Sunday, July 31, 2016

Patience pays off at last for PGA champion Jimmy Walker

SPRINGFIELD, N.J.—Two weeks ago, Jimmy Walker was sitting alone in a rented house in Scotland, watching as his housemates—guys by the names of Spieth, Fowler, and Dufner—were winding their way through the final two rounds of the British Open. Walker was the only one of their house, which also included Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, and Justin Thomas, to miss the cut. He stuck around, listening to the television commentary, raising a drink or two for those two golf-free days, and then he went back to work.

Fourteen days later, he’s a major champion.

In winning the 2016 PGA Championship on Sunday, Walker produced one of the steadiest exhibitions of golf you’ll ever see from a major winner. He didn’t do anything exceptionally well, he just did everything right at exactly the right time. And when pressure cranked up to spine-cracking levels, well, Walker just sauntered on up and took care of business.

More on that in a moment. First, the background. Walker’s a lanky Texan, a 37-year-old journeyman who’s spent most of his professional life trying to become the Next Big Thing. For a brief moment in 2014, it appeared he’d rocketed right on past that status and straight to “star”; after going 187 Tour events without a win, he won three times in eight starts and five overall. He carded top-10 finishes in three of the four majors, and he appeared on his way to golf’s heights.

Then, something happened. More properly, nothing happened. Walker won the Valero Texas Open in March 2015, and then couldn’t sniff the top of the leaderboard. He missed the cut in three of the next seven majors, including that British Open, and could only watch as guys five, ten, fifteen years younger than him hoisted Wanamaker Trophies and shrugged into green jackets.

But Walker’s a patient dude. You have to be patient to live in miles-from-anywhere in central Texas. You have to be patient to be any good at Walker’s chosen hobby, astronomical photography. And you have to be patient to stand in the center of the fairway on the 72nd hole of a major, watching as the world no. 1 drains an eagle putt to get within a single stroke of you, and believe that this is still your time, your day.

In that moment, with the light flattening and the Baltusrol crowd bellowing, Walker faced the four most important shots of his career. His tee shot on the par-5 18th had landed in a fine spot in the fairway, 287 yards from the pin. And as he was walking up to his ball, the grandstands erupted; ahead, Jason Day had sunk that eagle to draw within one shot. A par, and Walker would win a major. A bogey, and he’d be in a playoff. Any worse …

But Walker knew what he had to do, and he knew the odds. Nineteen times out of 20, he thought, you’re going to make a five going for the green from right there.

“Andy,” Walker said to his caddy, Andy Sanders, “we just send it up by the green, don’t we?”

“Yeah,” Sanders replied, “Let’s do it.”

Let’s do it. Two hundred eighty-seven yards to a major. Walker drew a three-wood, prompting a range of second-guessing from the on-air broadcast crew. And for an instant, his approach seemed to verify their skepticism; his shot veered straight in the direction of the CBS Sports booth. It tapped off a camera and came to rest about 88 feet from the pin, just on the other side of a bunker.

“I literally hit it in the worst place you could hit it,” Walker said later. “I didn’t mean to. It just happened.”

So there you go. Three shots left for a major. Walker chipped up and over the pin, leaving himself 33 feet to the pin.

Two shots left for a major. Walker ran the putt just past the flag, leaving himself a touch under three feet for the comebacker.

One shot left for a major. Walker and Sanders conversed for a moment, and then Sanders backed off, leaving Walker alone in the middle of a Jersey crowd that for the first time all day—maybe the first time in their lives—was silent.

There’s the read, he told himself. There’s the line. You’re a good putter. Now knock it in the hole.

So he did, and everything exploded.

Walker’s wife Erin and his two sons ran onto the green, trailed by an army of blue-jacketed PGA officials. Walker hoisted his younger son with one arm while holding his putter with the other, and together they walked off the green. The first one waiting there for them was Day.

Golf’s always been big on friendly rivalries, but today’s players go concrete-heavy on the friendly and feather-light on the rivalry. Walker and Day are longtime friends—Day called him a “tremendous bloke” after the round—and exchange tips on RVs as they travel from tournament to tournament and park together. And Spieth and Fowler were standing among the crowd waiting for Walker to come off the green, each embracing him as he walked to the scorer’s tent.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Fowler said. “I told him it was time to go get the big one, and he stuck with it. I know that he’s been struggling, and it’s been a hard fight. But I’ve seen him play. I know how he can play.”

“I think it’s great that these young guys ask me to come play and hang out with them,” Walker said. “It’s just amazing to me seeing those guys come out and support me, because you don’t have to, and they did.”

A major trophy. Good friends. A family waiting for him, Erin saying “Holy [expletive]” in exhilarated disbelief as his sons wrestled with Fowler. Life’s pretty good for Jimmy Walker right at this moment, unexpectedly so.

“I didn’t see this coming,” he said afterward, pausing to stare at the gargantuan Wanamaker Trophy at his side. “I wasn’t right there. A year ago, two years ago, I would’ve said I’m right there. But you never know.”

Now that he’s slain one dragon, he only wants more. “You want to win golf tournaments, and then when you win golf tournaments, everybody says, ‘You gotta win a major,’” he said. “I want to keep doing it. It’s so much fun to be in the mix.”

Patience pays off.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

Killing time till tee time: how golfers are waiting out the PGA intermission


SPRINGFIELD, N.J.—Rain delays at the PGA Championship forced a highly compacted schedule, meaning the leading players in the field are facing the prospect of playing as many as 36 holes of golf on Sunday, weather permitting.

The logistics behind routing 86 golfers through an 18-hole course mean that the players who wrapped up Round 3 on Sunday morning had about a four-hour wait to tee off in Round 4. Four hours … that’s just enough time to do not much of anything, really. You could grab a bite to eat, you could grab a nap, you could catch a flick (tip: the AMC Mountainside 10 right around the corner from Baltusrol has a showing of Jason Bourne at 12:30) … the possibilities are endless, if brief.

Most players, still drenched from four hours of walking in the rain, weren’t exactly in talkative moods as they left the 18th hole. Brooks Koepka said he’d be “chilling” over the next few hours, icing down a sore ankle, while Martin Kaymer didn’t have any idea what he’d be doing. And Will McGirt told TNT he’d be up for “a hot shower and a power nap.”

Jimmy Walker, who’s held at least a share of the lead after all three rounds, dismissed the idea that a quick turnaround could have a positive effect on nerves, as opposed to sleeping on the lead. “Either is fine,” he said. “Doesn’t really matter. Hopefully we get it in. That would be fun and nice and we could all get out of here.”

Leave it to Jason Day, of course, to expound in great detail on his plans for the downtime: “I’ll probably have a shower, relax a little bit with the family, have lunch, and then probably put a new outfit on and feel fresh again for the next round,” he said, adding that he’d also get strategic: “I’ll hopefully be able to watch some golf, see how it’s reacting out there, as well. That obviously gives me a good indication on what I can do on certain holes. It’s a plus; I can relax.”

Henrik Stenson, the British Open maestro, should be one of Day’s primary competitors. He’ll prepare to win his second consecutive major by relaxing a bit. “I might go lay on the physio table and have a snooze,” he told Yahoo Sports. “Please don’t wake me up.”

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

PGA Championship update: a mess of water and rules

 

SPRINGFIELD, N.J.—If you tapped out of Saturday’s coverage of the PGA Championship when the rains rolled in around 2:00 Eastern, good news: you didn’t miss anything more. Storms rolled into northern New Jersey, dumping as much as 10 inches of rain on parts of the course, scuttling Saturday’s play and sending Sunday’s (and possibly Monday’s, and … Tuesday’s?) into disarray. So as you awaken this fine Sunday morning, here’s where things stand.

• Leaders Robert Streb and Jimmy Walker didn’t even tee off for their third round until 7:40 a.m. on Sunday. They, along with the other four pairings who hadn’t reached the first tee when the horn sounded stopping play on Saturday, would have to play 36 holes of golf on Sunday … if the rain held off.

