Bridgestone crammed between majors, playoffs

By Will GrayJuly 30, 2013, 10:07 pm

AKRON, Ohio – When the World Golf Championships were devised in the late 1990s, the thought was clear: create a new tier of events with a global focus, a series of tournaments that would sit below the four majors in perception but above the weekly grind of the PGA Tour.

The three (and, ultimately, four) events did just that – with elite venues hosting no-cut events that offered both guaranteed money and world ranking points, the best players in the world gathered with predictable regularity. The advent of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2007, though, added a new wrinkle to the PGA Tour schedule that suddenly placed this week’s event in the crosshairs of the busiest stretch of golf each calendar season.

While the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the WGC-Cadillac Championship are both safely isolated in the early season run-up to the Masters, and the WGC-HSBC Champions serves as a rare high-profile event during the month of November, this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational does not harbor such security on the calendar. Contested within a short gap between the season’s final two majors, the event now also occurs with the season-ending playoffs looming just weeks away.

“This stretch is maybe a little more difficult,” explained Jim Furyk, who was runner-up at Firestone a year ago. “We do cram stuff in here a little bit.”

Furyk will be doing more cramming than most across this month, as he is one of several notable players whose relationship with last week’s title sponsor, RBC, led to an appearance at Glen Abbey immediately after the conclusion of play at Muirfield.

“Knowing that I’m going to have the British Open, the Canadian Open, Bridgestone and the PGA, it’s a tough run,” Furyk noted of his four-week stretch that will conclude next week at Oak Hill. “But it’s better than the alternative. This schedule is a lot better than what we had before the FedEx Cup.”

An even stronger example of scheduling gone awry can be seen with last week’s winner in Canada, Brandt Snedeker, who partners with both RBC and Wyndham. Should he advance to East Lake to defend his season-long FedEx Cup title, Snedeker will likely face a gauntlet of nine consecutive events, from the British Open to the Tour Championship, with just a single bye week in between the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship in September. In a sign that the schedule perhaps is becoming overly burdensome, last week 20-year-old Jordan Spieth withdrew from this week’s WGC event, forfeiting a guaranteed payday to instead rest in preparation for the upcoming stretch he now faces.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, videos and photos

For many players, though, the condensed schedule can be seen as a positive. A tie for fifth at this event last year helped to springboard Rory McIlroy to a torrid end-of-season stretch, highlighted by his PGA Championship title and a pair of FedEx Cup playoff victories.

“I love this tournament, I think it’s great preparation for the week before the PGA,” explained McIlroy, who is planning to play in six PGA Tour events across the next eight weeks, though at 58th in FedEx Cup points his spot at East Lake is far from a certainty. By comparison, he didn’t make his sixth PGA Tour start this season until the Masters.

“I think the practice facilities are great; you get four good rounds in, four competitive rounds,” he continued. “Obviously, people are looking towards next week, but it’s a huge tournament in its own right. It’s a WGC, and I’ve always really enjoyed it here.”

Still, with players able to meticulously plan their schedules leading up to each of the first three majors, the placement of such a high-profile event immediately before the season’s final major can have unintended consequences.

“It’s a little bit tough for me,” explained 2011 PGA Championship runner-up Jason Dufner. “I’ve had a routine where I go the week before, practice and prepare for these majors just because the courses rotate so much, so you’re trying to get as much knowledge and experience on the golf course.”

Now adjusting to life as a major champion, Justin Rose, like Dufner, admits to making some changes during arguably the busiest stretch of golf each year.

“I think scheduling-wise, it forces you to treat the major like a regular Tour event,” Rose said of the pairing of this week’s WGC event and next week’s PGA Championship on the schedule. “It’s very difficult to prepare differently just because of how quickly the majors come around this time of year … Because it’s so busy, you end up falling into a very sort of normal PGA Tour routine.”

With the heart of the PGA Tour schedule unlikely to change anytime soon, players are faced with the notion of simply adjusting to a period of several high-profile events in succession. As for Dufner, a player with ties to Northeast Ohio, any changes his PGA Championship preparation must endure are a welcome trade-off for an event he circles each year on the calendar, despite the scheduling factors involved.

“You just can’t pass this event, it’s a great event,” he added. “Either way you’re going to be playing golf, whether you’re practicing or getting ready for the major, or like this week playing the course.”

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Gooch chooses 'life over a good lie' with gators nearby

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:31 pm

AVONDALE, La. – A fairway bunker wasn’t Talor Gooch’s only hazard on the 18th hole at TPC Louisiana.

Gooch’s ball came to rest Thursday within a few feet of three gators, leading to a lengthy delay as he sorted out his options.

