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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In a quiet locker room Thursday afternoon, Jason Dufner gathered his belongings, threw his black backpack over his shoulder and trudged through the door, toward an uncertain future.

Two bulging discs in his neck have made playing golf unbearable. The defending PGA champion withdrew midway through the first round at Valhalla after going 8 over par for his first 10 holes.

Not even Dufner knows when he will compete again, but one thing is certain: He won’t do so until he’s completely healthy. That could be in two weeks at The Barclays. That could be next spring. Or, he said, that could be never again. Seriously.

“I don’t think that’s the case,” he said, “but I’m not going to continue to play hurt. It’s no fun. I’m not proving anything out here. There’s no point in being out here.”

Dufner said he first experienced discomfort at the Masters, but the pain has intensified since the U.S. Open. Since a playoff loss at Colonial and a T-19 at the Memorial, he has two missed cuts and two other finishes outside the top 50.

And now this – an early exit from the PGA, the same tournament that a year ago launched his late-blooming career.  

“Obviously I can’t play golf right now,” he said, “so I have no business being out there trying to compete in this championship. … What’s the point in being out here?”

PGA Championship: Articles, videos and photos

A day earlier, he was asked that very question.

In recent interviews Dufner has described theinjury as an “arthritic, degenerative issue” that he’ll likely deal with “for a good bit.” He had an epidural last Monday to dull the pain, and his doctor recommended that he rest for seven to 10 days. Except that’s not feasible, not in this hectic part of the schedule.  

Dufner played in last week’s no-cut Bridgestone Invitational, tying for 66th, and then hoped to play the weekend here at the PGA to secure his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. That way he could sit out the FedEx Cup playoffs, giving his body about six weeks to rest before the matches in Scotland.

“I kind of need to suck it up and make some points and try and get healthy,” he said Wednesday. Instead, his Round 1 WD meant that Jordan Spieth became the sixth player (of nine) to lock up a spot.

The Ryder Cup is the furthest thing from Dufner’s mind at the moment, and for good reason. The past few months have been trying, both mentally and physically, but he also called the injury a blessing. Now 37, he conceded that he needed to take a “serious” look at his health and get into better shape.

That process begins now.

“I’m not worried about the immediate future,” he said. “I’m worried about getting healthy. I’m not really concerned about when I play again, to be honest with you.”

August 8, 2014

Phil Mickelson’s Scottish Open defense will begin alongside Luke Donald and Ryder Cup hopeful Joost Luiten. 

The trio will go off at 3:20 a.m. ET Thursday at Royal Aberdeen. Their second-round tee time is scheduled for 8 a.m. 

Mickelson won at Castle Stuart last year, then completed the improbable double dip with a stirring final round at Muirfield. 

Jimmy Walker, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ian Poulter (3:30 a.m.) go off 10 minutes after the Mickelson group, with Rory McIlroy, Jamie Donaldson and Thongchai Jaidee (3:40 a.m.) another 10 minutes after that. 

Justin Rose, at No. 6 the highest-ranked player in the field, will be paired with Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher for the first two rounds. They tee off at 8 a.m. ET Thursday (3:20 a.m. Friday).

Following that group is the threesome of Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson and Rickie Fowler (8:10 a.m.).

July 8, 2014

Rory McIlroy says that his ongoing legal dispute with his former management company won’t shake up one of Europe’s most dynamic Ryder Cup partnerships.

Graeme McDowell’s name was dragged into court last month when McIlroy’s legal team argued that the former world No. 1 received “markedly inferior” conditions than McDowell when both were represented by Horizon Sports Management. There also were reports that Mcllroy “orchestrated” the timing of the lawsuit to coincide with G-Mac’s wedding, though McIlroy has vehemently denied those claims.

Talking to reporters at the unveiling of the Nike performance facility at Archerfield Links in Scotland, McIlroy was asked whether the lawsuit would disrupt team chemistry at Gleneagles. 

“It won’t – that is complete nonsense,” McIlroy said, according to the Scotsman. “G-Mac knows what is going on. It hasn’t affected our relationship in any way. 