• In an effort to speed up the rotation of play and, in theory, get the tournament done on Sunday, the PGA opted to send out the first golfers in Round 4 just an hour after the last golfers of Round 3 teed off. So Matt Jones and Roberto Castro teed off for their final round at 8:40 a.m., and that means the final round won’t be re-paired (i.e., the leaders will still play with their partner from Round 3, regardless of where everyone is on the leaderboard after three rounds).

• In a further effort to speed up play, the PGA made the extraordinary decision to allow golfers in the fourth round to take “preferred lies” because of the heavy rain that soaked the course—briefly, golfers can now lift, clean, and replace their ball close to its original landing spot because of the mess. That should speed up play, because golfers have a much better idea of what a dry ball will do rather than a wet ball. Of note: this applies only to golfers in their fourth round, so golfers still on their third round (i.e. the leaders) will play the same course under more restrictive rules. Preferred lies, combined with a soft course, generally lead to lower scores, so just imagine the thrill if someone shoots a record low score with these rules in place.

• As for whether play will finish Sunday … don’t bet on it. Odds are very, very good that the 2016 major season will last at least one more day.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Storms halt PGA Championship on Saturday

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — The third round of the PGA Championship was suspended at 2:14 p.m. on Saturday, anticipating dangerous weather moving in the area.

The forecast for Baltusrol and the surrounding area suggests rain could be a threat for several hours, though PGA of America officials announced they anticipated a one-hour delay.

Co-leaders Jimmy Walker and Robert Streb, both at 9-under 131 through 36 holes, are yet to tee off, as are the five other groups in front of them. A total of 38 players, among the 85 who made the cut, have completed their third rounds.

Before the rain delay, scoring conditions were generous. Two players, Kevin Kisner and Padraig Harrington, finished off 5-under 65s each. Phil Mickelson, who shot 2-under 68 on Saturday, said he thought scoring conditions could yield a record-low score for a major championship just a day after Robert Streb became the latest player — the third in 16 days — to shoot 63 in a major.

“I think somebody is going to break that 63 record in these next two days,” he said. “The greens are pristine. You can make a lot of putts. They are soft, so you can get the ball very close. I think that there’s that 61 or 62 out there that I was probably trying to chase a little too hard.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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The new normal in professional golf

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Golf has changed, and there’s litany evidence to prove it.

It started with Jordan Spieth winning the 2015 Masters at 18-under 270, matching Tiger Woods’ 72-hole scoring record and smashing the 36- and 54-hole scoring marks on the way. Spieth, in fact, reached 19 under par, but surrendered a shot on the final hole.

Despite fierce wind, that July, the Old Course didn’t stand a chance against the best in the world. Zach Johnson won a three-man playoff commenced with him, David Lingmerth and Marc Leishman at 15 under par.

A month later, Day, who came up a shot shy of that playoff, won the PGA Championship at a record 20 under par, taking advantage of a rain-softened Whistling Straits to post the lowest total to par in a major championship.

Henrik Stenson matched that feat two weeks ago at the British Open, shooting 20-under 264 for the lowest total to par and lowest aggregate score in major history. He closed with 63, bookending second-place Phil Mickelson’s 63 — it probably should’ve been a 62 — to mark the second time in major history that two 63s were fired at a major in the same week.

As that all was unfolding, a player on the European Challenge Tour, their equivalent of the Web.com Tour, shot 59, the second in that tour’s history. Stephan Jaeger did one better on Thursday on the Web.com Tour, shooting the first 58 in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event after five 59s on that tour, one on PGA Tour Champions and six on the PGA Tour.

Mirim Lee opened the U.S. Women’s Open with 64, then this week at the Women’s British Open, started with 10-under 62. That’s one shy of Hyo Joo Kim’s record-setting 61 in the 2014 Evian Championship.

Then on Friday, Robert Streb entered the burgeoning 63 in a Major Club, becoming the third guy in 16 days to accomplish the feat. He’s also the third guy in four years to shoot 63 in the PGA Championship, joining Jason Dufner in 2013 at Oak Hill and Hiroshi Iwata last year. Steve Stricker also shot 63 at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011.

Had enough?

The point is that there are more and more outliers of great scoring in the majors, to the point that it’s becoming more the norm than the oddity. It’s a matter of when, not if, someone will shoot 62 in a major. It seems like 20 under par isn’t some mythical number in majors, reserved only for the John Deere Classics of the world of professional golf. And if it rains at a major, forget about it. These players hit it too far and too straight to be challenged in the compromise of less run-out for more receptive putting surfaces. It’s lawn darts.

The question is if that’s a bad thing. People love birdies and eagles. Fans routinely complain when they watch their favorite golfers squirm and struggle at the U.S. Open, tricked up to bring a golf course to the edge of playability. PGA Tour officials unintentionally did that to TPC Sawgrass in May, prompting what amounted to an apology for the conditions.

The R&A and the PGA of America don’t much care about par. After all, par doesn’t matter in a golf tournament. Whoever has the lowest total number of strokes win, and assigning any arbitrary figure to par doesn’t change that. They set up their majors fairly and let Mother Nature dictate the winning score. However, when Mother Nature conspires against firm and fast course conditions, the best players in the world pounce. There doesn’t seem to be a golf course long enough.

“It’s par 70, but it’s quite long. I feel like I wear out my 8- and 9-iron on the par 4s,” he said Tuesday. “And then the par 3s are fairly long, too. I hit a lot of 5-irons it feels like.”

Granted, Johnson is an athletic freak with scary length, but he’s not the only one. Even for his relatively shorter peers, they’re wearing out 7- and 8-irons this week, maybe 6-irons into many of the greens. Off the tee, the longer hitters are pounding 3-woods and driving irons nearly 300 yards. This is a deformed brand of golf, one that erodes some of the skill required to play well.

The reality is there are a lot of factors that have made golf easier — and not just for the pros. The golf ball goes farther than ever (despite the USGA’s protestations), and golf equipment grows incrementally more efficient every year. That’s a tip of the hat to equipment makers. They’re doing their jobs well. The problem is that golf equipment and improved player fitness have combined to overwhelm an increasing number of championship courses, rendering them obsolete to exclusion or indifference.

Short of turning every course into 18 holes surrounded by a fortress of foot-high grass and quicksand — a U.S. Open gone through the Russian Olympic program — the only thing that can put a long-iron in these players’ hands even a little more often is massive distance.

We’ll have that theory put to the test next June when the U.S. Open arrives to Erin Hills in Wisconsin for the first time. Though the USGA has said it won’t tip out the course, the maximum length there is close to 8,000 yards, unprecedented for a major championship. If a course that length, under the USGA’s care, can’t flummox the best in the world, then no course on this planet truly can. And, if that’s the case, then we need to either start building ones that can, or the game’s governing bodies need to identify the problem, roll back equipment for professionals and inject more skill back into the game.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Friday, July 29, 2016

Jordan Spieth averts disaster, rules controversy on solid Friday

 

SPRINGFIELD, N.J.—Golf’s rules have altered one of this year’s major championships, and golf bureaucracy may have cost players a shot at making the cut at the PGA Championship, so you can forgive Jordan Spieth for being veeeeery careful with the application of rules on Friday afternoon.

Spieth’s tee shot at the 7th hole, the 16th Spieth had played, drifted right, right, right into about an inch of water. Said water was atop a cart path. Said cart path was behind a thick evergreen tree that blocked any clear path to the green. Spieth was entitled to relief of some sort, but what? How?

Because I am cruel, and because golf is a rules-obsessed game, I am presenting the entire explanation from the PGA of America. Gather round the fire and read this one to your family:

Jordan Spieth’s ball came to rest in casual water on an artificially surfaced path. He called for a Rules Official and Brad Gregory, former PGA of America Rules Chair, was present to provide help.
Jordan selected a club and demonstrated a swing and direction that he would have used, if there were no casual water present (Decision 24-2b/1). This stroke and direction was toward the hole. After going thru the relief procedure, the ball was in play on the artificially surfaced path and clear from his stance and swing for the direction and type of shot he originally chose to play. Once the ball was dropped and in play, Jordan had the option to select another type of stroke or another type of club to actually play the shot and he chose to play a stroke to the right of a tree in an attempt to try to hook the ball toward the green.

