 am

MARANA, Ariz. – Lil Abner’s was a lively place Tuesday night. About 20 Tour types moseyed through the dimly lit steakhouse, a contingent that, interestingly enough, included Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy. They dined together on the eve of their Round 1 tilt at the WGC-Match Play Championship.

If you’re surprised, don’t be. Friends since they were teammates on the Irish amateur squad, they break bread frequently on Tour. Play practice rounds together, too.

And whatever intimidation factor existed in playing the world No. 1 on a grand stage likely disappeared over a full rack of pork ribs.

“It’s only a game of golf; it’s not life or death,” Lowry said Thursday night. “We weren’t going into battle. It was just a normal dinner.”

Over the course of 18 holes, not much separates the No. 1 player in the world and No. 66. A few more shots in the arsenal, maybe. The confidence to know he has done it before, perhaps.

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“But I think it was a bit of a banana skin for him,” Lowry said. “It was always going to be tough for him being the world No. 1 no matter who he plays against, no matter if it’s me or anyone else. Because anyone going out to play against Rory is going out to beat him because he’s the best.”

Indeed, because there are expectations – heavy burdens – placed on the top-ranked player. And Rory McIlroy’s expectations have never been more outsized.

First there was the mega-deal with Nike during the offseason, the one that came with smoke tunnels and holograms and cutesy commercials. (New slogan: No bracket is safe.) Then came the 75-75 missed cut in Abu Dhabi. And now this, a first-round exit here, 1 up to Lowry, meaning that for the third time in the last four years, the No. 1 overall seed has been sent packing after Round 1.

And meaning also that McIlroy has played just three competitive rounds since Nov. 25. The Masters, if you’re counting at home, begins in 49 days.

“Obviously disappointed I didn’t get to play a little more golf this week,” McIlroy said, “but I’ll practice over the weekend.”

This is the first of three consecutive starts for the Northern Irishman, and he arrived in the high desert believing that his game was on track, that he had “turned the corner,” that those highlights of his one-handed follow-throughs were a distant memory.

No doubt, his game looked better at Dove Mountain, in the limited action we saw. His driving off the tee was markedly improved, save for a hook off the 15th tee that led to a critical lost hole. But his iron play was spotty, missing wide right down the stretch.

“Just getting ahead of it,” he explained. “I think it’s more a timing thing than anything else.”

Meanwhile, as McIlroy searched to find a consistent swing, Lowry thrived in the spotlight. Walking down the 11th fairway and all square in the match, the Irishman turned to his caddie Dermot Byrne and said, “He’s not liking this one bit. He’s the one under pressure. I’ve got nothing to lose, so let’s have a go from there.”

Almost on cue, Lowry chipped in from behind the 11th green for birdie to halve the hole. Then he sailed his tee shot on the par-3 12th over the green, the ball nestling against one of the grandstands. Lowry took a free drop, slid his wedge under the ball and lofted it softly on the green. A few tense seconds later, it tumbled into the cup for an improbable birdie. One up.

“The momentum shifted a little bit,” McIlroy said.

“That gave me the momentum to go on and win the match,” Lowry said.

“That wasn’t easy, but I’ve seen him do it so often you half-expect it,” Byrne said.

Perhaps even more impressive, Lowry followed that shot with a fairway wood to 3 feet on the par-5 13th, setting up a conceded eagle – a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch that gave him a 2-up lead he wouldn’t relinquish, even after missing a 4-footer on the very next hole.

The turning point came on the short 15th, when McIlroy hooked his drive into the desert. His ball settled next to a cactus bush, and he needed to play the shot left-handed just to extricate himself. He slapped out into the bunker, then bladed his bunker shot over the green and conceded the hole.

“He did hit a few ropey shots today coming in,” Lowry said. “But I mean, everyone hits bad shots. At the end of the day, he’s only human.”

On Tuesday, two days before he eventually would peg it against McIlroy, and just a few hours before they dined together at Lil Abner’s, Lowry conceded that a victory over the world No. 1 would be “one of the great stories of my career.”

The accomplishment wasn’t but 30 minutes old. McIlroy was still gathering his belongings in the locker room. Byrne was still skimming through messages on his cellphone. But Lowry was asked how it felt now that he’d knocked off his former teammate, his good friend, the top-ranked player in the world.

“It’s definitely a day I’m going to remember,” Lowry said. “I’m sure, after a few weeks or a couple of months, I will slag Rory over it. But at the end of the day, it’s only the first round. I’ve only beaten one player, and I’m here to beat more.”

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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 Latinoamerica 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.

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Former DJ advisor found guilty in embezzlement case

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 12:38 pm

A federal jury has found Nathan Hardwick, a former advisor to Dustin Johnson, guilty of embezzling $26 million in funds from his now-bankrupt real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.

Per Golf.com, citing Law.com, a 12-person jury convicted Hardwick of "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks."

As for where exactly the money went, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, once again citing Law.com, has the details:

"The alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through SugarDaddy.com."

"Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews."

Johnson in 2014 sued Morris Hardwick Schneider over a $3 million loan he believed to be an investment. Instead, Johnson argued, the money was going to make up for shortages created by Hardwick's embezzlement. Johnson later amended his suit to argue that Hardwick, who previously served on the board of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, was being used as a "pawn" by the firm's other partners. 

That suit was settled in 2016 for $2 million.