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Wind, greens cancel Honda as Masters prep

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 23, 2018, 11:23 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA National is 530 miles from Augusta National, but it might as well have been a world away Friday.

For the first two rounds of the Honda Classic, players here fought through 30-mph gusts, sailed mis-hits into the water and putted on khaki-colored greens that have only about a 5-o’clock-shadow worth of grass.

And so, Rory McIlroy: Come Sunday, what are you hoping to take away from this event, one of just six tournaments between now and the first major of the year?

“World ranking points, FedExCup points and some cash, hopefully,” he said. “That’s about it. There’s nothing I’ve done over the last two days where I can say, ‘Oh, yeah, that will help at Augusta.’”

That’s problematic, of course, since the road to Augusta begins here, in Florida. This is the time of year that players are trying to fine-tune their games, to protect their confidence at all costs. In that regard, it’s essentially a wasted week of Masters prep.

“It’s Open conditions with U.S. Open scoring,” McIlroy said. “Pretty much the preparation for everything but what we want it to be. It’s probably the furthest thing from Augusta right now around here.”

Which is why players who exited the scoring area on the wrong side of the cut line Friday weren’t overly discouraged. Just the opposite, in fact. They almost looked relieved.

Relieved they wouldn’t have to throw themselves into a wind tunnel for the next two rounds. Relieved they wouldn’t have to restock their bag with golf balls. Relieved they wouldn’t have to putt on some of the worst surfaces they’ll face all year.

Rickie Fowler doesn’t have a negative thing to say about anyone, or anything, and yet even he was critical of the greens here.

“I’ll leave it at everyone is playing the same greens,” he said, smirking.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

The course is playing even firmer and faster after a dry month. The TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and set for a re-grassing next summer, but that project seems long overdue. Players described them using adjectives like “crusty” and “spotty” and “dicey.” And those are just the ones we could print.

“The first seven greens on the front nine are really thin, almost like spray-painted sand,” said Luke Donald, who shot 10 over. “It’s a different look and speed to what we’re used to.”

This is Donald’s eighth appearance at PGA National, and he knows the greens fairly well. But the ball has reacted differently this week on chips and pitches. “And putts seem to be breaking differently than what I remember and what’s in my yardage book,” he said.

The Tour didn’t do the players any favors with the setup, either.

Eight of the back-nine hole locations Friday were on the opposite side of the wind direction. That made getting the ball to the hole virtually impossible. And with an easterly wind, the par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17, played almost straight into the fan, making the margins of error even smaller. Seventeen of the first 37 players who teed it up on the 180-yard 17th hole found the water.

Among those was Rory McIlroy, who got ahead of his cut 5-iron and ballooned his tee shot into the pond. He made triple.

“Tried to play the shot that was the right one,” said McIlroy, who shot 73, his seventh consecutive over-par round here. “I just didn’t make a good swing.”

Because of the difficulty of the Champion Course, it’s reasonable to wonder whether McIlroy and others would play the Honda if it weren’t in their backyard, if they didn’t feel an obligation to play their hometown event.

They need tournament rounds under their belt before the Masters, and they have to test themselves under pressure. But what is the benefit of playing in this?

Only four players in the morning wave broke par. The second-round scoring average was more than three shots over par (73.166). The 5-over cut line was the highest on Tour in nearly three years.

And this was a typical South Florida day.

After missing the cut with rounds of 71-76, Fowler was looking forward to spending the weekend in his new indoor simulator, away from the wind. Only then would he be able to tell whether his swing was faulty, or if it’s just a product of the treacherous conditions.

“I was a little bit off,” he said, “and the wind is going to make it look like you’re a terrible weekend golfer.”

Not exactly the confidence boost players need before Augusta.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.