In this case, Jordan elected to play in a different direction of play based on Decision 20-2c/0.8. Jordan was entitled to either play the ball as it lay, even if his stance was still in the casual water or, he could have elected to take relief again from the casual water under this different type of stroke that he then elected to play.

Decision 24-2b/1
Determining “Nearest Point of Relief”

Q.The Note to the Definition of “Nearest Point of Relief” provides that the player should determine this point by using “the club with which he would have made his next stroke if the condition were not there to simulate the address position, direction of play and swing for such stroke.” May the player use any club, address position, direction of play or swing in determining the nearest point of relief?
A.No. In determining the nearest point of relief accurately it is recommended that the player use the club, address position, direction of play and swing (right or left-handed) that he would have used had the obstruction or condition not been there. For example, the player has interference from an immovable obstruction and, were it not for the obstruction, he would have used a right-handed stroke with a 4-iron to play the ball from its original position towards the green. To determine the nearest point of relief accurately, he should use a right-handed stroke with a 4-iron and the direction of play should be towards the green. See also Decisions 20-2c/0.7 and 20-2c/0.8.

Decision 20-2c/0.8
Player Takes Relief from an Area of Ground Under Repair; Whether Re-Drop Required if Condition Interferes for Stroke with Club Not Used to Determine “Nearest Point of Relief”

Q.A player finds his ball in heavy rough approximately 230 yards from the green. He selects a wedge to play his next shot and finds that his stance touches a line defining an area of ground under repair. He determines the nearest point of relief and drops the ball within one club-length of this point. The ball rolls into a good lie from where he believes he can play a 3-wood for his next stroke. If the player used a wedge for his next stroke he would not have interference from the ground under repair, but adopting a normal stance with the 3-wood, he again touches the ground under repair with his foot. Must the player re-drop his ball under Rule 20-2c?

A.No. The player proceeded in accordance with Rule 25-1b by determining his nearest point of relief using the club with which he expected to play his next stroke and he would only be required to re-drop the ball under Rule 20-2c if interference still existed for a stroke with this club – see analogous Decision 20-2c/0.7.

As it was expedient for the player to play his next stroke with another club, which resulted in interference from the condition, he would have the option of playing the ball as it lies or proceeding again under Rule 25-1b.

Aw yeah, that’s the good stuff. There was some concern that Spieth would be nailed with a rules violation, possibly one that could cost him a stroke or two, or worse, but Spieth saw the danger inherent in leaving anything to chance, and made sure the rules official signed off on everything he was doing.

“I would have never hit it if I was not told it was OK by a rules official,” Spieth said after the round. “He told me it was fine. Really don’t know why we’re talking about it, to be honest.”

The rules controversy was the highlight of an otherwise decent but basically routine day. Spieth carded five birdies against two bogeys, all but the seventh-hole bogey coming on the back nine, the first holes Spieth played. He left birdie opportunities all over the front nine, but fortunately played well enough to stay within sight of the top of the leaderboard. He finished the afternoon at -3, good enough to make the cut but still six strokes behind clubhouse leader Jimmy Walker. He’ll tee off about an hour before the leaders on Saturday and look to narrow that time come Sunday.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

Colt Knost in danger of missing PGA cut because of a bad pin sheet

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Colt Knost was hitting a 5-wood into the par-4 10th, his second shot of a rainy morning on Day 2 of the PGA Championship.

Knost’s caddie figured out the yardage, saying it was about 210 yards into the hole. Believing the pin was tucked left, Knost didn’t want to take it on. He planned to lay out to the right, and he did. Imagine, then, Knost’s surprise when he got to his ball and realized the hole location was actually on the right side of the green and he had short-sided himself. Facing a nearly impossible up-and-down, Knost made bogey.

As it turned out, Knost and his caddie, as well his playing partners Joe Summerhays and Yuta Ikeda, had been given pin sheets that had the planned hole locations for the second round. However, after 1.1 inches of rain fell overnight, the PGA of America called an audible and moved the hole location from the left side of the green to the right side. Knost and company had no idea.

“People are going to say we should be able to tell which side of the green it’s on, but I mean, I was 210 yards out and it was raining rather hard. We just expect the pin [sheet] to be right,” Knost said, according to Golf Channel. “It’s a big deal, it’s a big difference. It shouldn’t happen in tournaments like this.”

That kicked off a round that turned out to be a 3-over 73. Knost is at 2-over 142, and he’s on the cut line at the moment. He’ll spend the duration of Friday wondering if he’ll have a weekend tee time.

Once the PGA of America realized the error, they distributed updated pin sheets. However, that was not the last revision of the day. After a 30-minute weather delay, officials moved the hole location on No. 8, requiring them issue a third pin sheet. No players played the eighth without knowing its proper location.

After the round, PGA of America setup man Kerry Haigh personally apologized to Knost and his playing partners, saying simply, “We messed up.” The PGA of America also issued a statement explaining the mistake. That won’t make good on a missed paycheck if Knost misses the weekend.

“I made bogey there and that could be the difference in me playing tomorrow or not,” Knost said. “I hope it’s not, but that would be pretty frustrating if it is.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Stenson in position for a second consecutive major at the PGA

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — When the condensed major schedule for this summer, designed to accommodate golf’s return to the Olympics, was announced, an exciting possibility emerged: A hot player could go on a six-week run in which he won the British Open, PGA Championship and Olympic gold in Rio.

Henrik Stenson won the Claret Jug at Royal Troon with the best major performance in history (at least as far as raw numbers go). Check.

Now, through 36 holes of the PGA Championship, Stenson is in position to perhaps check off the second step of a summertime trifecta that has never been accomplished in golf history.

Stenson backed up an opening 3-under 67 with the same score on Friday at Baltusrol’s Lower Course. At 6-under 134, he’s well within the mix going into the weekend.

“Of course I’m very happy to be able to follow up the success at Troon with a couple of strong rounds here and be in good position,” he said after the round. “We know it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s all about being there for Sunday afternoon, and so far, so good. You’re not winning anything on a Thursday and a Friday, but you can put yourself in the wrong direction early days.”

The 40-year-old opened with consecutive bogeys on the third and fourth holes of his round, but he was putting together good shots on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 before coming to the par-5 18th, his ninth hole of the day. Stenson hit a 3-wood approach that landed on the green and wound up within 3 feet of the tucked right-side hole location. The eagle freed up Stenson’s card, and he played in from there in 3 under par.

“It got me back to par for the round, and then I gave myself plenty of chances on the front nine and I took a few of them,” he said of the eagle. “Could have been a few more birdies, but greed is a terrible thing.”

Stenson knows his could crash at some point over the weekend, the product of winning a major and the opportunities and responsibilities that come with winning a major. After this, he’ll have the Olympic tournament in Rio. Then there’s the FedEx Cup playoffs and Ryder Cup. It’s a busy stretch from now until the first week in October, but Stenson is hoping he can manage day-by-day until then.

“I know I’m going to sleep for a week after The Ryder Cup, there’s no two ways about that. But it’s not something that I’m concerned about,” he said. “I’m just going to try and manage my time on the practice range and make sure I get plenty of rest and sleep.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Stephan Jaeger shoots first-ever 58 in PGA Tour-sanctioned event

Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae - Round One

Breaking 60 in a pro event on a major tour is a rarity — so rare, that it had only been done 19 times around the world, men and women, before Thursday.

That’s when Stephan Jaeger, a German-born 27-year-old, shot the first-ever 58 in a PGA Tour sanctioned event. He shot 12 under on the par-70 TPC Stonebrae in the opening round of the Ellie Mae Classic at Stonebrae on the Web.com Tour.

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Jaeger, who hasn’t recorded a top-10 finish on the tour in 10 starts this season, made 12 birdies and six pars, including a three-putt par on the par-5 third hole that could have meant he went another stroke lower and shot 57, a number never reached on any major professional tour.

Starting his round on No. 10, Jaeger got off to a great start on the club’s back nine, going out in 6-under 29 on the back with a stretch of five consecutive birdies from 13-17. After making the turn toward the front nine, Jaeger made five birdies in the first six holes on the side.

