Toms keeping up with 'different game' by playing within himself

By Ryan LavnerApril 30, 2016, 12:30 am

AVONDALE, La. – One of Scott Gneiser’s most memorable victories came in this city 15 years ago. About 20 miles away, at English Turn, his boss, David Toms, shot 63-64 on the weekend to win in his home state. As they strolled down the 18th fairway, the crowd roared: “LSU! LSU!”

“It gave me goosebumps,” Gneiser said. “It still does, talking about it today.”

Back then, Toms was inarguably one of the best players on the PGA Tour, a consistent force who had average length, a silky putting stroke and a propensity to go on birdie tears. During his 24-year career, he collected 14 titles (including the 2001 PGA) and banked more than $41 million.

For the most part, Toms has remained that same player, but today’s Tour has evolved in unimaginable ways. At age 49, he could be Smylie Kaufman’s father. At 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, he is diminutive compared to some of the Tour’s tall trees. And averaging 269 yards off the tee, he might as well be using persimmon. Toms has to hit hybrid so often during a round that Gneiser jokes about re-grooving the clubface after every tournament.

And yet, on a windy day with little roll, Toms shot a 1-under 71 Friday at waterlogged TPC Louisiana – a score, mind you, that was two shots better than last week’s winner, Charley Hoffman, and 10 lower than Kaufman – and isn’t out of this Zurich Classic heading into the weekend. He is just six shots behind.

“He just knows what he’s doing,” Kaufman said afterward. “He’s played the same game for the last 20 years, and he plays that game better than anybody else. It’s very impressive. It’s fun to watch.”

OK, so maybe it’s not all that much fun to watch.

Toms bunts it off the tee. Stays out of trouble. Misses in the proper spot. Never compounds an error. He actually plays a game with which we’re familiar.

“My experience,” Toms said, “is I know what my game allows.”

And give him credit: It’s become clear over the past year that Toms isn’t just playing out the string until he turns 50 and can play against guys his own age, against guys his own size, against guys with his skill set. He still enjoys the heat of competition, even if it doesn’t always feel like a fair fight.

“I enjoy going out there and seeing how I measure up against the young guys,” he said.

Added Gneiser, his trusty caddie for 15 of the past 17 years: “I can still see the fire in his eyes.”

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That fire doesn’t always burn out of frustration.  

By now, Toms is used to playing 480-yard par 4s, laying up on par 5s when his playing partners are reaching with a mid-iron, relying on precision, strategy and guile to survive the cut.

“Some holes are just not birdie holes for me,” Toms conceded, and so when he made par on some of the brutish par 4s Friday, Gneiser turned to his man and quipped: “Nice birdie.”

When asked how many hybrids he hit in the second round, Toms shrugged.

“A bunch,” he said. “I try not to add it up. It’s embarrassing, to be honest with you.”

Oh, but Gneiser remembered. “Probably six or seven,” he said. “A LOT.”

Toms hits it on par 3s. He hits it on par 4s. He even hits it on par 5s … oftentimes, to lay up.

Through two rounds, he has had 14 approaches of 200-plus yards into par 4s. But he’s missed only eight greens through 36 holes, a remarkable achievement, really, considering he’s averaging a miniscule 262 yards off the tee because of the soft conditions. 

“He’s one of the best hybrid players I’ve ever seen,” Gneiser said.

And frankly, Toms needs to be, because the gap between some of his and Kaufman’s drives was so massive, they could fit an Acme Oyster House in between. Like, 50 and 60 yards.

Gneiser was asked whether Toms was frustrated by the demands of today’s Tour.

“Yes and no,” he said. “Just watching these guys hit it so far by us …” Here he paused. “It’s just a different game.”

And so Toms has refined his game, turning his strengths into even more of an advantage. This season, he is ranked first on Tour in both sand saves and scrambling – the byproduct, Gneiser said, of Toms opening his academy in Shreveport and trying to keep up with son Carter, a freshman at LSU.

Maybe Toms isn’t as good of a putter. Maybe he doesn’t go on those four-, five- or six-birdie runs like he used to. Maybe his low rounds aren’t as low.

“But from inside 100 yards,” Gneiser said, “it’s the best I’ve ever seen him.”

Which is why many believe that Toms will mop up on the Champions Tour when he begins a full schedule next January, when he once again will be able to play his own game and have a realistic chance to win.

“I’m hoping it’s a little more low key,” he said. “It’s pretty businesslike out here. You’ve got guys every week that have five or six people with them: trainers, dieticians, shrinks, short-game coaches, long-game coaches, life coaches. I’m out here by myself with my caddie, and that’s how I’ve always liked it.”

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.