PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Rory McIlroy took four ingloriously indifferent shots from 105 yards on the 18th hole at PGA National Thursday afternoon and surrendered a chance to not only shoot under par but also conjure some decent vibes amid the slow start to his season.
The No. 1 player in the world and the defending champion, McIlroy opened the Honda Classic with an even-par 70 on the Champion Course he sliced up a year ago and trailed 2010 winner Camilo Villegas by six strokes. The effort, though marred by a sloppy bogey on the par-5 home hole, had him disappointed but not disillusioned with the direction of his game.
"[It] wasn't the nicest way to finish, [but] I saw enough pretty good golf out there to be positive going into the next few days," said McIlroy, who missed the cut at Abu Dhabi and then was bounced from the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in the first round. "Felt OK out there. Not great, but, I mean, it was OK."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. And on a calm day in South Florida when nearly half the field broke par, the 23-year-old Ulsterman, who recently decided to make this area his home base, knew he'd missed an opportunity.
"I think if I've been playing well, or playing the way I know I can, there's something in the mid 60s out there," said McIlroy, who shot four rounds in the 60s last year and shot 12-under-par 268 for the first of his four PGA Tour wins. "Hopefully, the weather is OK tomorrow and I can go out and try to shoot a good score and put myself in position for the weekend."
McIlroy finds himself in good company heading into the second round. His new neighbor and best friend, world No. 2 Tiger Woods, also failed to take advantage of the rain-softened and relatively benign conditions.
It says something about the day Woods endured that the highlight of his round was escaping with a par after pulling a drive into the water on the par-4 sixth. Woods, who rebounded from a pair of early bogeys to shoot 70, had to remove his shoes and socks and his beige sweater, put on rainpants, and splash a 9-iron recovery back into the fairway from where he got up and down.
"I was one over at the time," Woods said, "and if that ball is not playable from where it's at ... looking at a [double-bogey] six, three over, [but] all of a sudden I flip it, make par there and birdie the next."
The remainder of his day wasn't much to talk about as Woods hit nine fairways and 14 greens but needed 32 whacks with the putter. "It was pretty much a boring day on the greens, and I hit a lot of good shots," he said.
Winner in his first PGA Tour start of the year at the Farmer's Insurance Open, Woods is making his second appearance in the Honda Classic, having finished runner-up to McIlroy last year despite a closing 62.
In this week's Inside Golf World podcast, Rosaforte provides more details
on the player migration to Jupiter and explains how clubs such as Old
Palm, The Bear's Club, Medalist GC and The Dye Preserve have welcomed
them with open arms.
Okay, so about the time of the third snowstorm at the Accenture Match Play Championship your bracket in the office pool resembled exit polls from the 2004 Presidential election -- not much was correct. Time to recoup your losses this week by making a wager on how many times holes 15 through 17 on the Champions course at PGA National will be referred to as the Bear Trap during the Golf Channel/NBC broadcast of the Honda Classic. If the over/under is "too many," take the over.
Let's face it, we love to give names to things. I have a tree in my backyard I call Ed. Ever since those dudes were found bugging the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel the word "Gate" has been tacked on the end of any scandal. Football had the Steel Curtain, baseball the Big Red Machine and college basketball the Fab Five. The sad thing about such shorthand is that sometimes it short-changes the subject matter by making the hype newsier than the happening.
That's the dilemma of the Bear Trap. While some may argue about the quality of holes 15-17 from a design standpoint, the difficulty of that stretch is beyond dispute, especially when the wind is up. Since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007, the Bear Trap has accounted for 24 percent of all bogeys in the tournament, 56 of the double bogeys and an astonishing 74 percent of the triple bogeys. Remarkably, 97 percent of annoyed TV viewers are watching the Bear Trap.
What makes that stretch so difficult? Wind. Water. Sand. Contour. Hole location. You know; golf. No. 15 is a 179-yard par-3 that usually plays into the wind with sand left and water right. No. 16 is a 434-yard par-4 that doglegs to the right and slopes toward the water on the right. Bail out left and you have a 220-yard shot over water. No. 17 is another par-3, this one 190 yards. With a bunker long and left and water right, the green is the only place to put the ball, and when the pin is middle-left there is only a 30-foot landing area.
