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Many pros wary of new venue for Byron Nelson

By Will GrayMay 16, 2018, 8:45 pm

DALLAS – Take one look around Trinity Forest Golf Club, and it’s clear that the PGA Tour has left the Four Seasons Resort in its rear-view mirror.

Gone are the verdant fairways and manicured greens of TPC Las Colinas, which hosted the AT&T Byron Nelson for more than 30 years. In its place is a sprawling expanse of scraggly hills, sandy dunes and exactly zero trees. It's either a gem of a links layout or a wasteland, depending on who you ask.

Tour pros are famous for becoming creatures of habit, and this week’s venue change marks one of the biggest shifts in recent years among the Tour’s regular stops. It’s no surprise, then, that many of them approached this tournament with a sense of trepidation.

Even Jordan Spieth, a Trinity Forest member and de facto ambassador for the tournament, offered a tepid assessment when asked about the layout last week.

“It’s grown on me a lot over the past six months,” Spieth said.

His endorsements became more full-throated once he got back on property, but there remains a lingering sentiment that Trinity Forest is not meant for everyone. Unpredictable bounces lie around every corner, and players will encounter shots here that they may see nowhere else this year outside the majors.

As he readied the course to take center stage, Trinity Forest director of grounds Kasey Kauff appeared keenly aware that his layout is about to take some blowback from players who get blown sideways by the Texas winds.

“We are ready to showcase this place on TV,” Kauff tweeted Tuesday. “Nothing like exposing yourself to criticism from others.”

Still less than two years removed from its official opening, the Coore-Crenshaw layout offers plenty of unique features: from the blind, uphill approach to the 630-yard 14th hole to the double green shared by Nos. 3 and 11 that measures more than 100 yards from one side to the other.

Players will have to negotiate some huge fairway bunkers. (Photo courtesy of Trinity Forest)

“Majorities just don’t like different, do they? This is just different than what we normally roll out and play,” said Adam Scott. “The greatest players have all managed to succeed out of their comfort zones, and learn to love links golf or parkland golf to succeed. … Whoever is going to win here this week will be someone who really embraces the different challenges of this golf.”

Scott is making his first return to this event in several years, but he is headlining a relatively weak field as far more regular participants opted to stay home for Trinity Forest’s debut. That list includes Dustin Johnson, who played each of the last four years in Irving; Jason Day, who made this event his first Tour win in 2010 and lost last year in a playoff; and 2012 champ Jason Dufner, who had played each of the last eight years.

After Billy Horschel netted 50 world ranking points for his win last year, the winner from this week’s watered-down field will receive only 34 points.

Part of that steep decline surely has to do with the hectic pre-U.S. Open schedule and the return of the Wells Fargo Championship to Quail Hollow, but part of it is also steeped in a “wait and see” approach many top names have adopted.

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“I’m sure some of them are. There’s no doubt about it,” said two-time champ Sergio Garcia. “When you come to a new venue, there’s always a little bit of a question mark.”

While many stars will be watching from home this week, those that have ventured across town for Trinity Forest’s debut have, by and large, seemed to like what they see.

“If you go play the great courses in the world, there’s something here. From St. Andrews to Royal Melbourne to any kind of links to Pine Valley. It’s here,” said Ernie Els. “If they played a U.S. Open at Erin Hills and Chambers Bay, they can play one here. You can tuck flags away. It’s a wide open course, which is nice. But the second shot is where you miss shots, and that’s the mark of great architecture.”

For their part, tournament officials seem to have softened the edges of this unique layout to ensure its debut doesn’t fly off the rails during a week with steamy temps and no rain in the forecast. Several players were surprised by how soft the course was playing early in the week, with a belief that it would present a more true – albeit more difficult – test given firm and fast conditions.

“I think the course is probably going to play slower than it’s intended to play, being the first year and being this course is still growing,” said Trinity member Hunter Mahan. “I think the true vision of this golf course isn’t going to be quite realized just yet.”

The course may have 'forest' in its name, but it has no trees. (Photo courtesy of Trinity Forest)

The vast expanse of Trinity Forest is sure to expose players, both literally and figuratively. Opinions on its merits, already varied, are sure to become only more polarizing once the scores begin to count.

But while the challenges it presents are certainly different and unique, that’s nothing but a positive in the eyes of many.

“We get coddled in the way we get treated, but variety is one of the best attributes golf has, I think,” said Geoff Ogilvy. “I think this course will stand the test of time. It will be kind of one of those courses that go strength to strength. People will enjoy it every year they play it more and more. Getting guys out of their comfort zone, I think, is a good thing.”

