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At WMPO, embrace the chaos and enjoy the party

By Will GrayFebruary 1, 2018, 12:38 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Don’t let the noise distract you.

The party was pumping Wednesday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, just like it always does. Fans came in droves to stand six-deep during a pro-am round, and pros and celebrities alike were serenaded by a DJ turning up the tunes as they stepped to the tee at the iconic par-3 16th.

Disc jockey, that is. Not Dustin Johnson.

But Johnson is one of the few big names missing this week from the PGA Tour’s biggest party, which has not-so-quietly transitioned from an event defined by a 163-yard cauldron to one that boasts a sneaky strong field amid a hectic West Coast Swing.

Five of the top seven players in the world are here this week. It's a field headlined by former Arizona State product Jon Rahm and one that includes two-time defending champ Hideki Matsuyama. Rickie Fowler, a runner-up two years ago, has also returned, while Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas will have a chance to rekindle their oft-discussed friendship as they play the first two rounds together.

The party atmosphere remains alive and well, and now it’s starting to attract some of the game’s biggest names.

“I think everybody appreciates what this tournament is, and that this is a special week, different than any other that we have on Tour,” said Phil Mickelson, who is making his record-tying 29th tournament appearance. “Guys kind of embrace that, and they embrace this environment.”

This week’s winner is projected to receive 60 OWGR points, the largest haul offered in the Arizona desert since Mickelson won the second of his three titles back in 2005. The number dipped as low as 50 in 2012, but in the years since it has been on a decidedly upward tick as more and more top-ranked players try their hand amid an unparalleled atmosphere.

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Credit is due to tournament organizers, who have proven to be forward-thinking and willing to embrace the challenges of a date on the calendar that regularly pits this tournament against the Super Bowl. Tour events are not necessarily known for their willingness to make widespread changes, but a quick trip to YouTube shows that when Tiger Woods made his famous ace on 16 back in 1997, the hole was lined with fans on foot rather than those propped up in sky-high grandstands and hospitality tents.

These days, there’s not only a cavern enveloping the entire 16th hole, but the three-story skyboxes have also popped up on the adjacent 17th green and down the final fairway. There are minor villages serving as watering holes throughout the property, with nearly every hillside occupied by at least a few dozen fans.

A tournament that once hung its hat on a single memorable hole has both literally and figuratively evolved.

“I like this place,” said Thomas, who is playing for the fourth straight year. “I think word’s kind of spreading, once people come here and kind of feel the somewhat of a major-type feel with some of the roars and the crowds, especially on some of those holes where you get a lot of people.”

Spieth offered a unique view on the tournament’s recent rise in prominence, noting that it has coincided with an era in which players like he and Thomas have climbed toward the top of the world rankings at a young age. It’s a theory that certainly has merit given that the average age of a top-10 player is currently 28.5 years old, an unprecedented low.

“I think there’s probably a little bit of a trend with it being the younger guys coming out and really enjoying this craziness,” Spieth said. “I think if you take an average age, it’s gone younger in the top 20, top 30 in the world, so I think that would probably tell you that it makes the field stronger.”

Craziness seems like an appropriate descriptor, and it’s one this event doesn’t shy away from, with fan estimates measured in the hundreds of thousands by week’s end. But the Stadium Course layout also plays a role in enticing players to return year after year.

That’s at least according to Thomas, who admitted he skips the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China every year despite the guaranteed points and money offered because he simply doesn’t think he can win at Shenzhen International Golf Club.

“At least for me it’s misunderstood,” Thomas said. “A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to go play Phoenix just because it’s a party and so much fun,’ and this and that. But I really do like this golf course, and that’s why I come play. I would never come play a tournament just because it’s fun.”

Whatever their motivations, some of the biggest names have gathered this week in the desert, where many of the game’s mores will go out the window. For one week only, players bask in an emotionally-charged atmosphere, and they even let their hair down a bit when walking to the 16th hole.

Bring on the noise. Embrace the chaos. Enjoy the party.

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Minjee Lee birdies 18 to win on her birthday

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:59 pm

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Minjee Lee birdied the 18th hole Sunday for a one-stroke victory over In-Kyung Kim at the LPGA Volvik Championship.

Lee, who turned 22 on Sunday, three-putted for a bogey on No. 17, dropping into a tie with Kim, who finished her round around the same time. So Lee needed a birdie to win on 18, a reachable par 5. Her second shot landed a few feet to the right of the green, and she calmly chipped to about 3 feet

She made the putt to finish at 4-under 68 and 16 under for the tournament. It was the Australian standout's fourth career victory and first since 2016.

Kim (67) shot a 32 on the back nine and birdied No. 18, but it wasn't enough to force a playoff at Travis Pointe Country Club.

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Spieth: Improvement is 'right around the corner'

By Al TaysMay 27, 2018, 10:50 pm

Not that Dallas native Jordan Spieth didn't enjoy the two-week home game that is the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Fort Worth Invitational - he certainly did. But he's eager to get out of town, too.

"It was a great showing these last couple weeks by the fans," Spieth said after closing with a 2-under 68, a 5-under total and a T-32 finish. "Obviously extremely appreciative here in DFW. Wish I could do more. These couple weeks can be a bit taxing, and it's awesome to kind of have that support to carry you through.

