Bring It On

first_imgDUBAI, United Arab Emirates – He’s had to add more pages to his passport, while stockpiling enough sky miles to buy his own airline, and along the way he has side-armed the status quo with a trailblazing spirit that would make both Lewis and Clark blush. All things considered, it’s been pretty standard stuff for Brooks Koepka. “He didn’t have much of a junior record, and I told him I would be limited as to what I could do for him with a scholarship,” Florida State golf coach Trey Jones recently told your scribe. “He told me, ‘Don’t give me anything, I just want a place to play.’” And play he has. Koepka blazed his way through the Challenge Tour last year, winning three times on the secondary circuit to earn status on the European Tour. He also took a two-stroke lead into the final round of last fall’s Frys.com Open, the opening PGA Tour event for the 2013-14 season. Dubai Desert Classic: Articles, videos and photos Although he closed with a 1-over 72 to tie for third at the Frys, the long-hitting American didn’t spend much time lamenting his loss. He got back to work in December at the Thailand Golf Championship and set out this week on the back end of a month in the Middle East at the Dubai Desert Classic. A second-round 65 pulled him to within one shot of the lead held by Rory McIlroy and midway through his round on Saturday he held a share of the lead for a time on a windy afternoon, but Koepka bogeyed three of his last seven holes to finish with a 2-under 70. He will begin Sunday’s final turn tied for third and four strokes behind frontrunner Stephen Gallacher. Or, put another way, pretty much exactly where he wants to be. If nothing else, Koepka is a gamer. He shares a house in south Florida with fellow European Tour standout Peter Uihlein and, on the rare occasions they are home together, the duo go head-to-head at every turn. “Everything is competitive in that house,” he smiled. It’s in Koepka’s DNA. Winning is the ultimate goal, but primarily he is driven to compete, which is why Sunday’s deficit in Dubai, or his late struggles in Round 3, didn’t seem to bother him. “He loves to compete,” said Claude Harmon III, Koepka’s swing coach. “Anything, he just likes it. He goes out today and he played with Rory (McIlroy) and he’s freewheeling. He drives the green at the (par-4) second hole. It’s what he lives for.” Koepka’s road less traveled motors down familiar lanes following Sunday’s final round, however the birdies and bogeys may fall. According to his manager with Hambric Sports, Koepka will head home to south Florida and, depending on his finish on Sunday, is hoping to play the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He is currently 93rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and would likely need a victory to crack the top 64 and earn a trip to Tucson. Ironically, if he does land a spot at the year’s first World Golf Championship he could bump Uihlein, who is 66th in the world but missed the cut in Dubai, out of the field. After that he plans to play the Honda Classic and Puerto Rico Open, both on sponsor exemptions, before returning to the European Tour in Asia after the Masters. It’s also worth noting that even his vagabond ways are a bit of a competition. By his best estimates, he figures he’s played in 21 different countries since leaving Florida State. He’s eaten horse in Kazakhstan – cue the Borat jokes – hoisted trophies in Scotland, Spain and Italy; and has no intentions of trading in his European Tour card for the safer confines of the PGA Tour. “No, I’m going to stay out here. I want to do it like Adam Scott did it,” Koepka said. But make no mistake, Koepka is not a natural road warrior. Without a hint of hyperbole, he admits he struggles with jet lag, so much so he’s been in the United Arab Emirates for nearly a month to acclimate to the time zone. “I do,” he smiles. “It’s so bad. You laugh, but I really do have a hard time with jet lag.” Golf, on the other hand, has appeared amazingly easy to him, even under the most intense lights. Saturday in Dubai, for example, being paired with McIlroy was almost second nature. It’s a lesson he learned while paired at last year’s PGA Championship with Tiger Woods in the final round. “When I was playing with Tiger I got caught watching him. I’d watched him my whole life; it was just natural,” he said. “But I learned from that. I learned just to focus on my own game and not pay attention to anyone else.” And his next lesson is just a day in Dubai.last_img read more