With three holes to go, Jaeger, who went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, needed to par into the house for a sub-60 round. He made pars on 16 and 17, both par 4s, before coming to the par-5 finishing hole needing just par for 59. He put his third shot to 10 feet, needing a tricky putt to down for birdie and the 58. He drained it.

Prior to Thursday, 58 had been shot twice in sanctioned major tour events. Jason Bohn shot 58 in the final round of the 2001 Canadian Tour Championship, while Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 in the 2010 edition of The Crowns on the Japan Golf Tour.

As for the Web.com Tour, it had seen its share of 59s — five, in fact — over years. However, breaking 60 on that tour is hardly an omen for success. Only one player who has shot 59 on the tour, Jason Gore, who did it in the 2005 Cox Classic, went on to win the tournament.

At No. 102 on the tour’s money list, Jaeger finds winning more important now than basking in an unprecedented accomplishment.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mickelson salvages PGA opener with closing trio of birdies

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Phil Mickelson did on Thursday what all-time great golfers do: He saved a bad round and turned it into a modest one.

Mickelson was 4 over through 11 holes at Baltusrol’s Lower Course, looking drained of all energy that propelled him to a second-place finish two weeks ago in an epic duel against Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon. Then, a funny thing happened, not all that uncommon to Mickelson: He rallied.

Three birdies in the final seven holes, including on back-to-back 500-yard-or-so par 4s, got him all the way back to a 1-over 71 that has him six back of leader Jimmy Walker.

“I’ve been playing very well at the British and in my preparation, and to come out hit shots like I hit those first 11 holes was very disappointing,” Mickelson said. “However, I’m proud that I hung in there, fought and got three back coming in.”

Stenson’s 20-under performance at Troon and Jason Day’s similar score a year prior in this championship aren’t the norm — though they’re becoming more common. Guys don’t usually play four perfect rounds on the way to a major title. There’s usually a modest round in there somewhere, one that sustains or sets up momentum for later. Mickelson did that here in 2005, getting out to an 8-under start, finishing with a pair of 72s that were good enough for a one-shot win. Sometimes, hanging on is more important than going off.

Mickelson got out of rhythm for the first 11 holes, feeling like he was swinging too quickly. However, he came around for the last seven holes, which were a reminder of how he needs to play to have a chance the rest of the way.

“I hit six out of seven fairways on my second nine,” he said. “That’s the stuff I need to do and not be so inpatient. I’ve got to be more patient.”

That message didn’t come from within on Thursday. In fact, it was a member of Mickelson’s large gallery — he tends to draw those in this part of the world — that urged him to refocus.

“I was 4 over through 11 and I’m down, I’m hard on myself, I’m down. The people helped to really kind of pick me back up,” he said. “I remember walking off of No. 3 and a guy said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of golf left, you’re not out of this, let’s get going.’ He’s right. Got a lot golf left.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Jason Day finally gets off to a good start in a major with 68 at the PGA

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — For the first time in 2016, Jason Day has started a major in the 60s.

The defending PGA champion, who didn’t see Baltusrol’s host Lower Course for the first time until Wednesday, opened with a smooth 2-under 68 that has him in contention on Day 1.

“I’m very excited about how I hit it today,” he said. “I hit a lot of good quality shots. Hasn’t been like that lately. To be able to go out there and hit it exactly where I’m [aiming] and see the shot and what I need to do and actually execute it was exciting for me. Really positive stuff going into the next three rounds.”

Day hit 17 greens in regulation, only converting on three of those opportunities. However, as conditions toughened in the afternoon heat, Day’s round looked better and better. The Aussie probably didn’t anticipate the good score, given both his recent major starts and the start of this week.

He opened the Masters in April with 72-73. He started the U.S. Open with a 76 that was the difference between him winning and losing. He kicked off the British Open with 73. Perhaps chalk that up to the stress Day has talked about so much this season, as he did again on Wednesday.

“There’s a little bit of expectation on my shoulders,” Day said. “You’ve got to come out and fire on all cylinders and get yourself up the leaderboard and show people that you’re there and ready to win. I think if you try a little bit too hard sometimes, you can kind of shoot yourself in the foot.”

Then there’s the matter of his family’s medical problems. His children, Dash and Lucy, were sick heading into the week. They got Day sick. His wife, Ellie, had an allergic reaction on Tuesday night during the PGA of America’s champions dinner in Day’s honor, forcing the couple to the hospital and a 2 a.m. discharge. Day intentionally took Monday off. Tuesday was spent tending to his kids, then wife. Wednesday was his only chance to see Baltusrol, getting in 18 holes despite visible exhaustion.

As it turns out, Day views it all as a positive.

“It was kind of a blessing really to come out yesterday, play 18 holes real quick and then get out of here,” he said.

All will be forgotten if this good start leads to a successful defense of his first major title.

He said, “I’ve always said that winning takes care of everything.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

PGA of America warns N. Carolina's HB2 law could cost state future events

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The PGA of America is bringing the PGA Championship to Charlotte, N.C., next August. However, the body warns that it may steer clear of the Tarheel State in the future if the state’s controversial House Bill 2 remains law.

House Bill 2, also known as The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, was signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Pat McCrory and limits municipalities from having anti-discrimination laws on the books and requires transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth in government buildings and public schools.

Despite efforts to amend the bill, McCrory and the Republican-led state legislature did not do enough to prevent the NBA from choosing to move the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte.

The PGA of America will not move its major championship but made evident its distaste for the law after offering a tepid response following the adoption of the law in March.

“The PGA of America strongly opposes North Carolina HB2. It contradicts our commitment to create an inclusive and welcoming environment at our events. We remain hopeful that the law will be changed,” the organization said in a written statement.

“Since the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte is a private facility not subject to all of the provisions of HB2, at the 2017 PGA Championship we plan to allow spectators to use the restroom that conforms with their gender identity or gender expression. As we look to future events, our willingness to consider coming back to the State of North Carolina will be severely impacted unless HB2 is overturned.”

The PGA Tour also hosts the Quail Hollow Championship in North Carolina, typically also at Quail Hollow Club. However, in 2017, the event will be played at Eagle Point in Wilmington, N.C.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Baltursol's par-10 finish is anything but boring

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — As one player said this week, Baltusrol will “par 4 you to death.”

And if you’re not dead by the time you get through 16 holes of long par 3s and many par 4s hovering around 500 yards, then you finally get to the Lower Course’s par 5s.

The first is a rarity these days in major championship golf: a true three-shot hole. At 649 yards on the card, with crossbunkers dividing the hole at 350 yards, not even U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson can find his way on board in two shots.

“Yesterday I hit a pretty good drive,” said the U.S. Open champion on Wednesday. “It was a little downwind and I still had 295 front or something. So it’s not really doable, unless it firms up.”

The hole demands a good tee shot out of a partial chute into the fairway, otherwise risking finding deep, gnarly rough just yards off the short stuff. The lay up is a little uncomfortable, too, requiring a long iron to get over the cross bunkers and around a tree that somewhat hides the modest landing area for a straight-forward third shot. The green is fairly large, but it’s protected by a slew of deep bunkers. In other words, if you mess up that 100-yard shot you should hit for your third, you’ll pay dearly.

You could say the 17th really is just a par 3 with 500 yards of wasted time, but that would be missing the point. The PGA of America wants to see these guys play strategic golf when it’s all on the line. It’s relatively easy to blast away, without threat of reprisal. With a major hanging in the balance, what is typically a stock wedge shot may not be so simple into a tucked pin threatening doom if the player goes long, comes up short or spins the ball too much.

By Johnson’s account, the next hole should be simple by comparison.

“Everybody is going to reach 18,” he said.

Not so fast.

The finishing hole at Baltusrol is nearly 100 yards shorter than the first of the back-to-back par 5s to end a round. At 550 yards, it sounds downright easy. However, in the 11 years since Phil Mickelson won his only Wanamaker trophy to date in a Monday finish here, the club has brought in Rees Jones to restore some of the original shot value of the course. That included making a pond on the left side of the landing area more prominent. Now, it’s not a simple matter of distance.

