The golf world has been pulling for Aussie Jarrod Lyle to make a successful return to the PGA Tour after overcoming leukemia for a second time.

However, since Lyle has come back, he's been unable to find the form he needs to regain full status. That's why Lyle has decided to sit out the remainder of the PGA Tour season with the hopes of getting his game in good enough shape to resume his career next season.

Lyle stressed this decision has nothing to do with his health.

"I need to stress that this decision has nothing to do with my recent illness - I am still healthy and cancer-free," Lyle said to the Australian Associated Press.

"As the year progressed, it has become increasingly obvious that I am simply not in a position to compete on the PGA Tour. My goal every single week out here, just like the rest of the field, is to play my best and to be competitive."

In 10 starts this season, Lyle has won $66,145, making just three cuts. Playing under a special medical exemption, Lyle will have to earn $217,680 in his next 10 PGA Tour starts to regain full playing privileges.

The Aussie believes his resiliency will carry him through this tough stretch.

He said, "Just like I did whatever it took to fight for my life in the last few years, I am now going to do whatever it takes to fight for my job."


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 25, 2015, 1:11 pm

Meanwhile in Missouri: A sinkhole has attacked a golf course - http://t.co/CgReHsi5F9 via @pberryNL pic.twitter.com/xWEspqTaqL

— Nick Penzenstadler (@npenzenstadler) May 22, 2015

There's a new design feature on the Top of the Rock Golf Course, which hosts the Champions Tour's Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf in Branson, Missou.: four big sinkholes.

The biggest sinkhole, which is reportedly still growing and is 60 feet by 80 feet and 35 feet deep, formed around 6:30 a.m. on Friday between the practice tee and a pond near the entrance to the property.

Sinkholes are not particularly uncommon in the Ozarks, where Top of the Rock is located, according to the Springfield News-Leader. The Big Cedar Lodge, which owns the course, is working with engineers to figure out how, if at all, they'll fill the hole. It could take up to two weeks to replace the sunk-in earth. The good news for the facility is that the sinkhole won't impact tee times, but it does create a new hazard.

Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 23, 2015, 9:54 pm

Miguel Angel Jimenez set a new European Tour record on Saturday, making his 10th career hole-in-one to break a tie with Colin Montgomerie.

The Spaniard made the ace in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in England, using a 9-iron from 148 yards at the par-3 second.

"My irons, they are like darts. It's nice to have the record,"Jimenez said after a 4-under 68 leaves him four shots behind joint 54-hole leaders Francesco Molinari and Byeong-hun An.

This is Jimenez's third ace of the year, following up on holes-in-one at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January and last week's Open de Espana.

So what's the 51-year-old's secret?

"The main thing is I've got the right club in my hand and make a good swing," Jimenez said.

However, Jimenez didn't have the shot of the day. That went to Tommy Fleetwood, who made an albatross on the par-5 fourth hole. 

Fleetwood shot 7-under 65 to pull a shot ahead of Jimenez and within striking distance heading into the final round.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 23, 2015, 9:33 pm

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On Wednesday, Rory McIlroy said, "Golf is a very fickle game and it can humble you quite quickly."

By Friday at the BMW PGA Championship in England, McIlroy had proven his words true.

After an opening 71 at Wentworth Club, McIlroy exploded to 6-over 78 on Friday to miss the cut in his title defense, just five days after winning the PGA Tour's Wells Fargo Championship by seven shots and setting a new tournament scoring record by five.

McIlroy had little to say to reporters after the round, which left the world No. 1 on the wrong side of the cut line for just the third time in his last 45 worldwide events.

The 78 is McIlroy's worst European Tour score since a first-round 79 in the 2013 Open Championship, and worst worldwide since the same tally in the second round of last year’s Memorial.

It seemed clear fatigue had set in for McIlroy, was playing for the fourth consecutive week, including two wins at Quail Hollow and the WGC-Cadillac Match Play. He also finished T-6 at The Players.

The most outwardly emblematic sign of McIlroy's fatigue and resulting frustration came on Thursday when, after a poor second shot in the par-5 17th at Wentworth, he chucked his 3-wood down the fairway. It'll likely result in a fine from the European Tour, and it's a bad look for the Ulsterman, who threw a 3-iron even further and into a water hazard at Doral in March.

Still, McIlroy tried to remain calm about a clearly disappointing outcome.

"I'm not going to read too much into it," McIlroy said. "It was inevitable at some point that the run was going to come to a bit of an end.

“If anything good comes out of this, it's just that I get a little bit of a rest over the next couple of days, and feel a bit fresher for what's going to be a really big week for me next week.”

McIlroy is headed to his home country, Northern Ireland, to prepare for the Irish Open, where he is host at Royal County Down.


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 22, 2015, 8:39 pm

After golf collectively got excited about the prospect of a new Big Three of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, the world No. 1 quelled that talk with two wins in his last three starts.

But here's the thing: There hasn't been a great golf rivalry in the last half-century that didn't involve Jack Nicklaus. We explain why and how it'll be difficult for a great rivalry to ever surface again.

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunesTuneIn or Stitcher.


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 21, 2015, 3:08 pm

Tiger Woods and legendary writer Dan Jenkins aren't on each other's Christmas card lists.

Woods never gave Jenkins the kind of sit-down interview he was granted by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Jenkins lashed out against Woods in his critique of the former world No. 1 after revelations of Woods' serial marital infidelity. 

Then, after Jenkins published a (clearly) parody interview with Woods in Golf Digest in November 2014 (the December issue), Woods took to Derek Jeter's The Players' Tribune to deride the piece and scold Jenkins. 

[PODCAST: Why golf has no great rivalries without Jack Nicklaus]

Jenkins shot back this week in an interview with the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, saying Woods' major accomplishments pale compared to golf's new generation because of the quality of opponents the two beat.

"There's much more talent at the top (and the bottom) than there was during Tiger's peak years," Jenkins said. "Tiger beat a lot of nobodies to win most of his majors.

"Yeah, there was Phil [Mickelson] and [Ernie] Els around, in and out, but go back and look who was second to him in those majors and tell me where they are now."

Though Mickelson and Els were runner-up to Woods in three of the majors Woods won, there were also the likes of Bob May and Chris DiMarco. 

Jenkins was speaking more in support for fellow Texan and Masters champion Jordan Spieth, but it was an easy shot against Woods.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 21, 2015, 1:27 pm

This is when it all really began for Rory McIlroy a year ago. He had abruptly ended his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki, seemingly setting himself up for a tailspin of a summer.

Instead, he went out that week and won the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour's flagship event. From there, he went on to win his first Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and his second PGA Championship in three years. 

The world No. 1 is aiming for a similar summer in 2015.

"There's three majors left, and I feel like two of those major venues are going to set up really well with me, at St. Andrews and Whistling Straits," McIlroy told Sky Sports ahead of this week's BMW PGA Championship.

Of course, Chambers Bay, the U.S. Open host, is an unknown as it's never held a major championship, but McIlroy demonstrated his game fits the other two venues in 2010, the last time both venues hosted their respective championships. At St. Andrews, McIlroy opened with 9-under 63 at the Old Course before shooting 80 in gale-force winds and still finishing in a tie for third, well behind eventual winner Louis Oosthuizen. Then at Whistling Straits, McIlroy finished just a shot out of the playoff between Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

It could be another very good summer for the Ulsterman.


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 21, 2015, 1:13 pm

Jack Nicklaus won his final major, the 1986 Masters, at the age of 46. 

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy may be retired from professional golf for three years when he hits that age. Speaking to the BBC, the four-time major winner said he's looking at a career that ends in his early 40s.

"I don't anticipate playing senior golf or championship golf," McIlroy said.

"Twenty-five years should be enough to help me achieve what I want to," he added. "If there comes a time when I feel I can't win or give it my best I'd very happily hang up the sticks and do something else."

Doing the math, McIlroy, who turned pro at 18, would walk away from the game at 43. So, with some 14 years left, what does the Ulsterman hope to achieve?

"I feel like I'm in a generation with a lot of young guys that are coming up and I want to be the best of this generation," said McIlroy.

What it'll take to solidify that moniker is still unclear, and will be for years, but McIlroy is willing to do what it takes.

"I want to win a lot more tournaments; I can win a lot more majors," he said. "I haven't put a number on it because I don't want to put that burden on myself. I just want to be better than everyone else."


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 20, 2015, 1:11 pm

The PGA Tour has rolled into Texas for the first of two consecutive weeks in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, starting with the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. 

Jordan Spieth headlines the field, while Adam Scott is defending champion, winning in a playoff over Jason Dufner last year. Fellow Texan Jimmy Walker is also a popular player in the field. Patrick Rodgers, who was T-2 at Quail Hollow, can lock up special temporary PGA Tour membership with a modest finish.

Here's a look at our top five for the week:

1. Jordan Spieth — Spieth was a dud at The Players, but he has to be motivated by Rory McIlroy making him look inferior the last few weeks. He’s been in the top 14 in two Colonial starts.

2. Zach Johnson — Last year, a four-year Colonial run ended in which Johnson won twice and didn’t finish worse than fourth. Modest form includes a nice T-13 at The Players.

3. Jimmy Walker — Walker hasn’t played too well of late, but he does have two wins this season and was T-10 here last year.

4. Ryan Palmer — Ryan Palmer’s been on a nice run in this event, with T-5 finishes in 2012 and ’14. He missed the cut at The Players but has largely been a T-25 staple this year.

5. Kevin Na — Kevin Na missed the cut here last year for the first time in eight career starts. He’s been in the top 20 in his last six PGA Tour stroke-play starts, so he’s a good bet.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 20, 2015, 1:01 pm

This July is the last time Greg Norman is exempt into the Open Championship. He's taking a pass on playing at St. Andrews, ceding his spot to another player.

A two-time Open champion (1986, '93), Norman is exempt until age 60, which he is now. However, R&A rules would force Norman to qualify for the Open another way once he turns 61. That's not going to happen.

"I don't practice anymore," Norman told the BBC.

