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Tour Rundown: Sony Open Twilight Zone, Grace under pressure

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The 2nd weekend in January of 2020 marked the return of multiple events during a single week. Granted, one was rescheduled from 6 weeks past, another began on Saturday (and will conclude tomorrow), a third was an unfortunate swamp…DOESN”T MATTER! Televised golf that counts is back, and we’re watching! One of the world’s finest percussionists, Neil Peart of RUSH, left this world last week. In a salute to his mastery, find tributes to his songs scattered throughout this piece. With a heavy, non-golf heart, let’s read Tour Rundown for Monday, January 13th, 2o2o.

Sony Open’s Twilight-Zone ending leaves lots of head scratching

Not all comebacks end in victory, nor do all golf tournaments end in logic. Consider the 2nd part before the first: squeegees on the 18th green, golf balls ricocheting off bleachers, delays of over 10 minutes for the final group. It’s really no surprise that Brendan Steele had trouble navigating the closing stretch at Waialae Country Club. Some of it was his undoing, but much of it wasn’t. Steele came into the week in a massive slump, and led until the final putt, when he suddenly didn’t. And yet, to come so close to victory and not drink from the cup, is still a comeback. And perhaps that can suffice for now.

Steele had a one-shot lead, and was standing in the middle of the 18th fairway, iron in hand. Exuberance gave way to a snapping hook, and his approach sailed over the grandstands. After a drop area was decided, the leader was unable to pitch far enough, to avoid the casual channel of water that traversed the final putting surface. Steele could only 2-putt, and hope that Smith would not make birdie (spoiler alert: he did.)

The victor, Cameron Smith, was able to make up 2 shots on Steele over the inward nine. He birdied the 18th to reach 11 under par, and off the two golfers went to the 10th tee. Why not 18, you ask? Recall, if you will, the condition of the closing hole. It was quite messy, with sloppy turf along most of its 551 yards. The 10th is a wee drive and pitch, but it gave Steele fits. He drove his ball in the fairway, while Smith missed wide right. The Aussie played a remarkable recovery, onto the green, not far from the hole. With a tiny wedge in his hand, Steele gunned his approach far beyond the green, precisely where he didn’t need to be. Unable to get the ball up and down, Steele’s bogey was no match for Smith’s 2-putt par, and the Aussie had his first PGA Tour title.

Webb Simpson and Ryan Palmer found themselves in contention, in the penultimate group. Simpson made a par to total -10, one putt shy of the playoff. Palmer’s finish was as bizarre as Steele’s. Palmer slammed his approach, from a fairway bunker, off the video board, over the grandstands, straight into a bogey. In one swing he went from potential playoff participant to 4th place tie. Can golf on the mainland possibly equal this? Doubtful.

South African Open victory completes journey of Grace under pressure

Within his home country of South Africa, Branden Grace had won every event of note but one: the Open championship. On Sunday, the 31-year old closed the trophy cabinet with a 3-shot victory over Louis Oosthuizen, winning his country’s national title at the Randpark golf club in Johannesburg. The victory moved him into the early lead in the 2020 Race To Dubai, the European Tour’s season-long points race.

Inspired, perhaps, by the sublime 62 of Marcus Armitage on Saturday, Grace teed off on Sunday and posted a 62 of his own. Two items stand out from that performance: he was actually +1 through 2 holes; and he did all his damage in an eleven-hole stretch. Grace made bogey at the 2nd to fall a stroke farther behind the overnight leader. Then, in a 2.5 hour bottle, Grace caught lightning. Birdies at holes 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 through 14, in addition to an eagle at the 4th, lopped a massive 10 shots off his tally, pushing him beyond 20-under par.

