HONOLULU – Tiger Woods started a trend. He wasn’t the first player to place more of an importance on major championships, but he’s certainly spun enough press conference queries into responses about hoping to peak four times per year. Others have fallen in line. Grizzled veterans like Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Younger guys like Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Even super-sophomore Jordan Spieth has promised his own variation on this strategy. All of which got me thinking about lesser-known players, those with PGA Tour status, but still seeking their elusive first win. Why don’t these guys treat a few tournaments per year like the superstars treat majors? Why don’t they arrive early to some venues they like and learn every inch of sod? Why don’t they put all of their eggs into three or four baskets, trying like heck for a victory that would net a seven-figure paycheck and a two-year exemption and – in most cases – a trip to the Masters? “That’s a really good question,” Brendon de Jonge said with a laugh. Sony Open: Articles, videos and photos He’s right in the perfect demographic for this experiment. Last year, de Jonge finished 42nd on the money list with just under $1.8 million. He played for the International team at the Presidents Cup. He’s ranked 59th in the world. He’s accomplished plenty, really – except a win. At 33, de Jonge is just about maxed out on the perks and benefits of being a full-time PGA Tour member who has never claimed a title. He competed 30 times last season, but why not cut that number back to, say, 27 and enter three hand-picked events fresh and rested and ready to win, just like the superstars try to do before majors? “It’s a very, very good point. I’ve never thought of it,” he explained. Thinking out loud, de Jonge surmised that the Greenbrier Classic, where he finished top-20 in three of the last four years, could be a good place to try it. “You know what? I would consider that. It’s that time of year where if you’re playing well, you might have gotten your card locked up, so you don’t have that to worry about. It might be something to think about.” Of course, there is an innate problem to this suggestion, as well: Resting isn’t necessarily synonymous with peaking. Woods perennially doesn’t play during the week before each of the first three majors; Mickelson always tries to play in order to keep his competitive edge. The idea, though, is really about more than that. It’s about treating a few regular tournaments with more importance, more reverence. Fly first class. Rent a house. Have the swing coach and sports psychologist around each day. In other words, simply give these events more respect. We often hear players refer to a favorite course or a hometown event as their “fifth major.” This would be an opportunity to truly treat it that way. Essentially, it’s the difference between playing roulette and blackjack. One is pure luck, while the other involves a little strategy. “I think there’s definitely some merit to that,” said David Hearn, who owns 25 career top-25 results without a win. “But it would be hard to pick the exact four events you’d want to peak for, because you don’t know which courses you’re personally going to play the best. That would be the hard part about it. But it definitely makes sense to play courses you haven’t seen before.” Hearn has actually done exactly that in the past, traveling to Riviera Country Club in the offseason one year prior to competing in the Northern Trust Open for the first time. Others see the benefit, too. All you had to do was check the tee sheets last week at places like PGA West and TPC-Scottsdale – home venues to each of the next two PGA Tour events after this week’s Sony Open – and see how many players were gearing up their games on courses they’ll soon play in competition. During the season, though, that proposition becomes much more difficult. “You get in your routine of week to week to week to week, but maybe they don’t peak that way,” suggested Daniel Summerhays, who earned four top-10s last season but is still seeking his initial victory. “If I knew that I was going to play good in 15 tournaments – if I was Steve Stricker – I’d play 13 tournaments a year and just prepare for those. The guys at the top get to take their time off, they get to prepare, they don’t get burned out, they know where they’re going. It’s an advantage, but you have to credit them, because they got to that point.” “Most of these tournaments we play, we’ve played them four or five times now,” said Jeff Overton, who’s posted four career runner-up finishes without a win. “So we’ve seen the golf courses, we know where the pins are going to be, we know the ins and outs, whereas the majors come on courses where the guys haven’t seen them in a long time. … Most of the places we’ve seen – I’ve seen this place [Waialae Country Club] 25 times already – so one practice round is good.” What it comes down to is routine. As PGA Tour pros still striving for that elusive trophy, these guys are accustomed to teeing it up whenever and wherever they have a chance. Giving up these chances is like handing money on the roulette table to the guy next to them, then walking away without any potential for sharing the payout. “As golfers, we never know when we’re going to play well, so to put all your eggs in one basket probably makes us more nervous,” Summerhays explained. “We try to play as much as we can to try and diversify our portfolios. But maybe in doing that, we do lose some of the peak moments.” Tiger, Phil and the other superstars can try to peak four times each year. Players still aiming for their first win often feel like they can’t afford this luxury, that quantity will beget quality. Maybe they’re right. But I still can’t help but wonder what would happen if one of ‘em tried this experiment.
