DORAL, Fla. – The Blue Monster won’t be relying on tropical winter winds as its sole defense anymore. The redesigned Trump Doral Blue Monster unveiled to the media Thursday is bigger, grander and tougher than the aging Dick Wilson design played as home to the WGC-Cadillac Championship. The course is also more visually appealing, more the beauty and beast that Wilson imagined when he built it in 1961, before high-tech clubs and balls emasculated his classic test. While the early media reviews of the redesign are strong, the real measure of what owner Donald Trump and architect Gil Hanse have created will be judged by PGA Tour pros coming to play the Blue Monster in a month. They can be brutally difficult to please. Will they embrace it? Or will they pan it? “No. 1, I want to hear that it’s fair,” Trump said. “If you hit good shots, you will be rewarded for good shots. “The word fairness is important. I really believe the great players are going to find it very fair.” What Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy say about the redesign will leave a lasting impression on Hanse’s work. The last time Doral ownership sought to toughen the Blue Monster, with Ray Floyd redesigning it in ’97, players mostly hated. Floyd added a load of giant new bunkers, shrinking landing areas and toughening approach shots. “They butchered a good course as bad as I’ve ever seen,” Scott Hoch, Doral’s ’03 champ, said back then. That redesign was met with so much backlash, Doral’s ownership hired Jim McLean to basically undo all of Floyd’s changes and return the course to the original Wilson look. Rocco Mediate, who won the Doral-Ryder Open in 1991, is betting there will be a completely different player reaction this time around. “It’s fantastic,” said Mediate, who played the course Wednesday with Trump. “Donald doesn’t do things that aren’t fantastic. Gil Hanse did a great job. If the guys don’t like Doral now, they should never be invited back.” Without the wind, golf’s best have been making the Blue Monster look like the Blue Marshmallow, going low in birdie binges. Mediate doesn’t see that happening now. “Not anymore,” he said. “Now, you’ve got to play.” The Blue Monster was lengthened, but that’s just part of the strategic element Hanse brought back to the course. Wilson’s design was originally all about the angles. He built a course full of doglegs with punishing bunkering in the elbows. He angled greens awkwardly, making approaches narrower than they appeared. Wilson’s angles were ultimately lost with today’s players bombing drives over the bunkering in the corners of his doglegs and then using wedges to take the awkwardness out of his targets. “That driving-all-over-the-course crap doesn’t work anymore,” Mediate said. “It’s a real course now.” Hanse put meaningful angles back into the Blue Monster’s design. While managing to put his own distinct fingerprints on the redesign, Hanse also managed to restore the strategic feel Wilson created. Of course, nobody knows what Dick Wilson would say about the redesign. Wilson died in 1965. His chief assistant on the project, Robert von Hagge, died four years ago. While Hanse originally sought to recreate and preserve Wilson’s intentions, his work evolved with Trump pushing for a bigger and grander makeover through the process. “I think we started with a restoration in mind, but as we really opened the place up, it became more of a redesign, and at this point in time it’s a brand new course,” Hanse said. What players have loved about Doral through the years is how fair it played in those prevailing tropical winter winds. They could get around hitting the knockdown shots those winds required, with Wilson giving them manageable pathways through the wind. That was a stark contrast to what players hated about the Honda Classic in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when it was played the week after Doral at the TPC Eagle Trace, just up the road in south Florida. Forced carries over a lot of water in heavy winds off the Everglades drove players crazy at Eagle Trace. Greg Norman called it “carnival golf.” Hanse made the Blue Monster tougher in part by adding a lot more water. On Wilson’s design, water came into play on six holes. On Hanse’s redesign, water is a major factor on at least 10 holes. The 15th and 16th holes were made more dramatic adding water. Hanse transformed the 15th from what had become a nondescript par 3 into a challenging short par 3 with a peninsula green. The 16th is a short par 4 with a small lake left of the fairway and in front of the green. The eighth, ninth and 10th holes are all more dramatically reconfigured around water. The famed 18th is pretty much the same fearsome test Wilson created. Hanse preserved it while still enhancing it. A neat new row of palm trees more tightly lines the right side of the fairway now, better framing and shaping the tee shot. The Blue Monster will no doubt make a strong first impression on Tour pros coming in next month. The lasting nature of that impression will emerge as Woods, Mickelson, Els and McIlroy and others try to win a trophy there.