Oosthuizen had an eagle of his own. A perfectly-judged tee shot on the par-3 8th hole, played dangerously close to disaster, found the bottom of the cup. The 2010 Open champion had, incredibly, zero bogeys on the day. Unfortunately, he was able to pair just one birdie with the ace, finishing at a frustrating 18-under par. As for Armitage, had he visited a fortune teller before the start, he would have learned that he would stand over a critical putt on the week’s last green. No, not for the title, but for an automatic bid to the 2020 Open Championship, at Royal St. George’s in July. The Englishman drained a 20-feet putt for birdie, finished in solo 3rd position, and punched his ticket to the south of England this summer.

Hong Kong Open decided after 6-week delay

Wade Ormsby of Australia began his 2020 in the most proper way; he claimed the Asian Tour’s Hong Kong Open with a 4- shot triumph. The journey to conclusion began in November of 2019, when the tournament was originally scheduled. Anti-government protests were sufficient enough for tournament organizers to authorize a postponement. 1.5 months later, the event was contested at the Hong Kong golf club.

No one was more on-form this week, than the soon-to-turn-40 Ormsby. He opened with 65, for a share of the lead, then stitched a quilt of 66s the remainder of the week. Gunn Charoenkul of Thailand stood 2 back of the Aussie on day four, and closed to within a shot when the leader made bogey at the first on Sunday. Right the ship? Indeed. Ormsby birdied holes 2-4 and added another at the 9th, to turn in 31 and remind followers that it had always been his week. Charoenkul admirably stood strong, finishing in 3rd place 5 behind the champion.

It was the 2019 Champion Golf of the Year, Shane Lowry, who provided the fittest challenge of the day. Lowry closed within 1 of the week’s low round (63) with a 64 of his own. Standing 6 under on the day through 14, the Irishman had closed with a pair of strokes of the leader. Ormsby and Lowry each had bogeys at the daunting, par 4 15th hole. The 5 effectively ended Lowry’s challenge, as Ormsby was unlikely to fritter away his lead.

The title was Ormsby’s 2nd Hong Kong Open win in 3 years. Among notable competitors, American Tony Finau finished 5th at 10 below par. Rashid Khan of Indonesia, compiler of the aforementioned 63, claimed 6th place after closing with 70. The Asian Tour resumes play this week at the Singapore Open, at the Sentosa golf club. Enter the warrior, today’s Wade Ormsby.

Tournament of Champions to Thomas in energy-crackling finish

Although it took place last week, the PGA Tour’s annual TOC earned a look this week, thanks to its unanticipated and dramatic finish. It’s rare when a PGA Tour player misses a driving range, but that’s what Justin Thomas did with his 2nd at the par-5 18th hole on Sunday. From certain victory in regulation, Thomas tugged his fairway metal (which he didn’t need to hit) on the widest fairway in golf, into the native gunge left. The ensuing penalty forced him to get up and down from 75 yards for par and victory. Well, that didn’t happen, either. Off went Thomas and equal-parts-stunned-and-delighted Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed to the 18th tee. Thomas and Reed negotiated birdies, which eliminated Xander’s par. Playoff part two at the same hole dealt pars from the middle of the deck to the survivors, so back to the hilltop they went, for a 4th go (including regulation) at the long yet reachable par five. Thomas made birdie and watched as Reed could only make par. The win was Thomas’ 12th on tour, and 3rd in a playoff.

Much was learned with the resumption of the 2019-2020 PGA Tour season in Kapalua: Brendon Todd’s incredible run of top-five finishes came to an end (he placed 29th); Joaquin Niemann can play better than he did at Royal Melbourne (where he didn’t help the International Team a lick); and for Kapalua’s Plantation course to truly defend itself against the pros, it needs backward winds (which it got); brand-new greens (with new breaks, to stump the gods); and fairways that don’t run out (that will change as the redone turf firms up.) In other words, by 2022, Kapalua should be Kapalua again.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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The DailyWRX: What’s buzzing on social media 6/5/2020

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With everything going on, I wanted to find some humor out there…hope you all can find some time to have a chuckle, it helps.

I relate to this on so many levels…

My game therefore I am trash.

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Send this to a trash golfer ????

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It’s funny…

But the guy might do it cuz he’s so damn savage.

