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  • 10 Teams to Watch: Zurich Classic of New Orleans
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, April 26, 2017

    The Zurich Classic of New Orleans is being contested by 80 two-man teams at stroke play, although there are elements usually associated with team match-play, as two rounds of foursomes (alternate shot) and fourball (best ball) will be played to determine the winners. This is the first team event for a PGA Tour regular-season event since 1982. Below are 10 teams to watch in New Orleans.

    • 1. Henrik Stenson, Sweden-Justin Rose, England -- These Ryder Cup teammates and major champions finished 1-2 in the Olympics last summer in Rio de Janeiro, with the Englishman taking the gold medal. This is one of two teams in the tournament with both players in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings, as Stenson is at No. 6 and Rose checks in at No. 8. Rose has a 12-7-1 overall team record in match play, including 4-2 alongside Stenson. Last year, they routed Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, 5 and 4, in fourball at Hazeltine, but also lost to the American pair in foursomes and another four-ball match. In 2014, the European pair won all three of their matches as Europe claimed the Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland. Stenson holds a 14-12-4 career mark in team match play and also is very good playing on his own in the format. He beat Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, 2 and 1, to win the 2007 WGC-World Match Play Championship and lost in the final to Mikko Ilonen of Finland, 3 and 1, in the final of the 2014 World Match Play.

      2. Jason Day, Australia-Rickie Fowler, United States -- This is the other team in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with both players in the top 10 of the World Rankings, with Day third and Fowler ninth. Day, however, has yet to play his best golf this season after sitting out the last three months of 2016 to rest a chronic back problem, and more recently dealing with his mother's battle with cancer. Day, the 2015 PGA champion, is very good on his own in match play with a 22-9 record, including victories in the WGC-Match Play in 2014 (beating Victor Dubuisson of France on the 23rd hole of the final) and 2016 (5 and 4 over Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa). However, he is only 3-6-3 with teammates for the International team in the last three Presidents Cups. Fowler also has not done well with teammates in the Ryder and Presidents Cups, with a 2-5-4 record, but they have the talent to be a powerhouse team if they can jell at TPC Louisiana.

      3. Jordan Spieth, United States-Ryan Palmer, United States -- Spieth, a two-time major champion and No. 5 in the world, figures to set the tone for this pair because Palmer has never played in a team event as a professional and has a 1-4 record in singles during his two appearances at the WGC-Match Play Championships. Spieth, on the other hand, has a 9-3-2 record in team play in the Ryder and Presidents Cups. He is an exceptional putter, especially in the clutch, and simply has a knack for getting the ball into the hole, which is the name of the game in team play. Palmer's small sample of match play experience doesn't tell us much and although he is ranked 85th in the world he is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and a seasoned 40-year-old veteran on the circuit who is coming off a tie for sixth last week in the Valero Texas Open and a tie for 11th in the RBC Heritage. He might be the perfect partner for Spieth, 23.

      4. Branden Grace, South Africa-Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa -- A rising star on the PGA Tour after winning 10 times on the European and Sunshine Tours, Grace carried the International team with a 5-0 record even though the United States pulled out the victory in the 2015 Presidents Cup at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Korea. His four doubles victories were alongside Oosthuizen, who captured the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, and they weren't picky about the teams they beat. Grace and Oosthuizen defeated Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, and Matt Kuchar and Reed. Thanks to the help from Grace, Oosthuizen has a 5-3 record in two appearances in the Presidents Cup, but also is very good in singles match play, with a 17-10 record and reach the final of the WGC-Match Play Championship last year before Jason Day beat him, 5 and 4.

      5. Bubba Watson, United States-J.B. Holmes, United States -- If the Zurich Classic of New Orleans was a long-drive championship, this is the team that would be favored. However, Watson and Holmes also have some finesse to their games, which make them a formidable duo. Bubba, the two-time Masters champion, has a 7-7-1 team match-play record in Ryder and Presidents Cups, including 2-1-1 alongside Holmes in the 2015 Presidents Cup at Jack Nicklaus Golf Course in Korea. Included was an impressive 3-and-2 victory over Adam Scott of Australia and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan. Watson also went 3-1 in the team portion of the 2011 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. Holmes was instrumental in the United States' victory in the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, posting a 2-0-1 record, including a 2-and-1 singles victory over Soren Hansen of Denmark. Watson has flown back from the Shenzhen International in China, where he led with a first-round 66, but slid to a tie for 26th with a closing 74.

      6. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan-Hideto Tanihara, Japan -- Even though Matsuyama is No. 4 in the world rankings, this is a team that might fly under the radar but certainly has the ability to win this week at TPC Louisiana. Matsuyama has won four times on the PGA Tour, including the Phoenix Open earlier this year, and Tanihara, 38, has won 14 times in Japan and in March reached the semifinals of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play before eventual champion Dustin Johnson edged him, 1 up. Included in that run was a 4-and-2 upset of Jordan Spieth in the first round, and Tanihara also has a 2-1-1 record in team match play in the 2009 Royal Trophy and the 2014 Eurasia Cup. Matsuyama has a 2-3-2 record in twosomes play at the 2013 and 2015 Presidents Cup, in addition to winning his first three matches in the 2015 WGC-Match Play at Harding Park in San Francisco. before losing to eventual champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in the Round of 16, 6 and 5.

      7. Thomas Pieters, Belgium-Daniel Berger, United States -- This is another team that won't get a lot of attention based on name reputation, but they are two of the best young players in the world. Pieters, 25, who has won three times on the European Tour and finished just off of the medal platform at fourth in the Olympic Games last summer in Rio de Janeiro, and was a star for Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. He posted a 4-1 record, teaming with Rory McIlroy for victories over Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, and Johnson and Brooks Koepka, before beating J.B. Holmes in singles, 3 and 2. Berger, 24, who claimed his first PGA Tour victory last year in the FedEx St. Jude Classic, hasn't yet made a Ryder Cup or United States team for the Presidents Cup, and has only a 1-5 record in two WGC-Match Play tournaments, but that one was an impressive 7-and-5 victory over J.B. Holmes last month. He was 0-3 in the 2016 tournament while playing despite a wrist injury.

      8. Kevin Chappell, United States-Gary Woodland, United States -- Coming off his first PGA Tour victory in the Valero Texas Open on Sunday, Chappell will try to avoid a letdown in what appears to be one of the sleeper teams in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Neither player has ever made a United States team for the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup, but two-time PGA Tour winner Woodland has posted a 7-5 record in four appearances in the WGC-Match Play, most of that damage coming in the 2015 event, when he rolled through Jimmy Walker, Ian Poulter, Webb Simpson, Marc Leishman, John Senden and Danny Willett before losing the final to Rory McIlroy, 4 and 2. Chappell, who earned his first victory in 180 starts on the PGA Tour after finishing second six times, got his first chance in the WGC-Match Play last month and beat Shane Lowry of Ireland, but lost to Masters champion Sergio Garcia and another Spaniard, rookie Jon Rahm.

      9. Keegan Bradley, United States-Brendan Steele, United States -- While Bradley has shown some signs this season that the form that took him to the 2011 PGA Championship might be close to returning, he has played very well in team match play events and could form a strong team with Steele. Bradley has a 6-2-1 record in the Ryder and Presidents Cups, although it must be pointed out that he played alongside Phil Mickelson in all of those matches. Included was a 3-0 record with Lefty in the 2012 Ryder Cup and a 3-1 mark in the 2013 Presidents Cup. Perhaps he can play the mentor role in his pairing with Steele, who earned his second PGA Tour victory at the start of this season in the Safeway Classic. Steele got his first taste of match play as a pro last month in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and acquitted himself well by beating Tommy Fleetwood and halving his match with Matt Kuchar before Zach Johnson won their group by beating him, 1 up.

      10. Seung-Yul Noh, South Korea-Byeong Hun An, South Korea -- The South Korean men golfers are playing big-time catch-up to the women, but Noh and An are helping them get closer. Noh has won four times as a pro, including the 2014 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, while An has three pro titles and has been knocking on the door on the U.S. tour, losing in a playoff to Brian Stuard at TPC Louisiana last year. Noh's match play as a pro has been limited to the 2011 Royal Trophy, where he posted a 2-0-1 record for Asia in a 9-7 loss to Europe, teaming with Liang Wen-Chong of China for victories over Colin Montgomerie and Johan Edfors in both foursome and four-ball in addition to routing Peter Hanson, 7 and 6, in singles. An had a 1-1 record in doubles play in the 2016 Eurasia Cup, but is only 1-5-2 in the WGC-Match play, beating Jason Dufner and halving matches with Rickie Fowler and Scott Piercy last year.

  • Woods out indefinitely following fourth back surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, April 20, 2017

    Tiger Woods' health situation took another turn for the worse on Thursday when the former PGA star underwent his fourth back surgery in the past 37 months.

    • Woods is sidelined from golf indefinitely and the surgery will require at least a six-month recovery period.

      Woods underwent anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery to remove a damaged disc in his lower back and re-elevate collapsed disc space to its normal level.

      His three previous surgeries, along with a herniated disc, were causing Woods to suffer from sciatica and severe back and leg pain.

      "The surgery went well, and I'm optimistic this will relieve my back spasms and pain," Woods said in a statement released on "When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long."

      Woods underwent the surgery at the Center for Disc Replacement at the Texas Back Institute in Plano, Texas.

      Dr. Richard Guyer was optimistic after performing the surgery on Woods.

      "After he recovers from surgery, he will gradually begin his rehabilitation until he is completely healed," Guyer said. "Once that's accomplished, his workouts will be geared to allowing him to return to competitive golf.

      "If you are going to have single-level fusion, the bottom level is the best place for it to occur. Some individuals are born with one less vertebrae, which would be similar to someone who had a single-level fusion."

      Guyer said Woods will rest for several weeks before beginning physical therapy and treatment.

      Woods, 41, attempted a comeback earlier this year after a 17-month absence and it didn't go well.

      He missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January. The following week, he withdrew after the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic due to back spasms.

      Woods held out hope he could play in the Masters in early April but eventually announced he was unable to play.

      The 14-time major champion originally underwent microdiscectomy surgery to remove a fragment that was causing a pinched nerve in the spring of 2014. He later underwent another microdiscectomy surgery in September 2015 and a follow-up procedure the following month.

      Woods said Thursday that well-wishers have raised his spirits during the lengthy ordeal.