"So, you know, I had a great time these couple weeks on and off the golf course as I always do, but I'm also really excited to kind of get out of town and kind of be able to just go back to the room and have nothing to do at night except for get ready to play the next day."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth will have that experience this coming week in Dublin, Ohio, site of the Memorial. He's hopeful of improving on his T-21, T-32 finishes the past two weeks, and he thinks the main thing holding him back - his putting - is ready for a turnaround.

"I think good things are about to come," he said. "I feel a good run coming for the second half of the season. Today was - each day I've felt better and better with the wedges and the putter and the short game; today was no different. My only bogey being just kind of trying to do too much on a par-5; 3-wood into the hazard.

"So, you know, I'm getting into where I'm not making bogeys, and then soon - the not making bogeys is great, and soon I'll get back to the five, six birdies around and shoot some low rounds.

"So I know it's right around the corner."

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Broadhurst fires 63 to easily win Senior PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:45 pm

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Paul Broadhurst shot an 8-under 63 on Sunday to win the Senior PGA Championship by four strokes and match the best 72-hole score in tournament history.

The 52-year-old Englishman finished at 19-under 265 at Harbor Shores for his second senior major victory. The 63 was the best fourth-round score by a winner. Rocco Mediate also shot 19 under at Harbor Shores in 2016.

Also the 2016 British Senior Open winner, Broadhurst led the field with 26 birdies and passed third-round Tim Petrovic and Mark McCarron with a 4-under 31 on the back nine.

Petrovic was second after a 69. McCarron had a 70 to tie for third at 14 under with Jerry Kelly (65).

Broadhurst earned a career-high $585,000 for his fourth PGA Tour Champions victory. He won six times on the European Tour and has three European Senior Tour victories.

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Sunday rule proves no advantage for BYU at NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerMay 27, 2018, 10:06 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – For all the kvetching about the advantage BYU would gain by not playing on Sunday with the other teams at the NCAA Championship, one small thing was conveniently forgotten.

What happens if the Cougars were actually disadvantaged?

That’s what appears to have happened here at Karsten Creek.

Because the Mormon-run school prohibits athletics on Sunday, the NCAA accommodated BYU using its “Sunday Play” rule for the first time in the match-play era. (It was the team’s first NCAA berth since 2006.) That meant that BYU played its practice round last Wednesday, before the start of the final match of the NCAA Women’s Championship. The next day, the Cougars played their Sunday round – the third round of stroke-play qualifying – a half hour after the other 29 teams completed their practice round.

Some coaches grumbled about the issue of competitive fairness: What if BYU played in calm conditions for its third round on Thursday, while everybody else competed in rain and 30-mph winds come Sunday?

BYU coach Bruce Brockbank has been on the NCAA competition committee for the past four years, but even he was curious about how it would all play out.

For the practice round, the NCAA informed the Cougars that they needed to be off the course by 1:30 p.m. local time, a little more than a half hour before the start of the women’s final between Arizona and Alabama. All six players got a look at the course in 5 hours and 30 minutes – or an hour and 15 minutes less than the official Thursday practice round – and needed to run between shots on the 17th and 18th holes to finish on time.

Brockbank tried to prepare his players for what they would face Thursday. It’s a different experience without a playing marker – not seeing another shot affected by the wind, not watching another ball break on the greens, not falling into a rhythm with pace – but perhaps no amount of simulated rounds would have helped.

Playing as singles, with only a rules official and a walking scorer by its side, BYU began its NCAA Championship at 4 p.m. local time Thursday. The Cougars got in only a few holes before the horn sounded to suspend play. It turned out to be a two-hour weather delay, and players slapped it around a sloppy, soggy course until dark, with their last single on the 11th hole.

They returned the next morning, at 6:55, and wrapped up their round in an hour and a half before turning around for another 18.

Their final tally? They shot 24-over 312 – easily the worst third-round score of any team.

“We obviously didn’t handle it very well,” Brockbank said, “but it definitely wasn’t an advantage.”

BYU rebounded the next two rounds, with scores of 298-286, putting the team squarely inside the top-15 cut line.

“And six or seven hours,” he said, “we were right there with the best teams in the country.”

But then the third-round scores got posted, and it was clear that they had no chance of advancing past the 54-hole cut.

“It was pretty frustrating to watch our guys,” he said. “We just didn’t handle it very well.”

The same was true for the team’s best player, senior Patrick Fishburn. With just the first and second round counting, Fishburn (67-72) was in a tie for second, one shot off the individual lead, heading into Sunday. Then his third-round 78 from Thursday was posted, and he tumbled down the leaderboard, needing help just to advance to the final round of stroke-play qualifying.

“I’d rather have it this way,” Brockbank said. “If we had shot 5 under par and everyone else is over par, I don’t want to hear that wrath. The coaches wouldn’t put up with that. The fact that we’re not a factor, it’ll go away. But if the day did go well, it would have been a different story.”

Still, it was a strange dynamic Sunday, as a team competing in the NCAA Championship never even made it to the course – Brockbank preferred that the guys stay away from Karsten Creek, if only for appearances.

They went to a local church for three hours, then ate lunch and retired to the team hotel, where they watched TV and studied and played chess. Fishburn has another round to play Monday, but he didn’t even hit balls.

“I don’t think he’s even concerned about that – it’s just a nice, quiet Sabbath day,” Brockbank said. “But as a coach, it’s definitely a little odd.”