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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Quicken Loans National

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Only four of the top-30 players in the Official World Rankings are in action this week for the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac. That’s because the majority of the worlds best either decided to rest or play the European Tour’s HNA Open de France at Le Golf National, which is the site of this year’s Ryder Cup. Tiger Woods is back in action this week, however, as he continues his impressive 2018 comeback at this event where he plays host.

Despite measuring just 7,107 yards, TPC Potomac is anything but easy. In fact, it played as one of the most challenging stops on Tour last year. The reason for this is mainly due to the extremely tight fairways, which are imperative to find if you want to have an opportunity to score. Don’t expect to see many drivers hit off the tee this week, as most players will prioritize accuracy over distance. In 2017, Kyle Stanley defeated Charles Howell III at TPC Potomac in a sudden-death playoff after both men had posted 7-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Rickie Fowler 13/2
  • Tiger Woods 12/1
  • Marc Leishman 18/1
  • Francesco Molinari 22/1
  • Kyle Stanley 22/1
  • J.B. Holmes8/1
  • Charles Howell III 28/1

With a field desperately lacking in depth, it’s time for Tiger Woods (14/1, DK Price $11,000) to capture PGA Tour title No. 80. Woods is a clear second favorite in the betting this week, yet he is third behind Fowler and Leishman in DraftKings salary. I believe he should be first in both.

Woods won’t have to hit many drivers this week, just like at the Valspar Championship where he came so close to winning. Tiger can lean on his stinger off the tee, which gives him an advantage over the rest of the field. Ball striking is going to be critical this week, and Woods has not disappointed in this area since his return. Over his previous 24 rounds, Woods ranks third in Ball Striking and first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green. His approach play has been particularly impressive as of late. Over his last 12 rounds, he sits first in the field for Proximity to the Hole.

Woods ranks first in the field over his last 24 rounds for Strokes Gained-Total on golf courses measuring less than 7,200 yards. With his iron play looking imperious, all the signs point to a big week for him. The one doubt is Woods’ putting, which has been a little ropey as of late. Performance on the greens is liable to unpredictable changes in variance, however, and I don’t expect Woods to continue to falter in this department. In a weak field, and on a golf course that will benefit his excellent iron play more than most, this is an outstanding opportunity for Tiger Woods to re-enter the winner’s circle, and it’s one I believe he will take.

Finding value in the middle of the board this week is a challenge, but Gary Woodland’s (50/1, DK Price $8,100) salary of just $8,100 looks to be very cheap. Woodland has struggled since he won the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier in the year, but over his last two events, he has shown signs of promise. In these two events, Woodland has gained over eight strokes for his Approach Play. With approach shots likely to be the key to success this week, this bodes very well for the long hitter.

Woodland has performed well on shorter golf courses through his career. Over his previous 50 rounds, Woodland ranks fourth in the field for Strokes Gained-Total on golf courses that are less than 7,200 yards. Woodland has also played competently on challenging golf courses recently. The Kansas native ranks 17th in the field over his last 24 rounds on golf courses where the scoring is difficult relative to par. With his irons sharp and his game slowly coming back into form, Woodland is underpriced and offers a lot of value this week.

He’s made 16 out of 17 cuts this season, and what might be the weakest field of the year, Rory Sabbatini (DK Price 100/1, DK Price $7,400) offers plenty of value at just $7,400. Sabbatini ranks 25th for Strokes Gained-Total over his previous 24 rounds, and he is more than adept at playing tough golf courses well. Over the same period and on golf courses where scoring is difficult relative to par, Sabbatini’s Strokes Gained-Total takes a jump up to 16th in this field.

Sabbatini also has an outstanding record on par-70 golf courses. Over his previous 24 rounds, Sabbatini sits eighth in this field for ball striking and third for Strokes Gained-Total on such courses. TPC Potomac should be a good fit for Sabbatini, and he looks a more reliable choice than others in his salary range.

As for bargain hunting this week, I like the look of Fabian Gomez (200/1, DK Price $7,100) at just $7,100. Gomez has been quite a reliable performer this year, making eight of his last nine cuts on Tour. He is coming off his best finish of the year at the Travelers where he bagged a top-20.

Gomez gained 6.6 strokes Tee to Green over the field at the Travelers last week, which was his sixth-best performance in this category of his career. The Argentine also enjoys short golf courses and sits 32nd in this field for Strokes Gained-Total on courses less than 7,200 yards over his previous 12 rounds. His immediate form is good. He’s ranked 19th for Strokes Gained Total over his last eight rounds, and he is worth taking a shot on this week at the low price.

Recommended Plays

  • Tiger Woods 14/1, DK Price $11,000
  • Gary Woodland 50/1, DK Price $8,100
  • Rory Sabbatini 100/1, DK Price $7,400
  • Fabian Gomez 200/1, DK Price $7,100
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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