When the Stick Goes Flat

first_imgIRVING, Texas – You can prosper on the PGA Tour for years without anyone noticing, make a couple million each season without winning a thing and bask in the splendor of utter anonymity. Not everyone wants to be famous. Some people like being invisible. Especially when it pays seven figures annually. Then something happens, dadgummit, and the same guy wins a tournament. Then another. Then he wins a major. And now a lot of people know who Jason Dufner is, as his 380,700 Twitter followers will attest. The social media phenomenon escorted Dufner to the mainstream, making him the first and only Tour pro to gain widespread recognition for sitting on the floor of a classroom while looking bored out of his gourd. Dufnering was all the rage for a bit, although the golf ball doesn’t seem to care about the success of your Twitter account or, for that matter, the PGA Championship you won last August. “When you need 33 putts a day, you’re not gonna shoot low numbers,” Dufner said Thursday after opening with an even-par 70 at TPC Four Seasons. Full-field scores from the HP Byron Nelson Championship HP Byron Nelson Championship: Articles, videos and photos It certainly wasn’t a bad score, but like so many rounds he’s played in 2014, it could have been better. At the par-4 eighth, for instance, Dufner drove his ball into the left fairway bunker, hit a fine recovery shot to the center of the green and had an uphill, 35-footer for birdie. He left the putt 3 ½ feet short, then missed his par attempt. When you hit 15 greens in regulation and get nothing out of it, you really don’t want to talk to some dude with a media badge and a notebook. Dufner’s understated demeanor and sarcastic chops explain why he is well-liked among his colleagues, but when it comes to explaining himself to the public, uh…. “Good players don’t play bad forever,” is how he put it. He’s right, of course, but mediocre putters don’t play well all the time, either. Dufner’s lone top 10 in a full-field, stroke-play event this season came at Doral. His only missed cut occurred at the Masters, where poor putting comes with a very high price; the rest of his year is a collection of good rounds after bad and vice versa. “Been a little bit of everything,” said his caddie, Kevin Baile. “He’s showing signs.” In other words, a player who went 163 starts before picking up his first victory isn’t all that different from the player who has won three times in his last 44. At this same tournament two years ago, Dufner validated his emergence on the radar by winning the Byron Nelson just three weeks after his inaugural triumph in New Orleans. Baile received a new Cadillac as part of the winner’s package—Dufner had to make do with $1.17 million and an all-expenses-paid trip into the spotlight. He made the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team and played very well (3-0), winning both his alternate-shot matches with Dustin Johnson and beating Peter Hanson in the eighth singles bout. At that point, you wouldn’t have been laughed at for thinking Dufner was becoming a better-late-than-never superstar. In 2013, however, he was having a rather lackluster season (by his own admission) until claiming the PGA at Oak Hill. And at that point, an average year becomes a very good one. The purpose of all this background? Hitting the ball as well as Dufner does will make you a lot of money, but only good putters win consistently. Since 2009, the only year Dufner has finished on the positive side of the strokes-gained ledger was 2012, the year he won twice. He finished 142nd in putting last year and is 167th in 2014. “Nothing,” he said when I asked him what he was doing to improve his prowess on the greens. At that point, you didn’t need a translator to tell you he didn’t want to talk about it.last_img read more

Heartwarming

first_imgPINEHURST, N.C. – Erik Compton was nervous and frightened. He was 12 years old and lying in a hospital bed, the result of a faulty heart that had left him hooked up to scary-looking machines while surrounded by a swirling sea of doctors and nurses, each prepping him for transplant surgery. His parents were nervous and frightened, too. They couldn’t show it, though, not in front of their son. Peter and Eli Compton needed to put up a brave front. They needed to encourage their youngest son. They needed to tell him that everything would be OK. No, they needed to tell him that everything would be better than OK. “We just said once you get a new heart, you’re going to be a champion,” his mother remembers. “You’re going to get the heart of a champion.” Twenty-two years ago, Eli Compton (her first name is pronounced Ellie) wasn’t trying to foreshadow the 114th U.S. Open Championship. In fact, her son loved baseball more than golf back then. Following the surgery, he sat in a wheelchair, looked into a camera and offered the same proclamation that he’d first made four years earlier: “I’m going to be a Major League baseball player.” U.S. Open: Articles, videos and photos U.S. Open full-field scores His career on the baseball diamond – not to mention the football field and basketball court, each the product of all that encouragement from his parents – stalled, but his pursuit of golf soared. He became a top-ranked junior player, competed for the University of Georgia and turned professional. If that sounds like a Hollywood movie, what came next was the rare sequel that might have outshined the original. In 2008, at age 28, Compton drove himself to the hospital, fearing the worst. Once again, the swirl of doctors and nurses hooked him up to machines. Once again, he was given a new heart. It didn’t take long for him to return to professional golf – first on the developmental Nationwide Tour, then graduating to the PGA Tour. He’s yet to win on the world’s most elite circuit, but if this story needed a Hollywood ending, perhaps it’s coming this week. Entering the final round at Pinehurst No. 2, Compton is tied for second place, just five strokes behind leader Martin Kaymer and with a major championship victory well within striking distance. The symbolism of a man on his third heart contending at the year’s most grueling tournament hasn’t been lost on him. “I’m just trying to execute and then move to the next shot,” he says. “I guess that’s kind of reflective of how I’ve always lived my life. If you have a bad situation or a bad day, you get up and try to do it again.” Erik Compton the golfer is ranked 187th in the world. He’s played in 99 career PGA Tour events and has finished in the top 10 in exactly three of them – two this year. Prior to this week, he’d played in only one career major, missing the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open, but as he not-so-subtly points out, “You’ve got to give me a break – I just had a new heart.” Erik Compton the two-time heart transplant recipient is probably ranked a lot higher, if you could measure the impact he’s had on children around the world who are undergoing similar surgery to what he endured. When he was 12, his mother remembers, there was nobody with that experience who could offer him their support. The two are forever entwined, the transplant recipient and the golfer, not just because they are one and the same, but because one led to the other. He might not be here – on the leaderboard, contending for one of the game’s most prestigious titles – without the journey. It steeled him for the so-called pressures of playing a game. It hardened his resolve in a world where the failures always exceed the successes. “If I go out and shoot 90, I don’t think anyone will be surprised,” he says. “But if I shoot 67 again, you may be surprised.” Just as his parents once sat in that hospital room and whispered words of encouragement to him, just as he often offers similar words of encouragement to children awaiting transplants, he’s received support from some of golf’s most legendary sources. Two weeks ago, Compton had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield Village. He hadn’t yet qualified for the U.S. Open, but the four-time winner knew his game would suit this venue. “If you get there, you’re going to have a special week,” Nicklaus told him. And on Saturday morning, with Compton needing a strong round to move up the leaderboard, Chi Chi Rodriguez called him and said, “You’re going to shoot 64 today.” He missed by three strokes, but the third-round 3-under 67 tied for the best score of the day and put him in contention for not just a U.S. Open title, but for sports story of the year. Or decade. Compton is equal parts inspirational, motivational and heartwarming – everything needed for a good Hollywood script. Now he’ll try to write his perfect ending at a tournament that he knows is a perfect symbol of his perseverance. “I think my attitude suits a U.S. Open-style course,” he explains. “Because I don’t ever give up.”last_img read more