In tournament golf, good things seem to come in threes. Augusta National has Amen Corner, Nos. 11-13 in the Masters. The Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow concludes with the Green Mile. And the Horrible Horseshoe at Colonial in the Crowne Plaza Invitational comes early -- Nos. 3-5. None are more difficult than the Bear Trap, which gets its name from the course's architect, Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear. Get it?
Grab a snack and a beverage and settle in to watch the Honda Classic on TV. And brace yourself for this inevitability: Slow pan of the bear statue (above) at No. 15. Zoom in on the plaque proclaiming the next three holes will kick the stuffing out of you. The announcer's voice takes on a tone both ominous and excited. Then sit back and enjoy as the Bear Trap mauls the field. Cutesy name, annoyingly overused, but great entertainment.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Commissioner Tim Finchem may have expressed his opposition on behalf of the PGA Tour to the anchoring ban proposed by the USGA and the R&A, but he doesn't speak for Tiger Woods, who is sticking to his guns that golf's governing bodies should adopt the rule change.
"My position hasn't changed," Woods said Wednesday at PGA National Resort as he prepares for the start of this week's Honda Classic. "I still think that it should be swung, it shouldn't be anchored, and that hasn't changed at all. . . . Hopefully, we don't have to bifurcate or adapt a local rule like we do sometimes out here on tour with the stones and bunkers and things of that nature. Hopefully we won't have to do that with our putter."
The No. 2 player in the world, Woods said he understood where Finchem was coming from. But that doesn't change his mind. "Yeah, I get it. I mean, the guys that play our tour, all three of them play our tour fulltime (who) have won major championships with an anchored putter. I understand his position, but I still feel that all 14 clubs should be swung."
Woods, who won his 75th tour title last month at the Farmer's Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, is making his second start at PGA National's Champion Course after moving to nearby Jupiter. With a career-best final round effort, an 8-under 62, Woods surged up the leader board, but ended up T-2 behind Rory McIlroy. That effort served as a springboard to breaking a three-year victory drought three weeks later at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
"I made a run, and I thought it might get me into a situation where I might have a chance at a playoff," Woods said. "But Rory made a couple birdies down the stretch and basically iced it."
Both Woods and McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, are coming off first-round losses in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. That circumstance afforded the friendly rivals a chance to play 36 holes together Sunday at Medalist Golf Club.
"We thought we would play our own matchplay final except it was over 36," joked McIlroy, who recently moved to Jupiter.
"We figured, let's get a game sometime. We were kind of hoping that it wouldn't be that Sunday, but we were both free and went out and played," Woods said. "(We) played a quick 36, and he headed off to do whatever he needed to do, and I went back home and did some more training."
McIlroy, 23, and Woods appear to have struck up a friendship in recent months, and McIlroy in December joined Woods in the endorsement game by switching to Nike golf equipment. They trade text messages, and McIlroy has picked the brain of the 14-time major champion on occasion, but Woods said he doesn't consider himself a mentor to the youngster from Northern Ireland.
"I don't think it's quite the same level as I was with Mark [O'Meara] and Cookie [John Cook]. Back in those days, those guys really took me under their wing," Woods said. "Went out to dinner all the time and basically traveled together on tour, went fishing all the time . . . they were like my big brothers at the time. They basically still are. It's a different type of relationship.
"He's a friend of mine, who just happens to be the No. 1 player in the world. That's about it."
As we debate every side of the proposed ban on anchored putting -- whether it's good for golf, whether it's necessary, whether the PGA Tour should follow the USGA's lead -- another important question has risen to the surface: Don't we have anything better to talk about?
The answer, even in golf circles, is OF COURSE. It's true, three of the last five major championships have been won by players with anchored putters, but it's still an issue that is relevant to only a fraction of the golf population. So when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem took to national TV to declare the tour's stance against the anchoring ban, there was a sense that he missed an opportunity to talk about issues with far wider ramifications.