      "I would like to thank all the fans for staying in touch and their kind wishes," Woods said. "The support I have received has never waned, and it really helps."

  • Grace grabs early lead at Valero Texas Open
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, April 20, 2017

    SAN ANTONIO -- Branden Grace of South Africa fashioned seven birdies in his first 14 holes and settled for a 6-under-par 66 to establish a one-shot lead on Thursday after the morning wave of the first round of the Valero Texas Open.

    • Will MacKenzie and John Huh were a shot back after 67s in the morning wave played under mostly benign conditions at the TPC San Antonio Oaks Course.

      Ten players -- most notably Brooks Koepka and former U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland -- finished their first rounds with 68s, two off Grace's pace.

      Grace has won 11 times as a professional, including the 2016 RBC Heritage as his only PGA Tour victory. He was 3-under on the front-nine after four birdies and a bogey and racked up three more birdies to sign for a round that included hitting 13 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation.

  • Texans own long history of Texas Open success
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 17, 2017

    The Valero Texas Open is one of five events on the PGA Tour schedule played in Texas, but it is not simply another tournament.

    • The sixth-oldest golf tournament in the world, the Texas Open dates to 1922. It will be played for the 88th time this week at its latest venue, the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.

      "The Texas Open did for professional golf what the railroad did for the cattle business," wrote Frances G. Trimble, a Houston golf writer and historian.

      Not to mention what the state of Texas has done for the game of golf.

      Texas has produced a long line of winners on the PGA Tour, many of them major championships and/or members of the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla.

      The list of Texan golf stars includes Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Lloyd Mangrum, Jimmy Demaret, Don January, John Mahaffey, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Charles Coody, Jack Burke Jr., Ralph Guldahl, Bill Rogers, Lee Elder, Dave Marr, Justin Leonard, Bob Estes, Bart Bryant, Blaine McCallister, Mark Brooks, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed.

      But that is not where the Lone Star State's contributions to the game end.

      LPGA Tour legends Kathy Whitworth, Babe Didrickson Zaharias, Sandra Haynie and Sandra Palmer also are members of the Hall of Fame, and the late Harvey Penick is considered by many to be the greatest golf instructor ever.

      Nelson, Hogan, Trevino, Crenshaw, Mahaffey, Burke, Rogers, Leonard, Estes, Bryant, McCallister and Walker all won the Texas Open at least once.

      Hogan finished second three straight years before finally taking the title in 1946, and three-time Masters champion Demaret finished second three times without winning his state open.

      Arnold Palmer claimed the title in the first three years of the 1960s, and Leonard came along to tie Arnie's tournament record by winning in 2000, 2001 and 2007.

      "You know, it's pretty special," said Leonard, who also captured the 1997 Open Championship at Royal Troon. "When I came back in 2002 to try and win for the third straight time, you know, I remember a lot of the talk was trying to join Arnold Palmer. ... It's great company to be in.

      "Certainly winning (three times) close to home is very special. I get a lot of support out here from UT fans and just being from the State of Texas, and that means a lot to me, and it's nice that I've been able to play well here at times."

      There was a battle of Texans two years ago on the Oaks Course when Walker, a resident of San Antonio, battled it out with Spieth, a former All-American at the University of Texas who lives in Dallas.

      Spieth rallied with four straight birdies down the stretch playing in the final twosome, but Walker held him off with two birdies of his own to win by four strokes.

      "Just to play this well at home in front of everybody, it's amazing," said Walker, who claimed his first major title last August in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol. "I don't know how to describe it. It's cool. It's like what the (San Antonio) Spurs feel like when they win a big game at home. You've got that huge support. And everybody is there for you. And that's kind of how it felt. So it was special.

      "Jordan, wow, he kept firing right at me. And it was actually really fun and it really showed what he was made of, what I was made of. He was grinding all the way to the end, and so did I. And to be able to answer the shots he was hitting, because he was hitting first, and then to make the putts before he could make them, because I knew he was going to make them."

      Unfazed, Spieth -- then 22 -- lost in a playoff the next week in the Shell Houston Open. One week after that, he claimed his first major championship at the Masters.

      Two months later, he captured the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and that August he finished second to Jason Day in the PGA Championship en route to becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

      "None of it would have been possible without tournaments like the Valero giving me sponsor exemptions going back two years (when he was just starting out on the PGA Tour)," said Spieth, who earned his first pro victory in Texas last year at the Dean and DeLuca Invitational in Fort Worth.

      "Ultimately it made a huge difference in my career ... taking advantage of being in the home state of Texas here and riding some support. I wanted to play well in my home state, no doubt about it."

      Reed, another Texan, made a run at the title in San Antonio last year before Charley Hoffman beat him by one stroke with a 9-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

      Expect another Texas-style shootout this week, right down the road from the Alamo.

  • Golf glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 17, 2017


    • PGA TOUR: Valero Texas Open on the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, Thursday through Sunday.

      TV: Thursday and Friday, 3-6:30 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel; Saturday and Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel and 3-6 p.m. EDT on CBS.

      LAST YEAR: Charley Hoffman sank an 9-foot birdie putt on the final hole to beat Patrick Reed and claim his fourth PGA Tour victory. Hoffman started the final round two strokes behind 54-hole leader Ricky Barnes and closed with 3-under-par 69s. Hoffman charged down the stretch with three birdies on the last eight holes to win for the first time since the 2014 OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Reed, who also shot 69, made his lone bogey at No. 7 and had birdies on two of the last four holes only to finish one short. Barnes, the 2002 U.S. Amateur champion who has never won on the PGA Tour, struggled home with a 74 to tie for fourth.

      PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf on the Top of the Rock Course at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Mo., Friday through Sunday.

      TV: Friday, noon-3 p.m. EDT; Saturday and Sunday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. EDT; on the Golf Channel each day.

      LAST YEAR: Michael Allen made an 18-foot birdie putt on the last hole to claim the title along with teammate Woody Austin by one stroke over David Frost of South Africa and Roger Chapman of England. Austin and Allen closed with a 6-under-par 48 in breezy conditions on the par-3 course, with nine holes played in a modified alternate-shot format and nine more of better ball. Frost and Chapman also totaled 48. Austin won for the third time in his last four starts on the PGA Tour Champions, having recently captured the Tucson Conquistadores Classic and the Mitsubishi Electric Classic. Allen claimed his eighth title on the senior circuit.

      LPGA TOUR: Volunteers of America Texas Shootout at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas, April 27-30.

      TV: Thursday and Friday, noon-3 p.m. EDT; Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 p.m. EDT; on the Golf Channel each day.

      LAST YEAR: Jenny Shin of South Korea earned her first victory in her 133rd start on the LPGA Tour, shooting 65-67 on the weekend to win by two strokes over American Gerina Piller and two South Koreans, Amy Yang and M.J. Hur. Shin, who attended high school in Torrance, Calif., and captured the 2006 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, took the lead with birdies on the first three holes, added another at No. 10 and closed with eight straight pars. Piller, the gallery favorite who lives about 20 miles from Las Colinas in Plano, Texas, and was seeking her first LPGA Tour victory, struggled to a final-round 73, while Hur and Yang each posted 71s.

  • Golf notebook: Harrington dishes on Garcia's changed attitude
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 17, 2017

    --Sergio Garcia said all the right things after claiming his first major title in the Masters, including paying tribute to Spanish idols Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.

    • Much was made in the media about the maturing of Garcia, but in an interview on Irish Radio RTE 2fm a few days later, Padraig Harrington reminded everyone what it was like when he beat the Spaniard in a playoff to win the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie.

      "I gave (Garcia) every out I possibly could at the 2007 Open," three-time major winner Harrington said. "I was as polite as I could, and as generous as I could be. But he was a very sore loser, and he continued to be a very sore loser. So clearly after that, we had a very sticky wicket I'd say."

      In the years since, Harrington and Garcia have crossed paths many times, and although they are civil, there is not a warm and fuzzy attitude to the relationship.

      Even as teammates on the Ryder Cup team.

      "We say hello to each other every day we meet, but it's with gritted teeth, there's no doubt about it," Harrington said.

      Despite that, Harrington said he was happy to see Garcia finally break through after being considered perhaps the best player without a major championship.

      And he noted the new attitude.

      "I was delighted to see the emotion on the 18th green," Harrington said. "Anybody watching that has got to feel for him and see, maybe I'm a bit harsh in the fact that I look at it and say: 'Well, everything comes easy to Sergio.' But clearly, it hasn't come easy to him. It really hasn't. And you could see in that moment in time that, you know, he probably paid his dues."

      --Maverick McNealy of Stanford was selected as recipient of the 2017 Byron Nelson Award.

      McNealy, a senior from Portola Valley, Calif., is No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin collegiate rankings and No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He has claimed 11 victories in his college career, tying the Stanford record set by Tiger Woods in 1996 and tied by Patrick Rodgers in 2014.

      As a sophomore, McNealy won six times and was named winner of the Haskins Award.

      "It is an absolute honor to be the recipient of this award, one that carries on Mr. Nelson's legacy," McNealy said. "I am humbled to be thought of as an exemplar of what he stood for, and his example will continue to serve as a great model in golf and life. I look forward to the challenge of representing and upholding the values of this award to the best of my abilities."

      The Byron Nelson Award is awarded annually to a graduating college senior, and the selection committee considers equally a nominee's college academic and golf career, as well as his character and integrity while in college.

      A nominee's citizenship, following the example of namesake Byron Nelson, also is a strong consideration.

      The other four finalists for the Byron Nelson Award were Jared du Toit of Arizona State, Matt Gilchrest of Auburn, Jimmy Stanger of Virginia and Mack Farley of St. John's (Minn.).

      --Commissioner Mike Whan of the LPGA Tour was honored as the sports executive of the year at the sixth annual Cynopsis Sports Media Awards in New York on Thursday.

      Whan, who became the eighth commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association on Jan. 4, 2010, received the prestigious Vision Award during a breakfast function held at the New York Athletic Club.

      "In selecting the honoree, we look at the previous season and examine ratings, new sponsor deals, media partnerships, new initiatives, growth and so on," said Chris Pursell, head of content for Cynopsis Sports. "For us, the LPGA really hit the mark on all of these fronts during the past year."