Ilonen leads Irish Open by 2; McIlroy misses cut

first_imgCORK, Ireland — Mikko Ilonen opened up a two-stroke lead at the Irish Open at the end of the second round as Rory McIlroy failed to make the cut by one shot on Friday. Ilonen added a 2-under 68 to his opening round course record of 64 to move to 10 under on the Fota Island Resort course. The 34-year-old Finn birdied his opening hole but then stalled with eight straight pars ahead of an inward half that included four birdies. ”I wanted to at least get to 10-under par and I did that,” Ilonen said. ”It wasn’t as easy today and I didn’t hit the ball that well but I putted well and it was good enough.” Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell (66), England’s Robert Rock (66) and Frenchman Romain Wattel (65) share second place on 8 under while triple major winner Padraig Harrington (67) is tied for eighth on 6 under. McDowell is looking to win the Irish Open for the first time and Rock has been runner-up twice before. The loss of McIlroy over the final two rounds is a blow to event organizers. His second round 69 was a mix of a 10th hole eagle, six birdies and a double bogey at No. 4 for an overall 1-over 143. It is the second year in succession McIlroy has missed the cut in his national open. McIlroy’s double bogey came after his tee shot clipped a tree and ricocheted out of bounds and over the fence into the adjoining Fota Island Wildlife Park. ”I’ll be back next year and try and do better,” McIlroy said.last_img read more

Cut Line: To play or not to play?

first_imgGolf began its countdown to the 2016 Olympics this week with plenty of talk about gold medals, while the PGA Tour seems to be missing a golden opportunity to make the Presidents Cup more competitive. Made Cut Olympic effort. Wednesday marked exactly one-year until the opening ceremony and golf’s return to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years. Officials celebrated the occasion with a media tour of New York City and a press conference at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a few potential Olympic golfers. “It’s been good for the game of golf worldwide,” said Henrik Stenson, who currently leads the Swedish contingent in the Olympic Golf Rankings. “We’ve seen a lot more support in some emerging markets around the world for golf. With it being an Olympic sport, that really makes a difference in a lot of places.” There are still hurdles for golf’s Olympic organizers (see Adam Scott item below), but after a rocky introduction that included concerns over the golf course and the format, the conversation has finally turned to the competition and what that will mean long after the medals are awarded. 11th hour heroics. Mired in perhaps his worst year on the PGA Tour, Graeme McDowell opened with a 4-under 66 on Thursday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It matched G-Mac’s lowest round of the year on Tour and the timing couldn’t have been better with the Northern Irishman languishing at 159th on the FedEx Cup point list with just two regular-season events remaining. Lee Westwood, currently No. 114 on the season-long list, also helped his chances with an opening 68, as did Victor Dubuisson (68), who is currently outside the top 200 in the FedEx Cup standings. The Tour’s post-season experiment continues to search for an identity during much of the year, but the excitement transcends traditional sporting boundaries when it comes to a genuine playoff push. Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF) Feeling the Rors. For three days now Rory McIlroy has been spoon feeding his fans a steady diet of social media tidbits as the golf world awaits word on whether the world No. 1 will play next week’s PGA Championship. Following a series of tweets and Instagram posts the last few days – posts that ranged from pictures of him working out to a snapshot of his plane headed to the United States – all signs point to McIlroy being in the field at Whistling Straits for the season’s final major championship. “He’s progressing well through rehabilitation,” Sean O’Flaherty, a member of McIlroy’s management team, told Cut Line. Despite the Ulsterman’s social media updates, it does seem to be a bit of a mixed message if, and that appears to be a big if, he chooses not to play the PGA. Tweet of the week: pic.twitter.com/Ko0LX9mEo7— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) August 7, 2015 Straits and narrow. While there remains over 1,000 bunkers at Whistling Straits and they will all be considered bunkers for next week’s PGA Championship, just as they were in 2010 when the championship was played at the Pete Dye design, they will not all be in play next week. Specifically the bunker down the right side of the 18th hole, the same hazard where Dustin Johnson grounded his club during the final round in 2010, will only be “partially” in play. “The actual bunker that Dustin was in, part of the bunker is still visible but some of it is indeed covered with a structure,” PGA chief championships officer Kerry Haigh told Cut Line via an e-mail this week. “There still remains a lot of bunkers not covered and in play.” Haigh said the PGA built more grandstands and brought “many parts of the championship infrastructure on to the golf course with views of golf holes or Lake Michigan.” As a public service reminder, the bunkers that do remain uncovered at Whistling Straits are still bunkers. That is all. Missed Cut Wrestling with Rio. To be clear, Adam Scott is one of the game’s most forthright and well-spoken stars and it seems the Australian has come by his opinion regarding golf’s return to the Olympics after much thought. That said, Scott’s decision to dig in regarding the Games seems shortsighted. This week Scott told the Australian Associated Press that, “it’s absolutely a possibility I won’t go [to the Olympics] as it is not a priority in my schedule.” Scott went a step further, calling golf’s return to the Olympics a “fun exhibition” and explaining, “[An Olympic medal] is nothing I have ever dreamed of having and it really doesn’t have any significance for golf.” Few, if any, would argue that the ultimate accomplishment in golf is a major championship, but it is baffling how Scott seems to have overlooked the impact a gold medal can have not only on a career but to an entire country. Presidential problems. International Presidents Cup captain Nick Price remains optimistic that the Tour, and specifically commissioner Tim Finchem, will agree to a requested format change for this year’s matches. Price, along with former captain Greg Norman and Ernie Els, have been lobbying Finchem to decrease the number of team matches to something closer to the Ryder Cup format, but the Tour has been surprisingly slow to respond. “[U.S. Presidents Cup captain Jay Haas] says winning never gets old. Losing certainly does,” Price said this week. “Just looking at the record of the Presidents Cup, we’re 1-9-1. I think all of us on the team feel that a points change would really make it more exciting and more competitive.” Price said he planned to meet with Finchem this week at Firestone and was hopeful the Tour would agree with his requested changes. While Price’s optimism is encouraging, it would appear that the longer the Tour takes to make a decision the more likely it is they will stick with the status quo.last_img read more

