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Berger a winner at Colonial, and PGA Tour feels like it, too

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The PGA Tour spent two months learning about the COVID-19 pandemic and trying to develop a safe plan to return, followed by another month hoping for the best.

Commissioner Jay Monahan said his confidence in the plan came with a dose of uncertainty.

“If we … got into a situation where we were dealing with a number of positive tests, that’s something — candidly — that I lost a lot of sleep over in the weeks that preceded coming,” Monahan said.

Monahan felt every bit a winner as Daniel Berger at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

The tour administered 487 tests for the new coronavirus at Colonial, and the results on all of them came back negative. On the golf course, a dozen of some of golf’s best players — from Rory McIlroy to Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele to Jordan Spieth — all had a chance going into the final round.

“Listen, there is more work to be done,” Monahan said. “But this is a phenomenal start to our return.”

It was a healthy return, except for a somewhat sickly finish.

Berger made a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and heard the deafening silence of a big moment with no spectators allowed at Colonial. He got into a playoff when Collin Morikawa missed a 6-foot birdie putt for the win and Xander Schauffele missed his try from 25 feet.

The playoff was held on the 17th hole, another reminder of how this week was different. Playoffs always start on the 18th hole because that’s where the gallery is packed into the grandstands. With no fans allowed, and with the 17th tee right next to the clubhouse, off they went.

Morikawa hit a deft chip to 3 feet. Berger chipped even closer from behind the green and rapped in his par. They presumably were headed to the 18th tee until Morikawa’s 3-footer spun out, and Berger was the winner.

Schauffele should have been in the playoff, but his 3-footer for par on the 17th in regulation dipped in the right side of the cup and spun out of the left side. Talk about a horrible horseshoe.

“If there are fans and everything with the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ I’d probably be a little more (ticked) off,” Schauffele said. “Maybe that’s a good thing for me right now. But it was definitely weird.”

Justin Rose had an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th that looked good all the way until it wasn’t. He finished one behind along with Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Kokrak, who also missed birdie chances on the last hole.

This isn’t the first time Rose or anyone else has missed a big putt. It wasn’t the first time Rose let out a gutteral moan from missing. It was just the first time he actually heard it.

“If the crowd are there, their groans or cries, whatever it may be, would have drowned me out,” Rose said. “You suddenly realize you actually do make some noise sometimes yourself. And it surprised me a little bit there on 18.”

There were reminders all week of no fans, but rarely why golf had been shut down since March 12 because of the rapid spread of COVID-19, a pandemic that canceled one major (British Open) and postponed the others until later in the year.

“The only time I thought about it was when I was having to take the tests, and that was really it,” Keith Mitchell said. “Hopefully, nobody comes down with it and we can keep on playing.”

Players on the charter to the next stop — Hilton Head on the South Carolina shore — had to swing by the pool area at Colonial after the third round for a saliva test. If negative, they board the plane and don’t have to be tested at Hilton Head. Everyone else driving, flying commercial or flying private face another test when they arrive.

Tony Finau learned a new skill beyond chipping and putting. He learned to spit for his test.

“You just kind of roll your tongue around inside your mouth, and it seems to bring a little bit more, and also if you just lean your face down, it seems to come out a little easier,” he said.

So few talking about the virus was an indication of how safe it felt. In this case, the week doesn’t end until the next tournament begins.

“I was asked, ‘What’s a successful week look like?’ It means us getting to the RBC Heritage and having another successful week,” he said. “I feel very good about the setup there, and we’re ready to go again.”

Monahan had said as the tour prepared to return that it was critical not to fall into a trap that all is well. He said he wouldn’t feel comfortable until told he could be comfortable, and likely would mean a vaccine.

Morikawa said being back to golf and being back to normal were different matters.

“Just because we played one week doesn’t mean we can go party and go do everything else like we used to,” Morikawa said. “We still have to follow these guidelines and maintain safety and strict rules with how far we stay from each other because it’s still out there.

“We just have to be cognizant of what’s around us and where we put ourselves, because we want the tour to keep playing.

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NCAA adjusts requirements for incoming freshmen

The NCAA is waiving standardized test requirements for incoming freshmen to be eligible to compete in Division I and II during the 2020-21 academic year.

The Eligibility Center adjusted several of its eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen, including the number of core courses and minimum grade-point averages. The adjustments were made in response to schools across the country moving to online learning as part of the fight against coronavirus. Social-distancing restrictions had also canceled some SAT and ACT testing dates.

The NCAA’s news release said: “Membership committees in both Divisions I and II reviewed initial-eligibility data and determined the NCAA would offer flexibility for incoming student-athletes based on research, fairness, equity and a standard of college readiness.”