SAN ANTONIO – Steven Bowditch held on to win the Texas Open in windy conditions Sunday for his first PGA Tour victory and a spot in the Masters. The 30-year-old Australian bogeyed the par-5 18th for a 4-over 76 for a one-stroke victory. ”I’m over the moon. I really can’t believe it,” said Bowditch, who attempted suicide in 2006 and has fought depression throughout his career. It was the highest closing score by a winner since Vijay Singh finished with a 4-over 76 in the 2004 PGA Championship, and the highest in a non-major since Fred Couples had a 5-over 77 in the 1983 Kemper Open. Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos Bowditch finished at 8-under 280 at TPC San Antonio and earned $1,116,000. ”Every time I got out of check, looking ahead to the Masters and winning golf events and making my speeches before I was finished, I had to pull myself in check every time,” said Bowditch, wearing a green shirt. ”And it happened a lot today.” Bowditch, based in Dallas, entered the week 339th in the world and had only two top-10 finishes in eight years on the tour. He won once on the Australasian circuit and twice on the Web.com Tour. ”He’s been a battler. He’s gone through a lot in his life,” said John Senden, a fellow Australian who won the Valspar Championship two weeks ago. Senden waited about an hour after his round to shake Bowditch’s hand. ”That last putt wasn’t his best, but to finish it off he was as cool as a cucumber really,” Senden said. ”I’m proud to be his mate.” Will MacKenzie and Daniel Summerhays tied for second. MacKenzie shot 70, and Summerhays had a 71. Chesson Hadley and Ryan Palmer missed chances to get into the Masters through the top 50 in the world ranking. Hadley, the Puerto Rico Open winner, needed at least a sixth-place finish, but closed with an 80 to tie for 56th at 5 over. Palmer needed a top-three finish and had an 82 to also tie for 56th. Bowditch played the front nine in 3-over 39, making a double bogey on the par-4 fourth. He countered a bogey on the par-3 13th with a birdie on the par-5 14th and made three pars before missing a 3-foot par putt and settling for a bogey on 18. On the par-3 16th, he got up-and-down after missing the green. He pushed his drive on the par-4 17th, hit his approach on the green and two-putted, then pulled his tee shot left on 18, recovered with a shot to the fairway and reached the green in three. ”I just drew back on some experience,” Bowditch said. MacKenzie made a 13-foot birdie putt on the 17th to pull within a stroke of Bowditch, but the Australian tapped in from 2 feet for his birdie at No. 14 to push the advantage back to two. Matt Kuchar and Andrew Loupe shot 75s to tie for fourth at 6-under.
ATLANTA – Tom Watson didn’t appear to be kicking himself. On the day after Billy Horschel posted his 12th straight round in the 60s, won his second straight tournament against a world-class field and picked up an additional $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion, Watson was kicking back in his seat at a Kansas City Royals game. The 65-year-old Ryder Cup captain wore a Royals cap and a constant grin as he watched Omar Infante work the count to 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning. These questions will follow Watson and his American team to Gleneagles next week for the Ryder Cup: Does he wish he could have Horschel on his team? Should the deadline to make his selections have been pushed back? It makes for an easy – if not lazy – narrative. Hindsight allows for that. Horschel not only won the final two FedEx Cup playoff events, he beat the top qualifier from each Ryder Cup team – Bubba Watson at Cherry Hills and Rory McIlroy at East Lake. It was McIlroy who said at the Tour Championship, ”I’m sure Tom Watson is kicking himself at the minute.” Adding to the debate is that Horschel was runner-up in the event that preceded his back-to-back wins. Tiger Woods is the only other player to have two wins in a runner-up finish in the FedEx Cup. Then again, Horschel is not Tiger Woods. Watson made his wild-card picks after the Deutsche Bank Championship, where Horschel was in prime position to force a playoff with Chris Kirk until he chunked a 6-iron so badly on the par-5 18th hole that it landed in the front of the hazard protecting the green. No one would have suggested Horschel as a pick the next day. So why was the deadline set so early for the picks? Remember, for years the American captain made his selections the day after the PGA Championship, six weeks before the Ryder Cup matches. Thanks to Paul Azinger, the U.S. captain now