Monday Scramble: Day again on top of the world

first_imgJason Day finds another gear, the Match Play format comes under scrutiny (what’s new?), Lydia Ko gears up for a major, Tony Finau earns his first title and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble: OK, so we can all agree on this: Day’s magical summer wasn’t a fluke. He’s playing just as well, if not better, during this run-up to the Masters.  Last year he won five times, captured his first major and achieved a career goal by becoming world No. 1. Then life intervened. He took off nearly three months, shelving the clubs and focusing on his growing family. And once the new year started, his game suffered, because of course it would with so much time away.  That didn’t change the fact that his combination of power, touch and determination is unmatched in today’s game. Now, once again, Day is overflowing with belief, just like he was last summer. Now, once again, he looks and sounds like the world’s best player. If he stays healthy – granted, that’s a big if – it will be another huge year. 1. It’s the question we’ve debated for months: When they’re at the top of their games, who would win: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy or Jason Day?  We have a little better idea now. One 18-hole match is far from conclusive, of course, especially with Spieth having already left town, but Day’s 1-up victory over McIlroy in the semifinals of the Match Play at least offered tangible evidence that the Australian can survive a head-to-head tussle with the player many assume is the most talented golfer in the world. On the back nine of their match, Day routinely drove it past McIlroy, including on the par-5 16th, when he launched a 373-yard tee shot. His iron game is just as solid, and perhaps even more daring. And Day has a markedly better short game, both with his pitch shots and also on the greens. Whose best is the best? If we’re lucky, there’ll be more showdowns soon. But for now, McIlroy should no longer be viewed as the default answer. The landscape has changed. 2. What makes Day such an incredible force is not his distance off the tee – several of today’s top players can pound 350-yard drives. No, it’s his soft touch around the greens. In his match against McIlroy, Day was 7-for-8 scrambling, and he showed off a wide array of shots – flop shots, bump-and-runs, super spinners – to stay ahead in the match. Day’s goal, he said, was to frustrate McIlroy with his short game, to get up and down from everywhere, and he did. “When he’s on with his chipping and putting, he doesn’t give you anything,” Day’s caddie, Colin Swatton, said in the locker room afterward. 3. Yet, somehow, drama and injuries continue to dog Day, even in victory. The 28-year-old already had a bulging disk in his back and was prone to flareups. That’s what happened last Wednesday in his opening match, when he clutched his lower back and hobbled down the fairway. He didn’t undergo an MRI in Austin but may opt for an exam once he meets with his trainer, Cornell Driessen, on Tuesday.    The proper treatment can keep him upright, but it’s a frustrating reminder of how fragile he’s been over the past few years.   4. Speaking of which … Oosthuizen knows a thing or two about back injuries, too, which is why it was encouraging to see him play so well at the Match Play.  He’s in the midst of an exhausting stretch – and his back isn’t causing him fits. The South African is playing in this week’s Houston Open and then will make the trip to Augusta. It’ll be his eighth event in the last 10 weeks, a run that included trips to Malaysia and Perth. “While I’m feeling great and I’m doing the stuff I need to do,” he said, “I want to play. If I’m playing well, I want to play more events. I’m forgetting about the past with injuries and I’m just trying to push forward.” With five consecutive top-15s, expect Oosthuizen to be in the mix – again – at the Masters.  5. A good stat here from Golf Channel’s Justin Ray: Day is just the third player since 1980 to win his last two PGA Tour starts entering the Masters:  2015: Day (? at Masters) 2013: Tiger Woods (T-4) 2001: Woods (Won) 1999: David Duval (T-6) 6. Players may have compared it (perhaps unfavorably) to a tighter, shorter Dove Mountain, but the belief here was that Austin Country Club was a phenomenal venue for the Match Play.  There was a delightful mix of difficult and easy holes, long and drivable par 4s, treacherous par 3s and watery par 5s. One of our only suggestions for 2017 would be to remove the grandstand behind the short 13th, which served as a backstop for players who mindlessly bashed driver and 3-wood, knowing their ball would come to rest just off the back of the green. Once the traffic issues were sorted out after Wednesday’s debacle – two players abandoned their courtesy cars and walked onto the property – the tournament ran smoothly for the limited number of fans who were allowed through the gates. 7. This was the second year of the round-robin format at the Match Play. Whether it was the new sponsor, the new venue or a couple of tweaks, it felt like an improved event in 2016.  For all its warts – and we’ll get to those in a minute – the event isn’t as much of a crapshoot anymore.     It keeps all of the stars there for at least three days (even if they’re not fully engaged), which was the main issue for sponsors, TV and spectators. It allowed players to log some competitive rounds before the Masters. It’s a ton of golf for fans on-site to watch. And it seems to identify which players are performing the best – for the first time since 2006, each of the top three seeds reached the round of 16. The last two winners, McIlroy and Day, have been pretty good, too. “I think it’s really good,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Sunday, “because there’s pieces of it you would say aren’t fundamental to what we’re doing in a vacuum. But having more golf for the fans is a plus. And I think the structure is solid, and in match play whoever plays the best is going to get there. Players like it. Our television partners like it. And the fans are reacting well.” 8. Some fans, that is. Yes, there is more golf, and that’s great for the spectators in Austin, but what about the fans at home? More isn’t always better, and 112 (!) matches are way too many to ask the casual fan to follow. All of the standings and points and scenarios make your head spin. The beauty of match play is its simplicity: It’s head-to-head, winner-take-all, loser goes home. But in this format, a loss or halve is usually but not always a crushing result, which dilutes the product and lowers the intensity. 