“If you choose to hit a hybrid or a 3-wood off the tee, you can now aim 20 yards to water’s edge,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “So what it’s done is it’s just taken driver out of your hands and driver is not a very good play, unless it’s obviously into the wind and you have to hit driver to get there.”

This tournament is likely to boil down to how the players perform on these two holes. Mickelson, 11 years ago, played them in 4 under par for the week. The winning total score? It was 4-under 276.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Dustin Johnson nonplussed on path to add a second major in 2016

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Not much bothers Dustin Johnson.

“Bad drivers. That’s about it,” he said Wednesday.

And that’s normally speaking. So imagine how Johnson feels when he’s gone through a stretch where he won the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, finished tied for ninth at the British Open and was co-runner up at the RBC Canadian Open. He’d play a golf tournament just about anywhere at anytime right now, so you’d understand that Johnson isn’t concerned about bumping up the PGA Championship, the season’s final major, by a week to accommodate golf’s return to the Olympics.

“Whatever the schedule is, I feel like I’m at a point where I can prepare for it,” Johnson said. “You know, it’s definitely different, playing so many majors pretty close together. But I don’t know, I’ve done pretty well this year, so I kind of like it.”

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Yeah, tied for fourth, a win and a tie for ninth is good.

He comes to Baltusrol confident in all facets of his game. The cut swing he uses to hit driver leaves him in the fairway more often and as long as ever. He has dramatically improved his wedge game in the last two years, topping the PGA Tour’s rankings inside 125 yards. Even his putting, mediocre by most measures, has gotten better.

But it’s his length that should be the biggest asset this week at a course that can play 7,500 yards. Listening to Johnson, however, it didn’t seem that way.

“This golf course, I hit a lot of drivers. It’s par 70, but it’s quite long. I feel like I wear out my 8- and 9-iron on the par 4s,” he said.

That’s the confidence of a man who pounds wedge after wedge on the range knowing he could probably get around most golf courses with driver, wedge and a putter.

He added, “And then the par 3s are fairly long, too. I hit a lot of 5-irons it feels like.”

Johnson is a man of few words. He doesn’t offer long explanations of his thinking, or what he’s doing with his game, or his views on architecture. He’ll plainly tell you what he thinks, no more, no less. So when he shared how he thinks he’ll handle Baltusrol this week, it only reaffirmed what most everyone here knows: D.J. is the favorite.

“I think it’s in really good shape,” he said. “I feel like it sets up well for me.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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The PGA Championship: Everything you need to know

 

The PGA Championship begins Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, the fourth of golf’s majors. Who’s going to win? How’s it going to go down? We know, and we’ll tell you right here.

Wait, another major? Didn’t we just have one of these?

We did indeed. Henrik Stenson concluded his thorough throttling of Royal Troon at the British Open barely 10 days ago, and here we are back at it again. Blame it on Rio, to coin a phrase; the Olympics forced golf to adopt a much tighter-than-usual schedule, and the PGA Championship got bumped back up the calendar a bit.

Ah yes, the Olympics.

Right. As you already know, most every major golfer has bowed out of the Olympics, claiming fears of Zika virus while not exactly opposing the idea of getting a bit more rest in advance of the FedEx Cup playoffs and Ryder Cup. So while the PGA Championship gets a bit of mocking, it’s also got a far better field than the Olympics could ever imagine.

Why’s everybody always dumping on the PGA Championship?

It’s the Ringo of majors, the one whose various slogans (“Glory’s Last Shot,” “This Is Major,” “Please Love Us,” “Last Chance ‘Til Next April,” and so on) have only added to the tournament’s veneer of an inferiority complex. Which is unfortunate, because the PGA Championship has always been competitive and generally delivers a marquee winner. Since the tournament was last at Baltusrol in 2005 – a tournament Phil Mickelson won, by the way – winners have included Tiger Woods (twice; he lost a third to Y.E. Yang on the final holes in 2009), Rory McIlroy (twice), and Jason Day. That’s a solid set of champions right there.

What’s the story with the course?

Baltusrol, in suburban New Jersey, has hosted seven U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships. It has two courses, and the Lower Course will be hosting the PGA Championship while the Upper hosts a lot of merch tents and such. The club dates back to the 1800s, but the courses as they stand now were created by famed architect A.W. Tillinghast in 1926.

The course starts rough and offers salvation at its end. The opening seven holes have the sobriquet “The Sobering Seven,” which is strange because you’re really going to want to drink once you see your scorecard after playing them. The course’s signature hole is the 196-yard par-3 4th, fronted entirely by a pond. Baltusrol also backloads its par-5s – way, WAY backloads them, placing them at the 17th and 18th holes. The 649-yard 17th is the second-longest in PGA Championship history. That means there’s opportunity to throw red numbers up on the board late, which should lead to Sunday-afternoon drama.

So who’s looking sharp this year?

This tournament seems to be a favorite of McIlroy; he’s won every other year since 2012. Dustin Johnson is playing the finest golf of his career right now. Mickelson, the defending Baltusrol champ, is coming off what should have been the defining major of his career, were it not for an otherworldly performance by Henrik Stenson. Day, the defending PGA champ, is a bit more ragged; he only saw the course for the first time on Wednesday and is battling a cold. And Jordan Spieth ought to be under consideration, but don’t tell him that.

Yeah, but we know all those guys. Who are all these dudes I’ve never heard of?

Dudes you’ve never heard of. The PGA Championship invites PGA teaching pros from golf clubs all over to attempt to qualify for the tournament, and those that do (20 of the 156 in the field) find themselves, for a moment, at the white-hot center of the golf universe. Most don’t see the weekend, but don’t think that’s a reflection on their skills—any of them could beat you going away.

What are the records in play?

The PGA Championship isn’t nearly as tough as either the U.S. or British Opens, and isn’t as devious as Augusta, which means that low scores are out there for the fortunate. David Toms owns the lowest absolute score at 265, set in 1991, while Jason Day owns the lowest score in relation to par at -20, set just last year. Rory McIlroy’s 2012 victory by eight strokes was the widest winning margin. Thirteen golfers have notched the low score of 63, most recently Hiroshi Iwata last year.

Where can I watch?

In addition to the PGA app and website, you can catch the opening two rounds of the tournament on TNT from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET. Saturday and Sunday, TNT handles the early action from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then CBS steps in to take us home (expected tournament end: approximately 7 p.m.). And come Sunday afternoon, you’ll want to soak it all in.

Why’s that?

Because after that, it’s a long seven months till Augusta.

Aw, man.

Yep. Enjoy the last major golf of the year while it lasts, starting Thursday.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

Can 'Beef' deliver more than just a catchy name at Baltusrol?

SPRINGFIELD, N.J.—The cheers rolls out over the sun-baked fairways of Baltusrol, full-throated and keening: “BEEEEEEEEEF!”

The man of the moment, Andrew “Beef” Johnston, grins a toothy grin, waving and posing and smiling and signing damn near anything that’s not on fire. This is the Summer of Beef, and he’s determined to enjoy every minute of it.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, hours removed from a chaotic 11-hole practice round that took nearly five hours, Beef could only shake his head in amazement at the route his life’s taken. “It was like the first real time where I’ve had that much attention,” he said. “And I come off the course and I was like, that was crazy. That was mad.”

In a world where wearing a white belt constitutes an edgy fashion statement, the burly, shrub-bearded Beef is a revelation, a cheery cannonball into the placid pool of professional golf. He’s inspired fans to wear beards and take pictures of themselves driving cheeseburgers off the tee.

Beef’s loving life right now, but he’s already savvy enough to realize that notoriety comes easy in the golf world, while true status takes a bit longer. He’s got the game to warrant the attention – he won the Spanish Open earlier this year, and finished eighth at the British Open two weeks ago – but he knows that he’ll have to deliver more than just a catchy nickname in the months and years to come.

“The most important thing is the golf before anything else,” Beef said. “I want to come away and look back in so many years and think, ‘yeah, that’s been a great time on the golf course.’ And not going, ‘oh, yeah, well, it was good for that period of time, but we had a good laugh.’”