gets an extra three weeks to find the hot hands. Why not extend it through the Tour Championship? If that’s the case, why not wait until the final week to determine the entire team? This is not about uniforms, programs or any propaganda. This about a team, one that should know who is on the side with ample time to prepare leading to the matches. Four straight playoff events caused enough fatigue as it was. Besides, would anyone be talking about an early deadline if McIlroy, Jim Furyk or Jason Day had won the Tour Championship? And who’s to say Watson would have taken Horschel even if he could have waited? Watson said he was looking for the hot hand and still passed over Kirk the day after his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Watson was looking for experience. He wanted Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson all along. He would have preferred Brandt Snedeker as the third pick, except that Snedeker missed the cut at both playoff events. Hunter Mahan, who has played on two teams, won The Barclays and became an obvious selection, and then Simpson won out over Kirk. As good as Horschel looks now, how can anyone project how he would have played in Scotland? Two years ago, Snedeker looked like a great captain’s pick when he won the FedEx Cup. He went 1-2 at the Ryder Cup. Snedeker wasn’t at his best that week. He blocked a tee shot on the 18th hole that led to bogey in foursomes and cost the Americans at least a half point. On the final day, he bogeyed three straight holes against Paul Lawrie and suffered the worst defeat of any singles match. Woods was a captain’s pick in 2010. He was coming off the upheaval in his personal life, split with his swing coach and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship. He had gone seven straight tournaments without a top 10, and he failed to break 70 in 19 of his last 25 rounds. Woods went 3-1 at Celtic Manor, his best Ryder Cup performance. Horschel will be cheering from home. His big finish will put even more scrutiny on the captain’s picks than they already have. And that will lead to another round of hindsight, unless the Americans can find a way to win. Maybe it was a good sign that the Royals rallied with two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win Monday night. As for Infante? He struck out swinging.
TUCSON, Ariz. – Marco Dawson made a 15-foot par putt on the par-4 18th for a 5-under 67 and the second-round lead Saturday in the Champions Tour’s Tucson Conquistadores Classic. Dawson, making his 21st start on the 50-and-over tour, opened with two birdies, made four in row on Nos. 7-10 and had his lone bogey on the par-3 17th. He holed consecutive birdie putts of 50 feet on No. 7, 18 on No. 8 and 35 on No. 9. ”I putted really well,” Dawson said. ”I made some long putts. I also had a lot of saves.” Dawson had a 10-under 134 total in the first-year event on Tucson National’s Catalina Course, the longtime home of the PGA Tour’s defunct Tucson Open. The 51-year-old Dawson was second last year in the AT&T Championship in San Antonio. He’s winless in 412 PGA Tour starts and has one victory in 161 events on the Web.com Tour. ”I was in this position last year and I thought I did pretty well on Sunday, but Michael Allen played really well down the stretch,” Dawson said. ”I have no control over what everyone else does. If I play well, I’ll be happy with that. The main thing is to play well.” Wes Short Jr. and Bart Bryant were 9 under. Short eagled the par-5 second hole in a 66. Bryant, coming off a playoff loss to Lee Janzen last month in Naples, Florida, had an eagle on the par-5 10th in his 67. Jerry Smith, the first-round leader after making a hole-in-one in a 65, dropped three strokes on the final two holes to fall to 8 under. He matched Dawson with a bogey on 17 and made a double bogey after driving into the left-side water on 18. Michael Allen (67) and David Frost (71) were 6 under. Colin Montgomerie bogeyed the 18th for a 72 to fall into a tie for seventh at 5 under. Bernhard Langer was tied for 10th at 4 under after a 71. He had five victories last year. Kirk Triplett, the winner of the PGA Tour’s final Tucson Open in 2006 at Tucson National, was tied for 20th at 3 under after a 73. Jesper Parnevik was 1 over after a 74 in his Champions Tour debut. The five-time PGA Tour winner turned 50 on March 7. He missed the cut two weeks ago in the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open after injuring his back in a fall during a practice round. Fred Couples was 3 over after a 75. Tom Watson was another shot back after a 72.