9. Another issue: Tee times for round-robin play were arranged by group. On Friday, for example, both Group 11 matches were followed by Group 6, Group 14 and Group 3, and so on. That might help determine the group winners, but the Tour could avoid its biggest issue with the players – those in meaningless matches are still sent out to compete with little at stake but pride and points – by allowing those stuck in an 0-2 vs. 0-2 match to head off first. Winless Bernd Wiesberger and Matt Jones, who had no chance to advance, teed off at 2:50 p.m. local time Friday. That’s cruel. Let them go off first, so they can spin around the course in two-and-a-half hours and leave town. Not only would it appease the players, but it would make the final few hours more intense, because every match would mean something.    10. All of which is why players remain divided about the current setup. The round-robin format essentially boils down to this: Wednesday serves only to put the losers into a bind; Dustin Johnson was the lone player who dropped his opening match and reached the weekend, and even that was after a sudden-death playoff. Thursday provides slightly more clarity, but the groups require too much math for the casual fan to follow. And Friday, the final day of group play, remains a hot mess, with winner-take-all matches, players with only a sliver of hope and other games that are basically meaningless, save for a few points (FedEx and OWGR) and dollars. Match play is all about the dramatic tension of head-to-head combat, but there was little drama Friday – only four sudden-death playoffs were required, and just seven matches of significance reached the 18th green. Twenty-two players were mathematically eliminated after two rounds. That’s a problem. 11. Jordan Spieth played his most promising golf in more than a month despite a Round of 16 loss to eventual finalist Louis Oosthuizen that also cost him his No. 1 ranking. His swing was off that day. He’ll get it sorted out. What was odd, however, was Spieth’s response to a question about whether it mattered that he’d lost the top ranking. “It could be a good thing for me going into the Masters,” he said.  He meant that it would be less pressure on him and more on the current No. 1 Day, which makes sense, but it seemed an unusual thing for Spieth to concede. Rarely, if ever, does he shy away from the attention and the pressure, probably because he’s handled it so well during his young career. He easily could have shrugged off the question and said something along the lines of, “We’ll try our best to get the No. 1 spot back next week in Houston,” but he didn’t. He already can’t go under the radar in Augusta – he’s a two-time major winner at 22, he’s coming off one of the best seasons in recent memory and he’s the defending Masters champion – so why not embrace the spotlight? To this observer, at least, it was the latest example that Spieth isn’t totally comfortable with his game as the year’s first major approaches.  12. Long-hitting Tony Finau broke through on the PGA Tour for the first time with a playoff victory Sunday at the Puerto Rico Open. He defeated Steve Marino on the third extra hole. Last month, I wrote a lengthy profile on Finau, detailing his incredible journey to the PGA Tour. You can read that here.  But it’ll be interesting to see whether the Puerto Rico title will serve as a springboard for Finau like it has for players in recent years: In 2013, Spieth tied for second there and went on to win an event, reach the Tour Championship and play on the Presidents Cup team; in ’14, Chesson Hadley won there and earned Rookie of the Year honors; and last year, Emiliano Grillo lost in a playoff there but notched his first Tour title only seven months later. Finau has the potential to make a monster leap this season. 13. Day wasn’t the only world No. 1 who showed top form heading into the year’s first major.  Lydia Ko rolled to a four-shot victory at the Kia Classic. It’s her first LPGA title of the year, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, in her final tuneup before this week’s ANA Inspiration.  The Kia was also a step in the right direction for her chief rival, Inbee Park, who has battled a back injury this season. After a pair of top-30s and a missed cut in her last three starts, Park finished second in California. The most bizarre decision in this year’s Match Play was to delay any sudden-death playoffs until after all the group matches were on the course. That meant that Branden Grace (a 5-and-4 winner) had to wait nearly three hours to hit two poor shots and lose the group to Chris Kirk. Tee times ran each day from 10 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. Would it really inconvenience players in the remaining groups if the playoff slid in front to decide a winner? They’ve already had to wait all day to tee off, so what’s another 10 minutes? Forcing players to stand by – for hours, in this case – was peculiar and a total buzzkill. This week’s award winners …  • Have Bed, Will Travel: Oosthuizen. He said that he brings his own mattress with him to Tour events because the hotel beds are either too firm or too soft for his liking. Which begs the question … why don’t more guys with bad backs do that?  • What’s a Guy Gotta Do?: Rafa Cabrera Bello. He finished third at the Match Play and beat Mcllroy in the consolation match, but apparently that wasn’t enough to fully convince European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke that he’s a legitimate contender. When asked by a Twitter user if Bello was now on the watch list, Clarke replied: “He was before this week! His stats have been fantastic all year so far. Tough to pick a rookie though. #awaymatch.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. • Left on the Cutting-Room Floor: Rory vs. Rickie exhibition. Representatives from Detroit Golf Club, sponsor Quicken Loans and the participants were unable to reach a deal for the under-the-lights showdown. It was a cool idea, so hopefully they can hammer out an agreement in the future.  • Shhhhh: Patrick Reed’s new belt buckle. Granted, it looked better when he was torching Phil Mickelson and not when he was losing in the round of 16:  • Youth Is (Under)Served: Daniel Berger and Smylie Kaufman. Berger, 22, didn’t concede a 10-inch putt to Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson on the second hole of their match, while Kaufman, 24, forgot that he wasn’t out of the hole after finding the hazard on 17 and conceded his match to McIlroy. Rory gladly accepted the gift; Berger’s mistake could have bigger repercussions. • What’s Another Six Months?: Tim Finchem. The PGA Tour commish said Sunday that his contract has been extended for another year but that he likely will step down at the end of the year. The highly capable Jay Monahan has already assumed the day-to-day duties, so don’t expect a rocky transition period. • So True: Andy Roddick, calling out fans who wear golf shoes at tournaments. Seriously, do they think they’ll be called on to hit a shot?last_img read more