      During his seven years leading the LPGA Tour, Whan has guided the organization through the end of a global economic downturn and put the LPGA Tour on a solid financial footing with strong business relationships, growing the tournament schedule worldwide, maximizing fan experience and increasing exposure for the LPGA membership.

      Known for his big-picture thinking, marketing skills and willingness to take a calculated risk, Whan has increased the number of LPGA events from 23 to 34 since 2011, while television ratings have steadily risen as the Tour reached more than 400 televised hours in a season for the first time last year.

      LPGA Tour purses increased a total of $4.4 million in 2016, and new tournaments were added for this season in New Zealand, Scotland, Green Bay and Indianapolis.

      Eleven of 30 returning events this year feature increased prize money, and four of the five majors have bigger purses, including a record $5 million up for grabs at the U.S. Women's Open conducted by the USGA.

      The LPGA Tour website is accessed by fans in 235 countries. The tour boasts television partners in 175 countries, with the five major championships this season available to more than 500 million TV households around the world.

      Past winners of the Vision Award include CEO and chairman Brian France of NASCAR in 2014, commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League in 2015 and commissioner Don Garber of Major League Soccer in 2016.

      --The Shark Shootout, hosted by Greg Norman, announced that QBE Insurance Group of Sydney, Australia, will be its new title sponsor and that the tournament will stay in Naples, Fla., at least through its 30th anniversary in 2018.

      QBE is one of the largest insurers in the world, and Norman announced an agreement for the Australia-based company to take over from Franklin Templeton as title sponsor beginning with this year's PGA Tour-sanctioned event.

      The two-player team tournament will be Dec. 6-10 at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples. The event will be known as the QBE Shootout after the company agreed to a multiyear agreement.

      "As one of the world's premier insurance brands, QBE is the perfect partner for this event and we are thrilled to have them as our new title sponsor," Norman said in a release. "The QBE Shootout is the longest running late-season tournament on the tour calendar, and this new agreement assures a 30-year anniversary in 2018, which is sure to be a landmark event."

      Franklin Templeton will remain involved with the Shootout as a sponsor after being title sponsor for 20 of the Shootout's 28 years.

      Harris English and Matt Kuchar won the Shootout last year by one stroke over Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly. It was the second title in three years for English and Kuchar, who are expected to defend their title this December.

      Last year's event featured an LPGA Tour player, Lexi Thompson, for the second time. Annika Sorenstam was the first.

      The 2017 field will consist of 24 professionals paired into 12 two-person teams. The QBE Shootout will have a scramble format for the first round, a modified alternate-shot format on Saturday, and a better-ball format for the final round on Sunday.

      --Golf Channel announced that the iconic Claret Jug, given to the winner of the Open Championship, will be made available for viewing in a coast-to-coast tour of the United States in advance of the 146th Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England, scheduled for July 20-23.

      The tour, in partnership with The R&A, began at Universal Hollywood and will include stops at sporting and cultural events, golf venues and popular locations in more than a dozen cities across the country before concluding at Universal Orlando two weeks before The Open.

      "The Claret Jug is not only one of the most iconic trophies in sports, but it's also had a unique history in traveling the world with the champion golfer of the year," said Regina O'Brien, senior vice president of marketing for Golf Channel. "Given the many celebrations and wonderful memories for past champion golfers of the year associated with the Claret Jug, it's fitting that the tour will include a number of festivals and cultural events for all to admire ahead of The Open in July."

      Fans visiting one of the tour stops will have an opportunity to take photos with the trophy that dates to 1872.

      Attendees also will receive a ball marker branded for the Open Championship which they can engrave with their initials to replicate the traditional engraving process used each year to inscribe the name of the winner of the oldest golf tournament in the world.

      Fans also can have their picture taken in front of a 6-foot, 10-inch replica of the Claret Jug, which will feature the names of all the winners of the Open Championship.

      NBC Sports Group will televise nearly 50 hours of live tournament coverage from Royal Birkdale, where Henrik Stenson of Sweden will defend the title he won last July at Royal Troon.

      --Sergio Garcia became the latest golfer to claim the famed Green Jacket when he won the Masters, but an unidentified golf fan also recently landed one.

      The familiar green blazer, embroidered with Augusta National's famous logo, was purchased for $140,000. The jacket reportedly was discovered by another person in a pile of used clothes in 1994 with a $5 price tag affixed to the sleeve.

      Officials at Augusta National Golf Club confirmed the jacket as authentic, although the club refused to provide further information about its origins.

      Golf memorabilia experts at Green Jacket Auctions believe the jacket dates to the 1950s, but no one knows if it belonged to an Augusta National member or a Masters champion.

      "Perhaps Augusta National knows something about this jacket that they aren't telling us," read the description of the jacket on the auction house's website.

      "Until they do, the mystery of its original owner will continue to be the subject of curiosity and speculation."

      --PGA Tour officials announced the circuit's first official event in South Korea will be the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges, which will be played on Oct. 19-22 at the Club at Nine Bridges on Jeju Island.

      Nine Bridges has hosted the CJ Nine Bridges Classic on the LPGA Tour and the World Club Championship, an amateur competition for the world's top 100 golf club champions.

      It is the only golf course in Korea to be named among the world's top 100 golf clubs.

      "I am very pleased that the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges will host the inaugural event on Jeju at a course that will give a demanding test for some of the world's best golfers," said Jeff Monday, the PGA Tour's senior vice president for Asia tournaments. "In addition to a great tradition of professional golf at Jeju, the area will provide players, their families, tournament fans, sponsors and our staff with beautiful scenery as well as an abundance of activities to enjoy outside the ropes."

      The CJ Group and Nine Bridges signed a 10-year agreement with the PGA Tour.

      --The LPGA Tour announced the opening of entries for the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship, which will be contested July 10-12 on the Pete Dye Course at the French Lick Resort in Indiana.

      A total of 81 professionals will compete in the 54-hole, no-cut event for a total purse of $600,000, with a first-place prize of $90,000. The LPGA Tour announced the championship in December 2016, along with a multiyear deal with Golf Channel for live television coverage.

      "The Legends Tour players can't wait to play for a title on one of Pete Dye's signature courses, where we will be given the true test of golf," Rosie Jones, a 13-time LPGA Tour winner and seven-time Legends Tour winner.

      "I'm sure it will be a fantastic week showcasing LPGA players and current players on the Legends Tour."

      The Senior LPGA Championship is open to female professionals 45 and older as of July 10, 2017, with members of the LPGA Tour and/or World Golf Halls of Fame given first priority to fill the field.

      Next priority will be given to winners of Legends Tour events in the previous three years, including this year, followed by winners of an official LPGA Tour event in the previous 10 years.

      "I'm proud that the LPGA has taken the lead to host the Senior LPGA Championship," said Lorie Kane, a four-time LPGA Legends Tour winner and Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member. "We're heading into a new chapter for senior women's golf."

      The Legends Tour, senior tour of the LPGA, has a long relationship with French Lick Resort and the Pete Dye Course. From 2013-16, the course hosted the Legends Championship, with Trish Johnson (2016), Juli Inkster (2015), Laurie Rinker (2014) and Kane (2013) winning those tournaments.

  • DeLaet, Donald share second-round Heritage lead
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 14, 2017

    Canadian Graham DeLaet eagled the par-4 ninth hole and shot a 4-under 67 on Friday to claim a share of the second-round lead with former World No. 1 Luke Donald at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

    • DeLaet finds himself with a first-place stake after 36 holes for the first time in his career. The 35-year-old Saskatchewan native missed four cuts this season and still is searching for his first PGA Tour victory.

      DeLaet was 1-over through seven holes at Harbour Town Golf Links but got back to even-par at the eighth with a birdie. He continued his good fortune by holing a 109-yard wedge shot on the par-4 ninth for eagle and added birdies at Nos. 11 and 12.

      The Englishman Donald chipped in on the 18th hole for his fifth birdie to finish with a 67 and remain even with DeLaet at 10-under-132.

      Donald, who had three consecutive birdies on the front nine, is vying for his first PGA Tour title since 2012. The 39-year-old has been a runner-up on four occasions at this tournament.

      The last time Donald held or shared the lead after two rounds was at the 2011 RBC Heritage, where he fell in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker.

      Donald and DeLaet remained two strokes ahead of Englishman Ian Poulter and Webb Simpson, who each carded 68s on Friday.

      Poulter recorded five birdies against two bogeys on Friday while Simpson collected nine consecutive pars on the back nine to remain in contention. Simpson, who is a North Carolina native, was a runner-up at this tournament in 2013 after falling in a playoff to Graeme McDowell.

      First-round leader Bud Cauley followed up his 63 with a 72 on Friday to find himself in a five-day tie for fifth place with fellow Americans Pat Perez, Jason Dufner and Sam Saunders as well as Canadian Nick Taylor.

      Cauley missed the cut in two of his previous three appearances at the RBC Heritage and has never finished better than third on the PGA Tour.

      Taylor, who celebrated his 29th birthday on Friday, posted a 5-under 66 to remain in contention as he bids for his second career Tour victory.

      South African and reigning champion Branden Grace, who went on to win after posting a first-round lead in 2016, is tied for 32nd after shooting a 71 on Friday. He resides at even par for the tournament.

      Former Masters champion Danny Willett missed his second straight cut after he recorded two double bogeys and finished with a 78 on Friday, leaving him 7-over for the tournament.

  • Injured Johnson set to return in May
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, April 13, 2017

    Dustin Johnson, the world's No. 1-ranked golfer who missed the Masters because of a back injury, will return to action at the Wells Fargo Championship in Wilmington, N.C., May 4-7.

    • Tournament officials confirmed Johnson's entry on Thursday.

      "We certainly are excited that Dustin will be joining us in Wilmington in a few weeks," said Wells Fargo Championship tournament director Kym Hougham in a press release. "More importantly, we are glad that he is OK and will be returning to the PGA Tour."

      Johnson, 32, injured his back in a fall down a staircase just before the start of the Masters. He warmed up at Augusta prior to the opening round, but decided he could not play.

      Johnson had been among the favorites to win the Masters after winning three straight tournaments.

      After withdrawing from the Masters Johnson said he planned to take three weeks off.

      He has been treating his back with rest as well as riding an exercise bike and performing range-of-motion exercises.

  • Golf notebook: Alliss criticized again for comments about women
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 10, 2017

    Popular but sometimes controversial golf commentator Peter Alliss of England has once more raised eyebrows with his comments about women.