“At times it’s awkward because he’s with someone (Horizon), but at the end of the day, we are the same two people we were. I would love to tee it up with G-Mac in the Ryder Cup and (European captain) Paul McGinley knows that.” 

McIlroy and McDowell have been partners at the World Cup, Seve Trophy and Ryder Cup in both 2010 and ’12. McIlroy seems a lock for this year’s squad, while McDowell boosted his chances with a come-from-behind victory Sunday at the French Open.  

As for the status of their relationship, McIlroy, who is playing in this week’s Scottish Open, said that he is still very close to McDowell.

“There’s obviously been a few things that have gone on that have strained the relationship, but I still talk to him regularly and catch up with him,” McIlroy said, according to the report. “He has stayed out of everything as much as he can and there’s no ill feeling toward him in any way from my side. He’s been one of my best friends on tour and showed me the ropes. I will always be grateful for what he’s done and for going out of his way to make me feel comfortable out here.”

July 8, 2014

This could be the most hotly contested Ryder Cup ever – and we’re talking about just making the team.

So, each Monday, will take a look at the players who are vying for one of the 12 spots on the team. Nine players make the squad via their respective points list, and both captain Tom Watson and Paul McGinley will have three wild-card picks apiece.


The current top 12:

1. Bubba Watson, 6,828

2. Jimmy Walker, 5,379

3. Dustin Johnson, 4,844

4. Matt Kuchar, 4,716

5. Jordan Spieth, 4,547

6. Jim Furyk, 4,302

7. Rickie Fowler, 3,831

8. Jason Dufner, 3,466

9. Patrick Reed, 3,301

10. Brendon Todd, 3,177

11. Phil Mickelson, 3,095

12. Webb Simpson, 3,086


• There was no movement among the top 9 in the standings. 

• After a T-4 at the Greenbrier – his sixth top 20 in a row – Brendon Todd moved from No. 13 to No. 10. Just a reminder that he spent half of last season on the circuit.

• Webb Simpson’s final-round 63 gave him solo third at the Greenbrier, and a big move in the standings. He jumped from 17th to 12th. 

• The players who, right now, would need a captain’s pick to be on the Ryder Cup team: Phil Mickelson (11th), Harris English (14th), Zach Johnson (15th), Keegan Bradley (16th), Brandt Snedeker (28th), Hunter Mahan (35th), Steve Stricker (42nd) and Tiger Woods (72nd).


European Points List (top 4 qualify): 

1. Victor Dubuisson, 2,490,346

2. Jamie Donaldson, 2,395,561

3. Henrik Stenson, 2,366,878

4. Thomas Bjorn, 2,264,081

5. Martin Kaymer, 1,953,042

6. Ian Poulter, 1,905,382

7. Rory McIlroy, 1,771,417

8. Joost Luiten, 1,550,520

9. Miguel Angel Jimenez, 1,504,340

10. Graeme McDowell, 1,381,140 

World Points List (top 5):

1. Henrik Stenson, 343

2. Sergio Garcia, 267

3. Rory McIlroy, 253

4. Martin Kaymer, 244

5. Justin Rose, 203

6. Thomas Bjorn, 186

7. Victor Dubuisson, 172

8. Jamie Donaldson, 162

9. Luke Donald, 156

10. Ian Poulter, 147


• Graeme McDowell’s win in France certainly helped his Ryder Cup candidacy, but he’ll have to produce similar results in the next few months if he wants to lock up an automatic spot. His defense moved him only up to No. 10 on the European Points list, about 900,000 points behind the fourth and final automatic spot. (He is No. 12 on the World Points list.) That said, G-Mac’s good form obviously will catch the eye of captain Paul McGinley. 

• Among the Ryder Cup hopefuls in this week’s Scottish Open: Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Jonas Blixt and Stephen Gallacher.

July 8, 2014

If there’s ever been a professional golfer who needed a big break, it’s Jason Millard.

Two years ago, he missed claiming a PGA Tour card by one measly stroke at Q-School. This year, he owns conditional status on the developmental Tour, but hasn’t gotten into a single event. He’s tried to Monday qualify, but is 0-for-7 so far.

