Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kyle Stanley looking ahead, not behind

Kyle Stanley is doing his best to move on.

The former Clemson All-American's spectacular playoff loss to Brandt Snedeker Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open -- Stanley triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole to fall into a playoff he lost on the second hole -- was the most jarring moment of this young professional golf season.

In command of the tournament almost throughout, building what was briefly a seven-stroke lead in the final round, Stanley's collapse brought tears to his eyes Sunday when he tried to explain what happened moments after Snedeker accepted the trophy.

By Tuesday in a pre-tournament press conference prior to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Stanley was focusing on the positives.

"I'm just overwhelmed by how much support I've gotten from people. It's been great," Stanley said.

Sunday night wasn't great, said Stanley, who finished Clemson in 2009.

He spent it with friends and family members who were in San Diego with him. He ate dinner and got some sleep but Stanley kept seeing his 80-yard third shot spin off the 18th green and into a water hazard, putting into motion his nightmarish finish. Had the ball stayed on the green -- he intentionally played a lower-lofted wedge on his third shot to minimize backspin -- Stanley would have his first PGA Tour win and a spot in the Masters.

Instead, he's another victim of the game.

"It's a crazy game," Stanley said. "It can love you. It can hate you."

A native of Gig Harbor, Wa., Stanley said among the messages he received after the tournament was one from Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few. Though Stanley attended Clemson, he has been a lifelong Gonzaga hoops fan, watching every game he can.

Stanley has never met Few but appreciated his message.

"He just told me to keep my head up and that I played tough and that down the road I'm going to be stronger for it," Stanley said.

Tour players Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker were among those who reached out to Stanley Sunday and Monday.

"I think it's just all across the board, just words of encouragement, keep your head up, don't forget how well you played," Stanley said. "I know I may not have believed it on Sunday night or even Monday morning but everybody just keeps telling me I'll be a lot stronger for it and I agree...that I will."

Monday, January 30, 2012

What's the easier way to lose, Tiger's way or Stanley's way?

   What's the toughet way to lose, slow bleeding like Tiger Woods and his scatter-shot driver Sunday in Abu Dhabi or Kyle Stanley's head-shaking collapse at Torrey Pines?

   There's no good answer.

   For Woods, getting beat by Robert Rock had to make the long flight back to the States even longer, no matter how cushy Air Tiger might be. Woods was right there, ready to win a full-field event for the first time in more than two years and suddenly he couldn't find a fairway with OnStar. He hit two fairways on Sunday and six greens -- an equation for frustration.

   If you're keeping track at home, that's three times in the last five that Woods hasn't won after holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

   What does that mean?

   It means he still has to prove he can win again. The Chevron World  Challenge is one thing. Beating Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and, yes, Robert Rock is something else. Overall, the takeaway should be positive for Tiger. He plays to win and he failed there but he showed a game that continues to look better. It let him down on Sunday but for three days, it had him where he needed to be.

   Now we wait until next week at Pebble Beach to see what's next.

   As for Stanley, his collapse was colossal. That's the cruel nature of golf -- one awful hole can ruin an otherwise great day or, in his case, a great week. It was one of those awkward moments where no one is quite sure what to say or how to react.

   Taking six from 77 yards away never entered anyone's mind. It might happen to regular golfers but it seemed inconceivable it could happen to a player as in control of his game as Stanley had been.

   Is it a career-killer?

   Probably not but it's going to stay with him every time he's in contention until he conquers the winning thing. Plenty of great players struggled to close the deal early in their careers. Tom Watson could give a lecture on the subject.

   Stanley, meanwhile, is just speechless.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tiger starts fresh -- again

   Tiger Woods has pronounced himself healthy again and his 2012 season begins Thursday in Abu Dhabi, an uncommon starting point for him but a testament to the power of appearance fees and playing against a field that includes Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, among others.

  It's time to find out how good Tiger can still be.
  Two years ago, there was the messy aftermath of his personal issues.

   Last year, there were health issues.

  This year, Woods seems fully ready to go, bolstered by a strong finish in 2011 and seemingly comfortable with his new Sean Foley-installed swing.

   He hasn't won an official PGA Tour event in 28 months. He's been stuck on 14 professional major championship victories since the 2008 U.S. Open. He hasn't won the Masters since 2005.