    • The 86-year-old Alliss, who won 28 times as a pro before turning to broadcasting, has become a respected voice of golf in Great Britain since the 1960s despite sometimes putting his foot in his mouth.

      In a recent interview with Newsweek, Alliss said: "I think women are more delicate than men. I like holding chairs for women. I enjoy the company of women. I don't want to be bullied by them. I don't care for macho women, I don't care for them very much. And yet they're prevalent today, and very prevalent in some cases. And very forward."

      So far, the response has pretty much been that it simply was Alliss being Alliss.

      In 2015, the BBC was forced to apologize for comments that Alliss made on the air about Paul Dunne when the Irish golfer was being hugged by his mother after finishing his round.

      "Ah, that must be Mum," Alliss said. " (Or) perhaps he likes older women. I don't know, but I hope I got the right one."

      When Zach Johnson captured the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews, the camera zoomed in on his wife, Kim, as Johnson lined up what proved to be the winning putt.

      "She is probably thinking, 'If this goes in I get a new kitchen,'" Alliss said.

      Of course, Alliss hasn't gotten into as much hot water as fellow British commentator Ben Wright, who once said on the air that, "Women golfers have trouble swinging a golf club because their breasts get in the way."

      Wright was exiled for a while over that one.

      --Rory McIlroy was raised Roman Catholic in Holywood, Northern Ireland, so he knows about politics and social issues.

      McIlroy said he probably never will play golf in the Olympic Games because Northern Ireland does not have a team, so he must decide between Ireland or Great Britain since his country is under the British Crown.

      Every time he has indicated he might play for one or the other, he has heard backlash from the other side, so he figures it's simply not worth it.

      McIlroy spoke out again a few weeks ago when the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers voted to accept women members for the first time so it could get Muirfield Golf Club back into the rotation for the Open Championship.

      When asked about it, McIlroy basically wondered why it took them so long to accept women as equals.

      That led to him being asked before the Masters about how he could accept an invitation to play golf with U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida, given some of Trump's statements about women.

      McIlroy already had gotten plenty of negative feedback for the golf outing on social media and it has put him on his heels.

      "Would I do it again?" he said of his decision to play with President Trump. "After the sort of backlash I received, I'd think twice about it. ... I've spent time in President Trump's company before, and that does not mean that I agree with everything that he says. Actually, the opposite."

      McIlroy said he accepted the invitation out of respect for the office of the President.

      He is a visitor in this country, after all.

      "Whenever an invitation or a request comes my way, I don't want to say I jump at the chance, but at the same time, you know, to see the Secret Service, to see the scene, I mean, that's really what I was going for," he explained. "I mean, there was not one bit of politics discussed in that round of golf. He was more interested talking about the grass that he just put on the greens.

      "But, yeah, look, it's a difficult one. I felt I would have been making more of a statement if I had turned it down. It's not a tough place to be put in, but it was a round of golf and nothing more."

      McIlroy always has been open and honest with the media and hopefully that will not change.

      --Jimmy Walker's play has been inconsistent since he claimed his first major title last year in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.

      Walker, a late budding star who has claimed all six of his PGA Tour victories since turning 35 in 2013, told reporters he felt fatigued and didn't understand why until he was diagnosed recently with mononucleosis.

      "I haven't passed it on to the kids or to (wife) Erin, so that's good," Walker said. "I've just felt so bad all year. I've had glucose testing, Lyme disease testing and we finally got it figured out."

      Walker said he began experiencing flu-like symptoms at Thanksgiving and he has finished in the top 10 only once in 12 PGA Tour events this season, missing the cut three times and finishing 77th and dead last in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.

      He closed with a 72 and tied for 18th in the Masters.

      "I've just been totally lethargic," said Walker, who slipped from inside the top 10 to No. 24 in the Official World Golf Rankings last week. "I've had no energy. I get to the golf course and I just want to sit down. I was not about to say anything. I just kept plugging along."

      Walker, who told only his family, caddie Andy Sanders, swing coach Butch Harmon and his psychologist what the problem is, said the only remedy is rest, "And I don't have time for that."

      The only time he broke par in the final round this year came when he shot 2-under 69 to tie for 11th in the Genesis Open at Riviera.

      --When Lexi Thompson was assessed two two-stroke penalties that virtually cost her the ANA Inspiration, the first LPGA Tour major of the year, the outcry from fans phoning or faxing in to point out violations in pro golf tournaments hit an all-time high.

      Commissioner Mike Whan of the LPGA Tour didn't say much at the time, but in an interview a few days later he admitted it was a black eye for the game and his organization.

      "It's frustrating," Whan told Matt Adams on the Fairways of Life show on Sirius XM PGA Tour radio. "It's embarrassing. It's one of those situations where the penalty does not match the crime."

      Thompson was penalized for a violation that took place on the 17th green at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., but the fan didn't contact the LPGA Tour until Sunday.

      The penalties were assessed as Thompson walked off the 12th green in the final round. The four strokes erased her two-stroke lead and she eventually lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu of South Korea.

      "I think it's a fair critique and a fair criticism whether or not somebody can point something out that causes us to review it, and whether or not we should do that a day later," Whan said. "But that's not an LPGA thing. That is pretty much an every major tour thing.

      "I feel bad about it, but I'm not going to abort the Rules of Golf in the middle of a round. I'm not going to overrule something that is correctly ruled. It doesn't mean we have to love that ruling and the penalty that goes with it."

      Whan said a review of how similar incidents should be handled in the future is underway, but would not elaborate.

      It's been pointed out that this would not have happened at the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Wimbledon, World Cup soccer, the Olympic Games or any other major sports events.

      Golf is embarrassed and it should be, so perhaps change is coming.

      --Three Californians captured their divisions in the fourth annual Drive, Chip & Putt Championship National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club before the Masters.

      Carter Caede of Manhattan Beach, Calif., captured the Boys 7-9 Division, Liam Hartling of Redlands, Calif., took the Boys 10-11 Division and Lucy Yuan of San Diego, Calif., finished first in the Girls 10-11 Division, helped by a 215-yard drive.

      In addition, Kristina Xu of Claremont, Calif., was second in the Girls 7-9 Division.

      "Coming to Augusta is really cool, but winning is better," said Yuan, who also owns a U.S. Kids World Championships title and was nervous playing at Augusta, but knew how to handle it. " ... Don't think too much and just have fun."

      While a few of the performers made repeat appearances, the newcomers said they were motivated by watching it on TV the last few years.

      What golfer doesn't want to play at Augusta?

      "We watched it and heard anybody could sign up, and I was like, 'Count me in,'" Hartling said. "It's just the greatest day of golf for me in my life."

      Other winners were Mason Quagliata of Scottsdale, Ariz., in the Boys 14-15 Division, Savannah Grewel of Canada in the Girls 14-15 Division, Zachary Colon of Bolton, Mass., who beat Clinton Daly of Charlotte, N.C., in a playoff in the Boys 12-13 Division, Alex Pano of Lake Worth, Fla., in the Girls 12-13 Division, and Maye Huang of Katy, Texas, in the Girls 7-9 Division.

  • Golf Glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 10, 2017

    PGA TOUR: RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Thursday through Sunday.

    • TV: Thursday and Friday, 3-6 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel, both days; Saturday and Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel and 3-6 p.m. EDT on CBS, both days.

      LAST YEAR: Branden Grace of South Africa came from three strokes behind in the final round with a 5-under-par 66 to beat Luke Donald of England and Russell Knox of Scotland by two strokes and claim his first PGA Tour victory. Grace, who has won 10 times as a professional, took the lead with birdies on four of the first six holes and solidified his position with two more on the 12th and 13th holes. Donald, who has 16 pro victories but none since 2012, closed with a 71 and finished second for the fourth time at Harbour Town, where he also has been third twice in the last eight years. Knox collected four birdies on the front nine but only one more coming home in a 67.

      PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: Mitsubishi Electric Classic at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga., Friday through Sunday.

      TV: Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. EDT; Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

      LAST YEAR: Woody Austin earned the second of this three victories on the senior circuit in 2016 with a par on the second playoff hole, where Wes Short Jr. could not recover from hitting his tee shot into the trees after both made par on the first extra hole. Austin, who won four times on the PGA Tour, forced the playoff by shooting 8-under-par 64 in the final round to tie the course record set by Bernhard Langer of Germany and Olin Browne Jr., both in 2015. Austin's three straight birdies through No. 17 caught Short, the 36-hole leader, who made his only bogey at No. 9 in a final-round 68, but it proved to be the difference in the end.

      LPGA TOUR: Lotte Championship at Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii, Wednesday through Saturday.

      TV: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 7-11 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

      LAST YEAR: Minjee Lee of Australia came from five strokes down in the final round, shooting 8-under-par 64 to capture the second of her three LPGA Tour victories by one stroke over Katie Burnett and In Gee Chun of South Korea. Lee chipped in from 35 feet for an eagle on the 13th hole and followed with two straight birdies to tie Burnett for the lead. Then she went ahead with an 11-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole and held on with a six-foot par putt on the last hole. Lee, then 19, added the Blue Bay LPGA title later in the year to join Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Marlene Hagge and Sandra Haynie as the only players with multiple victories before the age of 20 in LPGA Tour history. Burnett, the third-round leader who was seeking her first pro victory, shot 70, while Chun wound up at 67.

  • Cink credits wife for rekindling competitive fire on Tour
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 10, 2017

    The RBC Heritage provides PGA Tour players and their family a relaxing and fun, yet competitive week on the shores of Calibogue Sound at Hilton Head Island, S.C., right after the Masters.

    • It's even more special for two-time Heritage winner Stewart Cink this week.

      Cink's wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, which caused him to virtually drop off the circuit when she began nine rounds of chemotherapy that continued until October.

      With Lisa able to travel to tournaments again, Cink has played 13 times since the start of the 2016-17 season.

      "It's just good to have her out here," said Cink, who has won six times on the PGA Tour, including the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, where he beat Tom Watson in a playoff.

      "Any guy is going say it's nice to have their wife or girlfriend out, they're traveling with them. Little bit special to have Lisa out. I'm glad she's here."

      The 43-year-old Cink admittedly had fallen into a bit of a mid-career malaise, as his only major title was the last time he won, and he wasn't even contending very often.

      He credits Lisa with rekindling his competitive fire.

