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Mickelson is out in front early at the Northern Trust

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By Seth Kerr

GolfWRX Staff Writer

Phil Mickelson shot 5-under to lead the first round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Mickelson continued his hot play coming off his victory at Pebble Beach where he bested Tiger Woods by 11 strokes in the final round.

The leader board is bunched at the top with 23 players within four shots of the lead.

The first round was suspended due to darkness with a number of players still having holes to finish. Rory Sabbatini and Troy Matteson are both 2-under with holes remaining to play. The first round will continue at 7 a.m. PST Friday with the second round starting thereafter.

Riviera showed its teeth with strong winds making the course’s small greens all the more difficult to hit. Jonathan Byrd’s three-under par round led the morning group, which saw only seven players break par. Players in the afternoon were able to aim for the flags as the winds died down, making the flags more accessible.

Mickelson played a solid round of golf that featured six birdies and only one bogey on the par three 16th hole. He had only 28 putts on the day with a 1.769 putts per green in regulation.

Fred Couples is 1-under after round one at his favorite course besides Augusta National.  The 52-year old Couples is looking for his first victory on tour since 2003. Last year, Couples held the lead in the final round, but eventually gave way to winner Aaron Baddeley, who finished two shots clear runner-up Vijay Singh.

J.B. Holmes and Hunter Mahan are tied for second place at 4-under.

“The last seven holes the wind started to die progressively, so by the end, it couldn’t be playing any nicer or better,” Mahan said. “So I was excited to make some birdies late.”

Holmes is playing his fourth tournament of the year after undergoing two brain surgeries in September and October of 2011.  Holmes started his round on the back nine with three consecutive birdies to hold the lead for much of his round. However, two bogeys and a double bogey on the front dropped him to second place with Mahan. Holmes, known for his length off the tee, was on fire on the greens averaging just 1.385 putts per green in regulation.

Amateurs, Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth, struggled with a 78 and 76 respectively. Anthony Kim shot a 78 and continues to struggle on Tour this year with only one sub-70 round.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum

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Tiger changes driver-weight settings, shoots even-par 70 at Honda Classic

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After missing the cut by four strokes at the 2018 Genesis Open last week, Tiger Woods is back at it again this week at the Honda Classic; it’s the first time he’s played in back-to-back PGA Tour events since 2015.

Opting for something other than driver off the tee much of the day, Woods made one double bogey, one bogey, and three birdies en route to an even-par 70.

It’s no secret that Woods has been struggling off the tee of late, especially with the driver. He’s hitting just 35 percent of fairways on the year, and he has already made one driver shaft change (going from a Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White 70TX to a Matrix Ozik TP6HDe ahead of the Genesis Open). According to photos on Thursday, it appears Woods has also changed the weight settings in his TaylorMade M3 for a bit more forgiveness and fade-bias (as pictured above). At the Genesis Open and the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods had the M3 driver weights in the forward position, which moves CG (center of gravity) forward and tends to lower spin.

On Thursday, however, Woods hit a slew of long irons and fairway woods off the tee instead of drivers at the 7,100-yard par-70 PGA National… an approach that seemed to work. Well, he hit just 50 percent of the fairways on the day, but that means he’s trending upward.

One of the shots Woods hit with the driver was so far right it was literally laughable… but he managed to make par anyway.

Actually, his double-bogey 7 on the par-5 third hole (his 12th of the day) came after hitting the fairway; he was fumbling on and around the green after hitting his third into a greenside bunker. That blunder aside, three birdies and an even-par round at the always-difficult PGA National leaves Woods currently in T19, obviously well inside the cutline.

Do you think Woods will make the cut? Do you think he can contend to win the tournament?

See the clubs Tiger Woods has in his bag this week at the 2018 Honda Classic.

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Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 Honda Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion course (par 70: 7,110 yards) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

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The field this week is stacked at the top, and it includes defending-champion Rickie Fowler, 2017 FedEx Champion Justin Thomas, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who’s making his first PGA Tour start of 2018. Also in the field is Tiger Woods, who committed to play in the event just last week. Woods is coming off a disappointing missed cut at the 2018 Genesis Open.

Last year, Fowler won by four shots over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland, despite playing his final round in 1-over par.

Check out our photos from the 2018 Honda Classic below!

Wednesday’s Photos

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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USGA, R&A to roll out new World Handicap System in 2020

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A new handicap system is here, or rather, it will be once the USGA and R&A begin to fully implement the World Handicap System in 2020.

The new system focuses on achieving three main objectives: 1) encouraging as many golfers as possible to maintain a handicap, 2) enabling golfers of different abilities, genders, and nationalities to compete fairly, and 3) determining the score a golfer is reasonably capable of shooting at any particular course anywhere in the world.

Currently there are six handicapping systems worldwide, owing to the existence of six handicapping authorities: Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, the European Golf Association (EGA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA), the Argentine Golf Association (AAG) and the USGA.

The six handicapping authorities represent approximately 15 million golfers in 80 countries who currently maintain a golf handicap.

Under the new program, the USGA and R&A will oversee the World Handicap System and the governing bodies will be in charge of local administration.

The USGA presents the WHS as a better system that simplifies the existing structures. Not surprisingly, the organization believes the WHS will compel more golfers to maintain a handicap.

“For some time, we’ve heard golfers say, ‘I’m not good enough to have a handicap,’ or ‘I don’t play enough to have a handicap,’” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We want to make the right decisions now to encourage a more welcoming and social game.”

Davis sees the new system marching arm-in-arm with the revisions to (and simplification of) the Rules of Golf.

“We’re excited to be taking another important step – along with modernizing golf’s rules – to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play.”

Key features of the WHS include:

  • Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring that a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability.
  • A minimal number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap; a recommendation that the number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap be 54 holes from any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds, but with “some discretion available for handicapping authorities or national associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction.”
  • A consistent handicap that “is portable” from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA course and slope rating system, already used in more than 80 countries.
  • An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and “factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control.”
  • A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day.
  • Daily handicap revisions, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation.
  • A limit of net double bogey on the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only).
  • A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game.

The USGA and R&A conducted quantitative research in 15 countries around the world. 76 percent of the 52,000 respondents voiced their support for a World Handicap System, 22 percent were willing to consider its benefits, and only 2 percent were opposed.

The research also helped model the tenets of the WHS, but, as mentioned, don’t tear up your GHIN cards just yet: We’ve only just begun the two-year transition period prior to the implementation.

To provide feedback to the USGA on the new World Handicap System, golfers can email the USGA at whsfeedback@usga.org, or see usga.org/whs for more info.

Additionally, the USGA created this FAQ.

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