Augusta chief strikes conciliatory tone over LIV Golf tour

Augusta chief strikes conciliatory tone over LIV Golf tour
Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley presents Lottie Woad of England with the trophy following the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur at Augusta National Golf Club on April 06, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Getty Images via AFP/File)
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Updated 11 April 2024
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Augusta chief strikes conciliatory tone over LIV Golf tour

Augusta chief strikes conciliatory tone over LIV Golf tour
  • In a further sign of the thaw between golf’s wrangling powerbrokers, Ridley even refused to completely rule out having direct access in the future for LIV players to qualify
  • Ridley: Our goal is to have, to the greatest extent possible, the best field in golf, the best players in the world

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley has said the Masters won’t be afraid to use special invitations to ensure that top LIV golfers remain part of the tournament.

In a further sign of the thaw between golf’s wrangling powerbrokers, Ridley, who struck a conciliatory tone, even refused to completely rule out having direct access in the future for LIV players to qualify.

There are 13 members of Saudi-backed LIV Golf in the Masters this year, including defending champion Jon Rahm, but the vast majority qualify via being former Masters winners or winning other majors.

With the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) not awarding any points for LIV competitions, it is increasingly difficult for their players to break into the majors via spots in the top 50 in the year-end rankings.

Augusta National is on the OWGR board and Ridley said it remains “the legitimate determiner of who the best players in the game are” but offered a reminder that the Masters is not an open championship.

“We’re an invitational, and we can adjust as necessary,” said Ridley who highlighted the special invitation given to LIV’s Joaquin Niemann, who won the Australian Open.

“We thought he was deserving of a special invitation,” Ridley said. “Now, historically, and as stated in our qualification criteria, we consider international players for special invitations. But we do look at those every year and I will say that if we felt that there were a player or players, whether they played on the LIV Tour or any other tour, who were deserving of an invitation to the Masters, that we would exercise that discretion with regard to special invitations.”

Ridley said such an invitations would be “subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance to those players.”

“Our goal is to have, to the greatest extent possible, the best field in golf, the best players in the world,” said Ridley.

“Having said that, we never have had all the best players in the world because of the structure of our tournament. It’s an invitational. It’s limited field. It’s a small field.”

The Masters invites past champions and leading amateurs to play in the tournament as well as having a qualification structure and special invitations.

LIV withdrew an application to the OWGR after failing to reach an agreement on how their tournaments might be rated and Ridley was asked if Augusta would consider some way of LIV players qualifying through their own structure.

While casting doubt on how that would work, he did not rule it out.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that had any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they’re basically, not totally but for the most part, a closed shop.

“Those concerns were expressed by the OWGR, but I don’t think that prevents us from giving subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance, to those players.

“I would not foreclose that we would consider that in the future.”

Ridley also addressed the question of declining PGA Tour television ratings in the USA and the question of whether that was collateral damage from the rift within the sport.

While noting that fragmentation in viewing habits impacts many sports, he said golf did appear to be suffering more than others.

“I will acknowledge that, if you look at the data this year, golf viewers are down on linear television while other sports, some other sports are up. So you can draw your own conclusions,” he said.

Ridley echoed the view of several players on both sides of the divide that there needed to be more events with the elite playing each other.

“Certainly the fact that the best players in the world are not convening very often is not helpful,” he said. “Whether or not there’s a direct causal effect (on ratings), I don’t know. But I think that it would be a lot better if they were together more often.”


McIlroy fires bogey-free 65 to share US Open lead with Cantlay

McIlroy fires bogey-free 65 to share US Open lead with Cantlay
Updated 14 June 2024
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McIlroy fires bogey-free 65 to share US Open lead with Cantlay

McIlroy fires bogey-free 65 to share US Open lead with Cantlay
  • “I’m delighted with the start,” McIlroy said

