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Harris English leads in Mexico, where he last won 6 years ago

It took three days, but we’re finally halfway through the Mayakoba Golf Classic, where Harris English leads:

Leaderboard: Harris English (-13), Vaughn Taylor (-12), Brendon Todd (-11), Danny Lee (-10), Adam Long (-10), Robby Shelton (-10)

What it means: English went out in the third group off No. 1 Saturday and quickly rose to the top of the leaderboard, passing first-round leader Lee, who managed just a second-round, 1-under 70. No player was able to pull even or pass English, not even fellow Georgia product Todd, who shot 68 and is two shots back as he looks for his second straight win after prevailing in Bermuda two weeks ago.

Round of the day: It was a strong start and finish for English, who birdied four of his first six holes and then chipped in for birdie on the last to shoot 7-under 64, a round that was equaled by Robert Streb, who is 7 under overall.

Mayakoba Golf Classic: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Best of the rest: Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz rocketed up the leaderboard with a 6-under 65 as he joins younger brother, Alvaro, in the top 10. Alvaro, who played collegiately at Arkansas, is 9 under, a shot ahead of Carlos. Pat Perez, who won at Mayakoba in 2016, also fired a 65 to join the group at 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: Jason Day made four birdies yet somehow carded a 6-over 77 to drop to 5 over and miss the cut by a mile. Not good news for the International Presidents Cup team.

English (64) attacks Mayakoba layout early in Round 2

English (64) attacks Mayakoba layout early in Round 2

Main storyline entering Sunday: English entered the week with a Tour-leading three top-10s. Not bad for a player who began the fall with limited status after finishing the previous season No. 149 in FedExCup points. Now, English will take a one-shot lead into Sunday’s marathon day, which will feature threesomes off split tees for both rounds and no re-pair after the third round. He hasn’t won in six years, not since the 2013 edition of … the Mayakoba Classic.

Shot of the day: English’s day-ending chip-in.

Quote of the day: “Icing on the cake.” – English after chipping in to take the solo lead.

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PGA Tour pros have emotional meeting with. . . some guy they met through a video game

I have never played the video game Call of Duty so I can’t speak to the bonds of friendship created by sharing a (fake) foxhole. But the following video will prove that technology does in fact bring people, including PGA Tour pros, from all over the world together. And can even lead to (gasp!) face-to-face meetings between millennials.

Here’s the backstory. Apparently, Harold Varner III and Carlos Ortiz are hooked on Call of Duty in addition to being PGA Tour pros. Hey, you’ve got to pass all that time spent in hotels somehow, right? But at some point while playing with each other remotely, they came across a guy named Arturo. This young man from Mexico was so good at the game that Varner and Ortiz became virtual teammates with him and eventually actual friends spending as much as five hours a day talking with him while they played. And with the tour coming to Mexico for this week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic, the trio decided to take their friendship to the next level—or what used to be the first level when I was growing up—by actually meeting in person.

RELATED: Thai tour pro proves he has “all the shots” with flop from hazard

Varner flew Arturo up to Cancun and his hosting him during the tournament (the kid must be a Call of Duty phenom). And the PGA Tour documented these unlikely three amigos finally coming together. Check it out:

There are some good jabs in there, especially Arturo’s line that HV3 is “bald and fat.” And you have to respect him threatening to never play with Varner again if he doesn’t win this week’s tournament.

All kidding aside, it’s a sweet story—especially the part where the two tour pros cheered up Arturo after learning his dad died unexpectedly in April. And Ortiz has already worked on securing Arturo a job when he graduates school. See, parents? Video games can pay off.

RELATED: Sergio Garcia pulls off fun—and safe—baby gender reveal


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Louis Oosthuizen (63) leads Els and Westwood at Nedbank Challenge

SUN CITY, South Africa – Louis Oosthuizen overcame an uncomfortable bout of kidney stones to shoot a bogey-free 63 and take a three-shot lead after the first round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa on Thursday.

Oosthuizen nearly withdrew and said he was up since 3 a.m. local time on the morning of the first round in some discomfort.

Full-field scores from the Nedbank Golf Challenge

Watch live action from Round 2 of the Nedbank Challenge

He didn’t show it on the course apart from having to walk a little slower round Gary Player Country Club.

