Augusta chief strikes conciliatory tone over LIV Golf tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ancer leads with 64, DeChambeau 3 back, Fireballs lead team race at LIV Golf Nashville

Updated 22 June 2024
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Ancer leads with 64, DeChambeau 3 back, Fireballs lead team race at LIV Golf Nashville

  • With Ancer leading the way, Fireballs GC lead the team competition by four shots over DeChambeau’s Crushers GC, with Torque GC another shot back in third
  • The crowd support helped keep DeChambeau going, and he acknowledged them at every opportunity — including at the par-3 15th party hole when he made birdie, then cupped his ear to hear the fans cheer

COLLEGE GROVE: In his first round since winning the US Open, a worn-out Bryson DeChambeau continued to thrive off the energy of his growing fan base, shooting a 4-under 67 on Friday at LIV Golf Nashville.

Meanwhile, a rejuvenated Abraham Ancer continued to ride the form that’s already led to one LIV Golf victory this season, as he grabbed the first-round lead at The Grove with a bogey-free 7-under 64.
 

With Ancer leading the way, Fireballs GC lead the team competition by four shots over DeChambeau’s Crushers GC, with Torque GC another shot back in third. The Fireballs, captained by Sergio Garcia, are seeking their first team title this season after trying for second in each of the previous two tournaments.
 
Ancer opened his round with a birdie, and then took the lead on his final nine with four birdies in a five-hole stretch. He finished by getting up-and-down on his last hole to keep his scorecard clean.
 

“Extremely happy the way I fought today,” said Ancer, the winner at LIV Golf Hong Kong earlier this year in a playoff. “Even the last hole, I put myself in a tough spot and then made a longish putt for par, which was really nice. You don’t want to finish on a bogey.”

One shot back is Legion XIII’s Tyrrell Hatton, the only player this season to finish inside the top 24 in points in each of the first eight tournaments. Hatton leaned heavily on his putter during a round in which he needed just 24 putts. 

“The big thing that I was most pleased with today was just the putter,” Hatton said. “Feel like I holed out really well from inside 10 feet.”

In solo third is John Catlin, a reserve player who is filling in for injured Crushers veteran Charles Howell III for the second consecutive LIV Golf tournament. Catlin’s 5-under 66 was highlighted by a stretch of four birdies in five holes around his turn.

No reserve player has finished inside the top 5 of a LIV Golf tournament, but Catlin, a 13-time winner in his professional career and currently second in the International Series standings, is confident he can continue to make noise this week.

“I feel like if I can go out and play my game, I’m capable of anything,” he said.

DeChambeau is in a four-way tie for fourth with Torque’s Sebastián Muñoz, Fireballs’ Eugenio Chacarra and Majesticks GC’s Sam Horsfield.
 
The last few days have been a whirlwind for the Crushers captain after winning his second US Open with a clutch up-and-down on the 72nd hole at Pinehurst. A media tour in New York followed the next day before he traveled to Nashville for this week’s tournament.
 
“I’m a zombie right now. I’m a dead man walking,” he said.
 
But the crowd support Friday helped keep him going, and he acknowledged them at every opportunity — including at the par-3 15th party hole when he made birdie, then cupped his ear to hear the fans cheer.
 
“It’s quite an honor to be out here and have so much support,” DeChambeau said. “It’s fantastic. This is what LIV is all about.”

Team counting scores

Standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Nashville:

 

1. FIREBALLS GC -14 (Ancer 64, Chacarra 67, Garcia 68)

 

2. CRUSHERS GC -10 (Catlin 66, DeChambeau 67, Casey 70)

 

3. TORQUE GC -9 (Muñoz 67, Ortiz 68, Pereira 69)

 

4. LEGION XIII -8 (Hatton 65, Rahm 70, Surratt 70)

 

5. MAJESTICKS GC -7 (Horsfield 67, Westwood 69, Stenson 70)

 

T6. STINGER GC -4 (Schwartzel 69, Burmester 70, Oosthuizen 70)

 