PINEHURST, US: Rory McIlroy sank a birdie putt from just inside 20 feet at the 18th hole to finish a five-under-par 65 first round and match Patrick Cantlay for the lead at the US Open on Thursday.
World number three McIlroy, chasing his first major victory since the 2014 PGA Championship, delivered a bogey-free round at Pinehurst, defying its dome-shaped greens, sandy waste areas and wiregrass.
“I’m delighted with the start,” McIlroy said.
“As the week goes on the golf course is going to get a bit faster and a bit firey, but right now, there’s opportunities out there and thankfully I was able to take advantage of them.
“I think more so this championship than the others, getting off to a good start is really important to try to keep yourself up there. Because you need to give yourself as much of a cushion as possible knowing what’s lurking around the corner.”
America’s ninth-ranked Cantlay, a back-nine starter, birdied three of his last five holes for an early 65 and with McIlroy took a one-stroke lead over Sweden’s sixth-ranked Ludvig Aberg, Masters runner-up in his major debut, with France’s Matthieu Pavon and American Bryson DeChambeau sharing fourth on 67.
“It’s the US Open. It’s supposed to be hard,” Aberg said. “That’s what we’re doing here.”
McIlroy, a 30-year-old from Northern Ireland, sank a seven-foot birdie putt at the fourth hole then chipped in brilliantly from just off the green for a birdie at the par-5 fifth.
The four-time major winner added a birdie putt from just inside seven feet at the par-5 10th then birdied two of the last three holes, sinking an 11-footer at the par-4 16th and then his tension-packed putt at 18.
“I think the one thing we got a little lucky with today was the cloud cover, so the golf course didn’t get as fiery as I expected it to get this afternoon,” McIlroy said.
“The nice thing is to go out there and take advantage of the conditions and get back out in the morning and try to keep the momentum going.”
McIlroy was second in last year’s US Open, his fifth top-10 effort in a row at the US Open with each better than the last.
An afternoon feature group with the world’s three top players was dominated by McIlroy, with world number one Scottie Scheffler, the Masters champion, firing a 71 and second-ranked Xander Schauffele, who won last month’s PGA Championship, on 70.
Scheffler has five PGA Tour wins this year, the most by any player at this stage since Tom Watson in 1980.
Schauffele snapped a two-year win drought last month with his first major triumph.
Cantlay, seeking his first major triumph, and McIlroy matched the low US Open rounds at Pinehurst, two 65s by Martin Kaymer on his way to victory in 2014.
“Played pretty solid most of the way,” Cantlay said. “The golf course played pretty difficult. But drove it well. Lot of balls on the fairways. Left the ball in the right spots, for the most part.”
Cantlay, the 2021 PGA Tour playoff champion, is a contender for a US berth at the Paris Olympics but must finish no worse than second this week to have a chance.
Aberg sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 ninth to finish on 66 with six birdies and two bogeys.
“Very nice round of golf,” Aberg said. “Not a lot to complain about.”
DeChambeau, last month’s PGA Championship runner-up and the 2020 US Open champion, made a three-foot birdie putt at 13, holed out for birdie from 52 feet at 18 and birdied the fifth after putting his tee shot way right into trees.
Pavon, ranked 24th, soared with eagles at the par-5 fifth on an 18-foot putt and on a 27-foot putt at the par-5 10th hole.
“I made my four best swings of the day on the par-5s and dropped two putts,” Pavon said. “It gave me a little bit of freedom.”
Five-time major winner Brooks Koepka and seventh-ranked Collin Morikawa, a two-time major winner, were among those on 70.
Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner, struggled to a 74. He had five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch starting at the 16th after teeing off on the back nine.


Pinehurst stands apart as a US Open test because of the greens

Pinehurst stands apart as a US Open test because of the greens
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pinehurst stands apart as a US Open test because of the greens

Pinehurst stands apart as a US Open test because of the greens
  • The greens at Pinehurst No. 2 are the signature of this Donald Ross course
  • Clark won last year at Los Angeles Country Club with a score of 10-under 270

PINEHURST, N.C.: Pebble Beach has the Pacific Ocean. Oakmont is the brute with its church pew bunkers. Pinehurst No. 2 has the cereal bowls turned upside down.

The greens at Pinehurst No. 2 are the signature of this Donald Ross course that hosts the 124th US Open starting on Thursday. They go by any variety of names — upside-down cereal bowls, inverted saucers, turtlebacks or domes.

Whatever they’re called, they are universally regarded as daunting, particularly for a US Open already known as the toughest test in golf.

“You hit it on the green, the hole is not done,” defending champion Wyndham Clark said.

He played when he arrived on Monday and was amazed and how firm and fast they already were, calling them “borderline” in terms of fairness. And this was still three days out from the opening tee shot on Thursday.

Perhaps that’s why in three previous US Opens at Pinehurst No. 2, a total of four players finished the championship under par. One was Payne Stewart, thanks to that famous 15-foot par putt on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson in 1999 at 1-under par.

