10 Things you missed: Dramatic victories and Rules problems dominate the Tour

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10 Things you missed: Dramatic victories and Rules problems dominate the Tour

Kurt Kitayama and Keith Mitchell had both missed their previous cuts before they each claimed one-shot victories during dramatic final days on both the European and PGA Tour's on Sunday, topping leaderboards that were unpredictable and changing continuously. 

But victories weren't the only thing that had everyone talking. Once again the new rules of golf took center stage on the PGA Tour; Alex Cejka was disqualified, Rickie Fowler poked fun at the new drop rule and Justin Thomas was called out by the USGA after ranting about a two-shot penalty given to Adam Schenk. 

They, along with other stories, make up the 10 things you missed this week. 

Keith Mitchell beats Fowler, Koepka to maiden PGA Tour title at The Honda Classic

Keith Mitchell carded four birdies over his final seven holes to close out his maiden PGA Tour victory over Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka at The Honda Classic.

Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler gave it everything on a dramatic final day at PGA National but it was Keith Mitchell who holed a 15-footer for birdie and a closing 67 on the final green to finish one shot clear of the duo at 9-under-par.

"It's not even close to sinking in," 27-year-old Mitchell told Sky Sports after his round. "I don't expect it to, I don't want it to, it's just awesome. Playing like I did down the stretch is just unbelievable."

Mitchell, who had held a share of the 36-hole lead, began the day one-shot adrift of overnight leader Wyndham Clark but a horror start left him scrambling after missing par putts of 13 feet and 8 feet on his opening two holes.

He responded well, nearly holing out for eagle on the par-five 3rd hole to pull a shot back before adding his second birdie of the day on the ninth. By the 13th tee, Mitchell had gone bogey-birdie to join a group of six-players tied for second place behind Palmer, and within the space of just 10 minutes another birdie saw him join of a six-way tie for the lead at 7-under-par.

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Glover signed for the same total as Palmer but it was Koepka who became the first player to make it in to the clubhouse at eight under par, though Mitchell was quick to join him at the top after a sublime tee shot to the par-three 15th hole. 

Rickie Fowler began to catch fire too, following up a birdie on the 15th with a hole out from 44 feet on the 17th to get to 7-under, before adding another birdie on the 18th to join Koepka at the top. 

Vijay Singh had a chance to make history but both he and playing partner Clark faded during turbulent rounds, and it was left to Mitchell on the last: A par would lead to a play-off and birdie would see him crowned champion. 

Mitchell is known by his peers as a big hitter, but he found the bunker from the tee and was forced to lay up of the par-five 18th hole. He put his approach to 15 feet, and hit a brilliant putt to secure his first PGA Tour title - a feat all the more impressive given that he headed to The Honda Classic ranked 218th on Tour for SG: Putting. 

As for what was going through his head at the time of his putt? He was just trying to focus on what was going on. 

"I was trying to focus on what was going on," Mitchell said. "My mind started wandering there a little bit at the end ... and then I hit a great putt."

Read full story | WITB 

Kurt Kitayama wins second European Tour title in 11th start

It’s taken Kurt Kitayama just 11 starts on the European Tour to win twice, the latest coming from the weather-affected and dramatic Oman Open as he birdied two of his final three holes at Al Mouj Golf.

The 26-year-old American held the first round lead in Oman and stayed within a shot at the half-way stage, but a disastrous start to the weather-affected third round led many (including the champion himself) to doubt whether he could challenge for the title. 

Kitayama had opened his third round with a quadruple bogey and followed it with two more dropped shots in a row before darkness stopped play, but the break proved to be the change in momentum he needed. 

From there, he recovered with six birdies and an eagle as he finished his third round on Sunday morning to get to within three shot of the Fabrizo Zanotti's 54-hole lead. 

"The way we started that third round, I was like, 'can we stop right now?', Kitayama said. "It gave me a refresh and it was incredible coming back."

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The final round featured an ever-changing leaderboard that made it impossible to predict until the last, when co-leaders Zanotti, J.B. Hansen, Clement Sordet and Maximillian Kieffer all dropped shots over the final stretch of holes to leave Kitayama with the spoils. 