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South America’s soccer body Conmebol said in a statement it still expects to complete the current editions of the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana tournaments.

It did not, however, provide a date for matches to resume. Conmebol also added it’s up to FIFA to make decisions on September’s fixtures of the region’s World Cup qualifiers. The first two rounds were initially scheduled for March, but were postponed due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

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NASCAR has suspended its May 9 race at Martinsville Speedway and did not give an indication on when the season will resume.

When NASCAR suspended racing four events into the season, it listed the event in Virginia as its return date. But Virginia is under a stay-at-home order until June 10.

NASCAR in a statement said it is considering restarting the season without fans in May. It has privately told teams that NASCAR is hopeful to race May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Coca-Cola 600.

“Our intention remains to run all 36 races, with a potential return to racing without fans in attendance in May at a date and location to be determined,” NASCAR said in a statement.

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Women’s golf has lost another senior major because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senior LPGA Championship has been canceled. It was scheduled to be played July 30-Aug. 1 at French Lick Resort in Indiana.

The USGA previously canceled the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

The Senior LPGA will stay at French Lick in 2021. The new dates will be determined later.

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The Premier League says it still wants to complete its season.

The league held a call with all 20 soccer clubs but provided no specifics about its plan to resume. The competition was suspended more than a month ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The league only says it discussed “possible scheduling models” and that “it remains our objective to complete the 2019-20 season but at this stage all dates are tentative while the impact of COVID-19 develops.”

The league says it will only restart “with the full support of the government” and when “medical guidance allows.”

Liverpool holds a 25-point lead at the top of the standings with nine games remaining.

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An employee of Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact has tested positive for COVID-19.

The team made the announcement Wednesday and said the employee had mild symptoms for a few days is doing well. The person has been placed in quarantine.

Montreal did not specify whether the employee was a player or another member of the team’s staff. The Impact said it is the only confirmed case of the novel coronavirus within the organization so far.

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The NBA and WNBA say they plan to sell cloth face coverings bearing team and league logos and that all proceeds generated by the league will go to charity.

The proceeds will go to Feeding America in the U.S. and Second Harvest in Canada. Both of those organizations work to assist the hungry.

Face-covering manufacturers FOCO and Industry Rag will also be amping up charity efforts through sales. They will donate one face covering for every one purchased to the benefiting charities.

NBA social responsibility and player programs president Kathy Behrens says the masks will help fans adhere to CDC safety guidelines “while joining in the league’s efforts to aid those who have been directly affected by COVID-19.”

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The fourth edition of the Laver Cup exhibition event founded by Roger Federer’s management company is being postponed a year because of changes to the tennis calendar caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

It now will be at TD Garden in Boston from Sept. 24-26, 2021.

The original dates were Sept. 25-27 this year.

But the French Open moved its start from May to Sept. 20 a month ago. That means the Grand Slam tournament would have overlapped with the Laver Cup. The exhibition tournament has attracted some of the top players in men’s tennis in the past.

Federer called the announcement of the Laver Cup date change “unfortunate” and “disappointing” but also “the right thing to do for everyone concerned.”

Tickets already purchased will be valid in 2021 or can be refunded.

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The governing body of track and field is leading a panel of Olympic sports to advise on safely organizing mass gathering events amid the coronavirus pandemic.

World Athletics says the Outbreak Prevention Taskforce includes the International Institute for Race Medicine and officials from cycling, rowing, skiing, triathlon and the International Paralympic Committee.

They will get input from a member of the World Health Organization’s coronavirus mass gatherings expert group.

The panel has its first meeting next week and plans to work with advisers from industry, sponsors and the media. Aims include guidance on risk assessment and how sports can “plan a return to normal activities in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak or similar future situations.”

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Former Leeds defender Norman Hunter has died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was 76.

Leeds says Hunter was admitted to the hospital last week and died on Friday.

Hunter made 726 appearances for Leeds and also played 28 times for England. He was part of the 1966 World Cup-winning squad and earned the nickname “Bites Yer Legs” because of his tough tackling.

Hunter also won two league titles and the FA Cup with Leeds.

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The BMW International Open in Germany and the Open de France golf tournaments have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and the Scottish Open has been postponed.

The BMW International Open was to be played in Munich from June 25-28 and the Open de France was scheduled to take place a week later.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has banned large public gatherings in the country through August 31 and the French government has done the same until mid-July.

The Scottish Open was scheduled to be played from July 9-12. Discussions on a rescheduled date are ongoing.

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Yahoo’s Co-founder Jerry Yang believes golf is about to enter a new age of innovation

Yahoo’s Co-founder Jerry Yang believes golf is about to enter a new age of innovation, and the game’s ruling bodies stand to benefit and also be challenged by the changes.