Norman has long since moved on from competitive golf, giving most of his attention to other businesses, including his golf-course design venture. He has also stepped into the broadcast booth and will be in the 18th tower in June as Fox Sports broadcasts its first U.S. Open under a 12-year deal with the USGA.

The lack of preparation wouldn't preclude Norman from showing up and trying to ham-and-egg his way to the weekend, but the Aussie believes someone else deserves a chance.

"I'm not going to walk up to the first tee and feel like I'm taking the space of a young kid who could learn a heck of a lot more from it," he said. "I don't believe in doing that. I think it's so unfair to do that."

Norman suggested that the person that takes his spot -- now an extra one available through open qualifying -- could be the game's next great.

He said, "There's a young kid who may be qualifying for the Open that could take my spot and could be the next Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods -- you don't know."


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 20, 2015, 12:15 pm

Rory McIlroy is in really good shape, but he wasn't always the bulging mass of muscle he is now. He was once a little pudgy and a whole lot of curly. 

Now more clean cut, in shape and on top of the golf world, McIlroy figures the sport's popularity would improve if more of his peers made that effort to improve their physical fitness.

“I think [golf] has progressed a lot and has become more of an athletic look,"  McIlroy said on "The Dan Patrick Show."

"You don’t need to be built like a linebacker, but you need to have stability and strength in certain areas and of course, if more golfers look athletic, it portrays a much better image for the game. That encourages kids to pick up the sport or a club."

You mean to tell me kids don't enjoy watching, say, Brendon de Jonge because he has some extra lbs on him? What about Angel Cabrera? No one wants to see El Pato Flaco. 

But the Ulsterman does have a point. Kids look up to super athletes who look like they can do amazing things, not guys who look like they can down a 12 pack with no six-pack.


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 19, 2015, 4:36 pm

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Rory McIlroy is the best player on the planet. When he's on his game, as he was this past weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship, he's almost impossible to beat.

How many guys on the planet that you know can hit a 365-yard drive and a gap wedge to 3 feet on a 510-yard par 4 playing into the wind?

The Sunday triumph at Quail Hollow was McIlroy's second win in his last three starts, including a win at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play. This run isn't simply the byproduct of things clicking again for the world No. 1. This has been inspired play, thanks to Jordan Spieth's record-setting Masters win and the subsequent fawning over the 21-year-old as the game's new king.

McIlroy wanted to put the brakes to all that talk, and he knew the best way to do that was with a visual demonstration.

"To win the Masters at 21 and to do it the way he did, it was a phenomenal performance," McIlroy said of Spieth on Monday on "The Dan Patrick Show." "It definitely inspired me. I'm really happy for Jordan, he's a great guy. I'm expecting more of that out of him in the future. I know I'm going to have to work hard to stay ahead of him and try and beat him."

He added, "It inspired me to have a little bit more edge and have a little bit more intensity."

McIlroy won't play again on the PGA Tour until the U.S. Open, teeing it up the next two weeks on the European Tour, including the BMW PGA Championship, where he is defending champion, and the Irish Open, which he will host in his native Northern Ireland at Royal County Down, a top-10 course in the world.

Though Spieth didn't have his best stuff at The Players, where he was grouped with McIlroy and fellow young gun Jason Day the first two days before missing the cut, McIlroy expects the Texan to play inspired in his home state.

McIlroy said, "I'm sure (my run) will spur Jordan on as well."


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 18, 2015, 5:15 pm

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Aussie Rod Pampling is in the winner's circle again. The 45-year-old completed a wire-to-wire win on Sunday at the Web.com Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am near Greenville, S.C.

Pampling had taken the edge heading into the weekend with consecutive 9-under 63s at The Reserve at Lake Keowee and Green Valley Country Club, two of three courses in the tournament rotation. Rounds of 69 and 66 at the par-71 host Thornblade Club over the weekend gave him the win by two shots at 25-under 261.

The win practically assures Pampling of some kind of PGA Tour status next season -- something he'll cherish after losing that card.

"Once you're on the PGA Tour it's pretty easy to stay out there, but getting back is extremely difficult," Pampling said afterward. "You've got to dig deep. This one is pretty special."

Pampling was emotional not only because of what the win meant to his career, but also that it was a tribute to his father, who died on April 13.

"It was definitely inspiring," said Pampling. "Nice to pay tribute to him in in this way. I knew he was out there."

He added on Twitter, saying:

Thanks to all for your comments, great week. Awesome way to honour my Dad. Can only image the crushing hand shakes he is passing out.

— Rod Pampling (@RodPampling) May 18, 2015

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 18, 2015, 4:53 pm

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USGA executive director Mike Davis said that any player who intends to win the U.S. Open in June at Chambers Bay needs to put in some 10 practice rounds to understand the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design. 

To borrow a phrase, ain't no pro got time for that.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who won the Wells Fargo Championship by seven shots on Sunday, won't be able to put in that kind of time in the Washington state venue. After he surpassed Anthony Kim's old tournament record at Quail Hollow by five shots, he hopped a jet for England and the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship. Then he has the Irish Open, which he is hosting. Then it's time for the U.S. Open.

Perhaps, then, McIlroy was a bit crass when asked about his Open preparation in the context of Davis' caution.

"What's Mike Davis' handicap?" McIlroy asked in retort at his post-victory news conference in Charlotte.

Well, then.

"With the way the Tour is, no one is going to go out there and play ten practice rounds," McIlroy expounded.

However, that doesn't mean McIlroy is just going to stroll onto Chambers Bay on championship week site unseen.

"I'm going to go up a little early," he said. "I'm going to play a couple practice rounds the weekend before and then I'll probably play another, you know, 18 holes. So I'll play three practice rounds."

McIlroy, who is in the midst of a busy stretch of golf, is trying to not wear himself out before the year's second major. Given his worldwide results this year, including two wins in his last three starts, McIlroy is comfortable with how he prepares for any tournament.

"If you don't go out there and execute the shots on the week, all that preparation doesn't mean anything," he said. "So, I'd much rather have my game in good shape going in there and play practice rounds the way I usually would. I think that will do well for me."


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 18, 2015, 4:12 pm

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The outcome was never in doubt on Sunday, but it was stunning nonetheless.

Rory McIlroy won the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday at Quail Hollow with a final round of 3-under 69, posting a 21-under total that was seven shots clear of Webb Simpson and Patrick Rodgers.

The world No. 1 entered the final round with a four-shot edge over Quail Hollow member Simpson, but it must have felt like a thousand shots between the two-time 2014 major winner and the 2012 U.S. Open winner. After a 1-over start through four holes, McIlroy put his foot on the accelerator and made two birdies in three holes to establish a solid edge.

Following the turn, McIlroy made three birdies in the first seven holes, including thumping a driver 365 yards on the 510-yard 16th, followed by a gap wedge to 3 feet for the final circle on the card. The Ulsterman dropped a shot at the long par-3 17th before a solid par at the finishing hole to surpass Anthony Kim's previous tournament record by five shots.

This is McIlroy's second win in his last three PGA Tour starts, following up on a win at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play and a T-8 finish at The Players. This also marked his last PGA Tour start before the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He'll next play at the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour's flagship event, then the Irish Open. 

For Rodgers, he turned in a brilliant performance but came up one shot shy of earning special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. Had he finished solo second, he would have been able to take unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season. However, with assured appearances in the next three PGA Tour events, the 22-year-old college standout is looking good to lock up that special status.

McIlroy, however, has earned a different kind of status. With his 11th PGA Tour win, McIlroy passes Gary Player as the foreign-born player with the most Tour wins before the age of 30. McIlroy is just 26, so he's likely to obliterate that record just as he did the field this week.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 17, 2015, 9:56 pm

If you're ever in this situation, just remember: Do not leave a putt for 59 short.

Unfortunately, that's what Roland Thatcher did on Sunday at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, having to settle for 11-under 60 at Thornblade Club in Greer, S.C.

Thatcher went out in 29, making five birdies and an eagle at the par-5 fifth. After two pars to close out the front nine, Thatcher again went on a tear on the back nine, making four birdies in the first five holes. He then birdied the 16th, the second of back-to-back par 5s.

Following a par save at the par-3 17th, Thatcher got himself in position for 59 at the tough finishing hole. The 38-year-old had a 15-foot birdie putt for 59, but came up an inch short. 

Thatcher will record his best finish of the year on the Web.com Tour, having missed his last two cuts in a row.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 17, 2015, 7:52 pm

When Rory McIlroy is at his best, he's almost impossible to beat. That's why it's going to be awfully tough for the Wells Fargo Championship field to topple the world No. 1 on Sunday.

McIlroy shot a new course record, an 11-under round of 61 at Quail Hollow Club on Saturday to open up a four-shot edge over Webb Simpson. 

However, McIlroy had been thinking of a sub-60 round as he hit the back stretch.

“Fifty-nine was in my mind as soon as the putt dropped on 13,” McIlroy said of the putt that got him to 8 under on the day.

He was looking the 14th, a short par 4, and the par-5 15th, as potential eagle opportunities. Then he would have needed another birdie to get to 59. Instead, he birdied both holes and the 16th, capping off a string of five birdies in a row, before settling for a pair of pars coming in to break the prior course record which McIlroy shared with Brendon de Jonge.

McIlroy wished he were more aggressive with his tee shot to the difficult par-3 17th.

“If I could take any shot back today it was that 7-iron on 17,” he said. “I just bailed out right.”

 

Quail Hollow member Webb Simpson is in second place at 14 under and is likely the only player that can catch McIlroy on Sunday without a collapse from the Ulsterman.

However, that seems incredibly unlikely. McIlroy struck the ball so well on Saturday that he didn't sink a putt longer than 15 feet. On top of that, putting coach Dave Stockton Sr. has McIlroy dialed in with the putter thanks to a three-minute lesson ahead of the tournament. 

And, if all else fails, it seemingly just takes reminding McIlroy that anyone considers the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler as his equals to ignite an earth-salting round like the one he played Saturday.