      "She's just inspired me to fight harder," said Cink, who missed the Masters for the second straight year but didn't let it bother him. "I've played out here now for 21 years, this is my 21st. I got a little bit complacent. I didn't know I was getting complacent. When I saw Lisa fight through, when I've seen her fighting through, you know, I just felt like why can't I also fight a little bit more and dig a little deeper.

      "So just inspired me to do what it takes, and I don't really think I was quite doing what it took, although I thought I was. I had to really do some soul-searching myself, and I found that I could do a little bit more. And so I've just kind of made golf a little bit more fun. I've made it more fun because I'm working hard, in a way I'm really pursuing it in a different way than I was before. She's inspired me in that way. ...

      "I've had some good tournaments. I feel good about just having a good attitude out there and having fun. Sometimes it all adds up to 6-under. Sometimes it adds up to even."

      Even though Cink has finished in the top 10 only once this season, when he tied for 10th in the RSM Classic after opening with a career-best 8-under-par 62 in October right after Lisa got a favorable report from doctors, he has missed the cut only twice in those 13 tournaments and finished in the top 30 on nine occasions, including five in a row.

      Nothing really to write home about, but he's got a different perspective.

      "I've played decently solid over the last month or two and it really extended back even to maybe like the last six months," said Cink, who started well in the Shell Houston Open in his most recent start, but played the weekend in 73-73 to tie for 23rd. "I've had some good tournaments.

      "Being out here inside the ropes is sort of like my -- almost like an escape, even though I also take time away from the game. Doesn't really make sense, does it? Getting into the rhythm of a round and computing yardages and figuring out shots and executing, and starting all that over again is kind of an escape route for me.

      "It is for (Lisa), too, a little bit. She has her own way of dealing with the rounds. It's a different kind of compartmentalization. ... It doesn't matter, the 76s or the 66s feel kind of the same and that's what I'm after."

      Said Brandt Snedeker: "I don't think any guy out here is not rooting for Stewart. We all want to see him do well, and, hopefully, see Lisa hug him on the 18th green when he wins again. That would be a special moment."

      Cink is playing in the tournament on Harbour Town Golf Links for the 18th time, and he claimed the title in 2000 and 2004, and has three other top-10 finishes in the tournament.

      In 2002, Cink beat Tom Lehman by two strokes when he closed with a 7-under-par 64,and four years later he turned back Ted Purdy with a six-foot birdie on the fifth playoff hole after coming from nine shots back with a 64.

      "It's quite special," Cink said of Harbour Town. "It's always one of my favorites, if not my very favorite tournament of the year. It's such a relaxed field. The golf course is really unique and special. It's like the anti-Augusta, flat, everything is very small and closed in, whereas Augusta is so large and rolling hills.

      "When you come here the intensity just seems to melt away and enables you to really relax and be at your best. That's the way I see it. It means different things to different people. In my case I think I like the relaxation of it.

      "This is a tournament that has got great visibility on television. The lighthouse, the 18th hole are some of the most well-known and famous holes that you see anywhere. And it looks great on TV. The players all love it. They rave about it. It's a really good fit. It's been here a long time.

      " ... It's a beautiful place."

      And the Cinks can appreciate it even more than ever this week.

  • World No. 1 Johnson withdraws from Masters
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, April 6, 2017

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson was forced to withdraw from the Masters on Thursday after he sustained a lower back injury on Wednesday, eliminating one of the event's top storylines even before the first round was complete.

    • Johnson said he suffered a fall down a short flight of stairs on Wednesday afternoon at the home in which he was staying in Augusta, Ga., the site of the famed tournament that's the first of golf's four major events each season.

      He had just returned to the house after a practice session at Augusta National and a trip to the gym and was headed outside wearing socks, but no shoes, to move his car when he slipped and landed on his elbow and lower back.

      Johnson said he did everything he could to get ready to play but just couldn't swing a club more than 70 percent; even then, he still had pain.

      "Last night, it was ice, heat, ice -- I was up pretty much all night trying to get it ready for today," Johnson said. "I had it worked on all morning. Obviously, I can make some swings. But I can't make my normal swing."

      Johnson arrived at Augusta National Golf Club about two hours in advance of his tee time on Thursday afternoon and tried to warm up enough to play, He took some half and three-quarter swings on the extensive practice range and then headed back inside the clubhouse to receive additional treatment.

      He returned to the range for a few swings of his longer irons and driver and even headed toward the first tee, where he was scheduled to play with former two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and reigning PGA titleholder Jimmy Walker.

      "It didn't hurt on the backswing, it was through impact -- I just felt like I couldn't compete," Johnson told ESPN in a televised interview. "My heart was in it. I want to play. The more I thought about it the more I thought I wasn't going to have any chance."

      For Johnson, who had won his past three tournaments and seven of the past 17 events he has played in since winning the U.S. Open last June, the decision was difficult to make.

      "It's unbelievably difficult -- this is one of my favorite tournaments and I feel like I'm playing the best golf of my career right now," Johnson said. "It sucks, really bad. I wanted to play but I couldn't compete like this.

      "The worst part about it is that I feel like in two days I'm going to be fine, but right this second I can't swing."

  • Ailing Johnson withdraws from Masters
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, April 6, 2017

    World No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson withdrew from the Masters at the first tee on Thursday after testing his injured back on the practice tee and apparently deciding he couldn't make it through the round.

    • Johnson, who is the reigning U.S. Open champion, was scheduled to tee off at 2:03 p.m. ET. He arrived at the hole and informed officials that he was withdrawing from the tournament.

      "This is one of my favorite tournaments of the year," Johnson said in a television interview after withdrawing. "I feel like I'm playing the best golf of my career right now.

      "For me to pull out, it sucks really bad. I'm very sad that I have to do it but it's just a freak accident. I wanted to try and play but I'm not going to be able to compete like this."

      Johnson began hitting shots off the practice tee around an hour before his starting time. He began by softly hitting irons to see how the back felt before taking a more aggressive approach.

      Johnson's trainer earlier told Golf Digest that he was making progress, one day removed from injuring his lower back while falling down stairs.

      "We got him to the point where he got mobility," Joey Diovisalvi told Golf Digest on Thursday morning. "He was up and moving around and definitely going in the right direction. He was very much in an under-control point going to bed last night.

      "He was walking around, a lot more mobility, took a couple of practice swings slowly without a club."

  • Nicklaus, Player open 81st Masters without Palmer
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, April 6, 2017

    Arnold Palmer's green jacket adorned a white lawn chair nearby as teary-eyed friends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit ceremonial tee shots to open the 81st Masters on Thursday.

    • "This is a wonderful and difficult day,'' said Masters chairman Billy Payne. "Arnold Palmer was more than a king. He was my friend. He was your friend.''

      Palmer died in September and Nicklaus spoke at memorial services. He said Tuesday, "life goes on, but it's not the same."

      Nicklaus and Player wiped tears during a moment of silence before they approached the tee box for the traditional tournament-opening shots without Palmer for the first time since 2007. Nicklaus joined Palmer for the ceremony in 2010 and Player in 2012.

      "The Masters did make Arnold in many ways because of his wins in '58, '60, '62 and '64. But in another way Arnold made the Masters," Nicklaus said. "I think Arnold put the Masters on the map. They were very good for each other."

      Combined, the legendary trio won 13 Masters.

      Honorary starters were first used at Augusta National in 1963.

      This is the first Masters Tournament without Palmer since 1954.

      Palmer's widow, Kit, was present along with many golfers in the tournament field.

  • The Masters is golf world's rite of spring
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, April 5, 2017

    There nothing that depicts winter turning to spring for sports fans more than the playing of The Masters.

    • It is at Augusta National Golf Club where the change in seasons melds with the professional golf calendar, the pursuit of major championships and with the privilege and fame that goes with winning one of the game's most important events.

      Ninety-four invited golfers will tee it up on Thursday for a shot at golf immortality. Win here, you become a member of one of the world's most exclusive golf clubs and can come back and play in this tournament as long as you like.

      The total purse here is $10 million, with $1.8 million going to the winner. But those that capture a victory here amongst the Georgia pines can expect that payout to be much more though the years -- and nothing holds the clout in the world of golf than donning the tournament's famed green jacket.

      World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, 2015 winner Jordan Spieth, Australia's driven, powerful and passionate Jason Day and Northern Ireland's four-time major winner Rory McIlroy head the field that includes the top 50 players in the world.

      Among those golfers is 2016 champion Danny Willett of England, who outlasted the field when Spieth -- who had a five-shot lead as he began play on the back-nine in the final round -- dropped six strokes in three holes.

      "Obviously being back anywhere and defending champion is pretty special," Willett said. "And to be able to drive down Magnolia Lane with a green jacket in the car and to come back and to be announced on the tee as the defending champion ... words can't really quite describe the feeling."

      Willett said the key to winning at Augusta National is finding the correct place to miss shots.

      "The more and more you play here, you realize certain areas where you can't go," Willett said. "You're not going to have to hit perfect golf shots, but you're going to have to leave it where you can get up and down or where you can 2 -putt from wherever that may be."

      Johnson might not get a chance to join the green jacket club after injuring his lower back following a fall on a staircase, his agent said.

      "At roughly 3:00 p.m. (Wednesday), Dustin took a serious fall on a staircase in his Augusta rental home," his agent David Winkle of Hambric Sports said in a statement, per Golf Digest. "He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably. He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hope of being able to play (Thursday)."

      Spieth has finished tied for second, first and tied for second in the past three years at The Masters.

      "I like the golf course specifically. I like the elevation changes, the sidehill lies, the pull to Rae's Creek, the way it affects putts," Spieth said. "It's imaginative golf. It's feel golf and I really enjoy that; when I can go away from technicality and toward feel, it's an advantage for me personally, compared to how I play other places.

      "Even more, I really love the tournament," he added. "It's pure golf. "When we get to the driving range, it's just us. It's myself, my caddie, my coach. You can just get out there and get done what you want to get done.

      Spieth said he has shrugged off last year's disappointment and expects to play well and contend this week.

      "I'm excited about the opportunity ahead, which is now I can go back and really tear this golf course up," Spieth said. "I've got the opportunity now to go back and really create more great memories on the back nine of Augusta, which we've had in the past on Sunday. And if it happens this year, fantastic. I will do all I can to see all the positives and to grind it out like we did in 2015. And if it doesn't happen this year, then I'll be ready the next year to do it."