Lewis embarking on summer that includes wedding

first_imgA life-altering summer run begins in earnest this week for Stacy Lewis. A big three-month run is ahead for all the top players in women’s golf, but there are more than three major championships and the Olympics among the marquee events on Lewis’ schedule over the next 12 weeks. She’s getting married, with the wedding planned Aug. 6, the week after the Ricoh Women’s British Open and 11 days before the start of the Olympic women’s golf competition. “It’s been a challenge,” Lewis said in a pre-tournament news conference Wednesday at the ShopRite Classic. “It’s been a lot more than I thought it was going to be. I kind of handed the reins to my mom and said, `Do what you want to do,’ but there’s still a lot that I have to do and that we need to take care of.” Lewis is marrying Gerrod Chadwell, the University of Houston women’s golf coach. She is scheduled to play eight of the nine LPGA events leading up to their wedding. “The golf has honestly been good, because I think it’s my time to get away from all of that and not have to worry about it,” Lewis said. “But we’re kind of at the place with the wedding where a lot of stuff is done, which is good, because now I’m heading into the busiest time, and now it’s just little stuff. “I’m looking forward to September, I can tell you that.” Why is Lewis scheduling her wedding in the middle of such a rigorous run of big events? Her answer says a lot about her changing priorities. “Some people might think, `Why isn’t she waiting until after the Olympics and all that stuff is over?’” Lewis said. “I’ve waited for this for a long time, and I’ve wanted this for a long time, and just because of some golf tournaments I’m not going to put my life on hold. I’ve done that enough, and it’s time to do something for myself that I’ve wanted, and that’s what we’re going to do.” At the ANA Inspiration in April, Lewis opened up about her changing priorities, how she’s learning to balance the importance of her personal life with her career. “The biggest thing is I’ve got somebody in my life that’s more important than any golf tournament I’ll ever play in, or any tournament I’ll ever win, and I honestly never thought I would be up here saying that,” Lewis said at Mission Hills. “It’s a little bit strange to me, and that’s one thing I’m trying to figure out right now.” Lewis opened the year No. 3 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. The former world No. 1 slipped a spot to No. 5 last week and another spot to No. 6 this week. She said at the ANA that in learning to juggle priorities, a return to No. 1 might no longer be a pressing goal, because of the scheduling and week-to-week sacrifices that it takes. She said winning majors, however, would remain her professional focus. Lewis is on friendly turf this week outside Atlantic City, N.J., looking for her first victory in almost two years. She won at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in 2012 and ‘14. She and world No. 4 Brooke Henderson are the only players among the top 10 in the world rankings who will tee it up in Friday’s start of the 54-hole event. Since last winning at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in the summer of 2014, Lewis has been knocking hard on the door to her 12th LPGA title. She has logged 10 second-place finishes since that last victory. There couldn’t be a better time to mount a hot run with next week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship starting the summer’s major run. All those close calls, Lewis says, hasn’t deterred her. “If you asked me a year ago, yes, it was driving me crazy, but I’ve kind of come to terms with it, that I’ve finished second a bunch but I’ve played some good golf,” Lewis said. “It’s not like I haven’t played well. Sometimes, you kind of take advantage of the situation. I was rolling there for so long, I didn’t have to work that hard. It was just things were happening, and I was playing good, and now it’s like I’ve been working hard and I’ve got to get my act together a little bit.” Lewis isn’t having a bad year. She has two runner-up finishes this season. Her ball-striking stats are strong. She’s No. 4 in hitting greens in regulation and No. 4 in driving accuracy. She led the tour in putts per greens in regulation last year but has slipped to 24th this year. She is 10th in scoring this season. “I like what I’m working on,” Lewis said. “I like where the game is going. It’s just getting back in those last couple groups, which I’ve done the last few weeks and getting comfortable there again. I’m starting to trust the swing under pressure. Alabama (the Yokohama Tire Classic) was big because I hit some shots there down the stretch that I needed to hit. Things just didn’t quite work out, but being able to hit the shots under pressure is what’s going to get that win.”last_img

