PGA feeling major effect of crowded schedule

By Will GrayJuly 27, 2016, 5:56 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Welcome to the traffic-jam portion of golf’s strangest ever schedule.

After months of adjusting routines and estimating burnout, players have reached the crucible of two major championships sardined into a three-week span.

The PGA Championship is, of course, a major, both in the eyes of the players and based on the signage that reminds you of that fact every few hundred yards at Baltusrol Golf Club. One player will hoist the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday, and it could very well be a life-changing win that will be revered and remembered long after the cramped nature of this summer slate is forgotten.

This week’s field is also the strongest on record for any tournament, at least according to Official World Golf Ranking calculators that date back to 1986, with 97 of the top 100 players in the world.

Despite those credentials, though, it’s easy to feel like this tournament has a very minor spot on the calendar, wedged in between the daunting pillars of The Open and the Olympics.

After all, defending champion and world No. 1 Jason Day hadn’t even seen the course before his Wednesday practice round. While players plan scouting trips to Augusta National and the U.S. Open venue each spring, this week they’re largely flying blind and hoping to find their footing with a quick loop or two around Baltusrol before things get started.


PGA Championship: Full-field tee times | Photo gallery

Full coverage from the PGA Championship


The PGA Championship is the highest-profile victim of a patchwork 2016 calendar, as event dates have been jostled to accommodate a detour to Rio. Annually a mainstay in mid-August, the season’s final major is now in the sweltering conditions of late July, marking the first time since 1968 that two majors have been held in the same calendar month.

To be fair, this awkward spot in the schedule is not entirely the fault of the PGA of America. It stuck its flag in Baltusrol as a host back in 2008, a year before golf was voted back into the Olympics.

The pile-up that occurred as a result is one in which they had a hand but hardly control, as every governing body involved decided that they could simply shoehorn the Olympics into an already-packed schedule without significant sacrifices or consequences.

Uh, not quite.

“When you have to put an extra week in the middle of the schedule, where that week has to be there, it’s difficult,” said Sergio Garcia. “It’s difficult to kind of rest, or really get in a rhythm of playing. So it’s not ideal, I would say, at least for me.”

Garcia’s views are shared by a number of top players, some of who began altering their schedule months ago to accommodate this torrid stretch. The common sentiment appears to be that, while there’s still a coveted trophy at stake, a better alternative would have included at least one more week off between the third and fourth majors.

“I wish it wasn’t as condensed, especially going Open Championship straight in,” said Rory McIlroy. “I’d like to see the PGA just stay where it is in the middle of August, but if that can’t happen, we’re just going to work around it.”

For their part, the PGA of America has a sunny view of the situation: a compressed schedule does nothing to take away from the prestige of this event, and – as echoed by several players – the quick turnaround could actually benefit those who were playing well at Royal Troon just a few days ago.

“When we thought about it, we knew it was going to be different. We knew the schedule was going to be condensed,” said PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua. “I think it’s worked well. It’s been a stress on the entire golf world, but for good reason.”

The sport as a whole may be shouldering the stress, but only one major championship had to find a new spot in the schedule this year. As Jordan Spieth pointed out, the Olympics are not exactly going to change dates to accommodate the spacing of golf’s majors.

To that end, Bevacqua added that his organization plans to do a thorough analysis of the unique elements surrounding the staging of this year’s tournament. The PGA Championship will be at TPC Harding Park outside San Francisco in 2020, when the Olympics head to Tokyo, and Bevacqua said the PGA is “considering all options” for a possible spot on the calendar.

“I would say it’s on the table in terms of should the date of the PGA Championship move in an Olympic year. We need to analyze that,” Bevacqua said. “We’re going to have to jostle the schedule a little bit. I think everybody is aware of that. We have no conclusions, we have made no decisions, but yes, it’s absolutely on our radar screen.”

In the interim, a championship will be contested this week, despite the fact that Henrik Stenson has barely had a chance to sip from the claret jug he lifted 10 days ago.

It’s a major, sure, and also the shining example of what a major headache this year’s schedule has become.