DULUTH, Ga. – Fun-loving Miguel Angel Jimenez might turn the Champions Tour into his personal cigar-and-wine club. Ever-serious Bernhard Langer keeps churning out sub-par rounds. Bad back and all, Fred Couples is thriving in the wind and cold rain. It makes for an enticing last group in Sunday’s final round of the Greater Gwinnett Championship. Jimenez, continuing his impressive tour debut, shot a 2-under 70 on Saturday and leads by one stroke after two days at TPC Sugarloaf. Langer and Couples each had a 68 in the second round. Langer is one stroke back of Jimenez and Couples is two back, setting up Sunday’s all-star final group. ”That’s about as good a pairing as you’re going to get,” Couples said. ”I’m thrilled about that, to have a shot at winning.” Added Langer: ”It should be an exciting shootout. … Whoever is going to win tomorrow is going to play some good golf.” Jimenez, Langer and Couples carried over their momentum after strong finishes last week in the Masters. Jimenez was fourth, Langer tied for eighth and Couples tied for 20th in Augusta. ”When you come in from a major like the Masters and you are playing well there, you are like in tune, you know?” Jimenez said. Jimenez began the day with a three-stroke lead following his tournament-record 65 on Friday. After the round he said he couldn’t wait for ”a nice, warm shower, a nice fat cigar and a glass of (wine).” Langer was tied with Jimenez for the lead at 8 under entering Saturday’s final hole. Jimenez had a birdie on No. 18. Langer missed putts for eagle and birdie before settling for par and his second straight 68. Sunday will mark the third straight round Langer and Jimenez have played in the same group. Before the tournament, Langer predicted Jimenez will ”leave his mark” on the Champions Tour. That opinion hasn’t changed. ”He’s very much the same, he’s very steady and very methodical and really doesn’t have too much of a weakness,” Langer said. ”Drives the ball well, hits some good irons and putts it very well so that’s why he’s on top of the leaderboard right now.” Jimenez is trying to become the second straight player to win in his Champions Tour debut. Jeff Maggert won the tour’s last event in Saucier, Miss., on March 23. Jay Haas, Chien Soon Lu, Duffy Waldorf, Kenny Perry and Steve Pate are tied for fourth at 5 under. Haas, Lu and Waldorf had 68s, and Perry and Pate had 71s. Jimenez began his second round with a birdie, but he gave back three strokes on his next three holes. A double bogey on No. 4 dropped him to 5 under. Langer also had his troubles early. He was tied for 10th and was 1 over for the day through eight holes. Just as there were whispers that his streak of 17 consecutive sub-par rounds on the tour could be in jeopardy, Langer had his first birdie of the day on No. 10. That putt sparked a streak of four birdies in six holes. Couples moved into third place with a birdie on 17. Tom Glavine, who will be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in July, joined former Braves teammate John Smoltz and former University of Georgia and Chicago Bears kicker Kevin Butler in a celebrity group playing for charity.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – What’s a guy have to do to get noticed around here? Win a fourth green jacket? Phil Mickelson was pretty much an afterthought entering this Masters, an aging former champion winless in almost two full years, with just a single top-10 finish in a PGA Tour event over this season and last. He wasn’t on the marquee with the stars getting top billing here. This week was all about the return of Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy’s bid to win the career Grand Slam. Mickelson wasn’t even the best lefty at Augusta National with Bubba Watson the favorite to win his third Masters’ title in four seasons. And when this Masters finally got started, fresh-faced Jordan Spieth stole the show in his bid to smash records and make history. Spieth’s brilliance only served to make Mickelson seem even older, even closer to officially being washed up with his 45th birthday less than two months away. And yet when Saturday’s dizzying twists and turns finally skidded to a stop, there was Mickelson, back in the mix. He will tee it up Sunday with a chance to be the guy making all the history that matters. He’s seeking his sixth major championship title. With a 5-under-par 67, Mickelson equaled the best score posted Saturday, putting himself in position to join Jack Nicklaus (6), Arnold Palmer (4) and Tiger Woods (4) as the only players to win four or more green jackets. “I just love it,” Mickelson said. “It’s what I dreamed about as a kid. It’s what motivated me in the off season, four or five days a week, to get up at 5:30 and work out, dreaming of this, giving myself an opportunity in this tournament. “Granted, I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow, and I’m quite a ways back. A good round though, and it could be fun.” Mickelson will start the final round five shots back of Spieth, and if you watched Saturday’s finish, five shots seems as small as it’s ever been on the back nine at Augusta National. Mickelson was part of the head-spinning twists and turns late in the third round, drama that makes anything seem possible Sunday. In a breathless four-hole stretch on the back nine, Mickelson went from seven behind Spieth to four down, then back to seven down before ending five back. “It really is the best,” Mickelson said of being in the hunt at the Masters. “To play late on the weekends in Augusta, perfect weather, the golf course just stupendous today, it couldn’t have been any better.” Mickelson rolled into Augusta National believing this was possible. “I think driving down Magnolia Lane is rejuvenating,” Mickelson said at week’s start. “It gives me a new energy. It’s exciting, and I think that energy helps me work hard, play hard and focus better and play my best.” He wasn’t kidding. Majors, in general, bring the best out of Mickelson now. He finished second to McIlroy at the PGA Championship in August. That was his only top-10 in a PGA Tour event in 2014. His last victory anywhere in the world was the British Open in July of 2013. Mickelson has finished first or second