May 6, 2015 - 8:25am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Rory McIlroy
USA Today Sports Images
With a win last week at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship, Rory McIlroy arrives at TPC Sawgrass riding high on confidence.

The PGA Tour is home this week -- TPC Sawgrass, the Tour's headquarters -- for the Players Championship.

While TPC Sawgrass may be best known for its world-famous, par-3 17th hole, it's fair to say that the rest of the course isn't all that shabby either -- one of the best on Tour in fact.

Featuring one of the strongest fields of the year, the Players Championship is understandably held in high regard amongst the guys on the PGA Tour. Martin Kaymer returns this week as the defending champion, while 2013 winner Tiger Woods makes his first start since a tie for 17th at the Masters. Woods -- out nursing back to health from back surgery -- missed out on his title defense a year ago.

RELATED: Players Championship tee times | Sleepless nights for Woods | Spieth could make statement

At TPC Sawgrass, you're likely to see a host of superstars on the first page of the leaderboard in the late stages on Sunday.

Here are five of those stars you're going to want to watch.

5. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T2 at the Masters
Reason to watch: Not including his runner-up finish at the Masters, it's been a rather forgettable season for Lefty. But, that's the thing about Mickelson these last few years -- he shows up at the biggest events and the Players Championship, while not one of the big four, is right up there. Somewhat surprisingly, the 2007 Players Champion has missed the cut in each of his last two starts at TPC Sawgrass. We all know he's got his sights set on winning the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay a little over a month from now to complete the career grand slam. Now is the time to start building some confidence.

4. Matt Kuchar
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T2 at the Humana Challenge
Reason to watch: Kuchar snapped an uncharacteristic run of rough starts with a fifth-place finish at the RBC Heritage. But, the former Players Champion comes to TPC Sawgrass this week after an early exit at TPC Harding. Even so, I'm not worried. Through the years, Kuchar has been solid at TPC Sawgrass. With the consistency he's had there, it's hard to imagine Kuchar not figuring into the equation come late Sunday.

3. Sergio Garcia
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T2 at the CIMB Classic
Reason to watch: Garcia hasn't missed a cut in eight starts this season on the PGA Tour. He's a past champion at TPC Sawgrass and so often has his name in the mix, including last year when he finished third. It seems, a lot of years, TPC Sawgrass brings out the best in Garcia. Garcia hasn't had a great tournament since back in February when he tied for fourth at the Northern Trust Open. It's time to get things back on track.

2. Jordan Spieth
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the Valspar Championship and the Masters
Reason to watch: In his first start at the Players Championship one year ago, the reigning Masters champion finished in a tie for fourth. That's impressive. And since then, Spieth has only gotten better. The 21-year-old arrives at TPC Sawgrass following an early exit in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship last week. That may have been -- in hindsight -- just what Spieth needed since things have been so hectic since his win at Augusta National. Now that he's had a little time to rest, Spieth should come out reenergized. Early on in his career, it looks like the sky is the limit for Spieth... so why not at a Players Championship to the resume this week?

1. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship
Reason to watch: Up until last week, it had been a disappointing season for the world's No. 1 player. It wasn't a bad one, but whenever he plays now, McIlroy expects to win. He finally notched his first victory in the match play format over at TPC Harding. I think that was just the shot of confidence McIlroy needed to get on another one of his rolls. He also returns to TPC Sawgrass having finished in the top-8 in each of the last two seasons. The course is arguably designer Pete Dye's finest. McIlroy won the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in 2012 -- another Dye gem. Sure, the terrain of those two courses couldn't be more different, but the focus Dye demands is the same. In a career that's had plenty of them already, I think this could be another "statement" week for McIlroy.  

5 players to watch at TPC Sawgrass
Bing Crosby
French Lick West Baden Museum
Many stars have visited French Lick over the years, including avid golfer Bing Crosby (right), playing the Donald Ross Hills course.
 
French Lick is a tiny town in Southern Indiana, known best to many as the home of basketball superstar Larry Bird, who led the Boston Celtics to three championships in the 1980s. In recent years, it has again become a Midwestern destination for recreational and championship golf. The 2015 Senior PGA Championship will be played May 19-24 at the French Lick Resort Pete Dye Course, a scenic layout offering panoramic views in the Hoosier National Forest. It’s certain to challenge golfers and impress spectators.
 
But beyond the baskets and birdies lies a town with a colorful past. Politicians came to French Lick to trigger campaigns, arrange backroom deals or simply relax and enjoy the spas and scenery. Regular folks visited seeking miracle cures drawn from the waters of the mineral springs. Gamblers, athletes, crooners, comics and circus clowns passed through, not to mention three iconic golf course architects. American composer Irving Berlin wrote songs in French Lick and American gangster Al Capone dropped by. Even the Chicago Cubs found good fortune here.
 