During a ceremony last week at the Memorial, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem effortlessly worked the room in his signature understated style, mixing easily with both players and powerbrokers. Although the event was held to honor Doc Giffin, Arnold Palmer’s longtime assistant, the moment did serve as an impromptu milestone for Finchem. The 68-year-old began his 22nd year as commissioner on June 1 and, at least according to various observers and assorted tealeaves, his final year in the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., big chair. Finchem signed a four-year contract extension in 2012 and many figured it would be the former White House deputy advisor’s swansong tour. “We haven’t made any final decision yet. The transition planning is coming along very nicely,” Finchem told GolfChannel.com. “We have a really strong group so I don’t think there is any down side to any particular time that I step aside.” The transition Finchem referred to gained momentum last year when Jay Monahan was appointed the circuit’s deputy commissioner, making the former tournament director Finchem’s heir apparent. In quintessential Finchem style, the commissioner has been carefully and meticulously laying the groundwork for his potential exit. Earlier this season he convinced Davis Love III, who turned 51 in April and is making his own transition to the Champions Tour, to run for chairman of the player advisory council which has paved the way for the veteran to become a member of the policy board next year. “I was chairman of the PAC the year  he was brought in to be commissioner, and it’s just to see the transition go back the other way. It’s important to me and to [Finchem] to have guys on the policy board that have experience in a transition time,” Love said. “Everyone assumes it’s [Monahan], but whoever is picked it will be nice to have some guys with experience [on the policy board].” For all of Finchem’s planning, however, he didn’t exactly sound like a man poised on the precipice of his golden years last week at Muirfield Village. “There are a couple of things I’m working on that I’d rather get a little further down the track and they are big things, so it’s a little early to say where they are going to be,” Finchem said. “I don’t have to see them through, but I’d like to get both of them on the right track and I want to work with Jay in a couple of areas, so how that pans out in terms of time I’m not quite certain yet.” Although Finchem would not say what those “big” projects might be, it seems likely his primary focus the next few months will be on resigning FedEx as the umbrella sponsor of the Tour’s season-long race. In February 2012, the logistics firm agreed to a five-year contract extension through the 2017 season and given Finchem’s involvement in the circuit’s move to the season-long competition which began in 2007 it’s likely he would want to assure its future before stepping down. It’s unclear what other projects might keep Finchem at the helm through next June. The Tour’s current television contracts with NBC, Golf Channel and CBS all run through 2021 and golf’s spot in the Olympics, which the commissioner oversaw, is assured through the 2020 Games in Japan. Although Finchem’s current contract was for four years, he said the nine-member policy board, which would need to approve any extension and includes four player directors, would not be bound by any time requirements. “I might stay another year or so after next year, I might move on next year. We’ll have to wait and see,” said Finchem, who added that a decision would likely be made by the end of the year. “I think the board would be comfortable with whatever Jay and I recommend.” Perhaps the most telling sign that Finchem may not be ready to step down just yet came when he was asked what he would consider his legacy after more than two decades as commissioner. “I’ve never really thought about it in those terms,” he said. “If Peyton Manning is the quarterback and you go to the Super Bowl, he had a great season but there are 48 guys on the team. “I’d like to think that when I get done, people look at me and say, ‘OK, he worked his butt off, a lot got done and the players and the stakeholders looked at his time and thought a good job was done for them.” And it appears the man who is already scheduled to stay in the job two years longer than his mentor, Deane Beman, whom he succeeded as commissioner, might not be done working his butt off just yet.