Rivals? Sometimes, but not when McIlroy plays like this.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 17, 2015, 1:53 am

After an opening-round 78 on Thursday, Michelle Wie withdrew from the Kingsmill LPGA Championship citing a hip injury.

Wie was among the bottom of the 144-player field at the Virginia resort, making six bogeys and a double bogey against just one birdie.

The reigning U.S. Women's Open champion tweeted about her withdrawal.

Regrettably, I need to withdraw today due to a left hip injury that has been bothering me this week.

— Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) May 14, 2015

The @KingsmillLPGA Championship is one of my favorite events and I would like to thank the tournament staff and fans for their hospitality.

— Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) May 14, 2015

Wie doesn't have a top-10 finish on the LPGA Tour this season.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 14, 2015, 8:44 pm

Bernhard Langer is going home one last time -- to the home of golf, that is.

The two-time Masters winner announced this week that he'll make his final Open Championship appearance at the Old Course at St. Andrews in July.

The 57-year-old German will be playing in his 30th Open at a venue where he finished joint runner-up with Watson to Seve Ballesteros in 1984. Langer has shied away from the Open in the last decade, with his last appearance in the previous eight years coming as a missed cut in 2011. 

"I always have looked forward to going back to St. Andrews but then this could be my last year, and maybe my last time," Langer said. "St. Andrews and the Old Course has always been a very special place for me but after this year I won't be exempt any more."

Langer is in the field this year as the reigning Senior Open champion, taking the title by 13 shots last year at Royal Porthcawl.

Tom Watson and Nick Faldo have announced they'll make their final career Open Championship appearances in July. Langer, if he qualifies, will continue to play. It's just unlikely that, with the Old Course unlikely to host the Open again before 2020, he'll play again at St. Andrews in the Open.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 14, 2015, 8:29 pm

Rickie Fowler picked up his second PGA Tour win on a big stage at The Players Championship, winning a three-man playoff after playing the final six holes of regulation in a staggering 6 under par. We talk about what this means for Fowler moving forward and if it might translate into a major championship this season.

We also talk about the momentum golf now enjoys heading into the U.S. Open and how Fox Sports should be able to generate great interest in the year's second major with Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth playing so well.

Finally, we talk about the importance in remembering that athletes are people and that impacts what they do on and off the course.

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunesTuneIn or Stitcher

.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 13, 2015, 7:29 pm

Earlier in the week, we shared how Tiger Woods reached out to a fan of his named Dillon, who had attempted suicide because of how his high school peers had bullied him for his stuttering problem. 

At the time, we knew, through Dillon's mentor and former LPGA player Sophie Gustafson, simply that Woods had written an encouraging letter and that Dillon was planning to frame it. The contents, however, were unknown until Golf Digest writer Ron Sirak, who initially wrote about Dillon's story, shared the letter.

It reads as follows:

Dear Dillon,

Someone told me that you like watching me play golf. I really appreciate that, and I also want to say how proud I am of you.

I know what it's like to be different and to sometimes not fit in. I also stuttered as a child and I would talk to my dog and he would sit there and listen until he fell asleep. I also took a class for two years to help me, and I finally learned to stop.

I was younger than most of the kids I competed against and often I was the only minority player in the field. But, I didn't let that stop me, and I think it even inspired me to work harder. I know you can do that too.

You have a great family, and big fans like me on your side.

Be well and keep fighting. I'm certain you'll be great at anything you do.

Sincerely yours,
Tiger Woods

Sirak wrote in his follow-up piece that Dillon hopes to attend his first live pro tournament to see Woods play once a leg injury suffered in his suicide attempt heals. 

Everyone involved — from Gustafson, Sirak and Woods, to the many on social media who showed support for Dillon — deserves kudos for doing their part to let Dillon know that he's going to get through this tough part in his life and that good things are coming his way.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 13, 2015, 2:28 pm

This story will leave you slapping your hand to your forehead. The reasons why will vary.

Less than two weeks after Tiger Woods and champion skier Lindsey Vonn announced the end of their nearly three-year relationship, a U.K.-based tabloid is claiming the couple didn't break up because of their hectic schedules, but rather a Woods affair in San Diego.

The Daily Mail claims a "close friend" -- they're always close, right? -- told the publication that Woods was unfaithful during the week of the Farmers Insurance Open. Woods withdrew from the tournament at Torrey Pines after 11 holes in Round 1, citing back problems. 

"He had a relapse in the sex department," the Daily Mail claims its source told them. "Lindsey found out about women again. Always while he's on the road. Just like when he was with (ex-wife) Elin (Nordegren)."

The story is littered with contradictions, strange word choices and, frankly, just doesn't make sense as told. The takeaway here, then, shouldn't be anything regarding the Woods-Vonn relationship, but that this story will be trotted out for most any woman Woods dates. 


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 13, 2015, 12:15 pm

If you didn't know any better and someone told you John Daly's story, you'd be convinced that it was utter fiction -- but that it would make a great movie.

Well, Daly's highs and lows will finally be chronicled in a film. ESPN announced a new set of "30 for 30" documentaries at its upfront presentation to advertisers on Tuesday, including a movie about the two-time major winner.

A chronicle of Daly's life and career will be a part of a third series of the films, which also includes movies about the Buffalo Bills teams that lost four consecutive Super Bowls and the Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson ear-biting fight.

Daly first entered the national consciousness when he won the 1991 PGA Championship at Indiana's Crooked Stick after getting into the event as the ninth alternate. He won a second major four years later, at the Home of Golf, in the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews.

Those two highlights have been surrounded by a staggering number of lowlights, including high scores, walk-offs, lawsuits, multiple marriages and astounding gambling losses. Now 49, Daly is on the verge of turning to the Champions Tour.

Golf hasn't gotten a lot of play in ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series. Of the 70-plus movies created, just one hits golf: "June 17th, 1994," which alludes to Arnold Palmer's final U.S. Open at Oakmont wrapping up on the same day as the O.J. Simpson police chase, as well the World Cup and NBA Finals.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 13, 2015, 12:04 pm

The PGA Tour moves into the Tarheel State this week for the Wells Fargo Championship. Charlotte's Quail Hollow Club has typically been the host to The Players precursor, but that's not the case this year. 

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who won the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, is looking for a second win in three starts and is coming off a modest, if not bored, performance at TPC Sawgrass. J.B. Holmes is the defending champion here, earning a one-shot win last year over Jim Furyk.

Quail Hollow takes on more importance for many of the top players as it will host the 2017 PGA Championship.

Here are our top five players for this week:

1. Rory McIlroy -- The world No. 1 has been in the top 10 in his last two Quail Hollow starts, he won the Match Play and finished in the top 10 at The Players without his best stuff, bored half the time. Obvious pick here.

2. J.B. Holmes -- The defending champion is riding an odd streak of alternating good tournaments with bad ones: 2nd-MC-WIN-MC-T9-T51. So a good one here?

3. Jim Furyk -- Furyk faded pretty hard on the weekend at The Players, but he never seems to do well at that home game. He was runner-up here last year and is in good form overall.

4. Hideki Matsuyama -- Matsuyama made the cut here last year, but he's so much more than that now. He faded quickly after a Day 1 lead at The Players, but this course should suit his eye.

5. Kevin Kisner -- Don't be shocked if Kisner gets a huge rub from losing to the better player that day, Rickie Fowler, at TPC Sawgrass. He's been in two playoffs, at The Players and Harbour Town, played six playoff holes in 2 under and lost both. He was T-6 here last year.


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 12, 2015, 4:11 pm

For years, it has been easy to rip on Tiger Woods for his public persona -- or lack of one.

Flying in the face of that reputation, Woods has quietly done a lot to offer opportunities and encouragement to kids from underprivileged and disenfranchised backgrounds. He tends to keep such things quiet, save for the tournaments he uses to benefit his foundation, which is public by its nature.

However, Woods recently responded to a public plea for help for a teen bullied by his peers.

Former LPGA player Sophie Gustafson has courageously and publicly battled a stuttering problem for almost her entire career. As a face for the issue, Gustafson has also served as a mentor to young people dealing with the issue and the unfortunately social consequences. However, in mentoring a high schooler named Dillon, Gustafson had run out of answers. 

Dillon had seemed to be improving under Gustafson's tutilege, joining the high school football team. Unfortunately, some of Dillon's teammates drove him from the squad, mocking his stutter. It drove him to attempt suicide. Gustafson reached out to Golf Digest's Ron Sirak for help, passing along emails from Dillon's mom about the situation. The mom mentioned Dillon is a big golf fan, particularly keen on Tiger Woods. Gustafson asked Sirak to do what he could, and Sirak said he would reach out to Woods.

Woods responded with a note to Dillon, the news of which Gustafson shared Sunday.

Thanks so much @TigerWoods for sending my friend Dillon a letter. He got so happy! It's being framed and hanged. #class

— Sophie Gustafson (@SophieGustafson) May 10, 2015

In response to a tweet, she offered an update on Dillon's progess.

@RyanBallengee Yes he is. Small steps but he really appreciates all support that has been shown for him

— Sophie Gustafson (@SophieGustafson) May 10, 2015

Hopefully more good things happen for Dillon.


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 11, 2015, 5:39 pm

The R&A is looking to cash in on the sports media rights bubble before it potentially bursts, and that means they're hoping to announce the future home of the Open Championship sometime this summer.

Sports Business Journal reports this Monday despite the fact that ESPN has rights to air the game's oldest major, along with the Senior Open Championship and Women's British Open, through 2017.

Perhaps the R&A chose to accelerate the negotiations for their next broadcast contract knowing Fox Sports will pay the USGA some $93 million for the next dozen years for a slightly broader deal. Fox Sports aired the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball this week, their first major broadcast under the new deal. 

According to the SBJ report, ESPN is interested in retaining the deal and Fox might want to swoop in to get a second major on their air -- especially important for the health of Fox Sports 1, which is still developing a consistent audience. 

