Golf: Tiger Woods provided a mixed offering in his first start of 2018, darkness was a common theme on both coasts and J.B. Holmes took over as poster boy for slow play.
By Jeff Shain, PSN managing editor
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- There were plenty of positives to glean from Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour start in 52 weeks. Not to mention a few negatives. As it turns out, Woods’ tie for 23rd in the Farmers Insurance Open left plenty of room for interpretation. On the plus side, he posted four rounds of par or better to notch his first top-25 finish since the 2015 Wyndham Championship. That was better than either Jon Rahm or Phil Mickelson on the week. Better yet, he showed no sign of physical distress. That said, he still hasn’t broken 70 in Tour competition in almost 900 days and finished seven shots out of the three-man playoff won by Jason Day. Also, hitting just 17 of 54 fairways was a career worst.
- J.B. Holmes cast himself as Public Enemy No.1 in the crusade against slow play when he required 4 minutes, 10 seconds to hit a shot from the 18th fairway at Torrey Pines. That’s about 3 ½ minutes longer than guidelines say it should take someone to hit a shot after his playing partner has swung. Holmes had a chance to gain Sunday’s playoff with an eagle, but got lost in deliberating club selection. More exasperatingly, perhaps, was that he opted for a par-5 layup – and hit it in the rough. All that waiting iced Alex Noren, who could have won in regulation with a birdie. Alas, Noren went over the green, parred the hole and eventually lost in extras to Day.
- Web.com Tour pro Rhein Gibson also left a bad taste with onlookers amid a televised outburst in which he smacked his caddie in the face with a putter cover while firing him. The move came at the 72nd hole of the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic, once Gibson was assessed an added penalty as Brandon Davis fished his ball from a water hazard. That dropped Gibson from a tie for second to solo third – a $12,000 loss. Davis, though, defended his actions via social media, saying the rules official was mistaken and Gibson was in the process of setting up a penalty drop anyway.
- Golf Channel is back on good terms with its camera and audio technicians, who return to the job this week after ratifying a new contract to end their walkout. Union members ratified the deal early last week, ending a strike that began with the final round of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open and sent Golf Channel into scramble mode. The two sides had been in negotiations for nine months before the walkout in Hawaii.
- Four weeks ago it was PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan voicing support for some sort of joint weekend with the LPGA. Now comes a second from LPGA chief Mike Whan, who thinks it could happen as soon as next year. Whan made the prediction at an informal roundtable at the LPGA season opener, saying the biggest challenge will be finding a spot on the calendar. Whereas Monahan’s discussion seemed to center around a winners-only LPGA event held parallel to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Whan would prefer a revival of the old JCPenney mixed team, pairing a PGA Tour pro with an LPGA counterpart. That event disappeared after 1999.
PGA TOUR: Waste Management Phoenix Open
Site: TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), Scottsdale, Ariz.
- Defending champion: Hideki Matsuyama won in a playoff for the second straight year, dispatching Webb Simpson with a birdie on the fourth extra hole. Simpson forced overtime with three birdies in his last four to post a 7-under-par 64, but ran into trouble at the par-3 17th. Matsuyama claimed his second win of the season and fifth worldwide in a 3 ½-month span that included the WGC-HSBC Champions.
- Last week: Jason Day lifted a trophy for the first time in 20 months, outlasting Sweden’s Alex Noren in a six-hole Farmers Insurance Open playoff that spilled into Monday. Day, Noren and Ryan Palmer each finished 72 holes at 10-under par, with Palmer eliminated on the first extra hole. They went four more before darkness set in, and Noren found water with his approach on Monday’s first hole.
- Tour talk: Matsuyama seeks the first three-peat at the same venue since Steve Stricker won three straight John Deere Classics from 2009-11. No one has swept three straight in playoffs. … Matsuyama has placed no worse than fourth in four Phoenix visits. … Phil Mickelson’s 29th appearance breaks a tie with Gene Littler for most all-time. Victory would make him Phoenix’s first four-time winner.
- TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 3-7 p.m. ET; Saturday, 2-3:45 p.m.; Sunday 1-2:45 p.m.) and CBS (Saturday, 4-7 p.m.; Sunday, 3-6 p.m.).
- Etc.: First Look from PGATour.com; WM Phoenix Open primer from Pro Golf Weekly.
EUROPEAN TOUR: Maybank Championship
Site: Saujana G&CC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Defending champion: Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti roared back from a six-shot deficit to notch his second European Tour title, going birdie/eagle on the final two holes to leapfrog David Lipsky at the end. Zanotti fired a 9-under-par 63 to finish, finding his form after coming to Malaysia off three straight missed cuts.
- Last week: China’s Li Haotong outdueled Rory McIlroy with four birdies in his last six holes, claiming a one-shot win at the Dubai Desert Classic. Li led after 54 holes, but found himself trailing by two with eight holes left to play. Li pulled even again with birdies at Nos. 13 and 15, then moved in front when McIlroy bogeyed the 16th. Li becomes the first Chinese golfer to crack the world top 50.
- Tour talk: Li and world No.12 Henrik Stenson headline the roster, which serves as something of a reunion for EurAsia Cup participants three weeks ago. Twelve men were part of that showcase, as Europe used a Sunday singles blitz to retain the trophy. … Bernd Weisberger is back at the place where he set a European Tour record last year with nine consecutive birdies. He eventually placed third.
- TV: Golf Channel (Wednesday, 10:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m.; Thursday, 12:30-2:30 a.m.; Friday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m.).
WEB.COM TOUR: Panama Championship
Site: Panama GC, Panama City, Panama
- Defending champion: Andrew Putnam drained a 12-foot birdie on the first extra hole to dispatch Chris Baker for his second Web.com Tour victory. Baker’s approach on the replay of No.18 couldn’t stay on the proper tier and rolled some 30 feet down a slope. That opened the door for Putnam, who took advantage,
- Last week: Adam Svensson survived a wild finish at the Great Abaco Classic for his first Web.com Tour win, holding off Sungjae Im by one stroke. The Canadian pro finished with a 4-under-par 68, including a 33-foot par save at No.16 and bogey at No.17. Im missed a 10-foot birdie with a playoff at stake.
- Tour talk: Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera tees it up for the second straight year, after missing the cut last year. Once as high as No.13 in the world, he recently slipped out of the top 1,000. … Lost in Rhein Gibson’s angry outburst (see above) is the fact both of his 2018 starts ended in the top three.
- TV: None.
LPGA TOUR: Idle
Next up: Women’s Australian Open, Feb. 15-18, Adelaide, Australia
- Tour talk: Not that Brittany Lincicome repeating as Pure Silk Bahamas champ was a feat no one could see coming, but Sunday’s final groups could barely see anything. Lincicome and others jogged the final two holes in near-darkness to get to an 18th green illuminated by floodlights. … The runner-up finish by Taiwan’s Wei-Ling Hsu was her first top-5 in three-plus LPGA seasons.
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: Idle
Next up: Boca Raton Championship, Feb. 9-11, Boca Raton, Fla.
- Tour talk: After a tie for 16th in the opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, Bernhard Langer isn’t among the top 10 in Schwab Cup points for the first time since May 2015. That ends a run of 69 straight weeks in the top 10, of which 46 were at No.1. … Fred Funk’s ace in the season opener was the fifth of his Champions career, one off the mark shared by J.C. Snead and Graham Marsh.