Chesson Hadley used a rake to nudge two of the gators on the tail, sending them back into the pond surrounding the green. But the third gator wouldn’t budge.

“It woke him up from a nap,” Gooch said, “and he was hissing away and wasn’t happy.”

The other two gators remained in the water, their eyes fixed on the group.

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

“I’m sure we would have been fine, but any little movement by them and no chance I would have made solid contact,” he said.

A rules official granted Gooch free relief, away from the gator, but he still had to drop in the bunker. The ball plugged.

“I chose life over a good lie in that situation,” he said.

He splashed out short of the green, nearly holed out his pitch shot and made par to cap off an eventful 6-under 66 with partner Andrew Landry.

“It was my first gator par,” he said. “I’ll take it.”

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Koepka's game 'where it should be' even after injury

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:18 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Brooks Koepka didn’t look rusty Thursday while making six birdies in the first round of the Zurich Classic.

Making his first start in four months because of a torn ligament in his left wrist, Koepka and partner Marc Turnesa shot a 5-under 67 in fourballs at TPC Louisiana.

“It felt good,” Koepka said afterward. “It was just nice to be out here. I played pretty solid.”

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

The reigning U.S. Open champion felt soreness in his wrist the week after he won the Dunlop Phoenix in the fall. He finished last at the Hero World Challenge in December and then the following month at the Tournament of Champions before shutting it down.

He only began practicing last week and decided to commit to the Zurich Classic after three solid days at Medalist. He decided to partner with one of his friends in South Florida, Marc Turnesa, a former PGA Tour winner who now works in real estate.

Koepka hasn’t lost any distance because of the injury – he nearly drove the green on the 355-yard 16th hole. He’s planning to play the next two weeks, at the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players.

“I feel like I’m playing good enough to be right where I should be in April,” he said. “I feel good, man. There’s nothing really wrong with my game right now.”

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Like a tattoo: Ko shares early Mediheal lead

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 10:45 pm

Lydia Ko put herself in early position Thursday to try to extend her birthday celebration through Sunday at the LPGA Mediheal Championship.

Ko, who turned 21 on Tuesday, is off to a strong start at Lake Merced Golf Club, where she has a lot of good memories to draw upon as she seeks to regain the winning form that made her the greatest teen phenom in the history of the women’s game.

With a 4-under-par 68, Ko moved into a four-way tie for the lead among the morning wave in the first round. I.K. Kim, Jessica Korda and Caroline Hedwall also opened with 68s.

All Ko has to do is look at her right wrist to feel good about returning to San Francisco. That’s where she tattooed the date April 27, 2014, in Roman numerals. That’s how she commemorated her Swinging Skirts victory at Lake Merced, her first title as an LPGA member. She won there again the following year.

“This is a golf course where I've played well,” Ko said. “The fans have been amazing. They’ve been super supportive every single time I've come here, even since I played the U.S. Juniors here.”

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Ko made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced in 2012.

“It just brings back a lot of great memories,” she said.

Ko got this week off to a good start with friends from South Korea and New Zealand flying to California to surprise her on her birthday. She was born in South Korea and grew up in New Zealand.

“Turning 21 is a huge thing in the United States,” Ko cracked. “I’m legal now, and I can do some fun things.”

Ko is looking to claim her 15th LPGA title and end a 21-month winless spell. Her ball striking was sharp Thursday, as she continues to work on improvements under her swing coach, Ted Oh. She hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation.

“My ball striking's been getting better these last few weeks, which has been really nice,” Ko said at week’s start. “But then I've been struggling with putting, which was the aspect of the game that was going really well. I feel like the pieces are there, and just, sometimes, the hardest thing is to kind of put all those pieces together. Just have to stay patient, I know there are a lot of good things happening.”

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Watch: Rose drops trou despite gator danger

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 26, 2018, 10:12 pm

We all know how fashion-conscious pro golfers are, and sometimes that even trumps modesty.

Take Justin Rose, whose tee shot on the par-3 third hole in Thursday's opening round of the Zurich Classic found the water. But the ball was close enough to shore for Rose to try to play it. Not wanting to get his light-colored pants dirty - what is up with all the white pants on Tour these days, anyway? - he took them off to play the shot.

If there were any gators in the water hazard - and this being Louisiana, there almost certainly were - they showed no interest in the Englishman.

It was only appropriate that Rose should strip down for a shot, as his partner, Henrik Stenson, famously did the same thing (to an even greater degree) at Doral in 2009.

Finally, just to provide some closure, Rose failed to get up and down.