Martin Kaymer took advantage of the rain-softened conditions and brilliant golf to win in 2014 at 9 under, with Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton eight shots behind and the only other players in red numbers for the week.

“I’d say in general, I think the best players play aggressively off the tee and conservatively into the greens. I think this course is basically that strategy — just on steroids,” Viktor Hovland said. “I think having a shorter club in is very important. But then into the greens you’ve got to play very, very conservatively. I think just hitting the greens itself is of high value.”

There have been plenty of illustrations of that.

Jordan Spieth was practicing to the right of the par-3 ninth green on Wednesday afternoon, aiming toward a coaster the size of a golf hole on the left side. He pitched it hard, well past the hole to the top of a small ridge so that it would roll back toward his target. And it did just that, but it was a foot too far to the left and before long had run all the way off the green.

“This is one you putt,” Spieth told Sam Burns. Instead of walking over to his bag for a putter, Spieth used the left-handed putter of alternate Josh Radcliff and gave it a whack.

It can be hard to keep track of golf balls, especially when a practice group has four players, with balls rolling all over the place, some of them winding up off the green.

Such is the nature of Pinehurst No. 2. And while the course is more than a decade removed from its restoration project that returned sandy areas with native plans instead of thick rough, it’s the greens that give the course its character.

And then it’s up to the USGA to make conditions so demanding that only the most highly skilled players can handle them. Such is the essence of the US Open.

John Bodenhamer, the chief championships officer at the USGA who is in charge of setting up the course, said 2014 data showed 70 percent of the players hit the fairway, but only 56 percent of them hit the green.

“It is all about these magnificent upside-down cereal bowl putting greens,” Bodenhamer said. “They are difficult to hit, and we need to get the right firm and fast conditions around them.”

And when players miss the greens — from the fairways, sometimes from putts that roll off the crowned edges — there are options.

“I was joking with my caddie, ‘We should probably get our putter checked.’ I’ve never swung so hard on my putter for nine holes, just trying to get up and down the mounds,” PGA champion Xander Schauffele said. “There’s certain spots where you feel like you have to hit it really hard. You hit it too hard, you putt it off the other side of the green.

“Leaving yourself in a really good position is A-1,” he said. “But even when you do leave yourself in a good position, the hole is not over yet. It’s sort of half the battle.”

Clark won last year at Los Angeles Country Club with a score of 10-under 270. That week also started with Schauffele and Rickie Fowler setting a US Open record of 62 in the opening round some 10 minutes apart.

No one expects that kind of scoring this week. Bryson DeChambeau, who studied physics at SMU, cited Boo Weekley, who barely studied at all during his brief time at Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College.

“Pinehurst is no joke. This is a ball-striker’s paradise,” DeChambeau said. “You have to hit it in the middle of the greens. And this is a Boo Weekley quote, but the center of the green never moves. So I’ll try to focus on that this week.”

There is more trouble than just the greens. The sandy areas — “sandscapes” is what they are called in these parts — have wiregrass bushes the size of basketballs speckled across the terrain. Hit in there and hope — it could be a clean lie, it could be trouble.

“It’s a walk up that fairway of a bit of anxiety, because they don’t know what they’re going to get,” Bodenhamer said. “The randomness ... it’s not just 5-inch, green, lush rough. It can be something gnarly, wiregrass, or it can be a perfect sandy lie. I think you’re going to see some players walk to their golf ball and be unhappy, and others are going to be thrilled.

“We think that is pretty cool, and we think that is exactly what Donald Ross intended.”


Rahm withdraws from US Open due to left foot infection

Rahm withdraws from US Open due to left foot infection
Updated 12 June 2024
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Rahm withdraws from US Open due to left foot infection

Rahm withdraws from US Open due to left foot infection

PINEHURST, United States: Two-time major champion Jon Rahm withdrew from the 124th US Open golf tournament on Tuesday due to a left foot infection after consulting with doctors.

The Spanish world number eight Rahm pulled out of last week’s LIV Golf Houston event on Saturday due to the injury, which he suffered on Friday.

“After consulting with numerous doctors and my team, I have decided it is best for my long-term health, to withdraw from this week’s US Open,” Rahm posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“To say I’m disappointed is a massive understatement!“

Rahm had been scheduled to start his opening round on Thursday at 1:36 p.m. off the first tee at Pinehurst alongside Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and American Jordan Spieth.

Instead, American alternate Jackson Suber will compete in his first US Open, taking Rahm’s spot, the US Golf Association (USGA) announced.