   Woods is 36 years old now, still in what should be the prime of his golf life, but he's an old 36 given the injuries and the stress that have been a part of his life for so long. However, he seems energized again, excited about playing golf on good legs with a swing he trusts and a renewed confidence.

   There's still time for him to chase down Nicklaus's major championship record but the past three years have made it more difficult. We've seen him at his best so infrequently over the past two years that it's like we've gotten accustomed to the sport without him.

   He's back now. Is he as good as ever? Can he be?

   That's what 2012 should tell Tiger and the rest of us.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Former 49er has a Ball at Wild Dunes

   Former Charlotte 49ers basketball player Bob Ball was running late for his tee time at Wild Dunes Resort last week and, in the process of hurrying to the first tee at the Links Course, ripped the pocket of his pants on his car door and fell in the parking lot.

   His day got better from there.

   Ball, who played guard for the 49ers in the mid-70s, started his day by holing a 4-rescue from 192 yards for a double eagle on the par-5 first hole at the Links Course.

   He wasn't finished.

   Ball also aced the 129-yard, par-3 16th hole, pulling off the beyond-rare ace/double eagle combo in the same round. According to the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper, a spokesman for doubleeagleclub.org said the feat has been documented only four times, including once by the late basketball coach John Wooden who did it in 1939.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Johnson Wagner is PGA Tour's hottest player

   Johnson Wagner is taking this week off from the PGA Tour, choosing long ago to use this week to kick back with his family here in Charlotte.

   Perhaps the rest of the PGA Tour players should send him a thank you note with the postscript 'Take as much time as you need."

   Wagner is the hottest player on the tour right now. It started with a tie for ninth at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, was followed by his victory at the Sony Open in Hawaii and capped by his tie for second Sunday in the Humana Challenge.

  No wonder a group of fans from Calgary were sporting mustaches as they gave Wagner his first tour groupies in Palm Springs, Cal.

   Wagner now finds himself ranked 68th in the world, up 24 spots from last week thanks to his runner-up finish and it brings the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship into his scheduling equation.

   If Wagner can climb into the top 65 in the world he'll miss his turn as defending champion at the Mayakoba Classic to play in the Match Play event in Tucson, Az. The field is open to the top 64 in the world rankings but Phil Mickelson has already announced he won't be playing because of a family vacation that week.

   Wagner will take this week off then play in Phoenix and Los Angeles. If he's close to qualifying for the Match Play Championship, Wagner may also add the Pebble Beach event to his schedule.

   The mustache, Wagner's version of Rickie Fowler's clothes or Charley Hoffman's hair, isn't going anywhere, at least not for a while.

   "I'm looking forward to Phoenix," Wagner told reporters Sunday night. "I'm sure I'm going to get my fair share of criticism."

   He'll be smiling all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What do the pros really think about Quail Hollow?

   When Golf World magazine released its player-rankings of the courses used on the PGA Tour, Quail Hollow Club was ranked 14th of the 52 courses included.

   The poll was based on anonymous responses from 81 PGA Tour players who were asked talk about what they like and don't like about various courses. Compiled by Geoff Shackelford and Craig Dolch, Quail Hollow's mini-review read this way:

   "The 'pretty' and 'solid' host to nine tour events that landed the 2017 PGA Championship 'fits your eye and is 'overrated but the best overall tournament on tour.' Another player agreed that Quail Hollow's 'hype' is 'influenced by service, conditioning and aesthetics' and 'it's not as great as the CBS drones say.'

   "The reasoning? 'So-so course on great land.' Another feels a change is in order. 'Should be a 9, actually a 6. Bring in Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw or Gil Hanse and in six months it'll be a 9.' Players raved about the 'top-notch conditioning' but said the greens are 'too severe in spots.'

   "Said one: 'Not sure who to blame for that but I'm guessing (Tom) Fazio,' architect of changes to George Cobb's 1961 original layout. 'Jim Nantz is always saying they could host the U.S. Open the next day...not even close,' said a player who cited the 'goofy eighth hole' and the 'stupid' 17th green where 'the best players in the world are trying to miss it to the right and get it up and down.'

   "And 2017 is already in their sights: 'Can't believe the PGA is going there in August.'"

   No great surprises there. The eighth and 17th holes aren't popular with many players, members included, and both are likely to look different by the time the PGA Championship is played there.