Which is not to say he won’t enjoy himself. He’s capitalizing on the “Beef” name, signing a sponsorship deal with Arby’s to pitch some roast beef sandwiches this past Saturday in Manhattan.

“They said, did I want to make a sandwich. I said, ‘No way, I’m too scared to do that,’” Beef laughed. “So I was just putting the stuff in the bag and shouting out people’s names.”

But all the celebrity acclaim has a way of devouring your time like … well, you know. Beef realized after Tuesday’s frenetic round that he needs to set at least some boundaries.

“I actually had a big learning curve yesterday where I played a few holes, and I was signing so much,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t have done as much on the course and then waited till after.”

The euphoria surrounding Beef’s arrival hasn’t overtaken everyone yet. Darren Clarke, for one, cautions against getting too excited about Beef, say, making the European Ryder Cup team: “Beef, who is a character, he’s still quite some way outside the qualification points,” Clarke said. (Beef currently ranks 25th in European points.) “I [won’t] say I wouldn’t pick another rookie, but it would be very difficult for me to do so.”

Regardless of whether Beef makes the Ryder Cup team, he’s already got fans in high places. “He looks like a top bloke. Looks like a guy you want to go down to the pub and have a beer with, even if you don’t drink,” Jason Day said Wednesday. “It’s going to be interesting to see how his career goes, because he sounds like he’s come from humble beginnings and he’s done a lot of work to get to the position that he’s in today. It’s good to see stories like that and I’m hoping that he keeps the good play up, because I think we need more personalities in this game.”

The Summer of Beef lumbers on beginning at 12:35 p.m. on Thursday.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

Phil Mickelson puts Open disappointment aside in search for another PGA

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Phil Mickelson can be sad about the British Open another day. Right now, he’s focused on winning a sixth major title.

Denied two weeks ago by Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon, the 46-year-old Mickelson gets another crack at a major in this compressed Olympic summer at a place where he’s won previously. Mickelson won in a wild Monday finish the last time the PGA Championship came to Baltusrol’s Lower Course 11 years ago. He returns confident that, while his memory of that week has faded, he’ll be inspired by his recollection of hoisting the Wanamaker trophy.

If he’s to win a second PGA Championship, he’ll have to put off processing the loss in Scotland.

“Because we have big tournaments coming up right now and because I am playing well, I don’t want to let an opportunity, another really good opportunity, that I have to play a PGA Championship here at Baltusrol at a course I like, while my game is sharp, and let the effects or disappointment linger,” Mickelson said Tuesday.

While Mickelson candidly said that the disappointment of losing to Stenson’s major-record total may grow in the coming years, he was able to joke about the helpless feeling of watching the Swede torch the links.

“I don’t look back on the final round with anything that I would have done different, other than maybe go over to Stenson’s bag and bend his putter a little bit,” Mickelson said, drawing laughter from the room.

The left-hander was a sentimental favorite, in part, because he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in three years. Among many fans, there was probably a thought that the Open was his last best chance to win a major again. However, the ever-optimistic Mickelson disputes the idea that, at an advanced age as far as golfers go, that he’s running short on time.

“I don’t believe that there is a small window,” he said. “I think there’s a really big window of opportunity to add to my resumé, to continue to compete in big events, for the simple reason that the feel and sensitivity of hitting shots; the ability to play golf courses a certain way, to visualize, to make birdies, to pull shots off, that has not diminished.

“I just haven’t been on plane for a couple years, and all of those sensitivities go away when your golf swing is not on plane. And now that it’s back on plane, I think there’s a really big window of opportunity to have some success.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Charles Barkley speaks some truth about golf and injuries

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Charles Barkley loves to play golf, even if he’s the absolute worst at it. And credit the Chuckwagon for staying on the Golfwagon all these years, through the learning curve, the getting better, the hitch in his swing, the working desperately with Hank Haney to fix it and the acceptance that he is the golfer he is.

Golf’s a humbling sport, especially for someone as accomplished as Barkley. However, that doesn’t mean the game has stopped him from speaking (his version of) the truth about it.

“Golf is fun, until you hit somebody in the head,” said Barkley ahead of this week’s American Century Championship, the annual celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.

Well, he’s not wrong, though most of us who play aren’t typically keeping the attention of thousands in a gallery as we hook and slice our way around the course.

“It ain’t like regular golf, because there are people everywhere,” Barkley said. “And like I say, most of the guys will tell you they’re pretty good until they hit somebody. And then they get really nervous, because nobody wants to hit anybody.”

Barkley, despite his reputation as a golfer preceding him, will have quite the cheering section. Some of them may have even laid a few bucks on him across town at the casinos, where he is a 6,000-to-1 long shot to win this event at Edgewood-Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline.

Barkley is joined by some 80 celebrities and athletes in the 54-hole event, including two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, singer Justin Timberlake and comedian Ray Romano, as well NFL Hall-of-Famers Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Marcus Allen.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Phil Mickelson puts Open disappointment aside in search for another PGA

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Phil Mickelson can be sad about the British Open another day. Right now, he’s focused on winning a sixth major title.

Denied two weeks ago by Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon, the 46-year-old Mickelson gets another crack at a major in this compressed Olympic summer at a place where he’s won previously. Mickelson won in a wild Monday finish the last time the PGA Championship came to Baltusrol’s Lower Course 11 years ago. He returns confident that, while his memory of that week has faded, he’ll be inspired by his recollection of hoisting the Wanamaker trophy.

If he’s to win a second PGA Championship, he’ll have to put off processing the loss in Scotland.

“Because we have big tournaments coming up right now and because I am playing well, I don’t want to let an opportunity, another really good opportunity, that I have to play a PGA Championship here at Baltusrol at a course I like, while my game is sharp, and let the effects or disappointment linger,” Mickelson said Tuesday.

While Mickelson candidly said that the disappointment of losing to Stenson’s major-record total may grow in the coming years, he was able to joke about the helpless feeling of watching the Swede torch the links.

“I don’t look back on the final round with anything that I would have done different, other than maybe go over to Stenson’s bag and bend his putter a little bit,” Mickelson said, drawing laughter from the room.

The left-hander was a sentimental favorite, in part, because he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in three years. Among many fans, there was probably a thought that the Open was his last best chance to win a major again. However, the ever-optimistic Mickelson disputes the idea that, at an advanced age as far as golfers go, that he’s running short on time.

“I don’t believe that there is a small window,” he said. “I think there’s a really big window of opportunity to add to my resumé, to continue to compete in big events, for the simple reason that the feel and sensitivity of hitting shots; the ability to play golf courses a certain way, to visualize, to make birdies, to pull shots off, that has not diminished.

“I just haven’t been on plane for a couple years, and all of those sensitivities go away when your golf swing is not on plane. And now that it’s back on plane, I think there’s a really big window of opportunity to have some success.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Rory McIlroy likes his chances to win a third PGA Championship this week

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Rory McIlroy sounds like a guy who is salivating at the opportunity in front of him.

This week is the season’s final major, the PGA Championship, in which he’s won in each of the last two even-numbered years. He’s coming off a T-5 finish in the last major, just two weeks ago at the British Open. And he’s playing on a golf course in Baltusrol’s Lower track that he seems to have quickly taken a shining.

“There’s no real hidden secrets to it,” McIlroy said Tuesday of the PGA of America’s major setup philosophy. “And I feel that’s what really let’s me excel. I feel like I can play my game in PGA Championships. I can hit driver off the tee the most time, and from there, if I drive it well, I feel like I have a big advantage.”

That’s particularly true here at Baltusrol, where players don’t encounter par 5s but for the 17th and 18th holes, one playing some 650 yards, followed by a 540-yard test that takes the driver out of a player’s hands.

“You’ve got to drive the ball in the fairway, and pretty long, as well,” he said. “Looking at the scorecard there, there’s a lot of par 4s that are sort of up in the 480-, 500-yard mark.”