Just hours before pulling out, Rahm, 29, spoke to reporters wearing a flip-flop on his left foot and said, “It’s a concern. It’s doing better. But definitely still in pain,” and that he was uncertain of playing this week.

Rahm said the pain became more than he could handle last Saturday in Houston.

“Could I have dragged myself out there and posted some kind of a score? Yeah,” Rahm said. “But it was getting to a point where I wasn’t making the swings I wanted to make and I could have hurt other parts of my swing just because of the pain.”

Just figuring out the problem took time and hasn’t totally solved the issue.

“We’ve been trying to figure it out,” Rahm said. “I think that the closest term would be a lesion on the skin. It’s a little low in between my pinky toe and the next toe.

“I don’t know how or what happened, but it got infected. The pain was high. Saturday morning, I did get a shot to numb the area. It was supposed to last the whole round, and by my second hole I was in pain already.

“The infection was the worrisome part. The infection is now controlled, but there’s still swelling and there’s still pain.”

That’s why Rahm avoided a left shoe when he visited Pinehurst.

“Trying to keep the area dry and trying to get that to heal as soon as possible,” Rahm said. “But I can only do what I can do. The human body can only work so fast.”

The Spaniard has not won since he jumped from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf last December. He shared 45th at the Masters and missed the cut at last month’s PGA Championship.


$5m PIF Saudi International to debut at Riyadh Golf Club

$5m PIF Saudi International to debut at Riyadh Golf Club
Updated 10 June 2024
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$5m PIF Saudi International to debut at Riyadh Golf Club

$5m PIF Saudi International to debut at Riyadh Golf Club
  • Defending champion Abraham Ancer expected to play
  • Tourney moved from Royal Greens Golf & Country Club

The $5 million PIF Saudi International will debut in December at Riyadh Golf Club after five years at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.

The tournament, backed by SoftBank Investment Advisers, takes place from Dec. 4 to 7, moving into the coveted season-ending position for both the Asian Tour and The International Series, a statement from the organizers said.

Opened in 2005, Riyadh Golf Club is the capital’s premier golf course. Its par-72 championship course is set across 6,976 meters of undulating fairways. It has played host to many of the Kingdom’s leading tournaments including the Saudi Open presented by PIF, the Aramco Team Series Riyadh and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International.

Those who are confirmed to play are defending champion Abraham Ancer, 2022 champion Harold Varner III, 2019 and 2021 winner Dustin Johnson, and 2022 Open Champion Cameron Smith.

For the first time this year, the PIF Saudi International will finish on Saturday to align with the Kingdom’s weekend as players aim for the $1 million first prize.

The tournament is the last of 10 events on the Asian Tour calendar that offer a direct pathway for players into the LIV Golf League.

The champion of the season-ending International Series Rankings will secure a spot in the 2025 LIV Golf League.

In 2023, over 30 top-ranked players were eligible to play in the innovative LIV Golf Promotions event, where an additional three players qualified for the LIV Golf League.

The same will apply for this year, as the tournament will be the last opportunity for players to qualify for the LIV Golf Promotions event and, therefore, for LIV in 2025, the statement said.


Carlos Ortiz wins LIV Golf Houston for 1st victory on the Saudi-funded league

Carlos Ortiz wins LIV Golf Houston for 1st victory on the Saudi-funded league
Updated 10 June 2024
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Carlos Ortiz wins LIV Golf Houston for 1st victory on the Saudi-funded league

Carlos Ortiz wins LIV Golf Houston for 1st victory on the Saudi-funded league

HUMBLE, Texas: Carlos Ortiz won LIV Golf Houston on Sunday for his first victory on the Saudi-funded league and second big win in the Houston area.

Ortiz closed with a 5-under 67 to beat Adrian Meronk by a stroke at the Golf Club of Houston. The Mexican player won the 2020 Houston Open at Memorial Park for his lone PGA Tour title.

Part of a four-way tie for the lead entering the day, the 33-year-old Ortiz finished at 15-under 201.

Meronk shot a 68 to help Cleeks GC win the team title. The German joined LIV Golf this year.

Area resident Patrick Reed had a 68 to tie for third at 12 under with Spain’s David Puig (69). Sergio Garcia was fifth at 11 under after a 68.

On Saturday, Jon Rahm withdrew after playing just six holes because of an infected left foot, leaving his status in doubt for the US Open next week at Pinehurst No. 2.