You want to talk about important issues in golf? This is an important issue. Photo by Cy Cyr
In case you forgot what those were: 1. The ball. Again, this is more of a problem at the tour level than it is among recreational players -- when was the last time one of your buddies complained about his ball traveling too far? -- but it's still an issue that has influence over how the game is played, how golf courses are built, and of course, how golf balls are made. So even if the decision by golf's governing bodies is to leave the ball alone, it's a decision that will have real significance.
2. The cost. We have a hard time believing there will be scores of golfers who will stop playing the game because they can't anchor their putters. What we can believe is there are plenty of dormant golfers who no longer play because the game costs too much. Clubs, balls, green fees -- the expense of it all is a major reason why golf participation has been flat for the better part of a decade. If Finchem were to bend Johnny Miller's ear on ways the tour wants to help golf be more affordable, well that would be compelling TV. OK, maybe compelling is too strong a word. It is Tim Finchem...
3. Slow play. The same case can be made about pace of play, another obstacle in golf's fight for relevance. Imagine a scenario in which the USGA announced it was going to implement stiffer penalties for slow play while the PGA Tour said it didn't want to follow suit. Who would you side with? Who cares? The point is it would be a debate worth having.
4. All-male memberships. Did you ever think you'd be longing to hear the name Martha Burk? OK, maybe not. But there is an important distinction between the limited reach of the the anchored putting issue and the limited reach of the Augusta National membership controversy: the Augusta discussion had great symbolic meaning. It wasn't so much about the membership practices of an elite Southern club as it was about golf's lingering air of exclusivity and the rights of private entities. And seeing how there are still plenty of esteemed golf clubs with all-male memberships, it's an issue that influences the perception of golf in our society. Anchored putting, meanwhile, is mostly just about anchored putting. 5. Cell phones. You laugh. But if an anchored putter isn't likely to factor into your Saturday game, there's a very good chance a cell phone will. Should you be allowed to make a phone call from the golf course? What's your feeling on texting? It may seem like a trivial matter, but given how prevalent technology is in our society, golf needs to reopen the conversation about what is and what is not appropriate on the course.
Because remember, at most courses, someone with a phone jammed in their ear is still a far more common sight than someone with a putter in their gut.
Matt Kuchar's nice-guy persona remains even as his on-course competitiveness seemingly intensifies. His win at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, as Azinger and Jaime Diaz note in this week's Zinger's Corner, is more impressive given the swing change he made--and quickly absorbed. Ariya Jutanugarn's 72nd-hole stumble at the Honda LPGA Thailand is also discussed, as is the matter of anchoring in the wake of Tim Finchem stating the PGA Tour believes the proposed ban is a mistake. A healthy argument ensues regarding the wisdom of the tour opposing the USGA/R&A, with Paul and Jaime in opposite camps.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Since golf's governing bodies proposed to ban a stroke in which a club is anchored to a player's body, Keegan Bradley has felt like he's been under a microscope, and it's adversely affecting his game.
Photo by Getty Images
The first player to win a major championship by anchoring a belly-length putter, Bradley said Tuesday at the Honda Classic at PGA National that accusations by fans and some writers that he is cheating have become more common since the USGA and R&A announced an amendment to the rules on Nov. 28.
Bradley first heard a fan call him a cheater in December at the World Challenge, the invitational hosted by Tiger Woods. The catcalls have only increased, he said.
"It's been actually pretty difficult," said Bradley, who began the season with a T-4 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but hasn't been in contention in a final round since. "Especially lately. I'm being called a cheater more than ever by fans, by some writers. . . . I can't imagine how people can say that to me or to anybody out here. It's been really difficult, and I'm sick of it to be honest. I'm ready for it to be over."
The issue isn't likely to end soon. Though the 90-day comment period pertaining to Rule 14-1b ends Thursday, the USGA announced Sunday that a decision on whether or not to adopt the rule would be delayed until spring. If golf's two governing bodies go forward, the new rule wouldn't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2016.