T6. RIPPER GC -4 (Leishman 69, Smith 69, Jones 71)

 

T6. CLEEKS GC -4 (Kaymer 68, Bland 70, Samooja 71)

 

9. IRON HEADS GC -3 (Na 69, Vincent 69, Kozuma 72)

 

10. SMASH GC -2 (Koepka 69, Kokrak 71, Gooch 71)

 

11. HYFLYERS GC E (Mickelson 70, Steele 71, Ogletree 72)

 

12. RANGEGOATS GC +1 (Watson 70, Wolff 72, Uihlein 72)

 

13. 4ACES GC +2 (Varner III 71, Reed 72, Perez 72)


Tom Kim builds a 2-shot lead over Scheffler and Morikawa at Travelers Championship

Updated 22 June 2024
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Tom Kim builds a 2-shot lead over Scheffler and Morikawa at Travelers Championship

  • Kim already is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, though he has only one top 10 in his last 19 starts worldwide
  • Morikawa, like Kim, did most of his work on the front nine by rolling six birdie putts

CROMWELL, Connecticut: Tom Kim is looking at the long term with his golf game and is getting short-term results at the Travelers Championship, where he followed an opening 62 with a 5-under 65 on Friday for the lowest 36-hole score of his career and a two-shot lead.
Kim had to settle for eight straight pars on the soggy TPC River Highlands and still finished at 13-under 127, two shots ahead of a group that includes Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa.
Scheffler, coming off his first middle-of-the-road performance of the year at the US Open, had to wait through a storm delay of more than three hours to finish his last two holes. He made an 8-foot birdie on the 18th for a 64.
Morikawa (63) and Akshay Bhatia (65), who also was two behind, finished before the storms.
Kim and Scheffler both celebrated birthdays during the second round — Kim is 22 and Scheffler is 28 — and did their birthday damage earlier in the week with a trip to one of the Connecticut’s best known pizza joints.
Kim already is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, though he has only one top 10 in his last 19 starts worldwide since his victory in Las Vegas last fall.
“I think the work I’ve been doing has ... the past few months it’s just been kind of like making sure that I feel confident out in the competition, not practice rounds,” Kim said. “So I think this stretch is making me sharper and more ready and I think it’s kind of time to show.”
There certainly should be no rust for the 22-year-old Kim. He has not missed a tournament dating to the Byron Nelson, making this his eighth consecutive tournament.
Scheffler tied for 41st last week in the US Open at Pinehurst No. 2, a course he never quite figured out. It was the first time since the fall of 2022 that he was outside the top 40.
He looks like the No. 1 player this week, missing only one fairway and one green in the second round. That was key to scoring because officials allowed players to lift, clean and place their golf balls provided they were in the short grass.
“Definitely better than last week,” Scheffler said. “I felt like I found a little stuff in my swing and feel like I’m seeing the breaks a lot better on these greens. Definitely feeling some good momentum from the last two days.”
Scheffler birdied four of his last six holes, the final two after the rain delay. He left his approach below the hole on the 18th to set up his final birdie.
Morikawa, like Kim, did most of his work on the front nine by rolling six birdie putts. He picked up his final birdie on the par-3 16th and will be in the final group with Kim on Saturday.
Morikawa, a two-time major champion, has been getting himself in the mix at the some of the bigger events over the past few months. He played in the last group at the Masters and the PGA Championship until falling back.
This round was largely about putting. Morikawa made a pair of birdies from the 15-foot range early punctuated by a 30-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole. His swing looks to be back to be as consistent as ever.
“I know where the ball’s going, so that helps,” Morikawa said. “Obviously, I want to be able to get the win and that’s kind of what’s stopping me from being on a great run. It’s a big mental mindset. When you know where the ball’s going it’s a lot easier to play golf, and I’ve kind of been able to trust that.”
PGA champion Xander Schauffele had another 65 and was alone in fifth place, three shots behind. Another shot back were Shane Lowry (62) and Justin Thomas (63).
Lowry hit a magnificent approach with a 5-wood on the par-5 13 and rolled in the long birdie. That put him at 8-under par for the day, with a couple of good birdie chances on the in. But the Irishman had a couple of pedestrian wedges — from the fairway, one a pitch — for pars.
And then the horn sounded to stop play, and Lowry had to settle for three pars.
Thomas, who chipped in for eagle on the 13th, had his lowest score since a 61 in The American Express in the California desert to start the year.
The signature event has no cut — the field is 70 players — and a $20 million purse.
 