  • Dustin Johnson questionable for Masters after fall
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, April 5, 2017

    Dustin Johnson's availability for The Masters is in jeopardy after the World's No. 1 golfer injured his lower back following a fall on a staircase, his agent said.

    • "At roughly 3:00 p.m. today, Dustin took a serious fall on a staircase in his Augusta rental home," his agent David Winkle of Hambric Sports said in a statement, per Golf Digest. "He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably. He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hope of being able to play tomorrow."

      Johnson, who is the reigning U.S. Open champion, won his last three starts and is considered one of the favorites to win at Augusta National Golf Course.

      He is scheduled to tee off at 2:03 p.m. ET, the last tee time of the day.

      Johnson is no stranger to freak accidents as he withdrew from The Masters in 2012 after his agent said he injured his back lifting a jet-ski.

  • Day seeking Masters win after mother's health scare
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 4, 2017

    Jason Day won his first major at Whistling Straits in 2015, beating No. 1 Jordan Spieth to claim it, but returning to golf under emotional circumstances would make winning the 2017 Masters a dream scenario.

    • "This is my favorite week of the year," Day said Tuesday morning. "To be able to do it this year would be great. Even if I don't win it will be nice to have my mom here. She's never been here. Hopefully she's healthy enough to fly down here. With that said, I can't get too far ahead of myself. ... Sunday is very long way away."

      Day's mother, Adenil, had about 25 percent of her left lung removed in a five-hour surgery on March 24 as part of cancer treatment last month, when Day took a hiatus to be by her side. She was told before the surgery her life expectancy was around 12 months. Day said his mother, who is 4-foot-11, is so stubborn she went three months coughing up blood before telling anyone.

      "Golf was the last thing on my mind," Day said. "Golfers as a whole are very, very selfish, we're very selfish in our ways. We have to be selfish with our time to get better at our craft. Sometimes with family, family has to overcome anything else. ... When you sit here and think about 'OK, I don't have a dad and I don't have grandparents. My mom has cancer and if she goes I've got no one other than my two sisters.' You just forget that maybe you should've spent a little more time with your family. Spending more time with them and enjoy them. It was emotional. But everyone is blessed and happy."

      The outlook is much brighter after surgery, but Day said he feels lighter and refreshed knowing "the hard stuff is behind us."

      Emotional and sparkly-eyed upon his arrival at Augusta National for the 2017 Masters, Day was uncertain if his mom would be in Georgia this week. She's not able to walk long distances and flying could be considered a risk.

      After six holes at the WGC-Match Play event, Day withdrew because he said he felt "selfish being there playing. I want to be with my mom and making sure the surgery went well."

      Day said he "needed to make sure mom was OK" before he finalized plans to fly to play in the Masters, where he has only one sub-70 round in 14 attempts.

      The Australian has finished in the top four in eight of 25 career majors.

      But Day said he arrives at Augusta feeling like he already won. His mother's health was a primary concern, but when she learned Monday there would be no chemotherapy treatment required, Day knew he was good to go back to golf. It didn't hurt that he received hundreds of thousands of messages via social media, email and phone calls.

      "If we could have more people like that, the world will be in a better place," Day said of his many supportive fans.

      "From peers to sponsors to fans, text messages and emails I got and my agent got ... it meant a lot. To be able to have people reach out to me and my team about the current situation we were going to was special to us. It meant a lot to us. Cancer affects so many people. It's a very painful thing to go through and watch someone -- you don't expect to go through it. We're very, very pleased to be able to get through this stage and hopefully she can live a long while."

  • Spieth ready to bury 2016 Masters meltdown
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 3, 2017

    Jordan Spieth can't wait for this week's Masters -- to be over, that is.

    • Spieth, who melted down in his title defense last year by squandering a five-stroke lead on the back nine at Augusta National in the final round, is weary of having to talk about it.

      "No matter what happens at this year's Masters, whether I can grab the jacket or I miss the cut or I finish 30th, it will be nice having the Masters go by," said Spieth, who has dropped from No. 1 to No. 6 in the world since that nightmare of a Sunday afternoon.

      "The Masters lives on for a year. It brings a non-golf audience into golf. And it will be nice once this year's finished from my point of view, to be brutally honest with you."

      Spieth was so dominant in 2015, winning five times on the PGA Tour, that even claiming four titles since has somehow made it appear that he was struggling, but there is no question that the 2016 Masters is on his mind.

      In December, he returned to the scene of the crime -- specifically the par-3, 155-yard 12th hole at Augusta National -- where he deposited two balls into Rae's Creek while taking a quadruple-bogey 7 in the fourth round last year.

      "First time back," Spieth told reporters later. "I was very nervous when I got on 12 tee, and I hit an 8-iron over the bunker to about 15 feet and made the putt. ...

      "I went back the next day. We played it the next morning and I hit a 9-iron this time to a left pin, and it landed about 3 feet beyond the hole and it was really, really soft, and it sucked back and almost went in, right on the lip. So I got two 2s out of No. 12 the first time back. Last two times I played the hole, I made birdie."

      What that will mean when Spieth arrives there on Thursday with the pressure of the first major of the year, or on Sunday if he again is in the chase, remains to be seen.

      "As far as just having all the questions done, I'm pretty sure they will be," Spieth said of dealing with the media on the issue.

      Don't be so sure, Rory McIlroy said.

      McIlroy held a four-stroke lead heading to the final round of the 2011 Masters before playing himself out of the picture by shooting 80.

      And he has yet to hear the end of it.

      "It's not as if it's going to be the last year he gets questions about it," McIlroy said. "That might be the way he's approaching it. But if he doesn't banish those demons or win this year, the questions will always still be there.

      "I still get questioned about the back nine at Augusta in 2011. It's just something you have to deal with. It's something that happened. It's not going to go away. It's there, and it always will be."

      McIlroy bounced back to win the first of his four major titles two months later in the U.S. Open, a resounding eight-stroke victory at Congressional, and this week at Augusta he will make his third bid to complete the career Grand Slam after finishing fourth and tying for 10th in the Masters the past two years.

      So two of the best young players in the world have their demons to overcome in the Masters, but McIlroy pointed out that there is a difference.

      "He can console himself by opening up his wardrobe and seeing (a Green Jacket) hanging there," McIlroy said.

      Even though Spieth, 23, can't shake the questions about those two shots in the middle of Amen Corner that never had a prayer, he has a strong track record at Augusta National.

      Spieth has tied for second, claimed the first of his two major victories and tied for second in his three Masters appearances. The course seems to be made for him.

      "It would be best if I could reclaim the jacket," said Spieth, who followed his Masters victory two years ago by capturing the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay two months later.

      "But I believe that I'll be back up there sooner or later, just the way that we play the golf course, the success we've had and the comfort level I have there. Whether it happens this year or not, it will just be nice because that tournament, it's a 365-day thing. There's no other Masters."

  • Golf glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 3, 2017


    • PGA TOUR: The 81st Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Thursday through Sunday.

      TV: Thursday and Friday, 3-7:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN; Saturday, 3-7 p.m. EDT, and Sunday, 2-7 p.m. EDT, on CBS both days.

      LAST YEAR: Danny Willett of England took advantage of Jordan Spieth's back-nine collapse in the final round by closing with a bogey-free, 5-under-par 67 to claim his first major title by three strokes over Spieth and Lee Westwood, also of England. Spieth, the defending champion, held a five-stroke lead after making birdies on the last four holes of the front nine. However, he started the back nine with two bogeys, and on the par-3 12th hole at what is known as Amen Corner, he hit two shots into Rae's Creek to card a quadruple-bogey 7 en route to a 73. Willett, who made birdies on the 13th and 14th holes, was stunned to learn on the 15th hole that he was in the lead, and he added a birdie on the 16th hole. Westwood, who has finished in the top 10 in 18 majors without winning, got close with an eagle on the 15th hole, but he followed with a bogey and closed with a 69.

      PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: Mitsubishi Electric Classic at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga., April 14-16.

      TV: Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. EDT; Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 p.m. EDT; on the Golf Channel each day.

      LAST YEAR: Woody Austin earned the second of this three victories on the senior circuit in 2016 with a par on the second playoff hole, where Wes Short Jr. could not recover after hitting his tee shot into the trees after both made par on the first extra hole. Austin, who won four times on the PGA Tour, forced the playoff by shooting 8-under-par 64 in the final round to tie the course record set by Bernhard Langer of Germany and Olin Browne, both in 2015. Austin's three straight birdies through No. 17 caught Short, the 36-hole leader, who made his only bogey at No. 9 in a final-round 68, but it proved to be the difference in the end.

      LPGA TOUR: Lotte Championship at Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii, April 12-15.

      TV: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 7-11 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

      LAST YEAR: Minjee Lee of Australia came from five strokes down in the final round, shooting an 8-under-par 64 to capture the second of her three LPGA Tour victories by one stroke over Katie Burnett and In Gee Chun of South Korea. Lee chipped in from 35 feet for an eagle on the 13th hole and followed with two consecutive birdies to tie Burnett for the lead. Then she took the lead with an 11-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole and held on with a 6-foot par putt on the last hole. Lee, who added the Blue Bay LPGA title later in the year for her third victory on the circuit, joined Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Marlene Hagge and Sandra Haynie as the only players with multiple victories in LPGA Tour history before the age of 20. Burnett, the third-round leader who was seeking her first pro victory, shot 70, while Chun wound up at 67.

  • Golf notebook: Day uncertain if he will play Masters
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 3, 2017

    --Jason Day showed up at Augusta National late last week to begin on-site preparation for the Masters, but he said is not yet certain he will play.

    • Day, an Australian who is ranked third in the world, said his chances to tee it up in the first major of the season depend on his mother's progress following recent cancer surgery.

      "Obviously, I'm still nervous because we're still waiting to see ... if it has spread or not," said Day, who withdrew during his first-round match in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago because he could not concentrate with his mother's surgery looming.

      "From there, we have to kind of come up with a game plan whether to go chemo, a form of chemo radiation or something else. It's still kind of a bit of an emotional time for me.

      "Obviously, I've been hanging out with my mom a bit and seeing her, and she's recovering well. She's a tough lady, but it's hard because I look at her and she's on the painkillers and all that stuff, what she needs to do to recover. ... But I can't help but think of my dad when I see her in that situation."