Getty Images

Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari was 12 years old when Costantino Rocca came within a playoff of becoming Italy’s first major champion at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

He remembers being inspired by Rocca’s play and motivated by the notion that he could one day be the player who would bring home his country’s first Grand Slam title. As he reflected on that moment late Sunday at Carnoustie it sunk in what his victory at The Open might mean.

“To achieve something like this is on another level,” said Molinari, who closed with a final-round 69 for a two-stroke victory. “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the claret jug.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Molinari had already made plenty of headlines this year back home in Italy with victories at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and the Quicken Loans National earlier this month on the PGA Tour.

A major is sure to intensify that attention. How much attention, however, may be contingent on Sunday’s finish at the German Grand Prix.

“It depends on if Ferrari won today. If they won, they'll probably get the headlines,” Molinari laughed. “But, no, obviously, it would be massive news. It was big news. The last round already was big news in Italy.”

Molinari won’t have any competition for the front page on Monday; Ferrari didn’t win the German Grand Prix.

Getty Images

Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Playing in a final group at a major for the first time, Xander Schauffele awkwardly splashed out of three pot bunkers, went out in 40 and still somehow had a chance to win at Carnoustie.

Playing the 17th hole, tied with Francesco Molinari, Schauffele flared his approach shot into the right rough and couldn’t get up and down for par. He dropped one shot behind Molinari, and then two, after the Italian birdied the final hole.

Just like that, Schauffele was doomed to a runner-up finish at The Open.

“A little bit of disappointment,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. I looked up on 17 and saw he got to 8 under, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Schauffele did well to give himself a chance. The 24-year-old was in the final group with Spieth, but both youngsters fell off the pace after rocky starts. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year birdied the 14th but couldn’t convert a 15-footer on the treacherous 16th that would have given him a one-shot cushion.

“It’s going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” he said. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at is as a positive moving forward and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”  

Getty Images

They came, they saw and Molinari conquered The Open

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – From a perch above the 17th tee, next to a three-story grandstand that may well be the tallest structure on the Angus coast, the 147th Open Championship unfolded with more twists and turns than a Russian novel.

It was all there like a competitive kaleidoscope to behold. In quick order, Rory McIlroy’s title chances slipped away with a whimper, a par at the last some 100 yards to the left of the 17th tee. Tiger Woods, seemingly refreshed and reborn by the Scottish wind, missed his own birdie chance at the 16th hole, a half-court attempt near the buzzer for a player who is 0-for-the last decade in majors.

Moments later, Kevin Kisner scrambled for an all-world par of his own at No. 16 and gazed up at the iconic leaderboard as he walked to the 17th tee box, his title chances still hanging in the balance a shot off the lead.

Francesco Molinari was next, a textbook par save at No. 16 to go along with a collection of by-the-book holes that saw the Italian play his weekend rounds bogey-free. He also hit what may have been the most important drive of his life into what a Scot would call a proper wind at the 17th hole.

Xander Schauffele, who was tied with Molinari at the time at 7 under par, anchored the action, missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th hole. Moments later the Italian calmly rolled in a 5-footer for birdie at the last to finish his week at 8 under par.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


All this unfolded over a frenzied final hour of play at Carnoustie, offering just a taste of what the other four-plus hours of play resembled.

“I couldn't watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest,” said Molinari, who became the first Italian to win a major. “That's why I went to the putting green, because I probably would have felt sick watching on TV,”

Carnoustie may not be the fairest of the Open rotation courses, but it certainly delivers the dramatic goods regularly enough.

Woods’ prediction earlier in the week that this Open Championship would come down to no fewer than 10 would-be champions seemed hyperbolic. It turns out he was being conservative with his estimate.

All total, 11 players either held a share of the lead or moved to within a stroke of the top spot on a hectic Sunday. For three days Carnoustie gave, the old brute left exposed by little wind and even less rough. Earlier in the week, players talked of not being able to stop the ball on the dusty and dry links turf. But as the gusts built and the tension climbed on Sunday, stopping the bleeding became a bigger concern.

If most majors are defined by two-way traffic, a potpourri of competitive fortunes to supercharge the narrative, this Open was driven in one direction and a cast of would-be champions with a single goal: hang on.