I’m in…

Once again…

I love the shots and tips that come out of these vids…..but these backyard setups continue to solidify that I have failed at life…SMH. My jealousy rages.

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Rainy Wednesday…we going skippin!

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He is a literal walking ray of golden sunshine…

He’s inching up my list of favorite player…just sayin’.

DM @johnny_wunder for anything good

 

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Morning 9: U.S. Open could feature fans after all | LPGA skins match? | Singh WD’s from Korn Ferry event

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1. Singh bows out of Korn Ferry opener
Adam Woodard reports we will unfortunately not be getting the Singh/Schnell pairing we were hoping for…“Vijay Singh caused quite a stir a few weeks back when the three-time major champion’s name appeared on the field list for the Korn Ferry Tour’s first post-pandemic event at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valley Course June 11-14.”
  • “On Sunday, the PGA Tour confirmed Singh has withdrawn from the Korn Ferry Challenge. Golf Channel was first to report.”
  • “Singh riled up golf Twitter – Korn Ferry Tour pro Brady Schnell, in particular – with his initial decision to enter the KFT event. Being a lifetime PGA Tour member, The Big Fijian was eligible to enter the event because he wasn’t playing in the Tour’s return to play that same week at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.”
2. Still no fans at Colonial
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard…”Despite a revised state order that would allow fans to attend next month’s Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas, the PGA Tour plans to proceed without fans for at least the first four events when play resumes.”
  • “The PGA Tour’s primary focus continues to be the health and well-being of all involved with our tournaments and the communities in which we play,” a statement from the Tour read. “We plan to resume play at the Charles Schwab Challenge with the event – and the three to immediately follow – closed to the general public.”
3. Lynch on player mics
Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch has a few thoughts on one of the most-discussed matters coming out of The Match 2…“The most compelling possibility raised by “The Match II” is having players wear microphones during tournament play, and this week the European Tour said it will encourage players to be mic’d when it resumes action in July. The ET’s chief executive, Keith Pelley, exhibits more confidence in golfers agreeing to this than any of the people I know who produce live tournament golf for a living. Those producers will unanimously tell you it’s near impossible to get a simple walk and talk from a PGA Tour player, much less an intimate audio feed for 18 holes of competition.”
“The absence of mic’d competitors in tournaments isn’t because producers don’t want greater access. For all their garrulousness on social media, even younger Tour players maintain an old school mentality passed down from generations of Curtis Stranges and Raymond Floyds, who were as about as approachable as a piranha with toothache when they were working between the ropes. There is also a cost attached. “The Match II” was carefully stage-managed, with players held up along the way to ensure they were live at the right times. That won’t happen in tournaments with 156 guys in the field. Sure, you can stream a single group wired for sound, but for network broadcasts you’ll add the expense of a production staffer to monitor all the chatter for gems and a tape operator to cue it up (and armchair critics will still bemoan that it’s tape-delayed).”
4. Stymied LPGA skins match
Wherefore art the women in these charity matches? Apparently, we’d have already seen an LPGA skins match featuring top players, but for a lack of financial backing…
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols has the full story…
“It’s all in place:
  • “Two courses are interested in hosting
  • Twelve players have agreed to compete
  • If they can pay for TV production, Franzen says they have the full support of the LPGA to work with their broadcast partners
“The idea is to deliver two days of skins matches to outlets around the globe. Players will have the ability to choose which COVID-19 relief fund they want their winnings to go toward.”
“But here’s the deal: Franzen needs funding. Lots of it.”
5. USGA: USO could feature fans
ESPN’s Bob Harig…”But the United States Golf Association is now optimistic about keeping the championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in suburban New York City and remains hopeful that spectators in some limited form will be able to attend.”
  • “The organization had been working on contingency plans to move the tournament to another venue, if necessary.”
  • “We are focused singularly on Winged Foot,” John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of championships for the USGA, said in a phone interview Friday. “Once we got the September dates, that was our thinking. Time is on our side. We did look at multiple scenarios, but given the recent news we felt we could focus there.”
  • “Winged Foot is a special place for us. And the golf course will be amazing. And to be able to do this in New York, where things have been so challenging, will put an explanation point on it. We see Winged Foot as our sole focus.”
6. Fill-in Tour event?
Rob Oller, Columbus Dispatch, syndicated in Golfweek…“Columbus could be in the mix to host a second PGA Tour event the week before the Memorial Tournament scheduled for July 16-19, two sources confirmed to the USA Today Network on Friday.”
  • “The Columbus-based tournament would serve as a temporary fill-in for the John Deere Classic, which was scheduled to be held July 9-12 in Silvis, Illinois, but canceled on Thursday because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. It was to be the first tour event to include spectators.”
  • “…Other leading alternative site is Detroit with Lexington, Kentucky, and Carmel, Indiana, also possibilities. (This story was updated on Saturday, May 30, to include new information from the Akron Beacon-Journal, a member of the USA Today Network.)”
7. Mackenzie Tour cancels season
Carson Williams at Golf Channel…“Border restrictions, mandatory quarantines for those who enter Canada and gathering restrictions in all provinces because of the coronavirus pandemic were just a few reasons that led the tour to cancel its season.”
  • “With growing uncertainty surrounding the border and the 14-day quarantine regulations, among other factors, we’ve weighed all of our options and concluded that it is not feasible to play this summer,” Mackenzie Tour Executive Director Scott Pritchard said in a press release. “With the safety of the communities we play in mind, as well as the well-being of our players, sponsors, tournament-organizing committees, volunteers and golf course staff, we came to the realization that this is the best decision for everyone involved.”
  • “Mackenzie Tour members have been sent information detailing eligibility for the 2021 season. Those who have earned status at three 2020 Qualifying Tournaments will keep their status for next season. For the Qualifying Tournament entrants who have not yet competed, they will be guaranteed a spot for the 2021 event.”
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Morning 9: Latest memo from Tour to players | Phil’s post-Match perspective | Greg Norman’s regrettable take