      Day's father, Alvin, died of cancer when Jason was 12 years old.

      Day moved his mother, Dening, from Australia to his home in Ohio earlier this year after the cancer was discovered in one of her lungs, and the prognosis was terminal. However, doctors in Columbus said there was hope if they could remove the tumor.

      Doctors said the surgery was successful, and they were awaiting tests to see if the cancer spread.

      "My mom told me not to worry about it," Day said. "It's hard to do that. It's easy to say ... but it's really, really difficult. So currently I'm scheduled to play Augusta, but if things don't come back the way we want them, I don't know what's going to happen."

      Day said he hadn't touched a golf club before going to Augusta last week.

      --Lucy Li of Redwood Shores, Calif., became the youngest player in pro golf history to qualify for a major when she earned a spot in the 2014 U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2 when she was 11 years old.

      She was at it again last week.

      Li, now 14, carded a score of 72-69-72--213, 3 under par, to win the American Junior Golf Association's ANA Junior Inspiration by four strokes over three players on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

      That earned Li, who collected 10 birdies in 54 holes, a spot in the ANA Inspiration, the first LPGA Tour major of the season, last week at Mission Hills.

      "I just want to have fun ... and enjoy it and learn," said Li, who captured the 2016 Junior PGA Championship. "I bet it's going to be really similar and really different. I'm just really excited."

      Playing alongside Michelle Wie in the first two rounds of the ANA Inspiration, Li made the cut by two strokes with scores of 71-74--145. She shot 78-72 on the weekend to tie for 70th.

      At Pinehurst, Li shot 78-78--156 and missed the cut, still pretty remarkable for a sixth-grader playing against the best women golfers in the world.

      In the Mission Hills Junior qualifier, Paphangkorn Tavatanakit of Van Nuys, Calif., shot 76-73-68--217 to tie for second with Rachel Heck of Memphis, Tenn., who totaled 73-75-69--217, and Emilia Migliaccio of Cary, N.C., who wound up at 70-75-72--217.

      Li also qualified in recent years for the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship and captured her age division in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt finals at Augusta National Golf Club before the Masters.

      --Gary Woodland withdrew after his first match in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago because of what he called "a family matter."

      Woodland later reported on Twitter that he and his wife Gabby, who was pregnant with twins, are grieving the loss of one of the unborn children following complications.

      "Gabby and I have since had to cope with the heartbreaking loss of one of the babies, and our doctors will be closely monitoring the health of my wife and the other baby for the remainder of the pregnancy," Woodland wrote. "We appreciate all of the love and support during the difficult time as we regroup as a family."

      The 32-year-old Woodland, who has won twice on the PGA Tour, said he plans to play in the Masters this week.

      --Phil Mickelson apparently will not be called to testify in the insider-trading case involving gambler Billy Walters because Lefty would invoke the Fifth Amendment and not answer questions, according to reports.

      Bloomberg reported that Mickelson would make use of his rights under the amendment, which protects against self-incrimination, to avoid testifying.

      "He is on our witness list, but we understand from his counsel he would invoke his Fifth Amendment if called," said Barry Berke, one of the lawyers in the case.

      Walters is accused of making $43 million using insider trading tips from Tom C. Davis, who was chairman of Dean Foods Co. Walters was a golfing buddy of Mickelson, and he reportedly passed some of the tips to Lefty, who used them to make $931,000. Mickelson has said he will repay the money.

      The U.S. government did not accuse Mickelson of committing a crime or of knowing that the tips he received were from an inside source.

      --Bubba Watson was so impressed with the Volvik golf ball after watching players use it in the World Long Drive Contest last year, he began experimenting with it.

      Watson wasn't alone.

      The World Long Drive Association recently announced that it expanded its partnership with Volvik, which will be the official title sponsor of the World Long Drive Championship later this year.

      "We had a huge reaction to being the official ball of the WLDA last year from those tuning in (on television) watching pink, green, yellow and orange Volvik golf balls going 430-plus yards in the finals," Volvik USA president Don Shin said.

      "With everything Golf Channel is doing to advance Long Drive and its exciting atmosphere, we wanted to get involved even more by becoming the title sponsor of the Volvik World Long Drive Championship, in addition to being the official ball of all sanctioned WLDA events."

      Watson eventually switched to the Volvik ball and signed an endorsement contract with the company, which makes golf balls that are orange, pink, green, yellow and white.

      "I was naturally intrigued by the colors Volvik offers," said Watson, a two-time Masters champion. "Then I started testing the ball and saw what I could do with it. It does everything I want it to: go high, go low, curve, spin, and it has the distance I'm looking for.

      "I'm always trying to find new ways to grow the game and have fun out there, and Volvik's approach is the same. I couldn't be more excited. ... How could you not want a colored ball when you have a (pink) driver?"

      The new four-piece Volvik VIVID XT (Extreme) matte-finish ball is designed for players with faster swing speeds.

  • Woods announces he will not play in The Masters
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, March 31, 2017

    Tiger Woods announced on his official website Friday that he will not play in The Masters next week.

    • The four-time winner of the tournament at Augusta National has been plagued by back issues and will miss this year's first major championship for the third time in four years.

      "Unfortunately, I won't be competing in this year's Masters," Woods wrote on his website. "I did about everything I could to play, but my back rehabilitation didn't allow me the time to get tournament ready. I'm especially upset because it's a special anniversary for me that's filled with a lot of great memories. I can't believe it's been 20 years since I won my first green jacket."

      Woods, who won the first of his 14 majors 20 years ago at Augusta National by a record 12 shots, has been sidelined since withdrawing from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Feb. 3.

      "I have no timetable for my return, but I will continue my diligent effort to recover, and want to get back out there as soon as possible," the 41-year-old Woods wrote.

      "I'd like to pass along my regrets to Billy Payne, the Augusta National membership, staff, volunteers and patrons, that I won't be there. I will be at the Champions Dinner and I look forward to seeing a lot of old friends."

  • Fowler off to fast start in Houston
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, March 30, 2017

    HUMBLE, Texas -- Rickie Fowler fired a bogey-free 8-under-par 64 early in the day and assumed the first wave lead at the Shell Houston Open on Thursday under cloudless skies at the Golf Cub of Houston.

    • Fowler, ranked No. 9 in the World Golf Rankings, started on the back-nine and birdied four of his first five holes while going out in 31 on the par-72 course. He added three birdies on the front-nine, including a five-foot putt on his final hole, the 230-yard, par-3 ninth.

      Vaughn Taylor and Keegan Bradley were in the clubhouse tied for second place at 5-under 67 from the early wave, with Jason Dufner and Russell Hensley among a large group at 68. Phil Mickelson, who won at Houston in 2011, was among those golfers at even par while defending champion Jim Herman finished at 74, 10 strokes off Fowler's pace.

  • Golf glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017


    • PGA TOUR: Shell Houston Open on the Tournament Course at the Golf Course of Houston in Humble, Texas, Thursday through Sunday.

      TV: Thursday and Friday, 4-7 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel; Saturday and Sunday, 1-3 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel and 3-6 p.m. EDT on NBC.

      LAST YEAR: Jim Herman claimed the first victory of his PGA Tour career at the age of 38 in his 106th start on the circuit by closing with a 4-under-par 68 to beat Henrik Stenson of Sweden by one stroke. Herman, who earned his first berth in the Masters a week later, chipped in from 39 feet on the 16th hole and finished with two solid pars to wrap up the second victory of his pro career. His only other title came in the 2010 Moonah Classic in Australia, where he beat Chris Kirk in a playoff on what is now the Tour. Stenson, who also shot 68 in the final round, missed an 18-foot birdie putt on the last hole that would have forced a playoff. He posted his eighth runner-up finish since the end of 2014. He went on to win the Open Championship at Royal Troon in July for his first major title.

      PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak Golf Resort in Gulfport, Miss., Friday through Sunday.

      TV: Friday, 9:30-11:30 p.m. EDT; Saturday and Sunday, 3-5 p.m. EDT; on the Golf Channel each day.

      LAST YEAR: Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain won for the third straight year on the PGA Tour Champions, shooting a bogey-free, 8-under-par 64 in the final round to beat Scott Dunlap by two strokes. The 52-year-old Spaniard, who has won 27 times in his pro career, started the final round three shots behind Dunlap but took control with four consecutive birdies -- starting with a 55-footer from the fringe on the 10th hole. Jimenez, who won for the third time in 10 starts on the senior circuit, played the last 30 holes of the tournament without a bogey. Dunlap, whose only victory on the PGA Tour Champions came in the 2014 Boeing Classic, closed with a 69.

      LPGA TOUR: ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Resort in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Thursday through Sunday.

      TV: Thursday, noon-4 p.m. EDT; Friday and Saturday, 7-9 p.m. EDT; and Sunday, noon-4 p.m. EDT; on the Golf Channel each day.

      LAST YEAR: Top-ranked Lydia Ko of New Zealand won for the second straight week and became the youngest two-time major winner in LPGA Tour history. She sealed the victory with a 2-foot birdie putt after a brilliant approach shot on the final hole, beating In Gee Chun of South Korea and Charley Hull of England by one stroke. The 18-year-old Ko, who captured her first major title the previous September at the Evian Championship in France, posted a 3-under-par 69 in the final round and played the last 41 holes without a bogey. Hull birdied the last hole to cap a 69, while Chun, a two-time major champion, also birdied the 18th for a 70. Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand held the lead before making bogeys on each of the last three holes to shoot 70. She wound up two shots back in solo fourth.

  • Shell Houston Open draws strong field ahead of Masters
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    What is the best way to prepare the week before a major?

    • The best golfers in the world are constantly trying to solve that riddle, and the answer for many this week is be to tee it up in the Shell Houston Open on the Tournament Course at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas.

      Not that they aren't thinking about the Masters next week.

      "I will try to stop by (Augusta National Golf Club) on my way to Houston," said Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who skipped the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last week in favor of playing at Houston. "That's what I've done the previous years. It's always good to get a refresher and have a walk around the course and hit some shots and hit some putts. So, even though the golf course itself up there doesn't change too much, it's always good to have a little early look. ...

      "I mean, the scheduling is a big part of (skipping the Match Play). Given that I want to play the week before Augusta, I've played in the Middle East, I've had a couple weeks off and then I need to pick up some pace."