That’s hardly the extent of his heartache, though.

Last year, his father, Eddie, passed away at 60 after a year-long battle with leukemia. “He was my best friend,” Jason says of the man who introduced him to the game.

That left the 24-year-old to care for his mother, Debbie, all alone. Right around the time Jason was born, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. About two or three years ago, her condition worsened to the point where she can no longer walk. He still lives with her in his childhood home and though she has a daily caretaker, his responsibilities include buying her groceries, paying her bills and ensuring her medications are filled.

“He’s got a lot more on his plate than any 24-year-old should have in regard to the things he’s been through with his family,” says Whit Turnbow, head coach at Middle Tennessee State University, where Millard was a two-time All-America selection. “But his mom and dad did a wonderful job raising him. He’s got a strong sense of family and he’s a high-character, high-moral kid.”

So yeah, this is a kid who could use a big break. And he finally got one this past week, shooting scores of 68-68 at the Memphis, Tenn., sectional to earn a spot in the upcoming U.S. Open.

Until five days later, when that big break turned into another big disappointment.

After nearly a week of constantly thinking about it, nearly a week of guilt, of questioning himself, of not wanting his big break to come under false pretenses, Millard disqualified himself from the biggest tournament of his life.

Playing the 18th hole on the North Course at Colonial Country Club – his 27th of the day – he hit an approach into a greenside bunker. As he played the shot, doubt crept into his mind as to whether he’d grounded his club in the hazard.

“I got in the bunker and looked up at the flag and back down, then back at the flag,” he recalls. “I looked down the last time before I took my swing and I think I feel the club hit the sand. I may never know. I think I see a little indentation from where the club hit it, but it happened so fast. I was actually in the act of making my swing when I thought I saw it. It was like a blur. That image keeps popping in my head.”

Millard notified playing partner Tommy Gainey, but he was on the other side of the green and didn’t see anything. He told a rules official, who informed him that it was his call and his call alone.

It was a decisive call. When the 36-hole qualifier was over, he’d earned a spot in the field by one stroke. If he’d given himself a two-stroke penalty, he would have missed a playoff by one.

For five days, he thought about it. All the time.

“I literally thought about it for every single second of the day,” he says. “I just kept asking myself what to do. I kept saying, ‘I’m not 100 percent sure,’ so I never did anything. But it kept on eating at me inside.”

On Saturday morning, Millard packed up for Pinehurst and started driving from his Murfreesboro, Tenn., home with his caddie. They’d driven about an hour, halfway between Murfreesboro and Knoxville – “in the middle of nowhere,” he calls it – when he had a change of heart.

He called a USGA official and explained that he couldn’t compete with the uncertainty weighing on him.

Those who bemoan the impact that television replays have had on professional golf should take note of Millard’s lasting desire toward the situation.

“I wish there was a camera there,” he says, “so I could see it.”

Instead, the guy who can’t catch a break dealt himself another cruel blow.

Instead of playing alongside the game’s best players, he’ll be watching from afar – as much as it will pain him. Instead of trying to make the cut and play a U.S. Open final round on Father’s Day, one year after his father died, he’ll be mourning at home.

The story should recall that of Blayne Barber, who two years ago needed eight days before disqualifying himself from Q-School for a similarly undetermined infraction. And it should be noted that Barber – in a karmic twist of what goes around comes around – will be a full-fledged PGA Tour member next season.

“His break is coming, man,” Turnbow insists. “He’s too good a player to not rebound from something like this.”

After calling a USGA official and disqualifying himself and turning around from the middle of nowhere, Millard returned to his childhood home and told his mother about his decision. Despite her physical limitations, Debbie’s mind is still as sharp as ever.

A tear fell down her cheek as listened to her son’s story. Then she responded.

“She said she was proud of me, proud of the decision that I made,” he says. “Then she told me, ‘You’ll get ‘em next year.’”

Let’s hope so. He could use a big break. 

June 8, 2014

Consistency has hardly been a strong point this year for Phil Mickelson, but he may have found some in his final start before the U.S. Open.

