LIV Golf effect noticeable as ever at Players Championship

LIV Golf effect noticeable as ever at Players Championship
The Australian flag flies in honor of defending champion Cameron Smith at The Players Championship golf tournament, Wednesday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Smith is not playing the tournament this year. (AP)
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Updated 09 March 2023

LIV Golf effect noticeable as ever at Players Championship

LIV Golf effect noticeable as ever at Players Championship
  • Cameron Smith’s pitching wedge is on display in the clubhouse, part of the tradition for the winner to leave a club that was meaningful in his win

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida: Such are the times in golf that so much attention at The Players Championship is on a player who is not even part of the strongest field of the year.

Stranger still is the player in question is not Tiger Woods.

Cameron Smith is a reminder of the fractured world of professional golf. He is the defending champion of the PGA Tour’s premier tournament, not able to return this year because the tour has suspended him for joining Saudi-funded LIV Golf.

And it’s not just Smith.

The runner-up a year ago was Anirban Lahiri, followed by Paul Casey. They are among 36 players who have defected to LIV Golf, and they are among 17 players who were part of the windy, wild weekend at the TPC Sawgrass last year.

The Australian flag still flies outside the clubhouse in honor of the champion’s home country. Smith’s pitching wedge is on display in the clubhouse, part of the tradition for the winner to leave a club that was meaningful in his win.

But there’s no Smith — or his mullet — even though the No. 5 player in the world has lived down the street since 2016. He probably can be found this week with a rod and reel, not a wedge and a putter.

“I think it’ll be a pretty quiet week on the water,” Smith told Golf Digest two weeks ago at LIV Golf’s opening event in Mexico.

Even at the richest event on the PGA Tour — a $25 million purse with $4.5 million going to the winner — the subject of LIV Golf is never too far away.

Smith is the first defending champion to miss The Players since Woods in 2014, who was recovering from the first of five back surgeries. Woods isn’t playing this week either, deciding to rest his battered legs ahead of the Masters.

“Yes, it’s awkward,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. “But you know, ultimately that’s a decision he made, and we’ve got an unbelievable field here this week and a history and tradition that one of these 144 is going to go seek to get.”

The Players still has the strongest field so far this year, helped by the 144-man field. But by pure numbers, it can be difficult to distinguish between The Players and the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week at Bay Hill, or from the Genesis Invitational at Riviera a few weeks back.

Bay Hill had 43 of the top 50 players in the world ranking. The Players has 44 of the top 50, the difference being Harold Varner III (another LIV player) dropped out of the top 50 this week.

“It’s not going to be as big a gap as it maybe has been in the past,” Jon Rahm said, though he still noted the increase in prize money ($25 million), world ranking points (the most in golf except for majors) and FedEx Cup points.

“And then the legacy that a tournament has,” Rahm said. “Winning this event is a big step forward to a Hall-of-Fame career ... arguably as close as you can get to being a major champion without officially being one. It is our championship. So I think that’s what makes it different to some of the other events.”

Left unchanged is the dynamic nature of the Stadium Course.

It is best known for the island green on the par-3 17th hole and for its history of not favoring a particular style of game. Smith is renowned for his short game, Rory McIlroy is built on power and Justin Thomas a blend of distance and his ability to flight the golf ball with his irons.

“I don’t have a great track record here at this event. It doesn’t take much research to figure that out,” said Jordan Spieth, who played in the final group in 2014, his first year, and then missed five cuts in his next seven tries. “But I feel like when striking it well, having some momentum and feeling like a little bit of freedom as far as being able to play aggressively here, that’s going to kind of be my strategy this week to try and take advantage.”

The wind roared to life on Wednesday, the final day of practice, and that’s what caused so much havoc a year ago. Imagine aiming at an island some 145 yards away with the wind blowing nearly 40 mph (64 kph).

Xander Schauffele was two shots out of the lead later in the first weather-delayed first round and faced such conditions. He came up 15 yards short of the island and made bogey. On the next hole, he made a quadruple-bogey 8. His caddie still keeps a statistic as a reminder of how much can change so quickly.

“I think he showed me like a first ever to go from the top 10 to outside the top 100 or something like that,” Schauffele said. “My team is all about giving me reality checks, and I got one.”