      Stenson, who claimed his first major title last year in the Open Championship at Royal Troon, is one of several major champions and other top players who will give the Shell Houston Open one of the strongest fields of the PGA Tour season -- not counting the World Golf Championships.

      Also committed are top-ranked Dustin Johnson, the reigning U.S. Open champion; 2016 PGA champion Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose of England, Adam Scott of Australia, Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els of South Africa, rookie star Jon Rahm of Spain, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed, Jason Dufner, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Retief Goosen of South Africa, Keegan Bradley, Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain and Phil Mickelson, a five-time major winner.

      Included in that group are 12 of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, 14 major champions and 10 former winners in Houston. That latter list includes Mickelson, Scott, J.B. Holmes, Hunter Mahan, Stuart Appleby of Australia, D.A. Points, Robert Allenby of Australia, Johnson Wagner and Matt Jones of Australia.

      Johnson beat Rahm on Sunday in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, while Points won the Puerto Rico Open, an opposite-field PGA Tour event for non-qualifiers of the WGC-Match Play.

      Jim Herman is the defending champion, having claimed his first victory on the PGA Tour in Houston last year at the age of 38, beating Stenson by one stroke.

      Herman struggled earlier this season before shooting 62 recently in the first round of the Valspar Championship on his way to a tie for third, his best result since finding the winner's circle a year ago.

      "I'm feeling good about my game again," said Herman, whose victory gave him spots in all four majors in the same year for the first time. "I've never had to defend a title, so it's going to be a fun week. ...

      "Obviously last year, going through -- getting it done at Houston obviously changed my life and my perspective on things. I feel like I belong out here."

      Herman, ranked No. 76 in the world, needs another big finish in Houston to climb inside the top 50 and make it back to the Masters.

      That Mickelson is playing is no surprise, and not only because he won the tournament in 2011 by three strokes over Chris Kirk and Scott Verplank.

      "I almost always play the week before a major because if take it off, I often feel a little rusty at the start of the first round (in the major)," said Mickelson, who has won 42 times on the PGA Tour but not since he claimed the third leg of the Grand Slam by winning the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.

      Lefty was not happy when the BellSouth Classic, which for several years was played the week before the Masters at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga., dropped off the PGA Tour schedule in 2009.

      He believed that event was perfect preparation for Augusta, and he won the BellSouth tournament three times, including in 2006, when he followed it up a week later by claiming the second of his three Green Jackets.

      Mickelson pulled off a similar double in 2013, when he captured the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open a week before his victory at Muirfield.

      Now that the Houston event has been moved to a week before the Masters, don't be shocked if that happens again, because Lefty loves the Tournament Course at what was formerly known as Redstone Golf Club.

      "It is tremendous," said Mickelson, who tied for seventh in his last stroke-play event, the WGC-Mexico Championship, in each March. "The greens are fast. The fairways are perfect and tight. They even mowed the grain ... in the fairways just like Augusta does. There is no rough. The first cut is like Augusta. ...

      "For me personally, I like playing in a tournament that's similar to what we'll be playing. It's a great place to get ready for next week."

      Obviously, Lefty is not the only one with that opinion.

  • Golf notebook: Costco tees off on Titleist
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    --Costco Wholesale Corp. filed a suit against Titleist, manufacturer of the top-selling golf ball on the market.

    • In the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Costco asked for a declaratory judgment against Acushnet Holdings Corporation, which owns Titleist, related to the store's sale of a ball under its Kirkland Signature brand.

      Costco asked the court to rule that the ball doesn't infringe on any valid patent rights owned by Acushnet and that it has not engaged in false advertising in reference to the ball.

      "We have asked the Court to protect our right to continue to sell our Kirkland Signature golf ball against challenges made by Acushnet under patent and advertising laws," Costco said in a written statement. "The success of the ball with our members and the favorable comments it has received from reputable reviewers apparently have caused Acushnet to believe that our ball directly competes with the Titleist Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls. ... Our golf ball will go back on sale in early April, but supplies are limited."

      Costco made news last year when it introduced the Kirkland Signature ball, a four-piece, urethane-cover product similar in construction to many tour-caliber balls. The price, however, was only $15 a dozen.

      Golfers, informed of the new golf ball by intense media coverage, snapped up the product, and apparently liked the way the Kirkland Signature ball performed.

      However, Costco could not keep up with demand and sold out the new golf balls.

      Attorneys and spokesmen for Costco and Acushnet declined to comment to media outlets.

      --Chris Gilman is headed for Canada.

      The 30-year-old Gilman, who lives in Yorba Linda, Calif., and played for the University of Denver, closed with a 1-under-par 71 to win Mackenzie-PGA Tour Canada Qualifying School by four strokes over Matt Picanso and Preston Valder at Carlton Oaks Country Club in Santee, Calif.

      "It's massive," said Gilman, the 2014 California State Open champion who has played on the Tour and PGA Tour Latinoamerica. "Obviously the goal is to be the Order of Merit winner (for 2017), and I'm going with guns blazing and we'll see what happens."

      Gillman posted a score of 66-69-71-71--277, 11 under, while Picanso, the 2015 Monterey Open winner from Vista, Calif., and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, totaled 71-70-75-65--281. Valder, of Yorba Linda and UCLA, wound up at 70-73-72-66--281.

      Cody Blick of Danville, Calif., and San Jose State, the 2012 San Francisco City champion, shot 71-72-67-72--282 to tie for fourth with Sean Walsh of Keller, Texas, and Gonzaga, who wound up at 69-71-71-71--282.

      Rico Hoey of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., a senior at USC and the 2016 Southern California Golf Association Amateur champion, carded a score of 67-68-75-73--283 to tie for sixth with Robby Ormand of Austin, Texas, and TCU, who finished at 68-72-71-72--283, and Nathaniel James of Fort Worth, Texas, and Washington & Lee, who came in at 66-73-73-71--283.

      Eric Hawerchuk, 2016 Canada Cup champion and the son of hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, tied for 15th at 73-73-71-73--290.

      --Betsy King won six major championships among her 34 LPGA titles and was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1995.

      However, her greatest accomplishments have come off the course.

      Recently on World Water Day, King announced a personal commitment of $1.3 million toward a goal of raising $10 million to continue the work of providing clean water to 220 villages in Africa.

      "If there was just one thing you could do that would really change the world, it would be to bring clean water to everyone," said King, who is donating $100,000 a year for the next 10 years.

      "If the last 10 percent of the world had access to clean water, we would save nearly 1,000 kids' lives every day. Girls would miss school 50 percent less often and women would have more economic opportunities because of time saved not having to walk for water."

      King established the non-profit Golf Fore Africa on 2007, with the sole mission being to provide clean water, agricultural support, education and improved health care to impoverished regions of the second largest continent in the world.

      Among the LPGA Tour stars who have accompanied King on her annual trips to Africa designed to improve living conditions in impoverished villages are Juli Inkster, Stacy Lewis and Cheyenne Woods.

      Golf Fore Africa has partnered with World Vision in an effort to end the global water crisis by 2030. According to UNICEF, there are 663 million people in the world, more than twice the population of the United States, who lack access to clean water.

      --Tiger Woods will attend the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night before the Masters next week, but he still hasn't decided if he will make it to the first tee at Augusta National on Thursday.

      Woods, a four-time Masters champion, said his ailing back is feeling better and he is working hard in hopes of playing the first major of the year on the PGA Tour.

      He missed the Masters in 2014 and 2016 because of back problems, and he tied for 17th in 2015.

      "I do have a chance (to play)," Woods told USA Today Sports in an exclusive interview. "I'm trying everything I possibly can to get to that point. I'm working, I'm working on my game. I just need to get to a point where I feel like I'm good enough and I'm healthy enough to do it. ...

      "I've been a part of so many Masters over the course of my career, I know exactly what it takes to get ready for that event. Now it's my job to go out there and get ready. I hope I can. ...

      "I will be at Augusta either way."

      Woods played for the first time in 16 months, after the latest of three back surgeries, in December at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. He posted a tournament-best 24 birdies even though he finished 15th among 18 players.

      In January, he made his first start on the PGA Tour since a tie for 10th in the 2015 Wyndham Championship in August 2015, but he shot 76-72--148 and missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open.

      In early February, Woods withdrew from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic before the second round because of back spasms, and he has not played since.

      --Members of Kasumigaseki Country Club near Tokyo, faced with the possibility losing the men's and women's golf competition at the 2020 Olympic Games, voted to admit female members for the first time.

      The club, which opened in 1929, had allowed women to play on the course at times and provided lower forms of membership. Women also were not allowed to play on Sunday.

      "I'd like to extend my gratitude to the members of the club for their understanding and cooperation," said Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, which had threatened to move the golf tournaments.

      The club's vote satisfied calls from Tokyo's governor, the International Golf Federation and the International Olympic Committee to make the change.

      The decision came about a week after members at Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland voted to make a similar change to be allowed back in the rotation for the Open Championship.

      "As we have said all along, gender equality is a fundamental principle of the Olympic Movement and an important part of Olympic Agenda 2020, and we believe this decision now reflects this," International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates said.

      "While we had made our position on non-discrimination clear as soon as we became aware of their rules, it was important that the members of the club be given the opportunity to make the change in their good time.

      "It is their club and at the end of the day we had to be welcomed by them."

      Other famous clubs who have voted to change their policies banning women members in recent years include the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland and Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., home of the Masters.

      --Maverick McNealy of Stanford, the top-ranked amateur in the world, was named as one of five finalists for the Byron Nelson Award.

      McNealy, a two-time All-American from Portola Valley, Calif., captured the Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational in October at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to tie the Stanford record of 11 career victories, set by Tiger Woods in 1996 and tied by Patrick Rodgers in 2014.

      The other finalists are Jared du Toit of Arizona State, Mack Farley of St. John's in Minnesota, Matt Gilchrest of Auburn and Jimmy Stanger of Virginia.

      Candidates for the Nelson Award must be graduating seniors, and the selection committee considers a nominee's college academic and golf career as well as his character and integrity.

      McNealy also was selected to the United States team for the Arnold Palmer Cup for the third consecutive year. The event will be played on June 9-11 at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

      Also selected to the United States team were Stanger, Collin Morikawa of Cal, Sean Crocker of USC, Sam Burns of LSU, Chandler Phillips of Texas A&M, Norman Xiong of Oregon, John Coultas of Florida Southern, Nick Hardy of Illinois and Doug Ghim of Texas.