The South African carded four birdies on the opening nine and five on the closing stretch to go 9 under and take a big lead at a tournament he’s never won.

Thomas Detry is second on 6 under, Guido Migliozzi third on 5 under, and defending champion Lee Westwood and Ernie Els part of a tie for fourth another shot back.

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Four short-game shots every pro has mastered, and how you can, too

We’ve all been there: Walking up to the green and seeing your ball in a position that requires a scary, high-risk shot. There’s no doubt some shots have a higher degree of difficulty than others, but the four shots below are ones that you might be making harder than they need to be. Some setup and execution tweaks will help your short game immensely.

With the help of top Michigan teacher Jason Guss and Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Alana Swain, you’ll be able to execute the buried-ball bunker shot, downhill pitch, flop shot and low, checking spinner with ease the next time you play.

The buried-ball bunker shot

“Bunkers are already scary enough for a lot of players,” says Guss, who runs his academy at Hawk Hollow Golf Club in Bath. “When you start talking buried lies, you might be tempted to just pick it up and take your two-shot penalty. But you don’t have to.” The secret to getting out in one swing is turning your sand wedge into a digging club instead of a skidding one. “By closing the face, playing the ball back in your stance and hitting down on it, you’ll get the leading edge going down into the sand to gouge the ball out,” says Guss. “Follow through down into the sand, and be ready for the ball to roll out more than normal.”

The downhill pitch

“When you can’t take a balanced stance, the tendency is to make less-than-clean contact,” says Swain, who is based at the PGA Tour Performance Center in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “To make sure you hit it clean, set up with the ball in the center, and make sure you keep your sternum and nose over the ball. Stay on top like this and make a high-to-low swing where the clubhead finishes low and around you.”

RELATED: The Short-Game Shot You Need: Master the straight-arm chip to gain control around the green

The flop shot

“Sometimes you need to go over something and a low chip just isn’t an option,” says Swain. “A flop relies on loft, not spin to make the ball stop near where it lands.” To hit it, first make sure you have the right conditions—a clean lie with the ball sitting up on a cushion of grass. Then open the face of the club before you set your grip, and play the ball from the front of your stance, near your lead heel. “The swing feel you want is that the clubhead is moving a lot more than the handle. Keep your grip very loose, because if you tighten up on it you’re basically guaranteeing a skull across the green,” says Swain. “The face should stay open the whole swing, and when you finish, it should actually be pointing back at you.”

Spinny pitch

“This is the cool shot you see the tour players hit on television,” says Guss. “It’s the one where the ball takes two hops and then stop. But they’re not making it spin the way you might think.” The heavy backspin on the shot comes from clean contact slightly low on the face—not from smashing down on the ball. “It also helps to have brand new grooves on your wedge, a tour-caliber ball and a nice, tight lie,” says Guss. “Set up with the ball in the middle of your stance and with your weight set slightly forward. You’re going for slightly low contact—not thin—and hitting the ball before the club comes in contact with the ground.”

RELATED: An exclusive, 12-part video series with Tiger Woods with detailed on-course demonstrations in every part of his game


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‘Opportunity for growth’: Caddie fallout still looms over Matt Kuchar one year later

This should’ve been a public relations win for Matt Kuchar.

Here comes the defending champ, returning to the place where he ended a four-year victory drought. Back to the course where the local caddie walked with him every step of the way, adding a heartwarming twist to a feel-good story.

Perhaps Kuchar could have visited with David Ortiz, better known in the Mayakoba Resort caddie ranks as “El Tucan.” He could have posed for pictures with Ortiz and his family, or seen what had become of the fill-in phenom in the year since they teamed so well together.

Instead, Kuchar spent Tuesday at the Mayakoba Golf Classic weaving an apologetic tone through his pre-tournament comments in front of Mexican and U.S. media members.

“I know what happened post-tournament with David is not something I’m proud of,” Kuchar told reporters. “Made some headlines that certainly I’m definitely not proud of, but I’ve done my best to make amends, to make things right with David, to do things right by the community.”