Danny Lee wins LIV Golf Tucson with birdie in a playoff

Danny Lee wins LIV Golf Tucson with birdie in a playoff
Updated 20 March 2023

Danny Lee wins LIV Golf Tucson with birdie in a playoff

Danny Lee wins LIV Golf Tucson with birdie in a playoff
  • Ortiz led the Fireballs to the team victory, winning handily over the 4 Aces with Lee’s Ironheads team coming in third

MARANA, Arizona: Danny Lee birdied his final two holes for a 2-under 69 and then won LIV Golf Tucson on the second hole of a four-man playoff on Sunday by making a 25-foot birdie putt from off the 18th green for his first win in nearly eight years.

It was the second playoff in LIV Golf since the Saudi-funded series began last year. Dustin Johnson won the playoff outside Boston last year.

Lee finished at 9-under 275 and got into the playoff with Carlos Ortiz (65), Brendan Steele (70) and Louis Oosthuizen (70). Oosthuizen bogeyed the par-5 17th to fall one behind, only to birdie the 18th to join the playoff.

Lee nearly squandered a great chance to win on the first playoff hole when he put his approach 5 feet from the hole on No. 18 on the first extra hole. He pushed it to the right.

Ortiz was eliminated after the first extra hole when he went long off the 18th green, chipped to 6 feet and missed the par putt.

Going back to the 18th hole, Lee again looked as though he wasted a good opportunity when his approach from the fairway missed the green to the right, leaving him a tough spot with the pin all the way to the right side of the green.

Oosthuizen and Steele both missed long birdie putts. Lee chose to use putter, even though he was some 10 feet off the green. He gave it a rap and it was going fast when it rattled against the pin and disappeared for the winner.

“I haven’t won since 2015. I thought winning just not my thing. Today has changed that,” said Lee, who signed with LIV Golf in February when he was No. 267 in the world.

His last victory was the Greenbrier Classic, which no longer is a PGA Tour event but will be part of the LIV Golf schedule this year.

“It’s good to see I’m capable of playing good golf again,” Lee said.

Ortiz led the Fireballs to the team victory, winning handily over the 4 Aces with Lee’s Ironheads team coming in third.

Charles Howell III, who won LIV Golf’s season opener at Mayakoba, had the lead after a good start. But he took a triple bogey on the par-3 eighth, and then failed to birdie the par-5 17th. He shot a 72 and finished one shot out of the playoff.

Lee won $4 million from the $20 million purse for individual play, which was roughly as much as he made the last four seasons combined on the PGA Tour.

LIV Golf now takes a week off before resuming at a new tournament in Orlando, Florida, the weekend before the Masters.


Leishman has 2-shot lead over Garcia at LIV Golf in Arizona

Leishman has 2-shot lead over Garcia at LIV Golf in Arizona
Updated 19 March 2023

Leishman has 2-shot lead over Garcia at LIV Golf in Arizona

Leishman has 2-shot lead over Garcia at LIV Golf in Arizona
  • The Australian dropped only one shot at the Gallery Golf Club in the high desert
  • Sergio Garcia’s team, the Fireballs, had a one-shot lead in the team competition

MARANA, Arizona: Marc Leishman opened with an eagle and held it together in the middle of his round for a 5-under 66 on Saturday, giving him a two-shot lead over Sergio Garcia going into the third and final round of LIV Golf Tucson.
Leishman said he had fallen into a habit of letting a rough stretch ruin his round. The Australian dropped only one shot at the Gallery Golf Club in the high desert and delivered one last birdie on the par-5 17th to reach 11-under 131.
“I had a really hot start, the cooled on the back nine,” said Leishman, who was 4 under for his round through eight holes. “But I didn’t let it get away from me.”
Garcia, whose last victory anywhere was in Mississippi more than two years ago, had a 65 that could have been slightly better if not for missing a 2-foot par putt on the 16th hole. He at least was able to finish with a birdie on his last hole at No. 17.
Garcia’s team, the Fireballs, had a one-shot lead in the team competition.
“We’re right there. We need another good day tomorrow,” Garcia said.
Louis Oosthuizen was in a four-player group at 8-under 134, though none of the others had quite the tease at the end of the round like the South African.
Finishing on the par-4 18th, Oosthuizen’s approach landed a few feet short of the flag and struck the pin, rolling back off a false front into the fairway. His pitch for birdie was headed for the pin and spun in and out of the cup.
At that point, he turned away and covered his face. He made the par for a 68.
“It pitched exactly where I wanted it to, it hit the pin and off the green. Same look with the chip. I thought I was to chip it in,” Oosthuizen said. “I’m standing over the putt thinking, ‘You better make this or it’s going to be a bad ending.’”
He was joined at 134 by Charles Howell III (65), Brendan Steele (65) and Cameron Tringale (66), who never won on the PGA Tour before signing up for LIV Golf last season.
Howell won the first LIV Golf event of its second season last month at Mayakoba.
Phil Mickelson had a bogey-free round, making four birdies in an eight-hole stretch that led to a 67. He was tied for 10th, six shots out of the lead. His team, which includes Steele, was one shot behind Garcia’s team.
 