Lexi Thompson shoots 68 to take 1st-round lead at the Women’s PGA Championship

Updated 21 June 2024
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Lexi Thompson shoots 68 to take 1st-round lead at the Women’s PGA Championship

  • Thompson made six birdies on her way to a one-shot lead over Nelly Korda and Patty Tavatanakit
  • She won the last of her 11 LPGA Tour titles at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June 2019

SAMMAMISH: Lexi Thompson knew some form of the question was coming after shooting a 4-under 68 and taking the first-round lead Thursday in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Would a major title change her plans about retiring from playing full-time on the LPGA Tour?

“I’m just taking it one day at a time. I made my announcement. I’m very content with it,” Thompson said. “Golf is a crazy game, so I’m not going to look too far ahead.”

Thompson made six birdies on her way to a one-shot lead over Nelly Korda and Patty Tavatanakit.

Teeing off in the afternoon as temperatures climbed into the 80s and dried out Sahalee Country Club, Thompson started hot with three straight birdies to open her round and built on last week when she lost in a playoff at the Meijer LPGA Classic.

The 29-year-old Thompson, who recently announced her plans to retire after the season, shot a bogey-free 32 on the front nine, capped with a 6-foot birdie on the par-3 ninth. After a bogey at No. 10, Thompson rebounded with birdies at Nos. 12 and 14 before another bogey at the 16th.

She won the last of her 11 LPGA Tour titles at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June 2019. The 68 is her lowest round in a major since a 67 in the second round of the Women’s PGA two years ago at Congressional.

“My approach shots felt great,” Thompson said. “They felt really good last week, so just trying to simplify things and get in a rhythm with my swing.”

Korda shot 69 in the morning, and Tavatanakit matched it in the afternoon with a bogey-free round.

The top-ranked Korda missed the cuts in the US Women’s Open and the Meijer LPGA Classic in her last two starts after winning six of seven events, a run that started with a record-tying five straight victories.

Korda started on the back nine and made four birdies on her first five holes. But parts of the morning were a scramble for Korda as the Douglass fir, red cedar and hemlock trees of Sahalee played their role in making it a challenge. A double bogey on the par-4 fourth hole dropped her back to 2 under.

“If you try and be aggressive when you’ve hit it off line, it just bites you in the butt,” Korda said. “Overall, I think I played pretty well. I took my chances where I could and I played safe the majority of the round.”

Korda made a 15-foot putt on the par-3 ninth hole — her final hole — to take the early lead.

There was another group of players at 2 under, including Allizen Corpuz, Celine Boutier, Charley Hull and Leona Maguire. Maguire led this tournament after the third round last year at Baltusrol, but shot 74 on the final day and finished four shots back of the winner, Ruoning Yin.

Playing with Korda, Yin rebounded from a rough start and shot 33 on her second nine to shoot 71.

“Luckily hit it pretty straight today. Hit a lot of fairways and greens. But it does feel like a course where once you’re out of position it’s tough to get back on track,” said Corpuz, who has an outside chance of making the Olympics for the United States with a strong finish this week.

The third major of the year on the LPGA Tour returned to Sahalee, which previously hosted in 2016. And the tree-lined course showed its difficulty.

Lilia Vu, who won last week in her return from a back injury, shot 75. Yuka Saso, the US Open winner three weeks ago, made four consecutive bogeys on the back nine and finished at 2-over 74. Brooke Henderson, who won in 2016, shot 73.

Korda got off to a far better start than her last major, when she shot 80 in the opening round of the US Women’s Open three weeks ago.