That commissioner Tim Finchem said that the PGA Tour does not support the ban has thrown the issue into further uncertainty. The tour joins the PGA of America in opposition to the proposed rule change.
"It's just a bit of a mess," World No. 1 Rory McIlroy said.
Bradley, who has slipped to 60th on the tour in the telltale statistic, strokes gained putting, said he wasn't surprised by Finchem's comments.
"Commissioner Finchem and the PGA Tour have always had their players' backs, no matter how big or small the group is," Bradley said. "You know, I'm very proud and makes me feel good that my tour, the tour I play on, has my back. I think now that this comment period that the USGA has been talking about, they have heard from two of the biggest organizations, golf organizations in the world, the PGA Tour and The PGA of America saying that they don't agree with the USGA.
"If they are really taking this comment period seriously, I think they really need to look at what's been said by both those organizations."
Meanwhile, the invective hurled towards him has seriously hurt Bradley.
"Some of the guys that have come out strongly against it, I don't understand," Bradley said. "Because it doesn't affect them, it affects me. . . . For the most part people are super respectful, but it's very easy to pick out those few, and the word cheater . . . it's amazing that people can say that. It's probably the worst thing you could ever say to an athlete."
Yeah, this actually happened at a PGA Tour event. (Photo: Getty Images)
Welcome to another edition of The Grind, where we don't need a red carpet to be at our best. What a wild week it was in the desert. All four No. 1 seeds bowed out by the second round, yet Sunday still featured a pretty sexy final four. Well, if you're into ski hats. In fact, Al Gore's next documentary on global warming should just be a recap of the unpredictable weather the PGA Tour has encountered this year. But the next stop is the Sunshine State and hopefully, it will bring just that -- you know, because Florida is known for its predictable climate. In the meantime, here's what else has us talking:
Matt Kuchar. Gone are the days of viewing this guy as a glorified ATM. Don't let the smile fool you, Kuchar is a stone-cold competitor and he's getting closer and closer to being a major champion. In the past 10 months, he's won arguably the two biggest non-major events on tour. And with 11 one-putts in 17 holes during the final against Hunter Mahan, why don't more pros copy him and anchor the putter into their forearm rather than their belly or chest?
Ariya Juntanugarn. Sure, she choked away her first LPGA win by triple bogeying the final hole of regulation, but it was a pretty incredible effort considering it was her first LPGA event as a pro. Oh yeah, she's only 17, and her wild final round included an ace on the 12th hole that vaulted her back into the lead. She'll be fine. Just fire the caddie who let her go for the green in two on the closing par 5 and move on.
The West Coast Swing. If you're a fan of the PGA Tour, you couldn't have asked for anything more from this start to the season, which included wins by Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Kuchar. Oh yeah, this also gives me an opportunity to link to my latest slideshow recapping all the action from 2013 thus far.
The PGA Tour's rebel stance. The tour announced it would oppose the USGA's proposed ban on the anchoring of putters after many of its players (predictably) protested the new rule. So, let's get this straight. The tour will follow every other rule in the book set forth by the game's governing body, but not this? That's kind of like me saying I will follow all the rules of my office other than the one that says I can't take a nap after lunch. Wait, is that even an official rule? Hmm. . .
Rory McIlroy. Look, if McIlroy was a stock, there wouldn't be a more valuable long-term option out there. But right now, David Duval is doing as much to convince me to buy Nike equipment.
The Golf Club at Dove Mountain. Forget about the fact that the players hate this course, how about not having this event at a place that could have doubled as a ski resort? If a bunch of rain was enough to convince the USGA to stay away from another Bethpage Black U.S. Open, this snow storm in the desert should make the PGA Tour reconsider coming back to this Jack Nicklaus design. Days after the snow was cleared, there was Matt Kuchar (left) looking ridiculous wearing a pair of oven mitts to keep his hands warm. Move the tournament back to California and call it a day.
With its West Coast Swing in the books, the PGA Tour heads to Florida for the Honda Classic. Last year, Rory McIlroy held off a charging Tiger Woods, who shot a 62 in the final round. NBC probably wouldn't mind seeing that happen again. . .