Together they cooked up a interesting, vibrant story that’s recorded in detail at the French Lick West Baden Museum. Fans who visit in May to watch Colin Montgomerie try and defend his Senior PGA title should plan to tour the museum, where a May exhibit will feature the town’s rich golf history, which dates to the late 19th Century.
 
Early 1700s: How did French Lick get its name? Well, it was settled by the French, the first Europeans in Southern Indiana. They traded with the Native Americans, who were hunting buffalo. Those creatures and other wildlife enjoyed licking the salt and other minerals from the mineral springs prevalent in the area.
 
1830s: After the British take the land from the French, the Americans take it from the British. They divide and sell the land, with Dr. William Bowles purchasing 1500 acres in the valley where the town and resort are today.
 
1845: Bowles builds the French Lick Inn, where visitors travel from across the world to “take the waters.” This Pluto Water, named after the Roman god of the underworld, is said to improve gastric function and appetite, and cure alcoholism among other ailments and illnesses.
 
1855: The West Baden Springs Hotel is built at the same time, and competition is born between the two French Lick destinations. Not to be outdone, the West Baden, which is named for a German town, sells “Sprudel Water,” taken from the German word for springs, or bubbly.
 
1861: The “Dead Rat Club,” the first casino in the valley, opens inside the Homestead Hotel. By the 1920s there will be at least 13 and perhaps as many as 20 illegal gambling dens in the area.
 
1888: The first railroad tracks are laid in the valley, and both resorts are now open year-round, accommodating visitors from nearby cities such as Louisville, 55 miles east, and Indianapolis, about 100 miles to the north. In later years, some visitors spend the entire month of May in French Lick, enjoying the festivities between two nearby marquee events on the sports calendar – the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500.
 
1897: The first golf course is built.
 
Late 1800s, early 1900s: French Lick becomes a spring training destination for professional baseball teams. While the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox are the the most frequent visitors, a total of 14 teams choose French Lick for early season preparation and exhibitions over the years, including the Reds, Cardinals and Pirates. Perhaps the Cubs should return. They held spring training in town in 1907 and 1908 and won the World Series both years. They haven’t won one since, although they returned in 1943 due to World War II and again reached the World Series.
 
1901: Tom Taggart, a former mayor of Indianapolis and future U.S. Senator, purchases the French Lick Hotel. He was also the head of the National Democratic Party. "If you wanted to run for anything, you had to come to French Lick and get Tom’s approval,” said Travis Tarrants, co-director of the French Lick West Baden Museum.
 
1907: Taggart hires Tom Bendelow to build a new course. Bendelow also designed Medinah Country Club in Chicago, which has played host to several PGA Championships and one Ryder Cup.
 
1917: Taggart hires Donald Ross to build the Hills Course, a 6,777-yard, par-70 championship layout. Walter Hagen, no stranger to nightlife, won the PGA Championship here in 1924, while Betsy Rawls and Mickey Wright claimed LPGA Championships in 1959 and 1960, respectively.
 
1922: Ed Ballard buys the West Baden Springs Hotel. Ballard also owns the American Circus Company. Its six circuses spend the winter in town from 1913 to 1930. Busted by the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, Ballard eventually sells the circus and the hotel.
 
1931: During one of many governor’s conferences held in French Lick, Franklin D. Roosevelt announced and gained momentum for his presidential campaign. He also met his future running mate, Harry Truman, for the first time. Among the other U.S. Presidents to visit French Lick over the years: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Reagan.
 
1930s thru 1950: Boxing champion Joe Louis, who in 1952 became the first African American to compete in a PGA Tour event, trained and relaxed in French Lick. He played golf, rode horses and prepared for upcoming bouts. Other noted celebrities seen in French Lick: The Marx Brothers, Bing Crosby, Cole Porter and Bob Hope.
 
1949: French Lick takes a major blow when reformist governor Henry F. Schricker orders a Kentucky Derby weekend raid of the illegal gambling halls in French Lick. According to a 2007 New York Times article, Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson and Eddie Rickenbacker, the president of Eastern Airlines were in town at the time. “We’ve put a lid on French Lick, once and for all,” Schricker said after the raid. “The gamblers have been told to straighten up and clear out. Indiana will never see the likes of them again.”
 
1971: The Federal Government forces the French Lick hotel to stop bottling the “Pluto Water.” The economy continues to suffer.
 