There are few players in the field that can reduce a 7,400-yard golf course to a pitch-and-putt, but McIlroy is one of them. His driving potency — distance and accuracy — has never been at issue. The problems have been, of late, iron play and putting. After shaking off the adjustments required to play in the weather at Royal Troon, McIlroy feels good with those lagging facets of his game.

“I feel like I’m swinging it well. I’m hitting it good,” he said. “Every aspect of my game, I’m very comfortable with. So you know, combine that with the layout of the golf course here, and I feel like this is my best chance this year to win a major.”

A fifth major would quickly transform was has otherwise been a modest year for McIlroy. He’s only won once, albeit an important Irish Open win that finally ended his winless skid on the Emerald Isle. He’s fallen behind Jason Day and Dustin Johnson — and is still behind the vexing Jordan Spieth — in the world ranking.

“A grade this year? I’d say like a B-minus maybe, B. It’s okay,” McIlroy said. “I could change that into an A-plus on Sunday.”

Viewing the judgment on this or any season through the lens of four tournaments creates a lot of pressure, something Day, Johnson and Spieth haven’t been dealing with as long as the Ulsterman. Day has tried to turn stress into a positive. Johnson seems immune to it. Spieth is bristling at the letdown — one McIlroy predicted — after an incredible 2015.

McIlroy? He’s realized his standard and, by and large, he’s lived up to it. Now he has one more chance to keep on the kind of pace that would let him “retire at 40 and be very happy.”

“If you can win one of the four every year; if you’re that good, you can do that,” he said. “I think it is realistic. I think that is achievable. We’ve seen in the past that is achievable. That’s the benchmark.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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U.S. Ryder Cup captain Love prepared to go deep to find picks with chemistry

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — It’s getting close. The U.S. Ryder Cup team will start to come together in a month’s time, after The Barclays kicks off the PGA Tour playoffs. The top eight players on the points list will automatically make the team.

Then is when captain Davis Love III’s job really begins. He’ll need to pick four players to round out the 12-man team bound for Minnesota at the end of September, hoping to end a skid of eight losses in the last 10 matches in the biennial series. It won’t be easy to make those picks.

Several potential captain’s picks have been injured for significant stretches this year, including the recent injuries to Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger that have put them on the shelf.

“They were hot and then they got hurt,” Love said Tuesday at Baltusrol Golf Club ahead of the PGA Championship. “I told both of them: Don’t push yourself to try to make Ryder Cup points. Get healthy. You’ve got a long career. There’s going to be more majors ahead of you, more golf tournaments ahead of you. We want you to be ready for the Playoffs and The Ryder Cup. That’s the most important thing.”

Then there’s the matter of the Olympics. With four Americans in the 60-player tournament, Love has to keep track of the U.S. quartet — Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed — while in Rio. Love, who was also captain in a losing effort on home soil in 2012, recognizes that those four players will lose out on Ryder Cup points by taking two weeks off the PGA Tour to compete for gold.

“We have so many factors like the Olympics that we haven’t really dealt with before,” Love said. “You’ve got guys, Rickie just told me, he’s going to be down there for 11 days. You have to factor in that there’s two weeks he could have played here.”

Perhaps the most interesting conundrum of all for Love is that two of his vice captains, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, could wind up making the team or meriting a wild-card selection. After all, Furyk finished T-2 at the U.S. Open and T-13 at the Canadian Open as he makes a return to a full-time schedule following an extended absence to recover from a wrist injury and surgery. The 49-year-old Stricker was fourth at the Open Championship and finished T-2 in Memphis before the U.S. Open to earn that spot. He might be knocking on the door of PGA Tour Champions, but he’s still got plenty of game left in him on the PGA Tour.

“Guys like Stricker who haven’t played that many times, but just keep playing well every time he shows up to a big tournament,” Love said.

Love figures that, if it comes down to it, he still has a pair of vice-captains in the sidelined Tiger Woods and Tom Lehman to help make decisions on captain’s picks that might include Furyk and Stricker.

“Well, it might mean that Tiger and Tom Lehman and I have a conversation and leave them out of it, is probably where they would end up.”

While Love doesn’t know the final makeup of his team, he knows that he’ll likely have the higher-ranked squad. However, that hasn’t borne out in the Americans’ favor in the last 20 years.

“I haven’t looked at the World Rankings but on paper, we’re usually the better team,” he said. “But doesn’t always work out that way.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Power rankings: PGA Championship

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The PGA Championship comes a little early this year, moving up to the end of July to accommodate golf’s return to the Olympics. Baltusrol Golf Club’s Lower Course in Springfield, N.J., is the host for the first time since Phil Mickelson won his second major title in a fascinating Monday finish. This time, Jason Day is defending champion on a venue that demands some length, accuracy off the tee and the ability to fire into large greens.

Here are our top five players for the final major championship of the season:

1. Dustin Johnson — The U.S. Open champion has been in tremendous form this entire year. He can get around Baltusrol without driver if he chooses, and he’s dramatically improved in his wedge play.

2. Rory McIlroy — This is Major for Rory McIlroy. He’s won two of his four majors here and has the best record in this major of the four. Back-door top-five at the Open is nice, but he should be a part of it from start to finish at Baltusrol.

3. Jason Day — Day’s best is still better than anyone else’s in golf. However, in the last two majors, Day has dug himself an early hole that’s proven impossible to get wholly out of. Still, the defending champion deserves a serious look.

4. Jordan Spieth — Spieth may actually be a sneaky pick this week. He’s struggled in the last two majors. However, he’s also showed improvement in his ballstriking, and he now doesn’t have to live up to trying to replicate 2015.

5. Phil Mickelson — The Open runner-up won here in 2005, and it’s crazy to think that a 46-year-old guy has three runner-up finishes this year. But here we are.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Jhonny Vegas goes low on Sunday to win the Canadian Open

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Jhonattan Vegas crapped out last weekend at the Barbasol Championship. He hit the jackpot on Sunday at the RBC Canadian Open.

Vegas went out ahead of the lead pack on Sunday at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ontario, finishing with three consecutive birdies to shoot 8-under 64 and capture the clubhouse lead. One by one, the players behind him were unable to catch him — until there were none left. Vegas hung on to win by a shot at 12-under 276, finishing just ahead of Dustin Johnson, Martin Laird and rookie pro Jon Rahm.

“We had Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, a bunch of guys, really close,” Vegas said. “Great players. If I got lucky, it was going to be a playoff. Super surprised when nobody got to 12.”

The Venezuelan, who dedicated his win to his struggling home nation, began the day five shots behind 54-hole leader Brandt Snedeker, whose final-round 71 left him tied for fifth place. He teed off 80 minutes ahead of Snedeker and Canadian amateur Jared du Toit, who finished tied for ninth.

With a three-hole closing stretch with two par 5s, Vegas’ challengers had opportunity to catch and maybe pass him.

Dustin Johnson eagled the par-5 16th but couldn’t duplicate the feat on the 18th.

Rahm had a 15-foot eagle putt on No. 18, and he misread it. For Rahm, though he came up short of the win, the Spaniard effectively locked up his PGA Tour card for next season based on the non-member money he’s earned in a mere four starts as a pro. So far, he’s racked up more than $800,000 with a T-3 and a T-2 finish among the four cuts made.

Steve Wheatcroft couldn’t catch a break in the final two holes. On No. 17, his approach buried in the wall of a bunker, leading to a bogey. On No. 18, needing birdie to match Vegas, he bladed his third shot from a bunker into a water hazard to end his chances and leave him tied for fifth place with Alex Cejka, Ricky Barnes and Snedeker.

For the winner, this was a big turnaround from last weekend. Vegas took a six-shot lead to the weekend at the Barbasol Championship on the heels of a second-round 60. He melted down on the weekend to miss a playoff by three shots. The winner there, Aaron Baddeley, ended a five-year winless drought. On Sunday, Vegas had his turn to end a five-year skid.

“I had a six-shot lead going into the weekend and lost by three,” Vegas said. “I was five back starting today and won by one. It’s a crazy sport.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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United States rallies to win UL International Crown

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From worst to first.