Of course, NBC Sports Group, which includes Golf Channel, would seemingly be interested at the chance to bring any piece of a men's major championship to Golf Channel air for the first time. Turner Sports and CBS, which team up for the PGA Championship, may also be interested. 

In other words, anyone who has ever aired golf probably wants a piece of this deal.


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 11, 2015, 5:15 pm

Rickie Fowler was pretty jazzed after he won The Players in a playoff on Sunday for his biggest win. 

He should have been. After all, he played the last six holes of regulation in 6 under par. He played the last 10 holes, including four playoff holes, in 8 under par. He birdied the island-green par-3 17th three times on the day. 

So when he walked off the 17th green victorious, after greeting his mom and sister, he apparently wanted to give some sugar to his girlfriend Alexis Randock. Fowler kissed Randock passionately in celebration of the win, which comes with a $1.8 million paycheck.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 11, 2015, 3:16 am

Ahead of The Players Championship, Rory McIlroy was asked if the media's drumming up for a rivalry with Masters champion Jordan Spieth did much for him.

Candidly, per usual, McIlroy put the kibosh on such talk.

"Last year it was Rickie (Fowler), this year it's Jordan, might be someone else, could have been Tiger," said the world No. 1. "It's sort of, you know, there's been four or five rivalries over the past year."

The four-time major winner is right. Rivalries -- at least the ones that are worth remembering -- aren't fabricated behind keyboards. They're established, played out and decided in competition. The golf community, at least in the United States, was quick to anoint the 21-year-old prodigy golf's new king after his record-setting performance at Augusta National. That clearly miffed McIlroy, who then went out and won the WGC-Match Play. He then showed up Spieth over the first two days at TPC Sawgrass, beating the Texan by seven shots over 36 holes. 

However, while Spieth didn't have his best stuff at the PGA Tour's crown jewel, another young gun did, establishing himself as more than a flashy dresser with a friendly face. 

Rickie Fowler played the golf of his life late on Sunday, scorching Sawgrass to the tune of 6 under par in the final six holes, including a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie finish to set a tournament scoring record by playing the last four holes in a meager 11 strokes. The flourish was enough to land in a playoff with 2008 Players champion Sergio Garcia and underrated Kevin Kisner in the tournament's first-ever three-hole, aggregate-score playoff. 

After Fowler tied Kisner and eliminated Garcia playing the first three holes in 1 under par, the 26-year-old made another birdie -- his third in a row on the day -- on the island-green, par-3 17th to secure his biggest career victory.

The win came just days after a golf.com anonymous poll of PGA Tour players revealed Fowler and Ian Poulter were tied for the distinction of most overrated PGA Tour player. Anyone who had been paying attention knew that was rubbish. Last year, Fowler became just the third player in golf history to finish in the top five in all four major championships in a single season, following Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in accomplishing the feat. Unfortunately for Fowler, he also became the first player to pull that off without actually winning a major, perhaps, in a strange way, only adding to the belief that the Fowler hype machine was out of control.

This Players triumph should put things into perspective. Fowler now trails Spieth in career wins by one -- the difference being a major -- and proved to McIlroy that a boring game plan isn't required to win at Pete Dye's masterpiece. Of course, Fowler isn't on their level, and he'd admit that. However, a moment like this can catapult a player to bigger and better things. It's hard to do much better than four major top fives in a year, so the logical next step is a major win. 

Let's suppose Fowler could win a major this year. Even if Spieth wins another and McIlroy adds to his four, then it's time to have a real conversation about a possible long-term rivalry involving all the guys we actually thought would be the next generation of the sport. 

The future could be here, just at the right time as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson exit the main stage. 


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 11, 2015, 2:02 am

Rickie Fowler showed his peers what overrated looks like.

Just days after an anonymous poll of PGA Tour players indicated Fowler -- along with Ian Poulter -- was the most overrated player on Tour, he won The Players Championship with the greatest finish in the tournament's history.

Fowler played the final six holes of regulation in 6 under par, including an eagle-birdie-birdie finish to to turn a 1-over round into a closing 67. The California native played the final three holes of regulation in eight shots. He got a fortunate bounce just shy of the green at the par-5 16th, leading to a tap-in eagle. On the par-3 17th, a hole Fowler has demonstrated he loves, he hit his tee shot inside of 7 feet, leading to a birdie. A hole later, Fowler took an aggressive line on the water-lined hole, hitting a 331-yard tee shot to set up a birdie that took him to 12-under 276 and get into a playoff with 2008 champion Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner, who lost a playoff three weeks ago to Jim Furyk at the RBC Heritage. 

Then in the first three-hole, aggregate-score playoff in Players history, he tied with Kisner at 1 under par with yet another birdie on No. 17, eliminating Garcia. When the playoff shifted back to the par-3 17th and into sudden death, Fowler threw a dart into the treacherous hole that led to a tournament-clinching birdie.

The 26-year-old played his final 10 holes in 8 under par. 

This is Fowler's first PGA Tour win since prevailing in another three-man playoff, over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points, at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.

Bill Haas and Ben Martin both shot 2-under 70 on Sunday to finish a shot off the pace at 11 under. Rory Sabbatini and Kevin Na finished at 9 under in a tie for sixth. 

Rory McIlroy was part of a five-way tie for eighth, four shots out of the playoff.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 11, 2015, 12:02 am

Tiger Woods just completed back-to-back 72-hole PGA Tour tournaments for the first time since the end of the 2013 season. That's the good news.

The bad news is that he followed up an encouraging T-17 performance at the Masters with his worst-ever 72-hole effort at The Players Championship. Woods closed with even-par 72 on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass to finish at 3-over 291 for the week. His T-69 finish is his worst in the event. He's never missed the cut, but has withdrawn twice.

However, this isn't Woods' worst 72-hole score in the championship. Woods shot 5-over 293 in 2005, back when The Players was contested in March. That year, Woods won two majors.

There were certainly signs that the 14-time major champion was finding his game again. He is among the leaders this week in birdies made.

Unfortunately, he sprinkled in way more holes over par, including a triple-bogey 7 on the 14th hole on Sunday. That's the first time he's ever made a triple-box on the card in 16 appearances. That follows two par-5 double bogeys on Saturday, another first in his PGA Tour career.

"It was a mixed bag, pretty much all week," said Woods. "A lot of really, really good stuff out there, some mediocre and some bad. What did I have? Three 7s on the week. That's not very good."

Until the 14th, Woods' round looked good. He was 3 under on the day before he came to the tee. However, his tee shot found a water hazard to the left of the fairway, requiring a drop in the next tee box up and a penalty stroke. From there, Woods missed the fairway and green, then couldn't get up-and-down for double-bogey 6. 

As Woods said at the start of the week, if a player doesn't have their game together, breaking par on the Pete Dye masterpiece is almost impossible.

"You can be going along, playing fine, all of a sudden make a double here and it's like, 'What just happened,'" Woods said.

In particular, the weekends have not been friendly to Woods in recent years, and that string continued this weekend. Woods hasn't closed an official PGA Tour event with an under-par round since the 2013 Tour Championship.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 10, 2015, 8:10 pm

Basically, if you made the cut and were born after 1975, then you have a chance to win The Players Championship on Sunday. Oh, or if you're Jerry Kelly, too.

Through three rounds at TPC Sawgrass, 30 players are within five shots of the lead, including outright leader Chris Kirk, who is a 10-under 206 through 54 holes. The clogged leaderboard is a tournament record for the number of players within a handful of shots through three rounds.

Kirk is one clear of Kevin Kisner, who lost in a playoff just three weeks ago to Jim Furyk at Harbour Town, as well Bill Haas and Ben Martin, who are already a winners this season. 

Then the logjam really begins, with six players at 8 under par, including 2008 Players winner Sergio Garcia, the up-and-coming Justin Thomas and 36-hole co-leaders Kelly and Na, who will play together again for a second straight day. 

Then within striking distance are the likes of Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter.

In each of the last four years, the winning score has been 13-under 275. The cut had also been even-par 144, which proved true again in 2015. So, for Kirk, if history holds, 69 is his target number on Sunday and everyone else in contention should plan accordingly.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 10, 2015, 1:00 pm

The par-3 17th at Sawgrass is said to have an island green, but that's a geographic misnomer. It's really a peninsula, with a thin strip of land serving as a walkway to the putting surface.  

Every once in a while, tee shots land there, forcing players to get a little creative in hopes of making par. We had two examples yesterday of that ingenuity. 

Matt Kuchar's tee shot landed barely in the grass, leaving him with no stance to hit right-handed. So, after some thought, he decided to try a backhand, hitting the ball backward while turning his back to the hole. It was good enough to get on the putting surface, but led to a bogey that put him outside the cut line.

Will MacKenzie was lucky for his ball to be dry. After it hit the boards separating land and water, it landed deep down the walkway. However, MacKenzie saw a way to the back left hole location: playing his chip shot off the artificial turf walkway. With a well-timed bounce, MacKenzie's ball scooted onto the green for a simple par putt.

Unfortunately, like Kuchar, MacKenzie missed the cut, but both players made the all-time highlight reel for No. 17.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 9, 2015, 12:45 pm

Success at TPC Sawgrass is determined by how well a player picks their spots.

In the right rough with his tee shot at the short par-5 16th on Friday, Rory McIlroy decided to be aggressive with his second shot and try to replicate his eagle there from the day prior. McIlroy's brave line wasn't paid off, with his ball going into the water and leading to a bogey, one of two on the day.

Otherwise, the world No. 1 handled Pete Dye's house of mirrors well, making three birdies to shoot 1-under 71 and remain in contention for a first Players Championship title. At 4-under 140, McIlroy trails co-leaders Kevin Na and Jerry Kelly by four shots. 

Ho-hum.

“I was pretty bored out there,” McIlroy said. “I’m not sure how you guys felt about watching it. Just try and hit fairways, hit greens, pick off my birdies when I could.”

He added, "But anything under par is a decent score, and right in there going into the weekend."

Most weekend warriors would pay handsomely to be ambivalent about those results. 