   But when you consider the list of Wells Fargo Championship winners -- from Vijay Singh to Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy -- the pedigree of champions speaks to the quality of the course.

   Every course takes its shots, even top-ranked Augusta National which drew tons of praise but was also criticized for its fairway bunkers being too deep and, according to one player's description, "the course is too gimmicky."


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Augusta No. 1; Harbour Town No. 2 on Tour top-10 list

   PGA Tour players prefer old-style golf courses and have a special fondness for Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, based on the results of a confidential poll of 81 tour players by Golf World magazine.
   The voting was based strictly on course architecture, not the overall tournament experience. It's no great surprise that Augusta National was No. 1 on the list. Harbour Town's second-place ranking reaffirms all the good things players have said about the Pete Dye design through the years.

   As for Quail Hollow Club, site of the Wells Fargo Championship? It didn't make the top 10 list.

  The top 10 PGA Tour courses based on course design according to the players' vote:

1.  Augusta National Golf Club
2.  Harbour Town Golf Links
3.  Riviera Country Club
4.  Pebble Beach Golf Links
5.  Colonial Country Club.
6.  Muirfield Village Golf Club
7.  Shaugnessy Golf & Country Club
8.  Aronimink Golf Club
9.  Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead)
10.Congressional Country Club (Blue)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nagy ready to roll on Nationwide tour

   It wasn't a day for golf at the Club at Longview but Corey Nagy has plenty of those in his future.

   Nagy was part of the announcement of the Nationwide Tour's Chiquita Classic relocating to Charlotte, a move that comes in conjunction with Chiquita's corporate headquarter move from Cincinnati to Charlotte.

   For Nagy, it means a home game in his rookie season on the Nationwide Tour. He'll open his Nationwide season in Bogota, Colombia -- that's right, Bogota, Colombia -- then hit Panama and Chile before heading back home. It's a long way to go to start a season but it speaks to the growing global nature of the game even on the Nationwide Tour.

   Nagy's fired up. He talks excitedbly about getting out on tour and starting the next phase of his professional life. He's headed to Florida later this week for a product event with Ian Poulter then it's back here to continue polishing his game.

   Recently, a national golf publication cited 10 players to watch on the 2012 Nationwide Tour and Nagy was No. 8 on the list.

   The Chiquita tournament is special to Nagy. He Monday qualified into the field last year, shooting 63 to earn his spot. His parents made the drive from Charlotte to watch him play and, in the third round, Nagy made a hole-in-one.

   No wonder he was genuinely excited about the new event in Charlotte. Nagy -- and his long-time group of Charlotte fans -- have plenty about which to be excited.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Simpson climbs to No. 7 in the world, up 200 spots in one year

   One year ago, Webb Simpson was the 207th-ranked golfer in the world.

   After his tie for third in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions Monday, Simpson jumped from 10th to seventh in the world rankings. That makes him the second-highest ranked American behind Tournament of Champions winner Steve Stricker, who climbed to fifth.

    It's a remarkable jump of 200 spots for Simpson, who picked up at Kapalua where he left off last year. In fact, Simpson has been in contention so often since last August that's it's surprising when he isn't on the leader board.

   The top five in the world at the moment are Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Stricker.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

An Ideal Twosome: Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo

   It's possible that the most dramatic part of the PGA Tour's season-opening event -- the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua -- won't happen on the impossibly attractive golf course that looks like something Disney drew up.

   The Golf Channel is putting Nick Faldo and Johnny Miller together in the booth for four rounds -- primetime viewing for those of around here -- with the hopes that they'll be, well, themselves.

   Considering only 28 players are in the field -- that's if Lucas Glover can play after dinging his knee in a paddle-boarding accident this week -- there's plenty of opportunity for chit-chat between Faldo and Miller, who should play off each other beautifully.

   Miller shoots from the lip, a trait that has made him excellent at what he does. He makes you listen and he makes you think. He may not always be right but, as the best ones are, he's rarely in doubt.

   Faldo became a new person when he went into television work, revealing his playful and amusing side that had been locked away under his golf armor for decades. He's softer than Miller but enlightening. He won't be afraid to mix it up with Miller which is why they're being put in the same booth.

   They aren't wrecking balls like too many sports radio mouths are these days. But Miller and Faldo can spark a discussion. The ones they have with each other should be entertaining.