Mickelson finally got his second round underway Saturday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and carded a 2-under 68 to remain inside the top 10 at the halfway point of the tournament. At 5 under, Lefty trails leader Ben Crane by seven shots.

Mickelson opened with a 3-under 67 Thursday, and this is only the second time in 2014 that the 43-year-old has carded back-to-back rounds under par on the PGA Tour. He was also in red figures in both the first and second rounds of the Shell Houston Open, where he ultimately tied for 12th.

Mickelson is still in search of his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this season, and came to Memphis looking for some momentum before heading to Pinehurst with hopes of completing the career grand slam. Last year, he tied for second at TPC Southwind and went on to record the same finish at the U.S. Open at Merion the following week.

Though he was erratic off the tee, finding only six of 14 fairways during the second round, Mickelson salvaged a sub-par score thanks to a sound short game. He took just 29 putts, and after bogeys on two of his first three holes, he did not make another bogey the rest of the way. Mickelson finally got into red figures with consecutive birdies on Nos. 14 and 15.

After significant weather delays during each of the first two days, tournament play remains behind schedule in Memphis. Third-round tee times are slated from 4-6 p.m. ET Saturday, with groups going off both the first and 10th tees, with the goal still to complete 72 holes by sunset Sunday.

June 8, 2014

Michelle Wie and Inbee Park will be chasing Shanshan Feng Sunday at the Manulife Financial Classic with the LPGA delivering yet another stellar leaderboard going in to a final round.

Feng’s 4-under-par 67 Saturday put her out front in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Cristie Kerr, 17-year-old Lydia Ko and Anna Nordqvist are all in the hunt in what promises to be another shootout at the Grey Silo Golf Course.

At 15-under 198, Feng is two shots ahead of Wie (68) and Park (65). She’s three ahead of Kerr (65).

Ko soared up the leaderboard Saturday with a 64, the day’s low round, giving her a chance to become the youngest Rolex No. 1 in the history of the women’s game. She moved four shots off the lead and needs to win to have a chance to overtake Stacy Lewis as the new No. 1.

Nordqvist (69), seeking to become the first three-time winner this LPGA season, is also four shots back.

Manulife Financial LPGA Classic: Articles, videos and photos

Wie kept herself in the hunt despite a rough start. She bogeyed two of the first three holes to fall off the pace but rallied with six birdies and a bogey the rest of the way.

“Quite a shaky start,” Wie told reporters after her round. “I missed a good birdie opportunity on the first hole, and then I kind of duck-hooked it on the second hole and had to take an unplayable. Actually, it was a really good bogey. Then I kind of hooked it on the next hole, hit it in the bunker. So I just couldn’t get my tempo right in the beginning, but definitely felt like I finished strong.”

That kind of start might have derailed Wie a year ago, when she ranked No. 100 in the world. With five finishes of fourth place or better this year, including her victory at the Lotte Championship, her first title in four years, Wie’s confidence is high. She joked after the third round that she was more upset about breaking a nail than she was about the early bogeys. She has climbed to No. 10 in the world with the kind of resilience she showed after Saturday’s rough start.

“I’m getting more and more confident,” Wie said. “But it’s always a work in progress, because golf is such a finicky game. It’s like, one day you’re feeling really great, the next day you’re not.”

Feng is looking for her fourth LPGA title.

“I’ve had no pressure this week,” Feng said. “Last year, I missed the cut here, so I came just to have fun.”

Feng, Wie and Park will be in the final group Sunday.

Park got herself in position to claim her first LPGA title since winning the U.S. Women’s Open almost a year ago. She would love to go to Pinehurst No. 2 in eight days to defend her title coming off a victory.

“The first win is always very important, and that would give me a lot of confidence going into the U.S. Open, that’s for sure,” Park said. “So, yeah, that’s going to help a lot.”

Park saw her 59-week reign atop the Rolex Women’s World Rankings end last week, when Lewis overtook her with a victory at the ShopRite Classic. Park can’t gain her No. 1 ranking back with a victory Sunday, but Rolex world No. 3 Ko can get there.