For someone who spent a good portion of his early adult years fully entrenched in the political world, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has done his best to stay above the current election-cycle fray. But that fine line between impartiality and partisanship intersected for Finchem and the Tour on Wednesday. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Tuesday revealed in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News that the circuit planned to depart from his property at Doral, home to a Tour event since 1962. “I just heard that the PGA Tour is taking their tournament out of Miami and moving it to Mexico,” Trump said. “It’s the Cadillac World Golf Championship, and Cadillac’s been a great sponsor, but they’re moving it to Mexico. . . . By the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance.” The Tour signed a 10-year extension with Trump in 2013 to remain at Doral, but that agreement stipulated that if the circuit couldn’t round up a title sponsor to replace Cadillac, then it had the right to move the World Golf Championship to greener pastures, even if those pastures are in Mexico City. “Some of the reaction revolves around the feeling that somehow this is a political exercise, and it is not that in any way, shape, or form,” Finchem said on Wednesday at the Memorial. “It is fundamentally a sponsorship issue. We are a conservative organization. We value dollars for our players. We have a strong sense of fiduciary responsibility.” Mexico’s crime rate aside, the WGC’s move south is about more than losing a half-centrury-old Tour staple, or the challenges of prying sponsorship dollars from corporate America. This is about creating distance, either by design or circumstance, between an outspoken and often polarizing candidate and an organization that has so adeptly played both sides of the fence for decades. As has become the norm, Trump doubled down on the Tour’s move with this statement: “It is a sad day for Miami, the United States and the game of golf, to have the PGA Tour consider moving the World Golf Championships, which has been hosted in Miami for the last 55 years, to Mexico. No different than Nabisco, Carrier and so many other American companies, the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for local communities and charities and the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of fans who make the tournament an annual tradition.” Perhaps Trump and his run to the White House has become too toxic for Finchem and his salesmen. Maybe golf in South Florida has reached its shelf life. But there’s no denying that this feels like political expediency. This is, after all, the same organization that regularly pulls rabbits out of corporate hats to sponsor events even during the most challenging economic times. Although there has been a steady drumbeat to expand the footprint of the World Golf Championships – of the four, only the WGC-HSBC Champions is played outside the U.S., in China – leaving Doral for Mexico City seems less about expanding that footprint and more about shrinking the spectre of Trump. On Wednesday, Finchem echoed comments he made earlier this season, telling reporters he hoped golf could remain above politics. “From a political standpoint, we are neutral. The PGA Tour has never been involved or cares to be involved in presidential politics,” Finchem said. While high-minded, Finchem’s desire to stay clear of what has become a particularly nasty political season was always unrealistic, if not duplicitous, given the circuit’s relationship with Trump. In 2009, according to the Sports Business Daily, the Tour spent $420,000 to lobby Congress, and in 2014 the circuit reported $158,000 in lobbying fees. Finchem is no stranger to politics, having served as a deputy advisor to president Jimmy Carter in the office of economic affairs in the late 1970s and having deftly defended the Tour’s tax-exempt status over the years. But on this, the commissioner seems content to vote with the Tour’s feet, relocating an event that’s been a cornerstone of the schedule instead of weathering the current storm for one more year to see how the election played out. Whether you agree with Trump’s brand of politics or not doesn’t matter, at least it shouldn’t to Finchem. What matters is whoever wins the election will have a healthy amount of influence over the Tour. “This time next year, if [Trump] is president, it would be silly for the Tour not to keep some sort of relationship with him,” Rory McIlroy said earlier this season. If the tone of Trump’s comments is any indication, that relationship took a figurative and literal turn South on Wednesday.
ALBANY, N.Y. – Jackie Stoelting made a 28-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a playoff with Emma Talley on Sunday to win the Symetra Tour’s Fuccillo Kia Championship. The 29-year-old Stoelting shot a 1-under 70 in rainy and windy conditions at Capital Hills to match Talley at 9-under 204. Making her professional debut, the 22-year-old Talley birdied the final hole for a 67. The former Alabama star won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur and 2015 NCAA individual title. ”It feels awesome, this is like a second home to me,” said Stoelting, whose mother and father grew up in the area. ”Today was a fight, but I am proud of my comeback and it is extra special to finally be able to do it here. It feels good to make a birdie to win the tournament.” Stoelting and Talley each parred the par-3 18th on the first extra hole, and Stoelting – with her father serving as her caddie – birdied the hole on the next pass for her third career tour victory. ”This is so special because my first professional tournament was on this course eight years ago and my parents are from here,” Stoelting said. ”This is the most amount of people I’ve had come out to watch me. It was really special for both my parents to be here as well.” Stoelting earned $18,750 to jump from 28th to sixth on the money list with $30,446, with the final top 10 earning 2017 LPGA cards. ”It feels great to finally be able to put it all together especially in the heart of the season,” said Stoelting, the winner of consecutive tournaments late last season. ”The year I finished in the top 10 (2014), I didn’t have a win, so it feels great to be able to get one early on.” The former Florida Southern player also won a 2016 Kia Forte. ”I’m really thankful to Fuccillo for donating the car to the winner,” Stoelting said. ”I’m really excited about it because I have been having car troubles so this is a great added bonus to the win.” Talley made $12,021 to enter the money list at 33rd. ”I didn’t have any expectations of what to finish and I’m really happy with second place,” Talley said. ”It is a little bittersweet. I came out here with nerves and I ended with nerves.” Michelle Piyapattra was third at 8 under after a 68. Dana Finkelstein (67), Pavarisa Yoktuan (68), Laura Wearn (69), Brittany Benvenuto (69) and Erica Popson (69) tied for fourth at 7 under.
