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World Long Drive has style and substance

By Will GraySeptember 7, 2017, 2:23 pm

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – Look past the lights. See through the smoke.

The Volvik World Long Drive Championship offered up another high-octane spectacle Wednesday under the primetime spotlight at Winstar World Casino and Resort, where Justin James and Sandra Carlborg each left with a championship belt.

Even as the word “spectacle” hits the page, the footsteps can be heard of golf purists heading for the exit. But slow the stampede.

Sure, there are no putters in the golf bags on this particular driving range. The only hazard these players face is missing a grid that seemingly runs for miles and looks more like a runway than a fairway. There isn’t any rough, and there aren’t any scrambling opportunities. No one is turning in a scorecard.

It isn’t golf as we know it – but it isn’t threatening golf, either.

Over the past few months, and even years, there have been plenty of voices wondering aloud about the health of the sport, be it through participation numbers or television ratings. The ardent pursuit of a younger demographic remains a key focus from golf course operators to tournament directors.


Volvik World Long Drive Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Volvik World Long Drive Championship scoring and brackets


So what’s the harm with mixing in a little smash factor with your strokes gained-putting?

The World Long Drive Tour continues to carve out a niche and establish itself as a viable offshoot of a more traditional sport. It’s a path first trod by the likes of beach volleyball, and perhaps more recently the 3-on-3 professional basketball league that turned some heads over the summer.

But what a few years ago may have been a discipline that revolved around a single event on the calendar continues to grow in scope. It’s very much a “tour” out here, with the familiar faces of long drive traversing the country from coast to coast while flashing their eye-popping Trackman numbers for new audiences both in-person and on TV.

Like with any burgeoning outlet, increased attention has garnered increased competition. Despite a format change designed to create a larger sample size for the best players, this year’s world championship was rife with upsets as the men’s quarterfinals kicked off without the defending champ or the top two players in the world.

Just as the gap between No. 1 and No. 100 in the OWGR has thinned over the years, so too has the advantage the elite long drivers once had over their closest competition.

“I think 2017 is the hardest field in world championships history,” said No. 1 Maurice Allen, who won three events this season but was knocked out in the Round of 32. “Like I’ve said many, many times, this sport is growing. The guys are getting better and the competition is getting stiffer, so that’s why when you get a win you truly try to cherish it. You don’t know when a win will be your last.”

It’s a sentiment that shows that long drive continues to take itself seriously as more than just an adrenaline-fueled exhibition – and rightfully so.

“It’s just getting out to more people now, and the proof is even in the competitors as well,” said 2016 world champ Joe Miller, whose title defense ended in the Round of 16. “It’s not just the fans and who it’s reaching, but the guys. You’re getting people that come in every year now, new fresh faces that can swing out of their shoes. That’s just a direct result of how many people it’s getting out to. It’s building every year.”

Granted, long drive is not for everyone. Many will see it as a two-dimensional stunt, one that caters more toward bodybuilders than golfers.

But any questions about athletic prowess can be answered by watching James connect with incredible speed, or Kyle Berkshire nearly levitate while taking a mighty lash. Berkshire would never be mistaken for a weightlifter, and like many in this week’s field he is in fact an elite golfer who reached a +4 handicap while at the University of North Texas last year before pursuing long drive on a full-time basis.

Berkshire’s background in golf is more common than you might expect. Stroll the range at dusk as players warm up before walking onto the tee and you’ll see the same crisp wedge shots or high-flying long irons that might be on display before the opening round at a Web.com Tour event.

Around these parts, possessing a scratch handicap is largely the rule – not the exception.

“That’s why I do well even as a newcomer, because I have the speed but I’m also a really good golfer,” said Berkshire, 20, who lost to Mitch Grassing in the semifinals. “I can flight it, I can hit the ball where I want to and I have more control over it than a lot of people might realize.”

So yes, long drive is a little different, and it packs a whole lot of flair. And of course, few groups fear change and cling to tradition quite like the game of golf.

But this is an elastic landscape, one that should be willing to cater to new disciplines and outside-the-box thinking with an eye toward the future. No one is playing less golf, or turning away from PGA Tour coverage, because of their newfound interest in the emergence of long drive. If anything, it’s a way to engage more casual fans who pay attention to 400-yard shots much more than four-hour final rounds.

This is an additive proposition, not a zero-sum choice.

The lights may have been turned off in Thackerville for another year, but the sport of long drive won’t be dimming anytime soon. And that’s probably a good thing, even if more traditional golf fans remain shrouded by the smoke.

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 23, 2018, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods has a three-shot lead entering the final round of the Tour Championship and is alongside Rory McIlroy in the final group. We're tracking him.


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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.