Giving his keynote speech on Monday at the North American Golf Innovation Symposium, Yang said that the same innovations that are reordering the greater consumer world, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, are coming to golf.

Yang, an internet entrepreneur and who now heads own technology start-up investment firm, highlighted on how golf could be set to see the same kind of technology development that is rapidly enhancing human potential.

“If you look at the categories of things that are coming across our investment activities and how people understand their bodies, every element of that applies to golf,” Yang opined, adding that measuring brain waves, measuring all the body metrics are fascinating.

Yang visualizes a future where laser rangefinder technology is incorporated in sunglasses, and where a golf simulator in a person’s garage “will let you play St. Andrews in a way that really feels like St. Andrews.”

Yang also talked about a future ‘smart ball’ technology that would track every shot, its launch condition, direction, and distance.

The tech entrepreneur also suggested that the kind of ‘haptic suits’ designed to help the lame walk could “be the same suit that can make you become a super person where you can literally swing like Dustin Johnson If you wanted to.”

He, however, said that these innovations would pose challenges for golf’s rule-makers, saying that the people who are upholding the essence of the game whether this helps the game.

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Pro golfer Jarrod Lyle ends leukemia treatment

The wife of Jarrod Lyle has announced the pro golfer’s decisiveness towards ending his cancer treatment, resulting in the transition into palliative care.

In an ongoing fight against acute myeloid leukemia, his wife Bri Lyles announced that the 36-year-old former PGA Tour golfer has been placed in palliative care in one final social media post on behalf of her blind husband.

“My heart breaks as I type this message,” Bri Lyle wrote on Facebook. “Earlier today Jarrod made the decision to stop active treatment and begin palliative care. He has given everything that he’s got to give, and his poor body cannot take anymore. We’ll be taking him closer to home in the next couple of days so he can finally leave the hospital.”

Lyle was first diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager, but overcame the disease to earn his PGA Tour card for the first time in 2007. Lyle won twice on the Web.com Tour in 2008 and competed in 253 world-ranked events in his playing career.

His cancer returned in 2012, but Lyle again beat the disease and returned to pro golf, where he competed in 42 tournaments, including 20 Tour events.

His last tournament was the Western Australia PGA Championship in May 2017, where he tied for 45th.

Lyle’s leukemia returned in 2017. He underwent a haploidentical transplant and stem cell therapy last December. However, in June, the Lyles announced that Jarrod had lost his vision unexpectedly.

Wife, Bri Lyle, said in a final Facebook post, “Jarrod knows he is loved, and the thousands of prayers and well wishes that have been sent his way have kept him going through some incredibly tough times.” She further added, “But he has reached his limit, and the docs have finally agreed that they can no longer strive for a positive outcome.

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Hackers attack PGA, demanding Bitcoin ransom

In a ransomware attack this week, PGA of America computers were infected this week with a strain of malicious software that locked down critical files and demanded cryptocurrency for their return.

Administrators discovered that servers had been targeted in the ransomware attack that restricted them from obtaining access to material relating to major golf tournaments, including this week’s PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club.

Golfweek reported, “Some signage had been in development for over a year and could not be reproduced quickly.”

The extortion threat demanded the transfer of bitcoin to the hackers with an end result of losing files as an alternative.

“Your network has been penetrated. All files on each host in the network have been encrypted with a strong algorithm (sic),” a ransom read. “Backups were either encrypted or deleted or backup disks were formatted.”

The note claimed shutting down the system may damage files.

The notice included a bitcoin wallet number and a warning that there was no way to get access to the files without a decryption key. The hackers that said they would prove their “honest intentions” to the PGA of America by unlocking two files free-of-charge.

An anonymous source revealed to Golfweek that officials had no intention of paying the ransom demand, following the advice of most law enforcement officials and cybersecurity experts.

The network remained locked on Wednesday and external researchers are still investigating.

The golfing association did not reveal what ransomware infected its computers. However, tech website Bleeping Computer found the demand matched the BitPaymer variant. Researcher Lawrence Abrams said one previous extortion scheme asked for 53 bitcoins, equivalent to $335,000.

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Man with same name as pro golfer accidentally gets prize money

A Florida man with the same name as English professional golfer Tommy Fleetwood recently found himself $154,500 richer after the latter’s earnings from his 12th place finish at July’s British Open were mistakenly deposited into the wrong account.

According to ESPN, the world number 11 had no idea that the PGA (Professional Golfer’s Association) had sent his prize money to the wrong man, but he got a good chuckle out of it.