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Watch: Dechambeau simulates dew on East Lake range

By Grill Room TeamSeptember 18, 2018, 11:02 pm

Bryson DeChambeau has certainly lived up to his nickname of "Mad Scientist" since joining the PGA Tour, using his eccentric style to win four events, including the first two tournaments of this year's FedExCup Playoffs.

And he's staying on brand at the season-ending Tour Championship, where he enters as the favorite to capture the FedExCup title.

The 24-year-old was spotted on the East Lake range Tuesday, preparing for potential morning dew on the golf ball this week - by having a member of his team spray each golf ball between practice shots:

While this type of preparation might come off as a little excessive to the average golfer, it's rather mild for DeChambeau, considering that in the last two weeks alone he has discussed undergoing muscle activation tests and measuring his brain waves.

DeChambeau goes off with Justin Rose on Thursday at 2 p.m. He could finish as low as T-29 and still have a mathematical chance of winning the season-long FedExCup.

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Fewer goals but more consistency for Thomas in 2018

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

ATLANTA – After winning last year’s FedExCup, Justin Thomas was asked about his goals for the season and he quickly went to his phone.

A list of 13 “goals” had been typed in, a rundown that ranged from qualifying for the Tour Championship to finishing in the top 10 in half of the circuit’s statistical categories. Nearly every goal had a “Y” next to it to denote he’d accomplished what he wanted.

Thomas was asked on Tuesday at East Lake how his goals are shaping up this season.

“I haven't looked in a while. I really haven't. I'm sure if I had to guess, I'm probably around 50 to 60, 70 percent [have been completed],” he said. “I definitely haven't achieved near as many as I did the previous year. But we still have one week left to knock a big goal off.”

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Thomas pointed out that although he didn’t add to his major total this season or win as many times as he did last year, he still feels like he’s been more consistent this year.

He has more top-25 finishes (19) than he did last year (14), missed fewer cuts (two compared to six last season) and has improved in nearly every major statistical category.

“It's been a really consistent year, and I take a lot of pride in that,” Thomas said. “That's a big goal of mine is to improve every year and get better every year, so if I can continue in this direction, I feel like I can do some pretty great things the rest of my career.”

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Woods' probation for reckless driving ends one month early

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 9:00 pm

Tiger Woods' year-long probation stemming from last year's DUI arrest has been terminated a month early.

According to Sam Smink of WPTV, Woods, 42, was let off probation early for successfully completing all regular and special conditions of his probation after pleading guilty to reckless driving and entering a diversion program last October.

Under the conditions of the program, Woods was required to pay a $250 fine and court costs, attend a DUI school and undergo a substance abuse evaluation and treatment program. He was also subject to random drug and alcohol testing under the program.

The 14-time major champ was arrested on charges of DUI in May of 2017 after he was found unconscious behind the wheel of his parked Mercedes-Benz in Jupiter, Fla.

Although tests showed Woods was not under the influence of alcohol at the time, he admitted to taking several pain and sleep medications to cope with his fourth back surgery which was performed in April.

Since his arrest, Woods has returned to competition, rising to 21st in the Official World Golf Ranking after a pain-free campaign in 2018.

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Players wrapping their heads around FedEx changes

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 8:01 pm

ATLANTA – Even players who have known the details of the PGA Tour’s plan to dramatically change the way it crowns a FedExCup champion were still digesting the details on Tuesday at the Tour Championship.

“I think it’s maybe easier to follow for people at home. Kind of definitely strange and very different to be on 10 under par starting on the first tee,” said Justin Rose, who begins this week’s finale second on the points list.

Next year when a new strokes-based system will decide the season-long race, Rose would begin his week at East Lake 8 under, two strokes behind front-runner Bryson DeChambeau and eight shots ahead of Nos. 26-30 on the points list.

Most players said the new format will be an improvement over the current model, which is based on a complicated points structure. That’s not to say the new plan has been given universal support.

Current FedExCup standings

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Under the current format, the 30th-ranked player has a .4 percent chance of winning the cup, while the first player on the points list has a 27 percent chance. Those odds remain virtually identical under next year’s strokes-based format.

“I’m not saying the 30th guy should have the same shot as the fifth guy, but just make the odds a little bit better. Give them a 5 percent chance,” Billy Horschel said. “The strokes could be distributed differently. Maybe put the leader at 6 under [instead of 10 under] and then you go down to even par. Five or six shots back, over four days, you still have a chance.”

There will no doubt be a period of adjustment, but after more than three years of planning, most players were pleased with the general elements of the new plan if not all of the details.

“It's never going to be perfect,” said Justin Thomas, last year’s FedExCup champion and a member of the player advisory council. “No system in any sport is ever going to be perfect, and the Tour has done such a great job of talking to us and trying to get it as good as possible. But it's just hard to understand the fact that you could be starting behind somebody else and still somehow win a golf tournament or an official win.”