Kitayama had closed the gap early and joined the leaders with two early birdies, but gave those shots back on the seventh and 11th holes as J.B Hansen and Clement Sordet took control.

With only a few holes left to go there were four players at the top on seven-under-par, but each player made costly mistakes: Hansen was the first to fall back with a bogey on 14, Sordet three-putted the last, Zanotti four-putted the 16th and Kieffer chunked his approach to the 17th before walking off with a bogey.

Meanwhile, Kitayama managed to raise his game at exactly the right moment, making a birdie on 16 and following it up with a long-range putt for a second gain on 17 to give him a one shot lead over playing partners Hansen and Kieffer. A conservative, well-worked final hole par was enough for victory.

"This one feels really good because when I won the first one I was playing really well and it just felt like it was coming," Kitayama said. "This week I came in off three missed cuts and not having good weekends in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It feels great to grind through all of that."

Read full story here | WITB

Sung Hyun Park Wins 'Asia's Major', HSBC Women's World Championship

Two time major champion Park posted a final round eight-under 64 to beat out Minjee Lee to the HSBC Women's World Championship title, besting her over the final five holes to win by two shots. 

It was just her second start of the year, but Park made the most of a late misake from Lee and proved her ability to win on the big stage once more on a day which she said could well have been her best performance on the LPGA. 

"I'm really, really, really delighted and happy with my play today, and I think today is one of the best days that I am playing so far on the LPGA Tour," Park said through her interpretor. 

"I didn't think I would win this fast and I'm really happy. I used to have a tough beginning in the last years, and this first win so fast, I think I will play really comfortable the rest of my season."

The pair were tied after 13 holes but a costly mistake from Lee on the 14th gave Park the advantage, and she soon doubled that lead by converting a birdie putt on the 16th to give her what would be a comfortable cushion over the final two holes. 

Park hadn't performed well during the second and third rounds over the back-nine, but a four-under par helped the 25-year-old to an eight-under-par 64, and her caddie felt that it was something that had been coming. 

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"It had been coming all week," said Park's caddie David Jones. "She was owed so many putts coming into today and this time around they were dropping."

"Every now and then an enigma comes along and that's what she is," he continued, showering his player with praise. 

It was Lee's second runner-up finish in a row, but she conceded there was not much she could do. 

"Congratulations to her. Nobody can go wrong with an eight-under on the final day. She really did good."

Rule issue #1: Alex Cejka disqualified from Honda Classic

Alex Cejka became the first player to be disqualified from a tournament for using illegal green reading materials, a rule change that was first announced last October, when it was discovered he was using an old green book for PGA National that did not fit the new scale limit.

The rule (4.3) states that a golfer can continue to use a green book, except that 'Any image of a putting green must be limited to a scale of 3/8 inch to 5 yards (1:480) or smaller (the “scale limit”)' and that 'Any book or other paper containing a map or image of a putting green must not be larger than 4 ¼ inches x 7 inches (the “size limit”)'.

 “It was brought to the committee’s attention that Alex might possibly be using some old greens reading materials,” said Robby Ware, the PGA Tour rules official who spoke to Cejka. “Alex was basically using an old yardage book and old greens reading materials that did not fit the size to scale limit.

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“He knew he was using an old book. He told me that. I don’t know that he was completely understanding of what the scale limits are.”

“The new scale limits is obviously much smaller. That was the violation.”

It turns out it was Cejka's playing partner, Cameron Tringale, who spotted the green book he was using and spoke to both Cejka and an official.

“I saw it and told my caddie,” Tringale said. “I mentioned it to [Cejka] but was unfamiliar how exactly to proceed. I told the first official I saw what I had seen. I was perplexed. That doesn't look right. Did I really see that?”

Ware then spoke to Cejka on completion of the 14th hole, and he was then taken back to the clubhouse on a golf-buggy, having been disqualified as a result of the new rules. Tringale and Palmer finished the round as a two-ball.

“When we finished the 14th hole, I went to use the bathroom and when I came out I saw [Cejka] riding off in a cart.”