The post-victory aftermath to which Kuchar refers has everything to do with dollars and cents. Kuchar has been on the PGA Tour for the better part of two decades and has racked up more than $50 million in career earnings, the eighth-most in Tour history. His victory last year at Mayakoba was worth $1.296 million.

So as Ortiz stood alongside Kuchar for celebratory photos on the 18th green, and as he received an autographed flag from the player whom he met for the first time during their practice round together six days prior, he started to do the math. Typical Tour caddies can expect 10 percent of a winner’s check as compensation, while stand-in loopers still usually receive somewhere between 5 and 7 percent.

It meant that Ortiz was looking at a payday of anywhere from $65,000 to $130,000, a range that would qualify as substantial to potentially life-changing for a man of modest means. Instead, Kuchar largely stuck to the agreement they had worked out at the beginning of the week and handed Ortiz an envelope with $5,000 inside.

“I certainly don’t lose sleep over this,” Kuchar told GolfChannel.com Wednesday on the Genesis Open. “Making $5,000 is a great week.”

The story remained quiet for two months, until a social media firestorm erupted as Kuchar cruised to another win at the Sony Open in January. Word quickly got out about how much (or how little) his substitute caddie had received. Having curated a good-guy image through years of toothy grins and wholesome language, Kuchar found himself on the receiving end of some jeers from fans at multiple Tour events.

The optics were damning. Ortiz, who speaks broken English, had sent emails through a third party to Kuchar’s agent, Mark Steinberg, requesting a total of $50,000 compensation. Those efforts were rebuffed – that is, until Kuchar spoke up about the situation, turning any embers of controversy into a full-blown blaze.

“I certainly don’t lose sleep over this,” Kuchar told GolfChannel.com in February. “This is something that I’m quite happy with, and I was really happy for him to have a great week and make a good sum of money. Making $5,000 is a great week.”

But days later, as the criticism reached a fever pitch, Kuchar relented. An additional amount of $45,000 was sent Ortiz’s way, plus an undisclosed donation to the tournament’s charitable causes, and the 41-year-old issued an apology.

“I made comments that were out of touch and insensitive, making a bad situation worse,” Kuchar said. “They made it seem like I was marginalizing David Ortiz and his financial situation, which was not my intention.”

The drama died down, but it didn’t fully relent. Kuchar was still the subject of catcalls from fans at the U.S. Open, and both Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy later took jabs at Kuchar’s frugal disposition.

The controversy marred what was an otherwise resurgent season. Kuchar added two runner-up finishes to his victories in Mexico and Hawaii, got back to the Tour Championship and made the Presidents Cup squad after serving as a Ryder Cup vice captain a year ago in Paris. But all of that got only a fraction of the attention his tipping habits received.

Kuchar: ‘I look at this as an opportunity to grow, to learn from it’

Kuchar: 'I look at this as an opportunity to grow, to learn from it'

Mayakoba Golf Classic: Full-field tee times

So it is that Kuchar returned to Playa del Carmen this week, still speaking about making amends to both an individual and a community that felt slighted for months. It was an entirely avoidable controversy, one that threatened to torpedo the reputation of one of the Tour’s most genial players.

“When you have moments you’re not proud of, you make amends for them, you do your best to make it right and try to keep moving forward and staying positive,” Kuchar said Tuesday. “I think I equate it to team sports, you know. You learn a lot in losses, you learn a lot in hard times. Certainly it’s given me an opportunity for growth, for self-betterment.”

In an alternate universe, one in which Kuchar’s initial offer was not $5,000 but tenfold or more, perhaps he and Ortiz could have staged an on-course reunion or joined once again as player and caddie for a few holes during the pro-am. Smiles on all parties would have stretched to the nearby ocean waters.

Instead Kuchar has his normal looper, John Wood, on the bag this week and likely wants nothing more than to put this situation behind him. For his part, Ortiz took the high road recently, telling the New York Post that he harbors “no anger” toward Kuchar in light of their months-long dispute.

“Kuchar is a good person,” Ortiz said. “I’m not angry. Everything is good. Not paying was not good. But I have no anger.”

It should have been the fairytale of the Tour season: local caddie helps affable veteran get back into the winner’s circle. That the rancorous aftermath gained far more traction than the story itself is equal parts unfortunate and regrettable.