Schenk’s late birdie gives him lead over Spieth, Fleetwood

Schenk’s late birdie gives him lead over Spieth, Fleetwood
Updated 19 March 2023

Schenk’s late birdie gives him lead over Spieth, Fleetwood

Schenk’s late birdie gives him lead over Spieth, Fleetwood
  • Adam Schenk was at 8-under 205 and will play in the final group with Spieth, whose game appears to be rounding into form with the Masters on the horizon

PALM HARBOR, Florida: Adam Schenk looked as though he and everyone else would get passed by Jordan Spieth on Saturday at the Valspar Championship. When a wild and windy round finished, Schenk was still the player everyone was chasing.
Schenk hit his approach to the 18th hole to 5 feet and made the birdie putt for a 1-under 70, giving him a one-shot lead over Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood as he goes after his first victory on the PGA Tour.
“We didn’t have a ton go our way until the very end,” Schenk said.
Neither did Fleetwood, who opened with a birdie and followed with 12 straight pars. He wound up with a bogey-free 69 and realized not losing ground was one of the best things he had going on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook.
Spieth, however, is who dictated the action.
He had a 69 and had to decide when it was over whether that was a good score on account of all the mistakes he made or a wasted chance to separate himself from the field. Spieth opened with a 6-iron to 7 feet for eagle. He led by as many as two shots.
But he made only three pars over his final 12 holes — on four of those occasions, he followed a bogey with a birdie. But that ended on the 18th when he hit a tree on his drive, went into a front bunker and then blasted by the pin to the collar for a final bogey.
“I didn’t have my best stuff in the approach game, but overall I’m in a good spot for tomorrow,” Spieth said.
Schenk was at 8-under 205 and will play in the final group with Spieth, whose game appears to be rounding into form with the Masters on the horizon.
Schenk is playing his 10th week in a row because his wife, Courtney, is expecting their first child at the end of April. He also is entered in the field next week in the Dominican Republic, though a victory could change everything.
That feels a long way off.
Eight players were within three shots of the lead. Webb Simpson had a 68 that included a bogey on the par-5 14th when he hit into the water while trying to lay up. He was two shots behind, along with Taylor Moore (69) and Cody Gribble (70), who had short birdie putts on the 16th and 17th hole and narrowly missed a 20-footer in his bid to birdie all three holes as part of the “Snake Pit” on the Copperhead course.
Patton Kizzire had a 67 and posted early, not sure where that would leave him. Spieth had a lot to do with that and he wound up keeping everyone close.
“Eventful,” is how Spieth described his round.
He missed a 5-foot par putt on No. 7. He hit 6-iron to 12 feet for birdie on No. 8. He missed a 7-foot par putt on the 10th, and then hit a bunker shot that landed in the collar and bounced out to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 11th.
Spieth followed a three-putt bogey on the 13th with a 3-wood to 35 feet for a two-putt birdie on the 14th. It was like that throughout the back nine, and Spieth looked to have settled down with a 10-foot par putt on the 17th, only to send his tee shot into the trees on 18.
“I made a few too many mistakes, but overall in these conditions, I think I would have signed for 2 under,” Spieth said.
The weather was as wild as his round, gusting to 20 mph and shifting to an entirely different direction as the final groups were on the back nine. Players were hitting 9-iron into the par-3 17th earlier in the round, and Gribble had to hit 5-iron late in the day.
Rain that was expected never arrived, though Innisbrook was expecting showers overnight that could put a premium on scoring.
Fleetwood was the steadiest of the bunch. He made birdie on the par-5 opening hole and the par-5 14th, and was had a collection of big par putts to keep some momentum.
“I kept plugging away,” Fleetwood said. “Pars were good. Birdies were hard to come by. The middle stretch the par saves on 9 and 10 were good putts to hole. I never went backward. I was very happy with anything par or better.”
 


Scheffler expects no LIV-PGA tension at Masters champs dinner

Scheffler expects no LIV-PGA tension at Masters champs dinner
Updated 16 March 2023

Scheffler expects no LIV-PGA tension at Masters champs dinner

Scheffler expects no LIV-PGA tension at Masters champs dinner
  • LIV and PGA players will compete against each other at all four of this year’s major championships

WASHINGTON: World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler said Wednesday that he expects some of golf’s greatest legends will put aside the PGA Tour-LIV Golf feud at next month’s Masters Champions Dinner.