Fred Ridley began his tenure as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club this week, replacing Billy Payne who announced he was stepping down from the position in August. That change in title, however, didn’t alter his enthusiasm on his way to work. That has never changed. “When I drove down Magnolia Lane as my first day as chairman of the club, I promise you that I did so with the same excitement and anticipation that I had over 41 years ago,” said Ridley, who first visited Augusta National as the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion and had been invited to play the ’76 Masters. There are those who correctly contend that Augusta National’s chairman is among the most influential people in golf, and Ridley conceded that there’s no on-the-job training that can prepare someone for such a prominent gig, although having Payne as his predecessor will certainly help. Payne’s 11-year tenure was defined by substantial change, from his business savvy to his ambitious infrastructure projects that included construction of a new tournament range, media center, tournament office and high-end hospitality. Photo gallery: Fred Ridley through the years They say nothing really changes at Augusta National, and officials work hard to maintain that notion, but Payne’s time as chairman was nothing short of an extreme makeover. Ridley will continue to oversee that expansion and talked at length on Tuesday about the club’s continued commitment to growing the game, which has always been a central tenet at Augusta National, but it took on renewed urgency under Payne. “I don’t really know exactly what might come of that, I will tell you that we have several ideas that are being discussed,” Ridley said. “There’s nothing definite, no commitments, but I think you’ll see in the coming months, that we will be doing other things because I think there is a lot more to be done.” Where Ridley may forge a new path, however, is on the competitive front. A lawyer by trade and former USGA president, Ridley has spent the last 11 years as chairman of the Masters competitions committee. He was also an accomplished amateur who played college golf at the University of Florida and the kind of person those who gather under the sprawling oak behind the Augusta National clubhouse call a “golf guy.” Where Payne was a businessman who skillfully coaxed the club into the new millennium, albeit at a genteel pace, Ridley seems poised to leave a different mark, a mark that could resonate well beyond the gates of Augusta National. Ridley was asked on Tuesday in his first give-and-take with the golf media as chairman his thoughts on possible changes to the storied course and his answer was equal parts reserved and resounding. “Some of the most significant changes occurred back in the late 1990s, early 2000s under Hootie Johnson’s chairmanship, and I think that time has proven that those were very wise decisions,” he said. “I will tell you that we will take whatever action, whatever course of action is necessary to protect the integrity of Augusta National.” There’s been speculation in recent months following news that the club had purchased a parcel of land from Augusta Country Club that officials could lengthen the 13th hole, and the rerouting of Berckmans Road could also allow for changes to the course. While Augusta National, more so than any other course, has been able to withstand the test of time and increased driving distances, the club may be approaching another tipping point, particularly at the celebrated par-5 13th that is regularly played as a two-shot hole even by players who are considered middle-of-the-pack on the modern distance scale. There are precedents on this front in Ridley’s past. At the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, then-chairman of the USGA’s championship committee Ridley converted the second hole from a par 5 to a par 4. “I’ve noticed a lot of the players have commented that, really, records are kept in scores, not necessarily in relation to par,” Ridley said at the time. “I would agree with that. The U.S. Open record of 272 is 8 under par, and I believe Ben Hogan’s record of 276 was also 8 under par. We [the USGA] recognize scores.” Ridley, then the USGA vice president, oversaw a similar adjustment to the ninth hole at Olympia Fields at the ’03 U.S. Open; but it seems wildly unlikely Augusta National would convert the backend of Amen Corner to a par 4 simply to protect par. There is another, more intriguing option. It’s possible Ridley could take a much more dramatic step to mitigate distance gains and introduce a limited-distance tournament golf ball for the Masters. “The USGA and the R&A now have a more concentrated effort about that issue,” Payne said in April when asked about a possible “tournament” golf ball. “We have great confidence in their ability to forge a solution. But, of course, as you would imagine, we always reserve the right to do whatever we have to do to preserve the integrity of our golf course. I don’t think that will ever happen.” But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen, particularly with a new chairman who spent decades helping craft and create those same USGA policies, and someone who understands the issue better than anyone. It remains to be seen what kind of chairman Ridley will become, but if his history is any indication his tenure could be just as profoundly groundbreaking as Payne’s, but for much different reasons.
LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole? The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter. Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander. In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not. What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style. If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff. Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon. “You’ve got to hit shots from every different angle, you’ve got to move it right to left and left to right, so it’s just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.” Full-field scores from the Genesis Open Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event. That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba. Ask a player – any player will do – the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is “patience.” “Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I’m out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.” While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience. “Oh, for sure I do. Haven’t you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I’ve been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.” While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure. Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s. “I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what’s going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I’m doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that’s kind of the head space I’m in.” It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical. One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated. “Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn’t, so it worked out,” Watson smiled. And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.
HONOLULU — Saturday was no time to panic, especially at a Sony Open with so many players in the mix that one shot could lead to a good run and change the landscape in a hurry. That’s what happened to Brendan Steele. He went from a share of the lead to three shots behind through four holes. He had one birdie on his card. And then he hit his best shot of the day and seized control of the Sony Open. Steele hit a 4-iron from 210 yards into a left-to-right wind that he had to turn over to get to a flag on the left side of the green. He hit it to 8 feet for eagle, and he was on his way. ”I needed to really hit it solid, and hit it well, and turn it over,” Steele said. ”Did all those things and it ended up being the right number.” He played the final 10 holes in 7 under, and the number that mattered was 12-under 198, and a three-shot lead over Cameron Smith of Australia going into the final round. Steele had a share of the lead to start the day, with 23 players separated by three shots. Now only Smith is within three of the lead, and he had to work hard to stay that close. Smith birdied four of his last five holes for a 66. ”It wasn’t looking too pretty at the start there – didn’t start with my best golf,” Smith said. ”Got into the swing of things on the back nine. Started to feel a little bit more comfortable with my swing rather than worrying about what I was doing with my swing just went ahead and tried to hit some golf shots. It was good to get in that frame of mind before tomorrow.” Steele is going for his fourth PGA Tour victory, and his first since repeating at the Safeway Open in the fall of 2017. His daughter was born two weeks later. He has had only two top 10s in 50 tournaments worldwide since then, and one of those was a team event in New Orleans. ”It’s always going to be difficult no matter what,” Steele said of the final round. ”Would be very rare to come out and birdie the first six holes and have it never be in question. So, as much as I would like that, I know it’s going to be tough. I’m going to have to battle. But it’s nothing that I haven’t seen before.” Each day, the wind has lost a little strength at Waialae. Each day, the top score has been a little lower. Sony Open in Hawaii: Full-field scores | Full coverage Steele, Kevin Kisner and Mark Anderson each shot 64, the low score of the week. Kisner was tied for the lead when he finished his round, feeling a lot better about his chances than the previous week at Kapalua, a big golf course where power players thrive. Kisner is more about iron play, and Waialae suits him well. He just wasn’t expecting Steele to take off the way he did. Steele went from a share of the lead to two shots behind when he went long of the green on the third and fourth holes, both time making bogey. The wind still packed enough gusts, especially if a ball came out hot and high, that his pitching wedge into the third went 180 yards. It all changed on the par-5 ninth, and Steele was on his way. Webb Simpson had a 66 and was five shots behind, along with former Sony Open winner Ryan Palmer and Collin Morikawa, who each had a 68. Simpson opend with a 71 and has followed with two rounds at 66. He is 8 under over his last 27 holes, and hopeful the momentum will carry him. The umbrellas didn’t come out until the last hole for the leaders. ”If the rain stays away, I think it’s going to take a pretty good number,” Simpson said. Much of that depends on the weather, and on Steele.