A day that began with three players – including defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kisner and Schauffele – tied for the lead at 9 under, quickly devolved into a free-for-all.

Kisner blinked first, playing his first three holes in 3 over par; followed by Spieth whose poor 3-wood bounded into a gorse bush at the sixth hole and led to an unplayable lie. It was a familiar scene that reminded observers of his unlikely bogey at Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole last year. But this time there was no practice tee to find refuge and his double-bogey 7 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

“I was trying to take the burn out of the equation by hitting 3-wood to carry it. It was unlucky. It went into the only bush that's over on the right side. If it misses it, I hit the green and have a birdie putt,” Spieth said.



Schauffele’s struggles coincided with Spieth’s, with whom he played on Sunday, with a bogey at the sixth sandwiched between a bogey (No. 5) and a double bogey (No. 7).

This opened the door to what the entire golf world has awaited, with Woods vaulting into the lead at 7 under par, the first time since the ’11 Masters he’d led at a major, and sending a low rumble across the course.

Since Woods last won a major, that ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg, Spieth and Schauffele, who Tiger spotted four strokes on Sunday, graduated from high school; McIlroy went from phenom to four-time major winner and Donald Trump was transformed from being a TV celebrity to the President of the United States.

But the fairytale only lasted a few minutes with Woods playing Nos. 11 and 12 in 3 over par. They were the kind of mistakes the 14-time major champion didn’t make in his prime

“A little ticked off at myself, for sure. I had a chance starting that back nine to do something, and I didn't do it,” said Woods, who finished tied for sixth but will have the consolation prize of moving into the top 50 in the world ranking to qualify for the last WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in two weeks.

But as Woods faded, McIlroy made a familiar move, charging in an eagle putt at the par-5 14th hole to tie Molinari and Schauffele at 6 under par. The Northern Irishman would run out of holes, playing the final four in even par to finish tied for second, but the moment wasn’t lost on him.

“It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars. Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything,” McIlroy said. “There's a lot of big names up there. It was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was go and spoil the party here.”

By the time the final groups reached Carnoustie’s finishing stretch it was a two-man party, with Molinari proving for the second time this month that boring golf can be effective.

Although he’d won the European Tour’s flagship event in May, Molinari decided to add the Quicken Loans National to his schedule because of his precarious position on the FedExCup points list (122nd) – he won that, too. The week before the Open, he fulfilled his commitment to play the John Deere Classic, a requirement under the PGA Tour’s new strength of field rule, and finished second.

Although his track record at The Open was nothing special – he’d posted just a single top-10 finish in his first 10 starts at the game’s oldest championship – his machine-like game was always going to be a perfect fit for a brown and bouncy links like Carnoustie and a topsy-turvy final round.

“I told his caddie earlier this week, because I didn’t want to say it to [Molinari], I have a good feeling this week,” said Molinari’s swing coach Denis Pugh. “It was the perfect combination of clarity and confidence.”

With the sun splashing against the baked-out fairways, Molinari emerged from the clubhouse, wide-eyed and a little dazed after what could only be described as a major melee, his no-nonsense, fairways-and-greens game the perfect tonic for an Open that defied clarity until the very end.

Getty Images

Spieth and Schauffele were put on the clock Sunday

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Contending in a major championship on what is largely considered the toughest major championship course can be hard enough, but as Jordan Spieth reached the 10th tee box, he was given another layer of anxiety.

Spieth, who was playing with Xander Schauffele on Sunday at Carnoustie, was informed that his group had fallen behind and been put on the clock. On the next tee, he was given a “bad time” for taking too long to hit his drive.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I handled it OK, but looking back, you know, that was a turning point in the round,” said Spieth, who played Nos. 10 and 11 in even par and finished tied for ninth after a closing 76. “If you get 1 under on those two holes with a downwind par 5 left [No. 14], it's a different story.”

Spieth, who began the day tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under, had dropped out the top spot with a double bogey-7 at the sixth hole. He was tied for the lead when officials put his group on the clock.

“I took over the allotted time on the tee on 11 to decide on 3-iron or 3-wood, but throughout the day, I think I played the fastest golf I've probably ever played while contending in a tournament,” he said.