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How pregnancy resulted in LPGA veteran Karine Icher returning to Q School and, at 40, recovering her exemption

The LPGA Q-Series—or Q School, as it more commonly is called—is a right of passage for those on the front end of careers. But for those at career crossroads, it is pis aller, as LPGA veteran Karine Icher might call it in her native French.

If pis aller sounds ominous, well, it is. It translates to last resort. “If I failed, bye-bye,” Icher said recently. “My plan would have been to find another job. I had no other options.”

Icher, 40 and a resident of Florida, tied for 26th in the eight-round affair that ended last Saturday. She will be fully exempt in 2020, having been the oldest player to qualify in Q School.

But the story behind the story of the clutch performance that will prolong her career is the answer to the question: How did a consistently good player, a four-time member of the European Solheim Cup team who also competed for France in the 2016 Olympics, wind up back in Q School a few months shy of her 41st birthday?

Well, it began with a pregnancy and ended with the LPGA updating its antiquated maternity policy.

In 2017, Icher made the cut in 25 of 28 LPGA starts. She finished in the top 10 three times and earned nearly a half-million dollars. She finished 40th on the money list, the sixth straight season and seventh of eight seasons that she finished 40th or better. The one exception was 2011, when in August of that year she gave birth to daughter Lola.

In 2018, Icher already had played in 12 tournaments when she learned she was pregnant. The maternity policy in place at the time required players to have played in 10 or fewer events to take maternity leave to retain their playing status in the following year.

“I played pregnant for pretty much half the season,” she said. “I didn’t want to give up after 12 events. I talked to the LPGA and said that ‘you should change this. The maternity policy completely sucks.’

“After reviewing everything, they decided to change the maternity policy. Now it’s much more flexible.” But the LPGA did not apply it retroactively, to Icher’s dismay.

Under the new policy, a player can declare her maternity year either the year of the baby’s birth or the following year. Icher would have been able to play as often as she wanted in 2018, then could have declared 2019 her maternity year, and when she resumed playing she would have done so retaining her place on the priority list.

“In July 2018, when I stopped my season for medical [leave], I was not playing well,” she said. She had played 16 tournaments in 2018 and earned $74,155, more than $200,000 short of finishing in the top 80 that would have given her a full exemption for 2019. Her medical leave gave her only seven additional tournament starts in 2019 to earn enough when combined with her 2018 earnings to meet the 2018 money list threshold required to retain her full exemption.

RELATED: Former child phenom Lucy Li turns pro at 17, but why you won’t see her full-time on the LPGA next season

Icher, whose husband Fred Bonnargent caddies for her, gave birth to daughter Maya on Nov. 3, 2018. Three weeks later, she was back in the gym and was soon hitting balls on the range to prepare to play the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix last March.

“It was hard,” she said. “Talk to every player who has a child now and they take a year off. I rushed myself to get ready, but mentally it was too much pressure for me. Also, it was my second child. I have an 8-year-old, too. It was a little bit complicated. I left my 4-month baby at home and it was awful. I was missing them and struggling.

“When you only have seven tournaments, I didn’t know how do handle it. I was playing under the gun every week. You just have that pressure. You have seven tournaments, then six, then five.”

Icher missed the cut in six of those seven starts and lost her exempt status. She was still able to enter an additional 12 tournaments via her lower priority ranking in 2019 and made the cut in only six of them. She finished the year with $62,430 in earnings, 127th on the money list.

So her options came down to these: Retire or head back to Q School. Reluctantly, she chose the latter.

RELATED: Controversy erupts at Pinehurst following rules violation—and how it was reported—during LPGA Q-school

“It was hard to go,” she said. “At first I didn’t want to go. Then when I put everything in the balance, what’s two weeks? You put your ego on the side and try to play well and treat it as a regular tournament.

“I just love the sport. I love golf. I want my kids to be part of it later. With my first daughter, I was able to come back quick and get a good result after she was born. For the second one, I didn’t want her to know that I had to stop playing because I was playing bad while expecting her.”

