What's a WGC worth? These guys would all take one

By Will GrayAugust 5, 2017, 11:29 pm

The four WGC events held each year occupy a peculiar spot on the pro golf hierarchy.

They’re not majors, nor are they treated as such. But they’re also a step above the so-called “regular” Tour stops, even those that annually head to some of the game’s most iconic layouts.

A WGC win, then, can mean different things to different players, and heading into the finale of the Bridgestone Invitational, the scenarios are spanning the spectrum. But the focus begins with the two men sharing the lead, a duo that traded punches at Hazeltine last fall and now will share the tournament’s final pairing.

Zach Johnson’s resumé is lacking little, as the two-time major winner is perhaps the biggest overachiever of his generation. At age 41, he could retire tomorrow and still receive a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame in a few years.

But he has never won a WGC event, and he has never been better than T-4 at Firestone despite playing each of the last 13 years – an active streak surpassed only by Phil Mickelson. Johnson appeared mired in a slump for much of this year, and in March he fell out of the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time since 2007. His spot in this week’s field came only thanks to his place on last year’s Ryder Cup squad.

A T-5 finish at the John Deere Classic was his first top-10 in months, and he followed it with a T-14 showing at Royal Birkdale. Now with three straight rounds in the 60s, he’s again flashing the form that has helped him to lift a dozen trophies.

“I don’t know how many top-10s I’ve had here, but it’s probably been a handful,” Johnson said. “I feel like I can compete here. That goes without saying.”

Johnson still has not won since capturing the claret jug more than two years ago, a drought he hopes to end Sunday. But in order to do so he’ll need to play from the pole position, an unfamiliar spot given that each of his last six wins have been of the come-from-behind variety.

He’ll also be leaning on an unusual weapon for a player best known for his wedges and short game. Johnson cracked the face of his driver at The Open, and the replacement has exceeded his expectations this week in Akron.

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“This is the best I’ve driven it probably all year,” Johnson said. “It’s probably the best driver I’ve had in my bag all year, if not ever. So, very encouraged.”

Then there’s Pieters, a budding prospect whose record over the last year has seemingly been building toward a breakthrough on a big stage. The Belgian starred as a captain’s pick at the Ryder Cup, then notched top-5 finishes this spring at the Genesis Open (T-2), WGC-Mexico Championship (T-5) and Masters (T-4).

While he hasn’t done much since Augusta, Pieters now has an opportunity to emulate Shane Lowry’s feat from two years ago, using a win at Firestone to transform from a highly-touted European into a PGA Tour staple.

“I think the ones I’ve gotten in contention this year, I’ve gotten very quick,” Pieters said. “Not so much nervous, but just anxious to finish and to have a good finish. Maybe tomorrow I have to get back to being calm and just let it come to me.”

Pieters has been pessimistic about his driving all week, and the stats back it up, as the Belgian has hit only 13 fairways through three rounds. But at one point he amassed a three-shot lead during the third round thanks to six birdies over his first 10 holes, and while he regressed down the stretch, a closing birdie drew him even with Johnson heading into the final round.

“My bad golf is getting better,” Pieters said. “That’s always good. That’s why you practice, I guess.”

Granted, this is far from a two-horse race. Aussie Scott Hend sits one shot back in search of what would be a watershed victory at age 43, while two of the game’s biggest stars are still very much in the mix.

Hideki Matsuyama won a WGC event earlier this season and had claret jug aspirations until blasting his opening tee shot out of bounds during the final round at Royal Birkdale. He’s again ideally positioned, just two shots off the pace and one of only five players to break par each of the first three rounds.

Another member of that select group is Rory McIlroy, who has bent Firestone to his will off the tee but largely failed to capitalize from there. The Ulsterman is doing the heavy lifting this week with friend Harry Diamond on the bag, but he now has a chance to repeat his rally from three years ago, when he raced past Sergio Garcia to grab the trophy.

“I was three behind going into Sunday last time and I think I took the lead by the sixth tee box,” McIlroy said. “There’s obviously a few more guys up around the lead this time around, but I’m going to need to start like that again.”

With the season’s final major on the horizon, players have a tangible goal toward which to build momentum with their final loop around Firestone. But for those still with title aspirations, the allure of a trophy from golf’s not-quite-top shelf has plenty of appeal on its own.

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Lauren Thompson and a giant 'gator eating a turtle

By Grill Room TeamApril 19, 2018, 4:53 pm

Really, the headline says it all.

"Morning Drive" co-host Lauren Thompson was playing the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes on Thursday in Orlando, Fla., when her threesome turned into a foursome, with the appearance of a giant alligator. Techincally, it was a fivesome, as the 'gator had a turtle in its mouth.

Hey, it's a slow news week for Grill Room.

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Sources confirm Charles Schwab to sponsor Colonial event

By Rex HoggardApril 19, 2018, 2:42 pm

Multiple sources have confirmed to GolfChannel.com that officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation.

Tournament officials scrambled this year after Dean & DeLuca ended its sponsorship of the event just two years into a six-year agreement, pulling together an assortment of local sponsors and renaming the event the Fort Worth Invitational.