“They are looking into it and I’m sure they’ll feel pretty bad about it. It’s a funny story,” he told reporters at the U.S. PGA Championships in St. Louis. “It’s just something I don’t really look at, but I’ll get on top of that.”

The Fleetwood who got the money is reportedly 58-year-old Florida resident Thomas Fleetwood, a golf club professional based at Streamstrong Resort, 44 miles southeast of Tampa. He says his four attempts to qualify for the senior tour would explain the mix up. European tour officials blamed the mistake on a clerical error, noting that they had the U.S.-based Fleetwood’s  bank account details on file because he had competed in several Challenger Events in Europe decades ago.

Meanwhile, the British Fleetwood’s wife, Claire, said their accountant had been unable to locate the money for over a week.

“We didn’t know about the mix up,” she said. “The money was due in his account last Monday and his accountant had been chasing it so we knew it had gone somewhere.”

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Molinari defeats Tiger Woods, field to win Open 2018

Italian golfer Francesco Molinari retained his first victory as he held off challenges from Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and other notable players to claim the Claret Jug at Carnoustie on Sunday.

Notably, Molinari became the first Italian to win a major.

Before to this year, Molinari had only won four tournaments since turning professional 14 years earlier. In the last several months, the 35-year-old has added three more trophies to his collection, with the Quicken Loans National and BMW PGA Championship now being joined by the Claret Jug.

Molinari responded to questions regarding his first major title by saying, “We will have to see. It’s still going to take time to really sink in and for me to really realize what I’ve done, and what this means for me and Italian golf.”

“Hopefully I can take it as a motivation to work even harder and achieve greater things,” he added.

Molinari’s record this year makes him one of the most in-form players on tour, and even he admits it has taken him by astonishment.

He stated, “For me, it’s hard to believe. Wentworth was the kick-start and was a big part of all of it. I came close there a few times and to finally pull it off meant a lot. It gave me a lot of confidence. To win on the PGA tour was another boost of confidence. I’ve never won too much in my career, until the last month or so. Now everything seems to be happening at the same time.”

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Tiger Woods admits perfect health has passed him

Tiger Woods revealed that he will likely never be fully healthy again.

“I feel good, not great. I don’t think I will ever feel great because it’s three back surgeries, four knee operations,” said Woods during an interview with former R & A chief executive Peter Dawson for Vision Magazine. The interview was shot at the Burj Al Arab hotel. “I’m always going to be a little bit sore. As long as I can function, I’m fine with that.”

The legendary and iconic golfer who has won 14 major championships had to pull out of an event in Dubai earlier this month due to back spasms. Woods, 41 years of age, began his professional career in 1996 and has cited injuries and poor health as a major reason for his inability to return to his dominance of the sport. Before the Dubai Desert Classic, Woods took 17 months away from competition in order to recover from multiple major back surgeries.

“It was a tough, tough road,” said Woods during a CNN interview in reference to the surgeries as well as his long layoff. “There was a lot of dark times where I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t move, the pain was too great. Anyone who’s ever had nerve pain in their back, they certainly understand what that feels like. I honestly didn’t know this time last year, I didn’t know if I’d ever play golf again. Just because of the fact that it’s nerve pain.”
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FBI: Pro golfer Phil Mickelson under investigation for illegal stock trading

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) are investigating professional golfer Phil Mickelson and gambler Billy Walters for possible illegal stock trading, according to The Wall Street and other media organizations.

Mickelson, who is playing at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio this weekend, told reporters on Saturday (May 31) that he was contacted by FBI agents on May 29 following his opening round at Muirfield Village Golf Course. The FBI and SEC are reportedly interested in  Mickelson’s and Walters’ trading of Clorox Corp. stock in 2011, when Icahn acquired more than 9 percent of the stock before attempting to take over the company, driving up its value before he cashed out. Icahn apparently passed along information to Walters, who might have given a tip to Mickelson.

Icahn, who made a $10.2 billion offer for Clorox in 2011, has a net worth more of than $20 billion, according to Forbes, making him one of the 20 wealthiest Americans. The 78-year-old is known as a corporate raider who buys undervalued companies and quickly turns them around for profit.

Mickelson, a five-time major champion, released a statement at the end of his round Saturday stating, “I have done absolutely nothing wrong. I have cooperated with the government in this investigation and will continue to do so. I wish I could fully discuss this matter, but under the current circumstances it’s just not possible. I think that as a player you have to be able to block out whatever is going on off the course. It’s not going to change the way I carry myself. Honestly, I haven’t done anything wrong and I’m not going to walk around any other way.”

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the investigation is looking into 2012 trades made by Mickelson and Walters for stock of Dean Foods Co.