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1. Latest “bubble” memo
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard details the most recent communique from Tour to its players…“In a memo sent to players on Wednesday, tournament director Michael Tothe outlined many of the protocols that will be required when play resumes on June 11 at Colonial including the four Fort Worth, Texas, hotels that will create the foundation of the circuit’s “bubble” for the week.”
  • “The core of the PGA Tour’s plan to return was always about testing, but it’s a fine line to walk. In two weeks, at the Charles Schwab Challenge, we’ll find out if it will be enough.”
  • “Players are allowed to stay in individual RVs or rental homes but they are being encouraged to assure the health and safety of their accommodations if they choose to stay outside the bubble.”
  • “Players were also informed where COVID-19 testing will occur when they arrive in Fort Worth as well as meal options at Colonial, which will be limited to grab-and-go lunches in order to follow safety protocols.”
2. Little John finishes second at Crooked Stick 
Kyle Neddenriep, Indianapolis Star…Daly II made that same walk on Wednesday, up the 18th fairway for the final round of the inaugural Dye Junior Golf Invitational at Crooked Stick.”
  • “I think a lot of guys have re-watched the 1991 PGA tournament,” Daly II said. “I watched it every night before the tournament. (Watching him) walk down the 18th with all of the fans everywhere was pretty cool. He started as the ninth alternate and didn’t expect to play. For him to win, it was a ridiculous story. He loves it.”
  • “Daly II put together a remarkable tournament in his own right, finishing a three-way tie for second place behind winner John Marshall Butler of Louisville, Kentucky. Daly II was 4 over for the two-day, 54-hole event, which featured 33 of the top high school boys players in the country and 33 of the same on the girls’ side.”
3. Phil open to wearing mic
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Speaking on the Dan Patrick Show, Mickelson admitted that he didn’t expect the same level of banter during a typical Tour event with a seven-figure prize on the line, but he’d nonetheless be willing to broadcast his inside-the-ropes dialogue.”
  • “I would be open to the idea because of how it’s being received, and some of the insight and so forth,” Mickelson said. “But you don’t have the play between individuals. I had a partner, and Tom and I could talk back and forth. And maybe you could get some of that with the caddie, but having a partner is much more intimate and you have much better conversation.”
4. …wants annual Match
AP report…”Phil Mickelson, fresh off the success of Sunday’s charity golf exhibition with Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, says he would like to see “The Match” become an annual event.”
  • “I think you could showcase guys like Steph Curry and Michael Jordan or Tony Romo and Patrick Mahomes, who are all good golfers, elite talents and have great personalities,” Mickelson told the Los Angeles Times in a column published Wednesday. “Those personalities are going to come out with this event. Or you could have someone who loves the game and is competitive but is really entertaining like Larry David and Bill Murray. I think that could shine.”
5. More audience info
Interesting stuff from Geoff Shackelford…“According to Showbuzzdaily.com, almost 1/3 of The Match 2’s audience was in the coveted 18-49 demo and the number was even better on on TruTV, also meaning there are people of any age group who know how to find TruTV”
  • “About 30% of The Match’s audience landed in the 18-49 demo despite the 44.5 average age of the participants…The numbers for TaylorMade Driving Relief with a foursome averaging 29.5 years”
  • “That’s 25% of the almighty buyers for a younger, supposedly more millennial-friendly group of golfers. And a grand total of (at least) 860,000 fewer viewers 18-49.  While not a huge difference in the percentage department, The Match did rout Driving Relief in overall audience and even took chipped away at NASCAR’s ratings.”