However, McIlroy won't nod off on Saturday. With the field narrowed down, the field will be paired in twosomes. 

"It'll be nice tomorrow with two-balls being able to sort of find a little bit more rhythm out there," he said.

McIlroy's draw? Billy Horschel, the guy he beat in 20 holes last week at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 9, 2015, 2:55 am

For the last four years, the 36-hole cut at The Players Championship had been even-par 144. 

Stalking a 9 foot birdie putt on the par-5 ninth, his last hole of the day on Friday, Tiger Woods knew he needed it to drop to play two rounds in even par, assure himself a spot in the weekend field and avoid missing the cut at TPC Sawgrass for the first time in his career.

Sure enough, with a flash of a Woods long dead, he holed the putt and gave a fist pump with a different kind of emotion behind it: relief.

Woods' 1-under 71 on Friday evened out a 73 on Thursday, but the 14-time major champion felt he should be much closer to the lead.

“I haven’t gotten anything out of my rounds,” said Woods, who ended up trailing joint leaders Kevin Na and Jerry Kelly by eight heading into the weekend. “I should be a few under par each day, and I’m just not capitalizing on my opportunities, and I need to start doing that.”

Like in Round 1, Woods' scorecard had plenty of geometry on it -- six circles for birdies, five squares for bogeys. Woods has 11 birdies through two rounds, second best in the field behind Na. The problem, then, is avoiding momentum-crushing mistakes, forcing Woods to press.

If Woods can figure out how to tidy up the card, then, he believes, he has a chance to catch the leaders.

“Anyone who makes the cut certainly has a chance on this golf course,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing well enough to get myself up there. I just need one good round and narrow up that gap between myself and the lead, and I feel like I can do that.”


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 9, 2015, 2:33 am

If you don't know the name Hideki Matsuyama, you may become very familiar with it this week at The Players.

Matsuyama, the 23-year-old who won the Memorial last year, shares the Day 1 lead at TPC Sawgrass with Kevin Na, Charley Hoffman and David Hearn, who each shot 5-under 67.

The young Japanese star has become a staple on PGA Tour leaderboards this season, leading the Tour with seven top-10 finishes. He finished T-5 at the Masters and lost last week at the WGC-Match Play to eventual winner Rory McIlroy.

However, Matsuyama hasn't been able to convert contending into winning primarily because of putting. He's 114th on the Tour in strokes gained putting. That wasn't a problem on Thursday.

“I putted very well today. That was the difference,” Matsuyama said through a translator. “Probably starting from last week I started putting a little bit better, and it just carried over into today. I was very happy about that.”

Matsuyama flies under the radar compared to his peers like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. However, the world No. 14 said -- even with a win this week -- that he has a ways to go to be mentioned in the same breath as them.

“I’m not even close to those guys, Rory and Jordan,” he said. “I just need to practice more and hopefully soon I’ll be able to play at the same level that they do.”


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 8, 2015, 2:45 pm

Two holes perfectly summed up Tiger Woods' opening round at The Players Championship.

On the island-green par-3 17th, Woods chipped in for a birdie 2 after his tee shot to the 123-yard hole landed on the front fringe, barely safe from a watery grave.

After rousing the large crowd at TPC Sawgrass' most famous hole, Woods went to the more dangerous par-4 18th and promptly deposited his drive left into the enormous water hazard. He made double-bogey 6, turning Woods' round from a modest under-par effort into a frustrating over-par dud.

“Probably the highest score I could have shot today,” Woods said. “I didn’t get much out of that round. I hit the ball better than I think the score indicates, and I got a couple good breaks and never took advantage of them.”

Perhaps, but Woods got out of the blocks like a man who was destined for a much higher number than 1-over 73. He missed both of the first two fairways, registering an opening bogey and missing a short putt for birdie on the par-5 second.

Woods' tee shot on the long par-3 eighth was downright dreadful. He chunked a 4-iron to the right, landing 180 yards downrange in a water hazard Woods didn't even know was there.

“I’ve never seen that hazard before and I didn’t even know it was where to now," he said smiling.

“It’s one of those things where (swing coach) Chris (Como) and I are working on some things, and when I start feeling a certain way, I revert back to old habits,” he said. “I don’t think my ball actually touched the grooves, put it that way.”

Woods most blamed his poor score, however, not on erratic tee shots, but on putting. In what's become a familiar refrain over the last several years, Woods said he just could not get the feel of the greens.

“Just really struggled hitting the putts hard enough to get them to the hole,” said Woods, who needed 27 putts to get around on Thursday.

“I just, even when I tried to ram them, I still didn’t get the ball to the hole, so I need to make a better adjustment on that.”

The good news for Woods is that he's just six behind the lead. The bad news is the bevy of players between him and the top spot on the leaderboard. While the mission on Friday is to make the cut, which he's never missed at The Players in 16 starts, Woods is aiming for much more.

“I should have shot in the 60s easily today,” Woods said. “Hopefully tomorrow I can get it done.”


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 8, 2015, 2:43 pm

When Tiger Woods was at the peak of his powers, golf so desperately wanted someone to step up and simply challenge him. Mickelson, Els, Goosen and Singh come to mind. So, too, did one-week big men like Bob May and Chris DiMarco.

For a while, golf reached so far as to concoct a Big Three or a Big Five. It never materialized. It was a figment of our imagination. 

Now the same thing is happening to Rory McIlroy, and he's not all that interested in the chatter.

“The talk doesn’t change much," he said Wednesday ahead of The Players Championship. "Last year it was Rickie, this year it’s Jordan. It could have been Tiger. There have been four or five rivals in the past year. It doesn’t really do anything for me.”

PODCAST: Is McIlroy-Spieth the next great golf rivalry?

That may prove to be bulletin-board material for Spieth, who was almost irrationally crowned the best player in the world after his record-smashing Masters win in April. Spieth and McIlroy will both tell you that the scoreboard of wins -- especially majors -- heavily favors the Ulsterman.

That said, McIlroy is excited to spend the next two days with Spieth and 27-year-old Aussie Jason Day at TPC Sawgrass.

“When I saw the draw come out, I was excited to play, not just with Jordan but obviously with Jason Day as well,” McIlroy said. “It's always nice when you're a part of a group that's got a little bit of a buzz around it and a good atmosphere.”


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 7, 2015, 2:10 am

Tiger Woods tees it up this week at The Players Championship, a tournament he won the last time he competed in it back in 2013. It was part of a five-win season. 

However, Woods didn't win at all in 2014, sidelined for much of it while recovering from back surgery. He then fired his teacher Sean Foley, took months to identify another in Chris Como and adopted a swing rooted in his approach from 20 years ago. The early returns were ugly, with last-place finishes in his own limited-field Hero World Challenge and at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he shot a career-worst 82 in the second round.

Two months after a self-imposed break from tournament golf, Woods finished T-17 at the Masters. At Augusta National, he looked like a man at peace and happy with his life as a dad to two children and an elder statesman of the game. With Lindsey Vonn at his side, it seemed he had found a true, meaningful love.

That wasn't the case. Woods and Vonn announced their breakup on Sunday, and the 14-time major champion said Tuesday he's tired and rusty heading into the PGA Tour's crown jewel at TPC Sawgrass. 

Can Tiger Woods win this season? Kevin Kaduk and Jay Busbee debate. The boys offer their top five picks (see mine here) to take home the fifth major.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 7, 2015, 2:00 am

Lindsey Vonn doesn't want to talk about it anymore.

The champion skier was asked in a Wednesday news conference how her break up with Tiger Woods, which she first announced Sunday before a separate confirming statement from the golfer, would affect her performance.

“I don’t really want to talk about my personal life," Vonn said in South Korea, where she was accepting an appointment as an honorary ambassador for the 2018 Winter Olympics. "I think I said everything in my Facebook post. I will just leave it at that.”

The 30-year-old Vonn hopes to win an Olympic gold medal in three years after missing the '14 Games in Sochi with an injury. Vonn previously credited Woods for being instrumental in her recovery.

For his part, Woods did not dodge a question about the break up on Tuesday at The Players. The 39-year-old said he had three sleepless nights approaching the nine-year anniversary of his father Earl's death. He added that the breakup with Vonn made matters worse.

“Obviously it does affect me,” he said. “It is tough. There’s no doubt. I’m not going to lie about that.” 


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 6, 2015, 5:29 pm

In light of their recent wins, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have clearly set themselves up for a potentially lengthy rivalry for domination of the sport as Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods exit the main stage. We look at both players' styles and why, despite their differences, they work so well for them individually.

We also look at the developing landscape in golf media and what it means to be a credentialed member of the media.

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunesTuneIn or Stitcher.


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 6, 2015, 5:21 pm

Well, that didn't take long.

Irish bookie Paddy Power, known overseas for their cheeky betting lines, is now taking wagers from its customers on the identity of Tiger Woods' next girlfriend. Woods and champion skier Lindsey Vonn somewhat concurrently announced on Sunday that they're no longer together after almost three years of dating.

For entertainment purposes only, let's look at a few of the contenders. 

As you might guess, Woods' ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, is getting 7-to-1 odds. For almost the entire duration of Woods' relationship with Vonn, the tabloids have suggested the skier is jealous of Nordegren's relationship with Woods as mother of his two children. There's also been a suggested reunion in the works. Good luck with that.

How about Caroline Wozniacki at 40-to-1 odds? Wouldn't that be the ultimate knife in Rory McIlroy's back? That doesn't seem all that likely considering the very thing that supposedly drove him away from Vonn -- the different travel schedules -- would be a factor with the former world No. 1 tennis player.

Britney Spears is a 50-to-1 shot. Woods has been known to enjoy himself in Vegas in the past, and Spears is "in residence" at Planet Hollywood, performing on a regular basis. Then again, as Woods has aged, he's appreciated being a father, which means trying to spend as often as he can in Florida when he has custody of his children.