Random tournament fact: Matt Kuchar won the only PGA Tour title of his pre-one-plane-swing era in 2002. It was also in the days before this event moved to PGA National, meaning he basically shouldn't even be listed as a former champ.
WEEKLY YAHOO! FANTASY LINEUP
Since the WGC Match Play wasn't a part of Yahoo!'s fantasy golf season, we're not counting them as official picks and forgetting we ever made them. Now that the tour is back to stroke play this week, here's how we see things playing out with this field loaded with international talent:
Starters -- (A-List): Tiger Woods. Despite a first-round loss to Charles Howell III at the Match Play, Tiger is still batting 1.000 in stroke play events in the U.S. this year.
(B-List): Louis Oosthuizen. The South African is making his 2013 stroke play debut in the U.S., but a hot stretch to close out 2012 and a win on the European Tour to start the year has him all the way to No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
(B-List): Fredrik Jacobson. The Swede's last two stroke play tournaments were a T-7 at Pebble Beach and a T-3 at Riviera. And despite the ugly missed putt that cost him a spot in a playoff there, Jacobson leads all golfers who have played at least 10 PGA Tour rounds in strokes gained/putting.
(C-List): Lee Westwood. The former World No. 1 finished fourth in this event last year and has been over par just once in his previous 10 rounds at PGA National.
Bench -- Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel.
RANDOM PROP BETS OF THE WEEK
-- After an impressive display by Roger Maltbie during the snow delay, the Golf Channel will introduce a new reality series in 2014 in which the on-course analyst has snowball-throwing contests with other golf personalities: 10-to-1 odds
-- A player who competed in the Match Play will mistakenly tell a playing partner this week to "pick it up": 5-to-1 odds
-- The upcoming movie, Fast and Furious 6, will NOT win an Academy Award for Best Picture: LOCK
CELEBRITY/ATHLETE WE'D LIKE TO PLAY GOLF WITH
Jennifer Lawrence. OK, so I've never actually seen one of her movies (although I am looking forward to seeing "Silver Linings Playbook" whenever it finds its way onto network TV), but I did see this clip of her press conference after winning the Academy Award for best actress. Lawrence seems really funny and cool, especially when she notes that she took a shot of liquor before addressing the media. And despite her now famous fall on her way to accept her award, she must be a good athlete. Isn't that what that movie The Hunger Games was all about?
VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK
We have NO idea what is being said in this, but it's still pretty creative/funny. Perhaps the PGA Tour should just make this the format for the next time it returns to Dove Mountain:
THIS AND THAT
Tiger and Rory played a friendly match on Sunday since both were feeling WGC-Accenture withdrawal. . . . Associate equipment editor Ashley Mayo won the Golf Digest Match Play bracket pool, despite picking Woods, an opening-round loser, to win it all. Yeah, the rest of the entries were so bad that my boss came up with this "formula" for filling out your bracket. It's really funny. And I'm not just saying that because he's my boss. . . . My friends and I bumped into Cuba Gooding Jr. (above), aka "Rod Tidwell" from the classic movie Jerry Maguire, at a NYC bar over the weekend. That's Steve hopefully not asking the Oscar winner to say "Show me the money!"
RANDOM QUESTIONS TO PONDER
When Tiger and Rory play a home and home, does the host actually have to pay a guest fee?
The overriding question that evolved from the extensive coverage of the PGA Tour's response to the USGA regarding a ban on anchoring the putter was this: Why couldn't this have waited until Monday?
Photo by Getty Images
What an odd final day for one of the showcase events in professional golf, one that carries the prestigious designation of World Golf Championship. The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship began on Wednesday with 64 of the best players in the world and ended on Sunday with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem making the most news.
In the midst of the Match Play final between Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan (Kuchar prevailed, 2 and 1), Finchem held a news conference outlining the PGA Tour's position on the USGA's proposal. Then he was summoned to the NBC booth for an extensive discussion that relegated the golf to a secondary role.
"We did give the USGA our position last week and our board and player advisory council concluded that we should be opposed to it, which we articulated," Finchem said. "We're very supportive of the USGA. We hold it in high regard. We were asked our opinion and we feel strongly that going down that road would be a mistake.