Full piece.

6. After a long layoff, how do the pros play?
Dylan Beirne, 15th Club for PGATour.com, examines the question…“As we might expect, there’s a clear relationship between performance and the number of weeks a player has been off. We can analyze how well players perform by comparing our estimate of their ability (how we would expect them to perform) to how they actually performed.”
  • “Generally, players taking small breaks of two weeks or less are marginally better than expected, while longer breaks result in an average drop in performance of between 0.1 and 0.2 strokes per round. For context, a drop of 0.2 strokes per round is about the gap between 100th- and 135th-ranked players in the world. It’s a significant change, but not enormous.”
  • “Additionally, the drop in performance after a 10-20 week gap is quite consistent across different levels of players. Top-50 players in the world are affected by a similar amount to those outside the top 50.”
7. A really bad take from Greg Norman
I mean, what else can you call it? A man who has a history of obtuseness and putting his fin in his mouth outdid himself with unfounded speculation about the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash in an interview with Michael Bamberger…“I asked Norman about the January helicopter crash in Los Angeles that killed all nine people aboard, Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, among them. I asked Norman if he had any insight, from his own experience as a helicopter pilot, and as an elite athlete who has flown often in helicopters as a passenger, into the tragedy.”
  • “Yes – yes,” he said. His voice was sober. “Probably pilot error and pressure from the back,” Norman said. Norman could imagine the legendary basketball player saying, “‘Get me through this; get me there. I’ve got to get my daughter to this game.’
  • …”My instructor and I had a saying, ‘If you can’t see through it don’t fly through it.’ If I was flying to Doral or Orlando or Naples and there was fog, we just put it down and waited it out.”
8. Sprint to the Cup
Ben Everill at PGATour.com…“The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting cancellations and postponements of tournaments leaves just 11 eligible tournaments over a 10-week stretch for players to qualify for the Playoffs and a chance at the $15 million bonus that comes with the season-long FedExCup crown.”
  • “While the top 125 will not double as the cutoff for TOUR cards next season in this reduced schedule, it will remain the mark to get into THE NORTHERN TRUST, the first of three Playoffs events in the chase for the FedExCup.”
  • “Gone is the luxury of extended rest between starts for those sitting way back on the list, such as Koepka, who was just starting to find his feet again on a return from injury when the pandemic halted play in March.”

 

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