Perhaps we should bookend this exhaustive search for Woods' next girlfriend with the woman originally cited by the National Enquirer in 2009 as their proof positive that the 14-time major winner was cheating on Nordegren: Rachel Uchitel. Uchitel, a former night club host who now owns a clothing store in New York, just turned 40 and is out of what she terms a verbally abusive relationship with former baseball player Bret Boone. TMZ says Uchitel would consider getting back together with a groveling Woods, but that doesn't seem Woods' style.

So let's all put a few quid on Pippa Middleton at 100-to-1.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 6, 2015, 1:37 am

Without Tiger Woods, there wouldn't be a Jason Day -- at least one that plays pro golf.

Day, who played a practice round with Woods on Tuesday at The Players Championship, credits the 14-time major winner with inspiring him to pick up a golf club.

“Without him, I probably wouldn’t be playing golf," Day said afterward, according to Golfweek.

The practice round was actually a rain check of sorts from the Masters, when the pair had intended to enjoy a practice round at Augusta National. Despite Day not being much of a morning person, he happily took up Woods' invitation after their nine-hole round for another go on Wednesday. Consider it paying a debt of gratitude.

“That’s why I woke up every morning at 5:30 and went out and practiced,” Day said. “I got up to 32 1/2 hours a week of practice because of [Woods]. He has influenced my life a lot.”


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 6, 2015, 12:27 am

Tiger Woods says this time of year is always tough for him.

Nine years ago on Sunday, Woods' father, Earl, passed away. For the 14-time major winner, Earl Woods wasn't just dad, but his best friend, confidant, teacher and legend-builder. Losing a parent is difficult for anyone and seemingly never gets easier, and Woods still struggles with the loss. 

After a nine-hole practice round on Tuesday at The Players Championship, Woods remarked that he was tired after three consecutive restless nights.

“This three-day stretch is very tough," Woods said.

"I haven’t slept. And with what happened Sunday it’s been brutal.”

The last line was an allusion to his break-up with champion skier and girlfriend of nearly three years, Lindsey Vonn. Vonn posted first to Facebook on Sunday to announce the couple had split, largely due to their hectic schedules that keep them apart for long stretches. The grind was no longer manageable -- something Woods mentioned in a similar statement later in the day.

Woods said he was also rusty in his practice round. This is his first start since finishing T-17 at the Masters in April. However, he did win The Players the last time he competed there in 2013. Woods knows that, at least for him, he'll have to shake off the rust quickly or he'll be an afterthought this weekend.

"When you're on, this golf course doesn't seem that hard," he said. "You feel like every round you should shoot 67 or lower. Then you have days where you're like, God, I don't think I can break 75 here."


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 5, 2015, 3:42 pm

The Players Championship is one of the best weeks in golf. The PGA Tour's crown jewel boasts the deepest field in golf, and the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is an iconic test that is built to confuse, scare and challenge. 

While the top-to-bottom field is excellent, our rankings this week favor the best players in the world.

1. Jordan Spieth -- Spieth finished T-4 here last year, was the best player in a losing effort last week at Harding Park and is the best putter in the world. His driving leaves something to be desired, but he's on fire.

2. Rory McIlroy -- The WGC Match Play champion has to be gassed after seven matches last weekend, including finishing off three players on Sunday. He has top-eight finishes in his last two Players starts.

3. Jim Furyk -- It's a home game for Jim Furyk, coming off a strong performance out in San Francisco. It's hard to believe Furyk has never won here given his track record at Harbour Town, another Pete Dye design. Runner-up a year ago.

4. Henrik Stenson -- The Swede was the champion here in 2009 and was T-5 in 2013. Hard to look past his great March and early April results.

5. Jimmy Walker -- Walker may not be the most accurate driver, but the guy is built for a course like this because he can hit less than driver and find the fairways. His T-6 here last year is his best-ever Players finish.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 5, 2015, 2:39 pm

Two of the PGA Tour's sartorial stalwarts are considered by their peers to be the most overrated. 

A Sports Illustrated anonymous survey of PGA Tour players recently found that Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter are considered to get too much hype given their perceived talent level. Both Fowler and Poulter received 24 percent of votes on the question of which player is most overrated on the PGA Tour.

The 26-year-old Fowler has just one PGA Tour win, a playoff victory over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points in the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship. However, he became just the third player (Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus) in golf history to finish in the top five in all four majors in a season. Then again, he was also the first player to accomplish the feat without winning one of the majors.

Poulter hasn't won on the PGA Tour since 2012 either. He lost control of The Honda Classic in March, paving the way for a surprising Padraig Harrington win. He has eight top-10 major finishes, but some have been considered "back door" in that the 39-year-old Englishman made his charge on Sunday from well back of the lead.

Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson came in third at 12 percent. Hunter Mahan was in fourth with 8 percent. Given the Golf Boys' representation in the survey, it's somewhat surprising Ben Crane, despite winning five times on the PGA Tour, didn't get fifth place.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 4, 2015, 5:34 pm

Rory McIlroy would kindly like to remind you he has no plans on giving up the world No. 1 ranking to Jordan Spieth anytime soon.

McIlroy finished off three opponents on Sunday in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play en route to his 10th PGA Tour win, just a day before he turns 26. His day at TPC Harding Park culminated in a 4 and 2 win over long-hitting Gary Woodland to capture his second World Golf Championships event in his last three tries.

The Ulsterman began his day by making a 60-foot bomb to finish off Paul Casey on the 22nd hole of their quarterfinal match that resumed Sunday after darkness halted play the night prior.

The four-time major winner then drew Jim Furyk in the semifinal round. A tight match all the way through, McIlroy prevailed 1 up when he played the final three holes in 4 under par, including an eagle at the par-5 finishing hole to secure a place in the final.

Both McIlroy and Woodland played sloppy early, backing up a birdie at the par-5 first each with a pair of bogeys. However, McIlroy set a lead with a par at the fourth hole and never looked back. He made three consecutive birdies on the next three holes to take a 4-up lead at the turn. To his credit, Woodland won the 11th and 12th holes to make McIlroy sweat a little, but McIlroy's win at the par-4 14th forced Woodland to press with few holes left to make a charge. Woodland conceded the 16th hole and the match to McIlroy.

This is McIlroy's first WGC-Match Play title, but follows on his WGC breakthrough last August at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which was the sandwich in two major championship victories at the Open Championship and PGA Championship.

With the win, McIlroy joins some elite company. Only two players other than McIlroy in PGA Tour history have earned at least 10 PGA Tour wins before turning 26: Jack Nicklaus (17) and Tiger Woods (29).


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 3, 2015, 11:55 pm

Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are no longer together. Woods and Vonn both issued similar statements on Sunday confirming the end of their three-year relationship.

"Lindsey and I have mutually decided to stop dating," said Woods on his website. "I have great admiration, respect and love for Lindsey and I'll always cherish our time together. She has been amazing with Sam and Charlie and my entire family.

"Unfortunately, we lead very hectic lives and are both competing in demanding sports. It's difficult to spend time together."

Vonn shared the news on Facebook.

"After nearly three years together, Tiger and I have mutually decided to end our relationship," Vonn said.  

"I will always cherish the memories that we’ve created together. Unfortunately, we both lead incredibly hectic lives that force us to spend a majority of our time apart. I will always admire and respect Tiger. He and his beautiful family will always hold a special place in my heart."

Vonn, 30, and Woods, 39, made their relationship public in March 2013. Vonn appeared at the Masters with Woods and his children, Sam and Charlie, including during his first appearance in the Masters Par-3 Contest in 11 years. 

Woods finished T-17 at the Masters and has announced a full summer schedule, including next week's Players Championship, which he won the last time he played in the event in 2013.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 3, 2015, 7:25 pm

The struggle is real for Rory McIlroy.

The Ulsterman advanced through group play into the knockout stage of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship, coming back from 2 down with two holes to play on Friday to beat Billy Horschel in sudden-death extra holes. Next up is Hideki Matsuyama in the Round of 16. If McIlroy wins that match, then he has a conflict of interest on his hands.

Certainly he'll want to compete in the quarterfinal round at TPC Harding Park. However, he also has tickets to the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight in Vegas, which starts around 8:30 p.m. PT. He'd be cutting it close to make it to ringside on time.

McIlroy, who would tee off in the quarterfinals between 2:50 and 3:35 p.m., has a plan.

“Get to the afternoon and try and win that match. Bring a change of clothes here, try and avoid [the media], go straight to the airport,” he said.

 

However, if his plan doesn't work out and he clearly can't make the fight, then McIlroy will play scalper and make some nice money.

He said, “I'll probably try and sell my tickets and watch it on a big screen here somewhere."


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 2, 2015, 3:05 pm

Lydia Ko found a way to make her 51st consecutive LPGA cut on Friday at the Volunteers of America North Texas LPGA Shootout.

More importantly, she'll be able to make some money that, at the start of the week, she pledged would all go to help children in Nepal as the country tries to recover from a recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

“All day I was thinking, make some birdies for the kids in Nepal, that's my big goal,” Ko said. “I think if I was just missing the cut, yes, I would be disappointed.”

Ko made her rally on her back nine, the front side at host Las Colinas C.C., making three birdies in the first six holes to get inside the cut line. She then faced a 6-footer for par that would get her to the weekend on the number. She sank it, carding 3-under 68.

“I was going to cry after my putt,” Ko said.

Ko is nine shot backs of leader Brooke Henderson, the 17-year-old who led after 54 holes last week in San Francisco. Henderson made it through the Monday qualifier to earn a spot in the field and has taken advantage. However, Ko walked away with the trophy last Sunday, so don't count her out with two rounds to play this weekend.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 2, 2015, 1:11 pm

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A match that meant very little on Friday turned out to be the big story at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship.

Miguel Angel Jimenez and Keegan Bradley squared off in the third and final round-robin match in their group at TPC Harding Park, both with no chance to move onto the weekend knockout stage. However, both played the match with intensity and hoping to snag at least one win in the three days.