Scheffler, coming off a victory at The Players Championship on Sunday, revealed his menu for this year’s gathering after winning last year’s green jacket at Augusta National.

The 26-year-old American also said that he hasn’t decided what he will say in his speech to the past winners, but he will count upon them to be on their best manners despite a split that has divided golf’s elite talent.

“I haven’t totally decided what I’ll say,” Scheffler said. “I’m not quite sure what the vibe will be like but I think we’re all there to play in the tournament and celebrate the Masters and celebrate all being past champions.

“I think the dinner will be really special for all of us to be able to gather together again and I’m sure we’ll put all that other stuff aside and just have a good time together.

“Just because guys joined another tour doesn’t mean that I’m not friends with them anymore and that I think differently of them as people. They are still my friends and we’re all just going to hang out and have a good time.”

The Saudi-backed LIV Golf League has opened its second campaign and players gather this week in Tucson, Arizona, while the PGA Valspar Championship is being staged near Tampa, Florida.

With record $25 million purses and 54-hole events, LIV Golf lured away several top players from the PGA last year, resulting in a ban from playing tour events and a court case set to reach trial next year.

The PGA Tour has made changes to its format and prize money to better compete with LIV offerings, but hard feelings remain from some players at the rebels.

LIV and PGA players will compete against each other at all four of this year’s major championships, which have not followed the tour in banning LIV talent.

Three-time Masters champion and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson, fellow Americans Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed, South African Charl Schwartzel and Spain’s Sergio Garcia are LIV Golf players who have won green jackets to earn a spot at the Champions Dinner.

Mickelson said Wednesday that he has no idea what awaits on his trip down Magnolia Lane for the year’s first major on April 6-9.

“No expectations. We are grateful to just be able to play and compete and be a part of it,” Mickelson said. “A lot of the people there that are playing and competing in the Masters are friend for decades and I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”

Scheffler’s menu includes Texas ribeye steak, blackened redfish, tortilla soup, firecracker shrimp, cheeseburger sliders and a warm chocolate chip skillet cookie with ice cream.

Scheffler had a chance to practice at Augusta National, including the lengthened par-5 13th hole.

“It’s like 30 yards longer probably,” he said. “I usually hit a big hooking 3-wood off that tee and now I hit driver on a little bit of a different angle. So it has definitely changed the hole significantly.

“You could see more guys laying up to that hole, especially depending upon pin position, but we’ll see how it plays during the tournament.”


Ladies First Club’s Hind Al-Mubaraki wins second annual KSA Open de France

Ladies First Club’s Hind Al-Mubaraki wins second annual KSA Open de France
Updated 13 March 2023

Ladies First Club’s Hind Al-Mubaraki wins second annual KSA Open de France

Ladies First Club’s Hind Al-Mubaraki wins second annual KSA Open de France
  • She was one of five Saudi women among golfers from 24 clubs and groups who competed for the trophy at Nofa Golf Resort in Riyadh
  • Hind Al-Mubaraki: Golf is a wonderful sport for Saudi women and I encourage as many women as possible to try it out

RIYADH: Saudi golfer Hind Al-Mubaraki of the Ladies First Club won the second annual KSA Open de France which was held recently at Nofa Golf Resort in Riyadh.

She was one of five Saudi women among golfers from 24 clubs and groups who competed at the event, for which the handicap level was 36.

“I can’t quite believe that I managed to win the KSA Open de France in only its second year,” said Al-Mubaraki.

Hind Al-Mubaraki. (Supplied)

“The Ladies First Club was a fantastic way for me to try out the game of golf and as time has gone on I’ve become more and more confident to compete in similar tournaments. Golf is a wonderful sport for Saudi women and I encourage as many women as possible to try it out and enjoy a social day with their friends on the golf course.”

The launch of the Ladies First Club was announced in November 2020 during the inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International, the first major professional sporting event for women to take place in Saudi Arabia. Within the days of the announcement, more than 1,000 women registered an interest in learning to play golf.

“I am grateful to have had the chance to become a member of the Ladies First Club,” Al-Mubaraki added. “I love competing in local tournaments and, although it can be a little daunting at first, with each one your confidence grows and grows. This win is something that I’m sure I’ll never forget.”

Over the past two and a half years, numerous women have taken part in coaching programs and other golf lessons at Nofa Golf Resort, Riyadh Golf Club, Dirab Golf and Country Club, and at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Jeddah.