Wood leads Nordea Masters through 54

first_imgMALMO, Sweden – English golfer Chris Wood leads by one despite a bogey in his last hole in the third round of the Nordea Masters on Saturday. Wood, who has three European Tour victories, fired a second straight 5-under-par 68. His best result this year was at the end of April at the China Open, a tie for fourth. One shot behind Wood were Benjamin Hebert of France (70) and Renato Paratore of Italy (71) at the Barseback Gold and Country Club. Neither has won on the tour. Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark, who eagled the par-5 9th, was two strokes behind after a 70. Jamie Donaldson of Wales, who had led by two strokes on Friday, carded a 2-over 75 and ended up three strokes behind Wood.last_img

Spieth, Fowler provide memorable drama

first_imgAUGUSTA, Ga. – Jordan Spieth’s 8-footer for par at the 72nd hole had just slipped past the hole. As he glanced over his shoulder to climb the hill to Augusta National’s clubhouse his eyes widened. The player who famously avoids leaderboard gawking was getting his first glance, his first look all day, at that iconic board adjacent to the 18th hole. “The first time I saw the leaderboard was after I tapped in on 18. Honest to God,” stressed Spieth, whose closing 64 tied for the lowest final round in Masters history. “I could have been in the lead by two and I could have been down four. And neither one would have surprised me. I didn’t look once today.” He missed an epic show. In Spieth’s defense, he did start the final round at the Masters a full nine shots behind Patrick Reed and correctly figured that even if he was able to conjure some magic around the old plant nursery there was a murderer’s row of would-be champions he’d have to leapfrog on his way to his second green jacket. “With eight people ahead of me starting the day, to get that much help and shoot a fantastic round was nearly impossible,” Spieth shrugged. “But I almost pulled off the impossible. I had no idea.” Between Spieth and Rickie Fowler – who set out on Sunday in slightly better position, just five strokes off the pace – they produced an impossibly memorable final round that, with a monsoon of respect to eventual champion Reed, would otherwise have gone down as one of the tournament’s more uneventful finishes. Reed won with a gritty closing round of 71, but this Masters will be remembered as a frenzied buzzer beater for the American thanks to Spieth and Reed providing an intoxicating mix of inspiration and intrigue. It’s the secret sauce that makes the Masters different from other majors. Identify the week’s best – sure, all the majors accomplish that to varying degrees – but the magic is to bring together the game’s best, add a dash of hole locations that encourage aggressive play with electrifying results and finish it off with a steady diet of mounting pressure. Spieth got things started with five birdies through his first nine holes before vanquishing some demons at the 12th hole, where he’s lost at least two Masters already in his young career, with a 22-footer for birdie to move to 14 under and within two shots of Reed. Masters Tournament: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage Not that Spieth had any idea where he stood. “To play a disciplined shot, probably the most pressure-packed shot I’ve ever hit [at No. 12], the Sunday pin at Augusta and I know what I’ve done, and my history there, to stand in that kind of pressure and hit the shot to the safe zone, to knock that putt in was massive,” Spieth said. He would convert back-to-back birdies at Nos. 12 and 13 and again at Nos. 15 and 16, the latter to tie for the lead at 14 under and send a low, distinctive roar across the property and all the way to the 11th tee, where Reed was about to hit a wayward drive that would add more intrigue to the proceedings. Compared with Spieth, Fowler’s heroics were more of the traditional variety after playing the opening loop in 1 under par. The man many consider the best player without a major rolled in 9-footers at 12 and 13 and a 49-foot winding Hail Mary at the 15th hole to move to within two strokes of the lead. The theater built to a predictable crescendo, with Fowler hitting his approach to 7 feet at the final hole just as Reed stepped to the 18th tee 465 yards back down the hill. From center stage with the world and Reed watching, Fowler calmly rolled in the type of birdie putt that wins major championships. Unlike Spieth, Fowler didn’t need to glance back up at the leaderboard to check his status. His birdie at the last left him at 14 under, one stroke back and officially on hold while Reed decided the outcome. “I didn’t look at the scoreboards a whole lot today, but I wanted to kind of check in and see where things were at around the turn,” said Fowler, who closed with a 67 to complete a 12-under-par weekend surge. “I saw Jordan was off and running today. To see that was kind of a kick in the butt.” The assorted charges and cheers that echoed through the pines also served to put Reed on notice. Poised to become the first player to post all four rounds in the 60s after the first three days, the would-be champion struggled early. Reed bogeyed the first and sixth holes to turn in even par and pushed his drive into the trees right of the 11th fairway on his way to bogey. His lead, which was three shots over Rory McIlroy to begin the day, had been trimmed to a single stroke. “I knew someone else was going to go post a number early. Did I think they were going to post that type of number [Spieth’s 64]? No,” said Reed, who would birdie the 15th hole and play the rest of his round in even par for a one-stroke victory over Fowler. “But just to see kind of how he was playing and see every time I looked at a board, they always threw up a number and it seemed to always get closer and closer to me; it was kind of nerve wracking. I was kind of glad he ran out of holes.” After one of the most memorable finishes in Masters history, he may have been the only one who wanted this magical day to end.last_img read more