Icher’s experience allowed her to avoid what in her own mind would have been a distasteful potential ending to her career. Instead, she is looking ahead to returning full time to the LPGA, reclaiming her consistency, and again representing France in the Olympic Games.

And when she does eventually end her career, her biography will include an important contribution to the LPGA: She was instrumental in improving its maternity policy.

“At least I’ll have left the tour better than I found it,” she said.

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Jeff Maggert (63) rides hot putter to Charles Schwab Cup Championship lead

PHOENIX — Jeff Maggert used a hot new putter to take the first-round lead in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and Bernhard Langer, Jerry Kelly, Retief Goosen and Colin Montgomerie made moves to catch Scott McCarron in the PGA Tour Champions’ season standings.

Maggert shot an 8-under 63 on Thursday in perfect conditions at Phoenix Country Club to take a one-stroke lead over Langer, with Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul Goydos and Steve Flesch another shot back, and Kelly and Goosen at 66 with Lee Janzen and Scott Parel.

Maggert entered the season finale 34th in the standings, just three spots from failing to qualify.

”I have no idea what happened today,” Maggert said. ”I liked the course last year, felt like I could play well here. To be honest, I got a new putter at the Ping factory on Monday and as soon as I saw it, I says, ‘Wow, this looks good, I think I can make some putts with this.’ Lo and behold, I made a lot of good putts today.”

Kelly needs a victory or help from McCarron to take the season title.

”I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Kelly said. ”It’s just a matter of staying solid. I got a little tired at the end, things got a little loose and I’ve got to get stronger as the week goes on.”

Full-field scores from the Charles Schwab Cup Championship

McCarron, the points leader the last 20 weeks, was tied for 22nd in the 34-man field after a 69.

”Means nothing right now,” McCarron said. ”I don’t know if I’m leading or Jerry’s leading, doesn’t even matter. All I know is I’ve got to go out there and play a little bit better the next three days.”

McCarron has not won since June and has only two top 10s in his last six tournaments.

Coming off a playoff loss to Montgomerie on Sunday in California, Langer closed his bogey-free round with a birdie on the par-5 18th. Langer is third in the standings, putting the 62-year-old German star in position to win his sixth Charles Schwab Cup title – with help from McCarron and Kelly.

”You can’t win it the first day, but you can lose it,” Langer said. ”So, I’m happy with where I am.”

Montgomerie, fourth in the standings, had a 67.

Goosen, at fifth in the standings, is the last player with a chance to take the season title with a victory.

Vijay Singh, the tournament winner last year, failed to qualify.

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International Team Captain Ernie Els goes for players on form and one, Jason Day, searching for his form

Ernie Els went with players who have shown good form – well, mostly – Wednesday in making his four wild-card selections to fill out his International Team for the upcoming Presidents Cup in December in Melbourne, Australia, adding two rookies to give his team an even split of six first-timers to go with six returnees.

Sungjae Im of Korea, the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, and Joaquin Niemann of Chile, who won the season-opening event, A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, will be the newcomers – and young ones at that, 21 and 20 years old, respectively. Niemann is the first Chilean to compete in the biennial competition.

Adam Hadwin of Canada, 32, who made his debut on the 2017 squad that was pasted by the United States at Liberty National, and Jason Day of Australia rounded out the wild-card selections.

“Yes, I looked at guys who have been playing well for a while,” said Els, himself a rookie captain, who put some emphasis on putting statistics in making his choices. “In my experience of these cups, it comes down to pressure putting in a lot of instances.”

Day, who was ninth on the International Team points list, also played on the 2011 squad that lost in Melbourne. He is 5-11-4 in his previous four appearances, but will be playing for the first time as a captain’s pick. A native of Queensland, Day is the outlier on form, having gone without a top-10 finish since the Masters, though, for what it’s worth, he did win the made-for-TV Japan Skins event two weeks ago against Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Tiger Woods, the U.S. Presidents Cup captain.

Woods will announce his four captain’s picks Thursday night. The reigning Masters champion is coming off his record-tying 82nd career PGA Tour win at the Zozo Championship in Japan and is likely to make himself one of the picks.