"If there's one thing that would prevail across a lot of our players and a lot of our board members is that it's been around for a generation and the game of golf has done quite well. Unless you have a compelling reason to change we shouldn't. And the USGA has indicated there's no performance advantage to using anchoring . . . What the data shows is there isn't an anchoring putter on the PGA Tour that's in the top quartile in the putting stats."
OK, but why now, when this viewpoint was relayed to the USGA several days earlier? Finchem might have been using the WGC television stage to bolster the tour's position by lobbying golfers at large.
The USGA countered via Twitter, then with a statement that read in part: "We continue to listen to varying points of view, and have had many productive conversations across the golf community, which is a reminder of just how much people care about the game - regardless of their position on this issue.
"As we consider the various perspectives on this issue, it has always been our position that Rule 14-1b aims to clarify and preserve the traditional and essential nature of the golf stroke, which has helped to make golf a unique and enjoyable game of skill and challenge."
So we have an apparent stalemate, with the next move up to the USGA. It said it would have a final ruling in the spring, and should it choose to stand by its intention to ban anchoring, it would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2016, nearly three years hence.
So, again, why the urgency for Finchem to outline the tour's position? Would his urgency have been the same had it been Rory vs. Tiger rather than Kuchar vs. Mahan in the final?
So it was less than compelling, a match between two players who weren't ranked in the top 20, one of them, Kuchar, taking a 4-up lead through eight holes to quell the drama for much of the afternoon. Was that sufficient for Finchem to interject himself into the proceedings by calling a news conference?
For an old political hand from the Carter administration, one apparently set on working the crowd, the answer was yes.
Here's a look at what transpired on Friday at Dove Mountain and what we can look forward to on Saturday:
Revelation of the day -- Ian Poulter is a match-play god: Does this guy EVER lose in this format? The Ryder Cup hero's only PGA Tour win came at this event in 2010. That means that somehow he was beaten in each of the last two years, but we wouldn't bet against him. While this format makes predicting a winner even harder than usual, the Englishman has emerged as the clear favorite heading into the weekend.
"Nice try, Bo. Who's next?" (Photo: Getty Images)
"That's soooo match play" moment of the day -- Bubba Watson and Jim Furyk: The match looked all but over when Watson, 1 up, stuck his approach on No. 18 to about three feet. But Furyk answered with a great shot of his own and when "the Grinder" made his putt and Watson missed, the two went to extra holes. Watson wound up winning on the 22nd hole, but only after putting himself through some unnecessary stress.
Weirdest Day -- Rickie Fowler and Francesco Molinari:
Thanks to late tee times and a rare snow storm, these guys both managed to make it to Day 3 of the event without winning a single match. They showed up to the course on Friday to play a combined six holes before bowing out, but we don't feel too badly for them. The $46,000 for simply competing in the tournament is a nice parting gift.
Shot of the Day -- Scott Piercy:
The 34-year-old holed his approach from 228 yards on the fifth hole to go 4 up in his match against the 2011 champ, Luke Donald. Piercy didn't stop, shooting six under on the front nine and winning 7 and 6 -- the most lopsided victory of the tournament. There's a scientific term for what the former No. 1 player in the world ran into: a buzzsaw.
Saturday's sneaky-good best match of the day -- Matt Kuchar vs. Nicolas Colsaerts:
The long-hitting Belgium became a household name during the Ryder Cup when he made eight birdies and an eagle on his own ball in a match against Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood. He'll need to showcase some of that firepower vs. Kuchar, who has an 11-3 record in this event and has been ousted by the eventual champ in each of the past two years.
Saturday's best chance for an international incident -- Hunter Mahan vs. Martin Kaymer:
It seems impossible for Mahan to look at his German opponent and not begrudge him for sinking the putt that won Europe the Ryder Cup this past fall. If Kaymer really wanted to get under Mahan's skin -- and that might be a good idea considering he's won eight straight matches in this event -- he'd show up to the first tee decked out in Ryder Cup gear.