Korda’s early run of birdies included three straight between Nos. 13-15 and she and went out in 33. She moved to 4 under after a birdie on the third hole — her 12th of the day — but dropped two shots on the fourth.

“This entire golf course is so demanding,” Korda said. “I had to make some pretty good up-and-downs.”


PGA Tour grants Woods entry to top events with ‘lifetime achievement’ exemption — report

Updated 20 June 2024
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PGA Tour grants Woods entry to top events with ‘lifetime achievement’ exemption — report

  • ESPN, citing a memo to tour members, reported on Wednesday that the PGA Tour policy board approved the special sponsor exemption
  • Woods said he planned to compete in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland next month

LOS ANGELES: The PGA Tour has created a special exemption recognizing Tiger Woods’s “exceptional lifetime achievement” that will allow the 15-time major champion entry into the tour’s top events.

ESPN, citing a memo to tour members, reported on Wednesday that the PGA Tour policy board approved the special sponsor exemption during a joint meeting with the PGA Tour Enterprises board of directors on Tuesday.

Woods, whose playing schedule has been severely limited since he suffered serious leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, plays too little now to otherwise qualify for the eight signature events.

But from 2025 he will be welcome in those tournaments, which feature smaller fields, larger purses and bumped up points toward the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“An additional sponsor exemption will be created to recognize Tiger Woods in his own category as a player who has reached an exceptional lifetime achievement threshold of 80+ career wins,” the memo said, according to ESPN.

With 82 PGA Tour wins, Woods shares the all-time record with Sam Snead.

Despite his physical limitations, the 48-year-old has said he still feels he has more titles in him, although he has played in just nine official PGA Tour events in the past three seasons.

The only non-major he has competed in was the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, which he hosts for the benefit of his charitable foundation.

Woods withdrew in the second round at Riviera this year because of illness. He finished 60th at the Masters and missed the cut at the PGA Championship and the US Open last week at Pinehurst.

Woods said he planned to compete in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland next month.

He indicated at Pinehurst he expected it to be his last start of the season.

“I’ve only got one more tournament this season,” he said. “I don’t think even if I win the British Open I’ll be in the playoffs.”


McIlroy, Scheffler qualify for Paris Olympics

Updated 19 June 2024
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McIlroy, Scheffler qualify for Paris Olympics

  • The qualifying period for the event came to an end after the US Open at Pinehurst at the weekend
  • The top 15 players in the world rankings qualify for the Games, up to a maximum of four golfers from a single country

LONDON: Rory McIlroy is set to play at the Paris Olympics alongside world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler after taking a break from golf following his dramatic late collapse at the US Open.

The qualifying period for the event came to an end after the US Open at Pinehurst at the weekend, when McIlroy finished as runner-up to US star Bryson DeChambeau after squandering a two-shot lead with five holes to play.

The final men’s Olympic Golf Ranking, published on Tuesday, features 60 qualifiers representing 32 different countries.

The top 15 players in the world rankings qualify for the Games, up to a maximum of four golfers from a single country.

Below the top 15, players qualify based on their world ranking, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15.

The host country, France, was guaranteed at least one spot, as was each of the five continents of the Olympic movement.

McIlroy, second in the world rankings, is set to represent Ireland at the former Ryder Cup venue, Le Golf National, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 4, alongside former British Open champion Shane Lowry.

Scheffler, defending champion Xander Schauffele, Wyndham Clark and Collin Morikawa have qualified to represent the USA.

Former US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood have qualified for Britain, with two-time major winner Jon Rahm and David Puig set to represent Spain.

Each National Olympic Committee will have until June 27 to officially confirm their athletes to the International Golf Federation.

Northern Irishman McIlroy, a four-time Major winner, said Monday he plans to take time off after one of the “toughest” days of his professional career at Pinehurst.

The 35-year-old said his next event would be the Scottish Open starting on July 11, the warmup for the British Open at Royal Troon.

The 60-strong women’s field for their tournament, starting on Aug. 7, will be announced after the June 24 qualification cut-off date.

Both the men’s and women’s events are 72-hole individual stroke play events.