The match went to No. 18, where Bradley drove his ball left and into a television compound -- considered a temporary movable obstruction under the Rules of Golf and eligible for a free drop. Bradley and caddie Steve Hale, known as Pepsi out on Tour, called in a PGA Tour rules official for the ruling and the drop. However, after Bradley made the drop, Jimenez, who was on the other side of the fairway, came over to dispute the drop with the 2011 PGA champion.

Both Bradley and Hale were annoyed Jimenez had interjected after a rules official gave his opinion, which is typically the be-all-end-all in stroke play, but not match play. As Jimenez continued talking to Bradley, Hale stepped in to stand up for his guy. Jimenez told Hale to "shut up," which prompted Bradley to get into Jimenez's face, saying, "You don't tell my caddie to shut up."

After the match, which Jimenez won 2 up, the two had, according to Golf Channel, an awkward, heated exchange in the locker room in which the Spaniard looked to clear up his side of things. However, Bradley and Hale didn't seem satisfied with Jimenez's explanation and all parties left without a handshake or an apology.

Both parties spoke to the media after that, with Bradley explaining his actions.

“I felt like he was being disrespectful not only to me but my caddie,” Bradley said. “I was kind of standing up for my boy here.”

Jimenez simply wanted to move on.

“Whatever happened there is finished and is done. There is no point in talking about it,” he said.

Bradley and Jimenez are now out of the tournament, but leave with a strained relationship that may take some time to heal.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 2, 2015, 1:04 pm

Ahead of this week's Volunteers of America North Texas LPGA Shootout, world No. 1 Lydia Ko said she would donate her entire check for the week to charities helping Nepal after the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that has left over 5,000 dead.

Unfortunately, Ko is in danger of not receiving a check and missing her first-ever LPGA cut after an opening 4-over 75 at Las Colinas C.C. in Irving, Texas.

Ko's entire round was stymied by an unfortunate three-hole stretch on the back nine. Coming to the tee at the par-4 14th, Ko was 2 under par on the round. However, her third shot landed in a tree and, despite the best efforts of her tree-climbing caddie Jason Hamilton, the ball would not fall to the ground. In the end, LPGA rules officials -- perhaps mistakenly -- declared Ko could take an unplayable lie en route to a triple-bogey 7.

#CaddieUpATree #NTShootout pic.twitter.com/53FPABSP64

— LPGA (@LPGA) April 30, 2015

It didn't get better from there, with Ko going double bogey, bogey on the next two par 4s. 

In 50 career LPGA starts, both as an amateur and a pro, Ko has never missed the cut.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 30, 2015, 8:06 pm

Ben Martin and Matt Kuchar were all square in their Day 1 match at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship heading to the par-3 17th. The hole is a behemoth 243 yards, making par a great score and one that could have meant a decisive win before heading to the final hole.

Martin did two better.

The winner in Las Vegas early in the season stepped in and made a hole-in-one that left Kuchar with nothing to do but smile and high-five his competition. The ace put Martin 1 up with a hole to play. Kuchar had a short putt to square the match and force extra holes, but he missed to give the match to Martin.

Fortunately for Kuchar, in the new tournament format, he and Martin will both have two more matches with the other players in their four-person group before figuring out who moves on to the Round of 16.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 30, 2015, 12:19 am

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African-American golf great Calvin Peete has died at the age of 71.

Born in Detroit on July 18, 1943, Peete notched 12 PGA Tour wins, including the 1985 Players Championship. He won four times in 1982, finishing fourth on the money list that year. He also had two-win seasons in 1983, '85 and '86.

Peete was a member of the 1983 and '85 Ryder Cup teams, earning a 4-2-1 mark. He won the 1984 Vardon Trophy, awarded to the player with the PGA Tour's lowest scoring average.

Despite suffering from a broken arm as a child that was never set right, Peete was one of the most accurate drivers of the ball in PGA Tour history. For 10 years, from 1981-1990, Peete led the Tour in driving accuracy. In 1983, he hit an astounding 84.55 percent of fairways. He's the only player in the last 35 years to lead the PGA Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation, doing so in 1981, '82 and '83.

Peete posted three top-four finishes in the majors, including a T-3 finish in the 1982 PGA, and T-4 efforts in the 1983 U.S. Open and 1984 PGA.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 29, 2015, 4:59 pm

With so many horrible images of Baltimore -- a city I love and spent so many of my formative years in -- on TV this last week, it seemed worthwhile to offer a few reflections on Charm City in the context of its role in teaching me the game of golf. The city's golf courses, especially Carroll Park, were critical in bringing me to fully fledged participation in the sport.

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunesTuneIn or Stitcher


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 29, 2015, 4:19 pm

Rory McIlroy has a potential scheduling conflict on Saturday, and it's an ugly one. 

You see, McIlroy has procured tickets to the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas. That fight starts at 11 p.m. ET. However, McIlroy could also be wrapping up a quarterfinal match in San Francisco at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship around that time. 

What to do, what to do. McIlroy said Tuesday that he's going to the fight, one way or another. 

"It never happened, so sort of waiting five years for this to happen," McIlroy said. "I always said if these two guys fought each other, I wouldn't miss the opportunity to go. Luckily, we're somewhere close, and hopefully I'm still part of this tournament at that time, but it just wasn't an opportunity that I was going to miss."

The flight from SFO to LAS is just about 90 minutes, and it'll be on a private jet, so that should save some time. 

Of course, the potential conflict assumes McIlroy escapes his group in round-robin play, which includes FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker and major champion Jason Dufner. It also assumes he wins a round-of-16 match on Saturday morning.

But if all of that falls into place, then McIlroy knows a quick time-saver: winning early.

He said, "Nothing that a few quick birdies won't change if I try and win 7 and 6."


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 29, 2015, 3:14 pm

On Wednesday, Tiger Woods announced his schedule through early August, and it includes appearances in the U.S. Open and Open Championship.

See you at the US Open, Open Champ, Memorial, Greenbrier and my Foundation’s event, the Quicken Loans National. Going to be a busy summer.

— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 29, 2015

Woods previously announced that he will play in next week's The Players Championship, an event he won for the second time when he last played there in 2013. 

The 14-time major winner confirmed what Jack Nicklaus revealed this week at a charity luncheon, that Woods would play in his Memorial Tournament based on a conversation the two had at the Masters.

The U.S. Open and Open Championship are must-plays for a healthy Woods. He's never seen Chambers Bay, near Tacoma, Wash. -- at least competitively -- so it will make for an interesting test. However, Woods has enjoyed great success at Open Championship host St. Andrews, where he won the 2000 and 2005 Opens on the Old Course. He complete the career Grand Slam there 15 years ago in his first try, nearly shooting 20 under par in a major.

Woods announces his schedule coming off a T-17 finish at the Masters, which marked his first start since saying Feb. 11 that he would not play competitively until his game was "tournament ready."


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 29, 2015, 2:37 pm

Chambers Bay Golf Course, including the signature lone tree, is seen from the clubhouse in University Place, Wash. (AP)The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in June near Tacoma, Wash., is going to be a unique test. 

For one, it's the first time it's hosted a major championship. Despite hosting the 2010 U.S. Amateur, almost the entire field will have never seen the course before playing practice rounds. (Jordan Spieth's caddie, Michael Greller, used to loop there. So, there's another Spieth edge.)

The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course is a links-inspired track that can play firm and fast on a normal day, much less without tricking up by the USGA in an effort to protect par. It's also very quirky, requiring players to gather as much local knowledge as they can so that they can make good decisions during the tournament.

In fact, local knowledge is so critical that USGA executive director Mike Davis strongly encouraged players to get in as many practice rounds as possible ahead of the National Open.

"I would contend that there is no way a player will have success here at Chambers Bay unless he really studies the golf course and learns it," Davis said Monday at Chambers Bay for U.S. Open Media Day. "The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and just walking it and using your yardage book, that person is done. Will not win the U.S. Open."

And it doesn't get any easier from there. Davis said that he will set up the course with tee boxes that aren't flat. That's right.

"One of the things that's unique to this is the architects put in what they refer to it as ribbon tees, these tees that just kind of meander, and it allows us to put tee markers where we want," he said. "And in some cases we may end up putting tee markers on slight slopes as opposed to you think, well, you're always going to have teeing markers on very flat areas. But there may be some where we give the players a little downhill slope, a little uphill slope, a side slope. So that's interesting."

Or infuriating. Add in a litany of blind shots and unclear bounces, and the person that's going to win this Open is going to be the one that studies hard and embraces the unpredictable.

"This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open," Davis said. "There is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them. They don't want to have to guess what is going to happen after the ball lands. It's just a different mindset."


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 28, 2015, 4:05 pm

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The PGA Tour changed the format for the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship, going from a knockout-style bracket from the outset to starting with 16 groups of four players competing in round-robin pool play.

The change guarantees that every player will get at least three matches and won't be sent packing on Day 1. Officials hope it will keep fans interested further along during tournament week, while also allowing top players more of a chance to rise to the top of their group. 

The obvious benefit here is that fans get a chance to see more matches through group play. The blind draw to create the groups has led to some fascinating matches over the first three days of the competition. Here are our five favorite matches:

5. Group 12: J.B. Holmes vs. Brooks Koepka (Friday) -- This is a match of bombers, with both players already winners this year. Koepka has moved back to the mean of late, but he should give Holmes a great challenge.

4. Group 4: Bubba Watson vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez (Wednesday) -- This match is not only a contrast of styles, but also of personalities. Jimenez is as laid-back as they come, and he'll be well behind the two-time Masters winner on pretty much every tee shot. However, Watson's high-strung nature leaves him prone to stumbling in match play.

3. Group 1: Rory McIlroy vs. Billy Horschel (Friday) -- This rivalry dates back to the 2007 Walker Cup, when Horschel beat McIlroy twice. McIlroy should be favored, but Horschel's intensity -- and Ryder Cup snub -- could motivate him to an upset.

2. Group 15: Patrick Reed vs. Ryan Moore (Friday) -- Patrick Reed was an absolute match-play stud in college and demonstrated he hadn't lost the edge at the 2014 Ryder Cup. However, Ryan Moore is tough to get off-axis. The 2004 U.S. Amateur champion can rise to the test.