Cinderella theme developing in women’s majors

first_imgBIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Cinderella may have a sister starring in a sequel this week at the U.S. Women’s Open. With Sarah Jane Smith pulling away in the rain-shortened second round Friday at Shoal Creek, it feels as if a theme could be developing in this year’s women’s majors. A couple months after Pernilla Lindberg won in an upset, Smith is positioning herself early to try to do the same. Lindberg was No. 150 in the world when she broke through to win the ANA Inspiration as her first LPGA title in April. She played like a world No. 1, defeating Inbee Park in a playoff to win wire to wire. Smith is No. 97 in the world as she also seeks to make her first LPGA title a major. With another 5-under-par 67 Friday, Smith was pulling away from the field in the morning wave, up by as many as five shots. “Ten under in two days here is unbelievable,” said Carlota Ciganda (71), who is seven shots back. This wasn’t easy to see coming, with Smith missing the cut in five of her last six starts. She has been frustrated with her struggles. “I haven’t handled it well,” Smith said. “It’s been a rough month. It hasn’t been a lot of fun.” Smith stuck around that Monday at the ANA to see Lindberg win. They’re friends. Lindberg thanked Smith with an encouraging message. “The nicest message I have gotten, as a pick me up, because I wasn’t going through the best of times,” Smith said. “She has been a great friend.” Smith said watching Lindberg inspired her. “It made me put in a little more work, just to try to follow in her footsteps,” Smith. Lindberg won in her 250th LPGA start. Full-field scores from the U.S. Women’s Open Smith is making her 223rd tour start this week. There’s a special Aussie connection here at Shoal Creek that Smith is looking to build upon. Wayne Grady won the PGA Championship here in 1990. Count LPGA Hall of Famer and fellow Aussie Karrie Webb among those who believe Smith can finish this off. “I have always been a big believer Sarah is capable of playing the way she has the last couple days here,” said Webb, a two-time U.S. Women’s Open winner. “We’ve had conversations, where I’ve told her it’s all there. She just has to believe.” Sean Foley, Smith’s swing coach, is on the same page as Webb. “Sarah is going to hold a trophy at some point,” Foley told GolfChannel.com late last year. “She’s too skilled not to win.” Lindberg showed Smith how quickly a player can put it all together. They may be from opposite sides of the planet, but they have a lot in common. Smith, 33, has her husband, Duane, as caddie. Lindberg, 30, has her fiancé, Daniel, on her bag. This quest is very much a joint adventure for both couples. “We are so lucky,” Duane said. “We get to travel the world together. It’s been amazing. We struggled for the longest time, just sort of breaking even, but over the last few years she has played very well. She has built a life for us.” Sarah Jane and Duane both grew up on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, knowing each other since they were in junior golf. When they were 18, a mutual friend set them up as partners in a Queensland mixed team event. They played 36 holes together that event and have been together ever since. Duane started caddying for Sarah Jane 13 years ago. He’s the only full-time caddie she has ever had, other than the odd times a friend has stepped in. They married nine years ago. “We’ve had a few ‘don’t-speak-to-me’ moments after rounds,” Sarah Jane said. “It’s obviously difficult sometimes, but when it’s good it’s worth every second.” Duane was asked the secret to making it work, “Basically, very much knowing she is the boss,” he said.last_img read more