Colonial’s status on the PGA Tour schedule became even more uncertain when the PGA Championship announced it would move from August to May, beginning in 2019 as part of a major overhaul of the circuit’s schedule.

According to the Dallas News, and confirmed by multiple sources at the club, officials plan to announce the new long-term agreement with Charles Schwab on Monday that will begin in 2019.

News of a long-term sponsorship deal would also suggest the event will remain in May in 2019 and beyond. The Tour has indicated it plans to announce the ’19 schedule at next month’s Players Championship.

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PNC Extends Title Sponsorship of PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., April 19, 2018 – IMG and NBC Sports today announced that The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. has extended its contract as title sponsor of the PNC Father/Son Challenge, the tournament that pairs the games’ legends alongside their sons, daughters and grandchildren.

PNC’s multi-year extension as title sponsor keeps the PGA Tour Challenge Event in Orlando reflecting the bank’s commitment to Central Florida. PNC has served as title sponsor of the tournament since 2012. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes will continue to play host to the PNC Father/Son Challenge. The 2018 PNC Father/Son Challenge will take place Friday-Sunday, Dec. 14-16, with television coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge long ago became one of my family’s favorite golf tournaments,” said 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. “I have had the pleasure of playing with my sons, and last year, partnering with my 15-year-old grandson GT was a thrill. I am delighted the event—a uniquely special one to us fathers and grandfathers, and perhaps to the many fans out there watching from home or outside the ropes—will continue for many years to come.”

“After our victory in 2016, I said that this win was as good as anything I have done in my career,” said former World No. 1 and major champion David Duval, who alongside his stepson Nick Karavites captured the 2016 title. “I felt blessed to have Nick inside the ropes with me and to have our family surrounding us all week. That’s what makes the PNC Father/Son Challenge so special, and I’m pleased to hear that PNC has extended its support of the event. This golf tournament means so much to all of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in this event.”

The tournament also holds three events in qualifier markets per year. This year they will be in Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge allows fans to see golf’s legends playing the game they love alongside those they love most,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman, IMG. “We are grateful for PNC’s ongoing support of this unique tournament and we look forward to returning to Orlando to celebrate golf and family for many years to come.”

Community support is a key aspect of the tournament and PNC’s sponsorship. PNC is committed to donating $150,000 annually to local non-profits over the life of its sponsorship. Across six previous years of title sponsorship, PNC has already donated $900,000 to Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to support the “Healthy Families Orange” program. Over the years, PNC has also had the opportunity through this tournament to co-host events for local women in business, to put on clinics and provide free access to the tournament for active military, and even provide a service dog for a local veteran.

"PNC's long-standing sponsorship of the Father/Son Challenge reflects the philanthropic values we share with the PGA Tour and the golf community, as well as our focus on strong relationships,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The PNC Financial Services Group. “As PNC Bank continues to expand its footprint, the PNC Father/Son tournament helps us gain visibility with new audiences and to strengthen the relationships we enjoy today with more than 8 million retail, wealth, and corporate and institutional banking customers across the country.”

“NBC Sports is extremely proud of our heritage as co-founder for the Father/Son Challenge, one of golf’s most special events that closes out the calendar year on the golf schedule,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports. “Our relationship with PNC Bank elevates this event each year as a must-attend and must-see event for players and fans alike, and we look forward to our continued relationship with PNC Bank for years to come.”

Past winners of the PNC Father/Son Challenge include some of the biggest names in golf including Raymond Floyd (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001), Jack Nicklaus (1999), Bernhard Langer (2005-06, 2014), Davis Love III (2012) and David Duval (2016).  Masters champion Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. captured the 2017 title.

To qualify for the PNC Father/Son Challenge, participants must have won either a major championship or THE PLAYERS Championship in their career. The professional’s partner must not currently hold a Tour card, and while the majority of partners in the history of the event have been the sons of the golf legends, the family-themed tournament has seen daughters, grandsons and one father – Justin Leonard’s dad, Larry – participate over the years.

The PNC Father/Son Challenge is operated in partnership by IMG and NBC Sports.

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Fire damages National Golf Links of America clubhouse

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 12:55 pm

A fire broke out Wednesday at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., causing "extensive damage" to a portion of the historic course's clubhouse.

According to a 27East.com report, an initial call was made to the Southampton police department about a fire on the roof of the clubhouse at 11:34 a.m. With the club's gates too narrow to fit a fire truck through, more than 100 firefighters from various departments helped douse the flames by transporting water up a hill to the east side of the clubhouse.

The fire was reportedly extinguished by 2:30 p.m., with no injuries requiring medical attention. According to a Golf Digest report, the club was undergoing construction on its outdoor eating area known as "the Birdcage" and that most of the club's historical documents reside on the opposite end of the clubhouse from where the fire broke out and was contained.

Opened in 1911, National Golf Links of America was designed by C.B. MacDonald and hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922. The biennial matches returned in 2013 to NGLA, which is often rated among the top courses in the U.S. and sits adjacent to Shinnecock Hills, site of this summer's U.S. Open.