RELATED: The 5 essential qualities of every good captain’s pick

“I do think he’s going to pick himself. I don’t think he has any choice,” said Els, who announced that the event at Royal Melbourne will begin with four-ball matches. The 13th edition of the Presidents Cup is Dec. 12-15. The U.S. leads the series 10-1-1, with its only loss at Royal Melbourne in 1998.

Day, 31, joins fellow Aussies Adam Scott, Mark Leishman and rookie Cameron Smith, bringing the number of Australians who have played in the Presidents Cup to 54, by far the most on the International Team.

“He brings a lot to this team,” Els said of Day, a former world No. 1 player. “He brings leadership, he brings experience, and he’s a hometown player, obviously.”

Im and Niemann were hard to pass up. The former posted 16 top-25 finishes last season and nearly won the Sanderson Farms Championship in September, losing in a playoff to Sebastian Munoz. “He just played his way on to the team with his consistency,” Els said.

Niemann’s impressive six-stroke victory at The Greenbrier makes him one of only two winners on the International Team in the last year. C.T. Pan won the RBC Heritage in April.

“I didn’t go looking for Joaquin who is 20, or Sungjae who is 21, but they made themselves a lock on this team,” Els added. “I definitely wasn’t that good at 20, 21, but these guys are world-class players and they’ve proven themselves. I’m excited by the new blood that’s coming in.”

“I definitely wanted another shot at this. Hopefully, we can right some of the wrongs that have occurred in the past,” said Hadwin, who was 0-2-1 at Liberty National, where the U.S. squad won easily, 17 ½ to 10 ½ . Hadwin opened the current season with two straight top-5 finishes.

Among the players Els left off were South Korea’s Ben An, a former U.S. Amateur winner ranked 41st in the world, Canada’s Corey Conners, winner of the Valero Texas Open, and South African Branden Grace, who went 5-0 four years ago in Korea but has slipped out of the top 100 in the world rankings.

“All these guys I didn’t pick are good friends of mine, so it was very difficult, but I needed form,” Els said. “From our point of view, we’re very comfortable and we’re very happy.”

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Sergio Garcia joins Lee Westwood with dubious WGC distinction

Sergio Garcia tied a dubious mark last week at the HSBC Champions. He joined Lee Westwood as the only players to have competed 60 times in the World Golf Championships without ever winning.

Both had good chances.

Garcia, who made his WGC debut as a 19-year-old, took a three-shot lead into the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational in 2014 when Rory McIlroy erased that in three holes and went on to a two-shot victory over the Spaniard.

Westwood finished runner-up to Mike Weir in the American Express Championship at Valderrama in 2000, though he made enough money that day to capture his first Order of Merit on the European Tour. He also was runner-up to Vijay Singh at Firestone in 2008, and in 2010 he lost a duel to Francesco Molinari in the HSBC Champions, Westwood’s debut at No. 1 in the world.

Only two other players have made at least 50 starts in the WGCs without ever winning – Paul Casey (52) and Jim Furyk (51).

Casey was runner-up in the Match Play in consecutive years to Geoff Ogilvy in 2009 and Ian Poulter in 2010. Furyk had two close calls at Firestone, losing in a seven-hole playoff to Tiger Woods in 2001, and making double bogey from the 18th fairway to finish one shot behind Keegan Bradley in 2012.

Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press

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Brendon Todd celebrated his PGA Tour win with a middle seat in coach on ride back from Bermuda

Brendon Todd has reason to celebrate. After a multi-year slump that saw Todd miss 37 of 40 cuts, drop outside the top 2000 and consider quitting the game altogether, the 34-year-old shot 62 on Sunday to win the Bermuda Championship.

The victory bestowed entry into the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Players and the PGA Championship, along with an exemption through the 2021-22 season and a $540,000 paycheck.

Time to pop bottles in first class, right? Wrong. Double wrong. According to a tweet from Golf Channel analyst Jim Galllagher Jr., Todd sat in a middle seat on his voyage back to the U.S.

Todd has made over $7.2 million in his PGA Tour career, so he can probably afford at least a window seat. But paychecks have been few and far between over the last four years, and you have to think he made the reservation before he knew he was going to win his second PGA Tour title. Good on him for saving money—that flight to Maui certainly won’t be cheap.

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