The United States was shut out in Day 1 of the UL International Crown, but by the time the matches at Merit Club near Chicago wrapped on Sunday, the American quartet had claimed the second title in the team-based event.

The U.S. team of Gerina Piller, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson and Cristie Kerr managed to win three of four singles matches on Sunday, earning 6 points that propelled their team to win by a single point over South Korea. Piller and Lewis won early in the day against their opponents before a weather delay held up the proceedings. Thompson, however, lost 2 and 1 to South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu, leaving it up to Kerr to win her match and secure the title in biennial event. That’s what Kerr did, defeating England’s Mel Reid by a 3-and-2 margin.

“I had a feeling last night if we all played really well and things fell into place that my match could be huge,” Kerr said. “But I just kind of got oblivious to all of that today because it’s just so hard to figure out who’s making points, who’s winning, who’s losing, and I just tried to take care of my match. I didn’t know that it had come down to me winning that match that we had won until Stacy told me.”

The event format is innovative, with round-robin pool play in the first three days inside the groups of four teams of four players for each country. During those first three days, the teams of four competed in two four-ball matches to earn points, with 2 points for a win and each team sharing 1 point for a tie. After the Americans walked away with 0 points against England in Day 1, the U.S. side rallied for three wins and a tie in the next two days of matches, earning a spot among the five teams to make it to the final day of singles.

The U.S. follows Spain, which won the inaugural event in 2014, played at Caves Valley near Baltimore, Md. In 2018, the International Crown will go overseas for the first time, to be played at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea, site of the 2015 Presidents Cup.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Steph Curry joins Justin Timberlake, Alfonso Ribeiro for the Carlton dance

It’s become a thing. Each year — practically each round — at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” actor Alfonso Ribeiro and American treasure Justin Timberlake spend some time on the course doing Ribeiro’s famous Carlton dance.

Well, on Saturday at Lake Tahoe, a third player joined the party.

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Steph Curry got in on the fun, joining Ribeiro and Timberlake for a spirited rendition of the Carlton, which sent the raucous crowd into a tizzy.

It was a good distraction for Curry, who goes into Sunday’s final round of the celebrity tournament tied for 33rd place in the modified Stableford scoring event. Timberlake is tied for 24th, while Ribeiro is tied for ninth. They’re all chasing tennis pro Mardy Fish, who has 50 total points through two rounds.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Friday, July 22, 2016

The 5 most interesting PGA Championship groupings

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The groupings and tee times are out for the first two rounds of next week’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., and the PGA of America has some good ones in store for the year’s final major.

In a rare July slot thanks to the scheduling imperative created by golf’s inclusion in the Olympics, the PGA Championship typically has a great setup with a lot of drama.

Here are our top five groups for the first two rounds.

  1. Dustin Johnson, Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson (Round 1: 1:45 p.m., No. 1/Round 2: 8:30 a.m. No. 10) — The three major champions of the year so far get grouped together for the first two rounds. Stenson had the putting week of his life just two weeks ago, while D.J. has been playing the golf of his life for the last month-plus.
  2. Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia (Round 1: 1:25 p.m., No. 1/Round 2: 8:10 a.m. No. 10) — This is a fascinating group as we head toward a Ryder Cup at the end of September. All three of these guys are animated on the golf course and do a good amount of talking to the golf ball.
  3. Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy (Round 1: 8:30 a.m., No. 10/Round 2: 1:45 p.m. No. 1) — The defending champion also draws a two-time PGA winner in McIlroy and the defending venue champion in Mickelson, who won the 2005 PGA here. Day keeps digging major holes early. Mickelson keeps just missing wins. McIlroy seems to be coming around in time for another Wanamaker.
  4. Lee Westwood, Brooks Koepka and Brandt Snedeker (Round 1: 8:10 a.m., No. 10/Round 2: 1:25 p.m. No. 1) — Lee Westwood has enjoyed a great run in the majors this year. Baltusrol should favor a quality ballstriker. Could this be Westwood’s time in a year of first-time major winners who already should’ve had a few by now?
  5. Vijay Singh, John Daly and Padraig Harrington (Round 1: 7:50 a.m., No. 1/Round 2: 1:05 p.m. No. 10) — This is a classic past champions grouping, but Singh has actually been playing some good golf of late. Padraig Harrington also enjoyed a good run at Troon. Daly? Always must-see TV, but he doesn’t have a Great Lake in which to throw a club this year.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Inbee Park out of Women's British Open with thumb injury

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Inbee Park will not defend her title at next week’s Women’s British Open as she continues to recovery from a left thumb injury that has nagged her for almost the entire season.

In a statement, the seven-time major winner said “this has been an incredibly hard decision for me to make and the reason I’ve left it to the very last minute.”

Park, who is currently No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings, has struggled with the injury throughout the season, skipping the U.S. Women’s Open as well. In her previous three starts, Park withdrew from the Kingsmill Championship in May after a first-round 74, pulled out of the Volvik Championship after an opening 84 and missed the cut at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship after shooting a first-round 1-over 72 that officially cemented her place in the LPGA Hall of Fame.

The South Korean intends to represent her country in the 60-player women’s Olympic golf tournament in Rio de Janeiro.

The Ricoh Women’s British Open starts July 28 at Woburn in England.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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PGA of America warns N. Carolina's HB2 law could cost state future events

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The PGA of America is bringing the PGA Championship to Charlotte, N.C., next August. However, the body warns that it may steer clear of the Tarheel State in the future if the state’s controversial House Bill 2 remains law.

House Bill 2, also known as The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, was signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Pat McCrory and limits municipalities from having anti-discrimination laws on the books and requires transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth in government buildings and public schools.

Despite efforts to amend the bill, McCrory and the Republican-led state legislature did not do enough to prevent the NBA from choosing to move the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte.

The PGA of America will not move its major championship but made evident its distaste for the law after offering a tepid response following the adoption of the law in March.

“The PGA of America strongly opposes North Carolina HB2. It contradicts our commitment to create an inclusive and welcoming environment at our events. We remain hopeful that the law will be changed,” the organization said in a written statement.

“Since the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte is a private facility not subject to all of the provisions of HB2, at the 2017 PGA Championship we plan to allow spectators to use the restroom that conforms with their gender identity or gender expression. As we look to future events, our willingness to consider coming back to the State of North Carolina will be severely impacted unless HB2 is overturned.”

The PGA Tour also hosts the Quail Hollow Championship in North Carolina, typically also at Quail Hollow Club. However, in 2017, the event will be played at Eagle Point in Wilmington, N.C.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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Henrik Stenson wins British Open by 3 with record-tying 63

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Henrik Stenson won his first major championship on Sunday, shooting an 8-under 63 at Royal Troon to win the British Open by three shots over Phil Mickelson.

The 40-year-old, who became the first male Swede to win a major title, finished at a record-setting 72-hole total of 264, eclipsing Greg Norman’s prior record of 267, which he set in winning the 1993 British Open. In his runner-up finish, Mickelson tied Norman’s 72-hole hole mark.

Stenson also became the second man to finish a major championship at 20-under aggregate, tying Jason Day, who was the first man to finish a major at 20 under or better when he won the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

The remarkable performance did not get off to the best of starts for Stenson, who made a three-putt bogey on the first hole, resulting in a two-shot swing when Mickelson made a tap-in birdie at the opening hole.

From there, however, Stenson only dropped one more shot the rest of the way, doing again with a three-putt at the 11th. Stenson made three consecutive birdies after the first bogey, resulting in 10 birdies altogether, the most ever in a British Open round. The clincher may well have been an unlikely 51-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole from just off the green. However, in trouble in two shots on the par-5 16th, Stenson got up-and-down for birdie, essentially securing the title.

On the final hole, Stenson, with the championship in hand, made the final birdie putt to shoot the 29th round of 63 in a men’s major championship.

Mickelson, for his part, played incredible golf. He didn’t make a bogey on the afternoon, en route at 6-under 65 on Sunday, good enough for his best final round ever in a major championship. It’s the 11th time Mickelson has finished in second place in a major.

Everyone else was playing for third place, with J.B. Holmes winning the B-flight at 6-under 278.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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