Heavy playing schedule begins this week

By Will GrayJuly 30, 2014, 9:25 pm

AKRON, Ohio – As independent contractors, PGA Tour players value the ability to set their own schedules.

Some will play nearly every event, while others will sit out for weeks at a time. It’s a perk of the job, especially among the top-tier players who can map a schedule around the elite tournaments.

Once the calendar flips to August, though, attendance becomes more important.

This week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational marks the start of a hectic finish to the season on the PGA Tour, one that will cause many players to tee it up six of the next seven weeks. It’s a stretch that includes next week’s PGA Championship and all four of the FedEx Cup playoff events, culminating with the Tour Championship.

Adding to the crunch is the fact that the Tour’s two bye weeks – which last year separated the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship, as well as the Tour Championship and Presidents Cup – will this year fall on either side of the Ryder Cup staged in Scotland.

That means four weeks, four playoff events. Buckle up.

Since the back-loaded nature of the schedule was known months ago, players have had plenty of time to adapt accordingly. As you might imagine, the plans of attack vary among the Tour’s best.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, videos and photos

World No. 1 Adam Scott usually plays a light schedule, and this season has teed it up on the PGA Tour just 11 times. He’ll make start No. 12 this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and plans to play in each of the four playoff events.

“Part of my scheduling, the way I do it, is with the anticipation of playing a very heavy end-of-season schedule, like we’re about to hit,” Scott said Wednesday. “I think I’m pretty fresh, and I should be absolutely fine to push through and play six of the next seven weeks, no problem.

“There’s majors galore, and World Golf Championships, and a FedEx Cup to win. That’s when you want to be feeling good and excited to go out to the golf course.”

Jimmy Walker has topped the FedEx Cup standings for nearly the entire season, thanks in large part to a busy playing schedule – this week marks his 22nd start of the season, nearly double the workload of Scott. Like the Aussie, though, Walker has begun to dial it back in recent weeks to prepare for the taxing events on the horizon.

“I’ve definitely had a little bit of a lighter summer,” said Walker, who has played in just three of nine events since the Crowne Plaza Invitational in May. “Certainly you want to do whatever you can to stay fresh, and use the off days as best you can heading into a big stretch.”

Rickie Fowler has made 20 starts this season. At 22nd in the latest FedEx Cup standings, he plans to skip only the Wyndham Championship in two weeks as he looks to secure one of 30 spots at East Lake, a field he has made only once.

“Four in a row, you can definitely run yourself into the ground by the Tour Championship,” Fowler said. “I plan to make sure there’s a rest day in between each event, use some of the Mondays during the playoffs to kind of relax and recharge a little bit.” 

Not every player subscribes to the notion that the upcoming events are mandatory starts. Tiger Woods notably has skipped playoff events before when high in the standings, as has Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard opted out of the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2012, and last year played in all four tournaments only because a skipped event could have jeopardized his ability to meet the minimum start requirements to keep his PGA Tour card.

This time, Garcia’s focus is not on the FedEx Cup that will conclude in Atlanta, but on the Ryder Cup that will be contested in Scotland two weeks later.

“I want to make sure that I feel nice and as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup,” said Garcia, who plans to skip one playoff event.

“I don’t want to be playing six out of seven weeks going into the Ryder Cup, or six out of eight weeks,” he said. “It’s quite a lot of playing. So we’ll see how it goes.”

Over the next two weeks, the PGA Tour will hand out several trophies and nearly $60 million in prize money. As players strategize about the best way to earn their share of the bounty available, one truth remains: Fans are about to see the game’s best play a ton of golf in a very short period of time.

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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.