Rule issue #2: Rickie Fowler takes fire at new dropping rule

Rickie Fowler proved he hasn’t quite managed to get over the rules incident at the WGC Mexico Championship which saw him penalised for dropping his ball from shoulder height, rather than the from knee height. 

This week, he needed to take a drop and made plenty of jokes next to a rules official as he ridiculed the different ways he could drop it from knee height and asked the official if that was the right way.

It’s clear golf’s attempt to modernise the rules have fallen considerably short of the smooth expectations that the R&A and USGA would have hoped, and Fowler said the dropping rule in particular is one that Tour pros think needs to be looked at. 

“A lot of us have talked about it,” Fowler said. “Seeing guys drop (in January), a lot of us were laughing at it and making fun of how bad it looks.

“To me, we all want to grow the game. You’re not going to grow the game by making it look funny or making guys do unathletic things. You want to make it look cool. Ultimately we’re trying to bring more of a younger generation in, and when you have people making fun of something it doesn’t do the game any justice.”

Rule issue #3: Adam Schenk, the USGA & Justin Thomas 

Adam Schenk became the third player to be assessed a two-shot penalty for infringing Rule 10.2b(4) during the second round of the Honda Classic for having his caddie standing directly behind him as he took his stance. It once again caused uproar, and Justin Thomas was one of the first to let his feelings about the new rule known on social media. And then the USGA got involved.  

Thomas first responded after the PGA Tour released a statement about the decision, which said “The penalty occurred as a result of Adam’s caddie standing behind him once he took his stance, but not taking any action subsequently that would absolve him of penalty, for example backing out of his stance”

Thomas had originally retweeted the statement from the PGA Tour's communications twitter account with the caption #growthegame, but expanded on his feelings on the issue when questioned. 

"My problem with the rule is that unless a caddie is clearly lining a player up (which is very obvious), I don’t see how there’s any benefit to it," Thomas tweeted. "Doesn’t make the game any better in my eyes. That being said, we know the rule and have to be careful to go by it."

"A lot of times caddies just stand back there and talk. Whether it’s the yardage we have, etc. or maybe I ask him to assess my lie and that’s the most sensible place to look at it, from behind. I agree lining somebody up.. but if the caddie clearly isn’t, unnecessary"

Thomas did concede that players should be aware of the rules and play to them, but called out the USGA for not communicating.

"Totally agree...," he wrote. "I more so say things in hopes that the USGA starts communicating with the current players to better the game and the sport. The rules are rules, no getting past that. Just hoping going forward, communication is had and ALL GOLFERS benefit from any changes"

But the USGA didn't like it, and replied to the World No.3 from their @USGA_PR account by calling him out for cancelling meetings with them, and stating they had been available to talk to at five different tournaments. 

"Justin, we need to talk," the account wrote. "You’ve cancelled every meeting we’ve planned with you, but we are reaching out again. We were at the first 5 events, and tournaments last year, and your tour has had a seat at the table for 7 years. We’d love nothing more than to give you a seat. Call us."

Since the original exchange, Thomas called the comments from the USGA 'shocking', 'upsetting' and 'innacurate.'

Read full story here

Strange Putters spotted on Tour this week: Charl Schwartzel and Adam Scott 

Adam Scott is having the best putting season he’s had in a long time (ranked 14th and 15th at the Farmers and Gensis Open’s), with many crediting the new rules of being able to leave the flag in, so it seemed an odd time to bring in a brand new putter at the Honda Classic.

And yet, Scott opted for the most bizzare model we’ve spotted on the PGA Tour, in the form of L.A.B. Golf DirectedForce’s oversize mallet putter, which is designed to reduced head twisting to keep the face straight to the path during the stroke. He didn’t have a terrible time with the putter, but he also missed the cut after posting rounds of 72 and 71.

adam scott

And he wasn’t the only one to be using a strange-looking flat stick last week. Charl Schwartzel made the switch to the odd PXG putter (reportedly known as ‘backstryke’) before his T6 in Puerto Rico, and once more put it in the bag this week.