If Ko wins, and Lewis finishes eighth or worse, Ko will head to the U.S. Women’s Open as the youngest No. 1 in the history of professional golf. Ko’s small divisor, with fewer starts than Park, enables her to make the rankings jump to No. 1 with a win.

Lewis starts Sunday tied for 18th, eight shots back.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Ko said.

June 8, 2014

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Justin Leonard wasted no time in getting his round started Thursday at The Players Championship.

Leonard holed his approach shot for an eagle on the first hole, a shot that propelled the veteran to a 4-under 68 in the opening round. He took dead aim with an 8-iron from 147 yards and found his target, holing the shot on the fly and damaging the cup in the process.

“Fun way to start the day,” Leonard said. “It made some noise, so we knew it hit the pin at some point, but didn’t know until we got up there that it had just blown the front of the hole out.”

The Players Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Leonard won at TPC Sawgrass in 1998 and has made the cut each of the last five years on the Stadium Course. The 41-year-old explained that he enjoys the annual trip to the Stadium Course, where his disadvantage off the tee can often be mitigated.

“I feel like this golf course doesn’t suit any particular style of play,” he said. “There’s some holes where length is an advantage, and there are some holes where it’s not as much of an advantage.

“I feel like I’m kind of on more level ground with a lot of guys here than I am at some other places.”

May 8, 2014

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – While many of the game’s best got off to a quick start Thursday morning at The Players Championship, Phil Mickelson went in the opposite direction.

Mickelson struggled to a 3-over 75 in the opening round, an effort that left him 10 shots off the pace and in danger of missing the cut. After the round, he struggled to explain his inability to capitalize on the prime scoring conditions that greeted the morning wave.

“I don’t know. I don’t feel like any parts of the game are bad,” Mickelson said. “I just have a hard time seeing the ball go in the hole and getting it to go in the hole.”

After an inconsistent week at Quail Hollow, Mickelson failed to get comfortable on the greens at TPC Sawgrass. He opened with a three-putt bogey on No. 10, including a miss from inside 3 feet, and also missed birdie putts of less than 8 feet at Nos. 16 and 17.

Mickelson’s lone birdie came at the fourth hole, and his four bogeys included one at the par-3 eighth, where he took an unplayable lie after his tee shot buried under the lip of a greenside bunker. While he reached 13 of 18 greens in regulation, Mickelson took 33 putts.

“I was playing well and hit a lot of greens, but it was frustrating because I was over par,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s just the greens or what, but I’m not really sure what it is yet.”

Mickelson faces an afternoon tee time Friday, when the course is expected to play more difficult with a freshening wind. With an uphill battle ahead to make the weekend, the former Players champion was not exactly brimming with confidence after the round.

“(I’ll) come out and try to play as hard as I can and see how low I can shoot,” he said. “It’s just not quite clicking right now.”

May 8, 2014

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Ernie Els is looking to battle through the illusions architect Pete Dye created at TPC Sawgrass. He is also looking to turn back the clock with a short putter, using a stroke that worked in his youth.

So far, so good for Els, who opened with a 4-under 68 Thursday, his best start in 10 years at The Players Championship. He’s aiming to end a run of four consecutive missed cuts here.

The Players Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Els is finally starting to see what he believes are the true lines off tee boxes, not the illusions Dye created.

“The tee boxes here all aim right,” Els said. “Pete Dye’s a genius, but he’s a sinister man. I’ve always felt uncomfortable on the tees here … I can’t just aim down the tee, because I’m aiming 20 yards right.”

Els went back and forth with the belly putter and short putter last year. He’s using the short putter again, and he used it well Thursday, requiring just 25 putts. Of course, it helped that he holed a 112-yard wedge shot for eagle at the fourth hole, and also chipped in for birdie at the 14th.

“Seems like we talked about the putter all last year,” Els said. “I’m on the short putter, and I’m getting used to it. It’s been good.”

Els had eight one-putts on Thursday. He said he has been looking at his stroke in old footage, and he liked what he saw watching video of his stroke at the 1996 Buick Classic.

“I had a certain way of putting, almost a pendulum out of my chest,” Els said. “I’m trying to get back to that kind of feel.”

May 8, 2014