1. Group 11: Jimmy Walker vs. Ian Poulter (Friday) -- Walker was one of a few American standouts during the 2014 Ryder Cup, squaring off against one of the best players to ever compete in the biennial matches. Walker should be a bulldog and give Poulter fits, but the Englishman is playing some of his best golf.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 28, 2015, 3:48 pm

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It's time to showdown. The WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship begins Wednesday with a new format, date and venue.

The 64 players in the field, including almost the entire top 50 in the world, have been divided into 16 groups for round-robin play during the first three days of the event. The winner of each group will then move into a knockout phase, played out in four rounds over Saturday and Sunday. 

The winner will play in seven matches, likely needing to win at least six to run the gauntlet. 

However, the format makes our traditional method of ranking players irrelevant. We want to identify winners of each group, then see how they show down in the bracket phase of the tournament. So this week, we'll give you our predicted winners for each group, then leave the rest to you.

Group 1: Rory McIlroy (1), Billy Horschel (18), Brandt Snedeker (35), Jason Dufner (53)

It's hard to look past Rory McIlroy in this group, particularly with how he thrashed Rickie Fowler at last year's Ryder Cup. However, McIlroy could stumble as he has a tendency to play incomplete rounds -- even if they result in good numbers.

Winner: Rory McIlroy

Group 2: Jordan Spieth (2), Lee Westwood (26), Matt Every (40), Mikko Ilonen (62)

Jordan Spieth gets the nod here, but it's worth considering that Mikko Ilonen won the European Tour's pool-based match-play championship last year. 

Winner: Jordan Spieth

Group 3: Henrik Stenson (3), Bill Haas (23), Brendon Todd (42), John Senden (60)

Henrik Stenson loves this event and won it back in 2007. However, he's been in somewhat of a slump in recent years. He's playing great golf overall, and he's drawn a group that isn't very challenging.

Winner: Henrik Stenson

Group 4: Bubba Watson (4), Louis Oosthuizen (29), Keegan Bradley (33), Miguel Angel Jimenez (63)

Common sense would tell you that Bubba Watson should be able to intimidate his opponents, but Oosthuizen and Bradley have significant length. Oosthuizen has found his game again, and the South African's complete game is better than the other players in this group.

Winner: Louis Oosthuizen

Group 5: Jim Furyk (5), Martin Kaymer (17), Thongchai Jaidee (44), George Coetzee (59)

This seems like the group for Jim Furyk to pick off fairly easily. He won at Harbour Town to end a four-plus-year skid without a victory. Kaymer has struggled this year, while Jaidee and Coetzee are relatively hangers-on.

Winner: Jim Furyk

Group 6: Justin Rose (6), Ryan Palmer (22), Anirban Lahiri (34), Marc Leishman (56)

Justin Rose was T-2 at the Masters and won the Zurich Classic, so he is in top form. Ryan Palmer might make an interesting foil.

Winner: Justin Rose

Group 7: Jason Day (7), Zach Johnson (24), Branden Grace (38), Charley Hoffman (49)

Jason Day should win this group. He's defending champion, albeit on a different track. He's in the middle of one of those runs about a handful of guys have enjoyed in the event. 

Winner: Jason Day

Group 8: Dustin Johnson (8), Victor Dubuisson (21), Charl Schwartzel (37), Matt Jones (58)

Johnson is playing the best golf of his career, so he should be the class of the group. However, he has a penchant for getting beat early in the old format. Dubuisson took Jason Day 23 holes before finishing second last year, and his aggressive style works in match play.

Winner: Dustin Johnson

Group 9: Adam Scott (9), Chris Kirk (25), Paul Casey (36), Francesco Molinari (64)

If you're looking for a sneaky pick, look no further than Paul Casey. He is an annoying match. He has reached the finals twice. No one else in the group is playing all that well.

Winner: Paul Casey

Group 10: Sergio Garcia (10), Jamie Donaldson (30), Bernd Wiesberger (39), Tommy Fleetwood (54)

Donaldson's length should make him a tough match, but Garcia is the ultimate match player in this group. He understands the psychology of the format. But if Garcia's putter gets clunky, then watch out.

Winner: Sergio Garcia

Group 11: Jimmy Walker (11), Ian Poulter (27), Webb Simpson (46), Gary Woodland (50)

Were it not for Jimmy Walker, Ian Poulter would be a no-brainer here. He won here in 2010, is playing pretty well overall. However, Walker's a bulldog.

Winner: Ian Poulter

Group 12: J.B. Holmes (12), Brooks Koepka (19), Russell Henley (45), Marc Warren (51)

While Holmes vs. Koepka will be the sexy match of the group, Russell Henley is the best putter. Henley's long enough that he won't be worried about either Holmes or Koepka.

Winner: Russell Henley

Group 13: Rickie Fowler (13), Graeme McDowell (32), Shane Lowry (47), Harris English (55)

Group 13 is the most interesting. The talent is all B+ in match play and overall, which should mean a lot of good matches. Fowler knows how to keep it tight in match play, which may save him in pool play. McDowell is a great match play artist. Lowry is playing the best golf of his life. English is solid, but lacks an extra gear.

Winner: Shane Lowry

Group 14: Matt Kuchar (14), Hunter Mahan (31), Stephen Gallacher (41), Ben Martin (61)

This group comes down to Kuchar, who is as steady as they come, and Mahan, who has found he shines in match play and in this tournament. Mahan, who finished T-9 at the Masters, is my pick, but Kuchar could easily win.

Winner: Hunter Mahan

Group 15: Patrick Reed (15), Ryan Moore (28), Danny Willett (48), Andy Sullivan (57)

The legend of Patrick Reed's match-play prowess is huge. He basically didn't lose in college match play, and he really knows how to dig into his opponents. However, Ryan Moore is playing well and loves the one-on-one showdown.

Winner: Ryan Moore

Group 16: Hideki Matsuyama (16), Kevin Na (20), Joost Luiten (43), Alexander Levy (52)

Hideki Matsuyama's consistency, length and overall skill set should make him the easy pick here. However, Kevin Na's ability to get up-and-down from most anywhere could make him an annoying slow-roller in match play.

Winner: Hideki Matsuyama


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

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 28, 2015, 3:32 pm

Whether it's in your bedroom, on the tailgate of your car in the parking lot or in the locker room of your golf club, you probably don't think much about the socks you put on your feet before your golf shoes.

Sock-maker Stance hopes they can change that.

The company first got into performance socks some three years ago, eventually realizing that a number of pro surfers and action athletes, a core part of the company's image appeal, loved golf. After weighing the pros and cons of jumping into the sport, Stance's executives, many who love golf as well, decided to dive head-in and has been slowly expanding its golf presence.

Before coming to market, Stance spent a year-and-a-half researching and developing the socks, figuring out what they could offer in a performance sock that would make them stand out from the competition. The output is a fascinating mix of pizzazz and performance. The socks are cut symmetrically for each foot, coming in heights ranging from just over the heel to up the shin. Some of the socks have silicone anti-skid padding on the soles. They wick away moisture and have reinforced padding in the places where we put the most stress on our feet. They all have unique designs, ranging from merely color-coordinated to outrageous. In other words, each sock isn't simply a carbon copy of the last save for a different visual design.

Buyers liked what they saw from Stance's modest booth at the PGA Merchandise Show in January -- which I literally stumbled upon on the back of the show floor -- and awarded the company with one its three Best New Product awards.

Just as golf shoes have evolved dramatically in the last dozen years, Stance hopes its technology will bring a sophistication to the category.

Stance's primary competitor in the space is Kentwool, whose socks offer a comfort and durability that are tough to beat. However, for as good as Kentwool's socks are, they remain a brand that relies heavily on word of mouth from evangelizing golfers and repeat customers who, somewhat unfortunately, can hold out a while before they need new Kentwool socks.

Stance has somewhat of a built-in edge as an established brand that a good number of people under a certain age know. The problem is that the size of the Venn diagram crossing over the circles of people who know of Stance and also play golf is fairly small.

Further, golf is a conservative sport -- not only in terms of political values, which shouldn't influence sock purchases whatsoever, but also in terms of adopting new things. There were scores of golfers who held out on switching from persimmon woods. Tiger Woods was supposedly taking a chance when he played Nike's precursor to Titleist's Pro V1, giving him a big equipment edge for the better part of a year, which, in Tour terms, was worth a lot of money. Golfers jazz-handed with fear over golf shoes that looked like tennis shoes.

Then there's the matter of trying to get golfers to notice socks. Stance's designs might stand out on a shoeless model wearing shorts, but that's not typically how golf is played. Golfers wear pants a lot -- male pro golfers do it year-round -- so it's not as though a Stance-wearing golfer is a walking billboard for the company.

LeBron James had worn Stance's performance basketball socks during the NBA All-Star weekend, and the stark contrast became glaringly clear.

"I could pull up 2,000 press images of NBA players like LeBron wearing our socks at the All-Star game and millions of people saw them wearing the socks on TV," said Clarke Miyasaki, Stance's executive vice-president of business development, "but we can't do that in golf."

There wasn't going to be an overnight surge in demand, and there probably won't be a moment where millions of TV viewers see an unpaid touring pro point to their ankles on camera and inspire millions in sales.

He joked, "I wish the Tour would allow shorts for an event here and there, but we know that's not going to happen anytime soon."

All of these reasons convinced Stance it needed to play a long game in growing its business.

"We can't pay Tour players to wear our gear," Miyasaki said. "We're not going to do big ad buys. What we wanted to do was get the product into the hands of people, let them try it and then let the product speak for itself."

However, all of that calculation made, Miyasaki said the company hopes to be having a different conversation next year.

"I don't know if it's 12 months, 36 or 48 months from now, but I hope we're building a brand that can do for socks what Levi's did for jeans," he said. "I hope someone has their casual socks, their work socks, their running socks and their golf socks they wear on Saturday."


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

Follow @RyanBallengee

Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 27, 2015, 3:14 pm

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