2005: The Cook Medical Group out of Indianapolis purchases both hotels, and a $5 million restoration project restores the Donald Ross course built in 1917 to its original design. The Cook group has spent more than $600 million to help restore French Lick.
 
2006: A new legal casino opens.
 
2009: The Pete Dye Course at French Lick opens.
 
Golfers, stars and mineral springs: colorful tales from French Lick
May 4, 2015 - 8:40am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Gary Woodland
USA Today Sports Images
Gary Woodland hit the type of shot all golfers can relate to on Sunday. Attempting to hit a ball through a cluster of trees, the ball plunked one tree and nearly returned to Woodland's feet.

In case you missed it on Sunday, Gary Woodland hit the kind of shot in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship final against Rory McIlroy that we can all relate to.

Playing the par-4 third hole at TPC Harding Park and with the match all square, Woodland decided he needed to be aggressive off the tee after watching McIlroy stripe one down the center of the fairway.

Woodland's aggressive play sent his ball left and into some trees. Now, given the match-play situation, it was time for Woodland to try to pull off a hero shot.

RELATED: McIlroy wins Match Play | Final Match Play results | What's in the winners' bags

Lined up and ready to go, Woodland put a mighty strike on the ball. The ball sailed through the trees before plunking one about 45 yards in front of Woodland and then returned to the golfer, nearly right at his feet.

Check it out:

 

"I hit that tree and it literally came back, I had about a yard closer," Woodland said. "I could have caught it for how much [it came back] ‑‑ it hit right in the center of the tree. Tony (Woodland's caddie) and I got a good laugh out of it because I had to ask how far we were. I tried to hit a miracle shot there and I got it up in the crowd."

As it turned out, no harm, no foul. Woodland and McIlroy halved the hole with bogeys. At the next hole, however, McIlroy won the first of four holes in a row and never looked back on his way to a second World Golf Championships title.

Woodland plunks tree, ball returns to feet
May 3, 2015 - 12:44pm
mark.aumann's picture
Nick O'Leary
USA Today Images
Nick O'Leary, grandson of Jack Nicklaus, was drafted by the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

If Jack and Barbara Nicklaus want to continue to follow their grandson's football exploits, they'd better bundle up. Nick O'Leary was drafted in the sixth round by the Buffalo Bills.

 

 

O'Leary, winner of the John Mackey Award as the nation's top college tight end, played a key role in all four of his seasons at Florida State. He caught 48 passes for 618 yards and six touchdowns as a senior for the Seminoles. The 6-3, 247-pounder played football, basketball, lacrosse and ran track in high school -- but was not on his school's golf team.

Nicklaus was playing a honorary round Saturday at the Champions Tour's Insperity Invitational and hadn't commented publicly on his own web site. However, he did provide this quote to the Buffalo News:

"Buffalo is a young, up-and-coming team with a bright future. It should be a good place for Nick.

"Buffalo’s got a tremendous defense; they have made a lot of changes on offense; and Rex Ryan is a players' coach. I tell you one thing, Buffalo got one heck of a football player in Nick. He is a heck of an athlete. He’s a hard worker. He’s got great hands. And he’s a lot faster than he tested, I’m going to promise you that."

Nick's grandparents attended many of his games in Tallahassee. However, Buffalo is quite a different story, especially when the weather turns snowy in upstate New York.

 

Jack's grandson drafted by Bills
Rory McIlroy
European Tour/Twitter
Rory McIlroy is not particularly pleased with his view of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

Tickets to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas? Priceless. Or pricey.

Having to watch it instead from the TPC Harding Park media center? Disappointing, to say the least.

That was Rory McIlroy's plight Saturday evening. Because his quarterfinal match with Paul Casey not only went extra holes, but ended up being suspended by darkness, the world's No. 1 golfer was unable to even get to the airport in San Francisco, let alone reach Las Vegas, for the bout. Plus, the resumption of his match with Casey was scheduled for 6:45 a.m. local time, not really conducive to a red-eye flight to Nevada and back.

Instead, he watched it from the course's media center, along with the rest of the working stiffs:

 

 

Eventually, the broadcast was put up on the center's large screen, so everyone didn't have to watch a tiny monitor.

On the other hand, Lee Westwood -- who lost to Danny Willett earlier in the day -- was able to hop on a private jet and get to Sin City in plenty of time. He joked about using Rory's tickets, and then posted this tweet:

 

 

By all accounts, the fight -- won by Mayweather -- failed to live up to the pre-bout hype. Still, there's nothing worse than having tickets to a big event in your pocket when you're 500 miles away.

 

Westwood gets to Vegas, Rory stuck in S.F.