He had impressive SG: Stats after the first round with the putter and made the cut, finishing with 1.432 strokes gained over the field in putting stats for the week and ending up in a tie for 16th place. 

charl schwartzel

Don’t expect Brooks Koepka to hold his tongue anymore

Brooks Koepka has been making headlines not just for his golf but for his opinions of late, from slow play issues to Sergio's on-course outburst, and he says it’s because he’s letting everybody get ‘the real me now’. 

Koepka often used to comment that he felt he was underrated and flew under the radar, not often asked to do press conferences and not talked about as the favourite – even after he won his first major.

But things seem to have changed for the three-time major champion and former World No.1, and he now feels confident enough, and established enough, to be able to say what he thinks about certain issues.

“You’re actually probably getting the real me now,” Koepka said during his press conference last week. “I think before I was just trying to be politically correct and not stir any bubbles, just kind of go on with things and be unnoticed. To be honest with you, I feel like now where I’ve put myself in the game, I’ve kind of established myself and I feel I actually do have a voice and it will be heard.”

As his caddie tells it, he feels that as one of the best players in the world, he is not only questioned more, but now has the authority to speak more openly and honestly about his opinions.

“He wasn’t ever really looking for (attention),” caddie Ricky Elliot said. “It’s obviously come his way through his good play last year and he’s a regular guy. He’s going to answer a question honestly. He’s not out to get the attention. It’s coming his way now and he feels like he’s in a position where he has to take the game forward and voice his opinion because that’s what top players are supposed to do.”

Either way, we welcome it. 

brooks koepka

Royal Liverpool named as 151st Open Championship Host from 10-17 July 2022

Royal Liverpool has hosted The Open on 12 separate occasions, first in 1897 and last for Rory McIlroy's famous first Open victory in 2014. Tiger Woods is also a winner here, having claimed a five-shot victory over Ernie Els in 2006. 

Now, the course at Hoylake is set to follow the150th Open in St Andrews as it becomes the venue for the 2022 edition of golf's oldest major championship. 

"The Open shares a strong affinity with England's Golf Coast and following the success of the Championship at Royal Birkdale two years ago we know that there will be tremendous excitement among golf fans at its return to Royal Liverpool," says Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A 

"Its famous links has a cherished history and has produced a revered group of Champion Golfers, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy most recently. It will be fascinating to see who will emerge from the world-class field to lift the Claret Jug in 2022."

Future Open Courses

2019: Royal Portrush, Co Antrim, N.I
2020: Royal St. George's, Sandwich, ENG
2021: Old Course, St. Andrews, SCO
2022: Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, ENG

Read full story here

The European Tour has announced UK based bookmakers Betfred as the new title sponsor of the British Masters.

The agreement, for an initial two years, marks another new chapter for the historic tournament, which has been a popular part of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai for the past four seasons after returning to the schedule in 2015 following a seven year absence.

Tommy Fleetwood, the 2017 Race to Dubai Champion and one of the stars of last year’s Ryder Cup, will host this year’s Betfred British Masters at Hillside Golf Club (May 9-12), in Southport, the coastal town where he grew up.

Fleetwood succeeds Ian Poulter (2015), Luke Donald (2016), Lee Westwood (2017) and Justin Rose (2018) as the tournament host, with each member of the quartet having played an important part in the rebirth of the tournament, which had previously been an integral part of the European Tour’s calendar from the Tour’s formation in 1972 through to 2008.

Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, said: “We are delighted to announce Betfred as the new title sponsor for the British Masters and we look forward to working together to capitalise on the success of the tournament since it came back on to our schedule. 

“The British Masters has been one of our most popular events over the past four years, particularly in terms of reaching new audiences through our partnership with Sky Sports and the work of the four tournament hosts, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose.

“We have another terrific host this year in Tommy Fleetwood, whose own popularity continues to grow, and another fantastic venue in Hillside, so to announce Betfred as title sponsor is another major boost for the tournament.

“Betfred has a strong track record in sponsorship across a number of sports, including rugby, football, snooker and horse racing, and we are thrilled the British Masters will now be their first golf sponsorship.”

Tickets to the 2019 Betfred British Masters hosted by Tommy Fleetwood at Hillside Golf Club from May 9-12 are available by clicking here. A range of hospitality packages are also available. Click here for more details.

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