in three of his last seven starts in majors. Mickelson wore pink Sunday in honor of Palmer, who made so many brilliant Sunday charges at the Masters with his bold play. Mickelson is known for the same risk-loving style of play. “It’s not my color, it doesn’t look good on me, and I don’t wear it well, but I had a premonition after spending time with Arnold Palmer,” Mickelson said. “He likes to wear this color. I just had a feeling that I needed to make a move, and I had it in the bag and pulled it out.” Eight back at day’s start, Mickelson got himself within four shots of Spieth, burying a dramatic 60-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole. “It’s crazy to make that putt,” Mickelson said. “I’m just trying to two putt it.” Mickelson lost some momentum making bogey at the 17th, but he got some help from a stumbling Spieth at the end to stay within reach. Mickelson said he’ll be looking to a favorite color to inspire him to another bold Sunday finish. “I like to wear dark colors on Sunday,” Mickelson said. “I’ve won three times here wearing black shirts, so I’ll wear a black shirt tomorrow. It also helps me get more aggressive. Studies have shown NFL teams, when they wear black, they have more penalties. That’s what I need to do tomorrow, play more aggressive.” Mickelson’s birdie at the 16th looked as if it would get him in the final pairing with Spieth, but his bogey puts him out with Charley Hoffman in the group directly in front of Spieth. That’s where Mickelson said he prefers to be. “I was hoping to be the group in front [of Spieth], and if I can start posting some birdies, I think it’s much more difficult to follow than it is to lead,” he said. Mickelson respects Spieth and believes he will be tough to beat. “He would just be a great champion,” Mickelson said. “He’s just a classy guy. He just represents the game very well and at a very young age, and he’s just got a lot of game. “I’m going to try to stop him, but we’ll see how it goes.”
KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Laurie Rinker won the LPGA T&CP National Championship on Wednesday, closing with a 7-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over three-time defending champion Jean Bartholomew and Karen Paolozzi. The 52-year-old Rinker finished at 9-under 207 at Reunion Resort and earned $10,000. She led the eight qualifiers for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next year at Sahalee in Washington. ”I feel like I played well every day. I just maybe hit the ball closer today and just made some putts,” said Rinker, a two-time LPGA winner. ”My proximity to the hole was much better today. I probably only missed six greens in three days.” Bartholomew, a four-time winner, and Paolozzi each shot 70. Carolyn Hill successfully defended her title in the Senior Division, shooting a 66 for a one-stroke victory over Jan Kleiman and AnneMarie Palli. The 56-year-old Hill finished at 4-under 212. The one-time LPGA winner also won the 2011 tournament.
ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – The Americans would like to think they are the underdogs at the Solheim Cup this week. They aren’t. If you examine the resumes of the 12 players on the United States roster, compare them to Europe’s, it’s no contest in favor of the Americans. If you look at the world rankings, it’s no contest again. The Americans’ average world ranking is 24.6 and Europe’s is 52.6. “I don’t know that you can call yourselves underdogs when you’re that much higher ranked,” European captain Carin Koch said. If you look at major championships won (10-4), the Americans tower over the Euros. If you look at LPGA titles (16-4) won over the last two years, the Americans also dominate, even though 10 of the 12 Euros in this Solheim Cup are LPGA members. It doesn’t matter that the Europeans have won the last two Solheim Cups, or that they beat the United States in a record 18-10 rout at the Colorado Golf Club in the last event. It doesn’t matter that the Europeans are the “home team” this time around, either. You want the official word? That comes from the bookmakers. The experts, the gurus who officially make the odds, they’re all making the Americans the favorites. Solheim Cup: Articles, photos and videos Capsules: United States | Europeans Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power are among oddsmakers who list the Americans as favorites. Ladbrokes and William Hill both make the United States a 4-6 favorite. Paddy Power makes them even heavier favorites at 8-13. What do the odds really mean? They mean the majority of the betting public believes the Americans should win. Bookmakers aren’t prognosticators. They aren’t in the business of predicting who will win. They aren’t floating their opinions making these odds. What they’re trying to do is accurately assess the public perception of who will win. That’s how oddsmaking works. If the odds were even this week, a load of money would be bet on the United States. That’s a fact. That’s why bookmakers are shifting the odds to make the Americans the favorite, to even out the betting. Of course, as they say, this is all “on paper.” And as we’ve learned, what’s on paper doesn’t mean diddly in these international team competitions. The Americans were heavily favored in both of the Solheim Cups lost in 2011 and ’13. Most of professional golf is an individual sport. It’s individuals playing for themselves, and most of it is stroke play. The Solheim Cup, like the Ryder Cup and Walker Cup, is a team event, and it’s all match play. This team thing and this match-play thing, they change everything. “Match play, it’s a different game,” said France’s Gwladys Nocera, who’s playing in her fourth Solheim Cup. “I think, two years ago, we were more united as a team than maybe the Americans were. Why? I don’t know. You have to ask them why they aren’t super strong together. “On the European side, for sure, we were like really, really strong together. Maybe that makes a difference at the end.” Maybe that’s just perception, but the scores of the last two Solheim Cups favor Nocera’s assertion. And even if it’s perception that the Americans aren’t a strong team, it’s a reality in the heads of the Euros. That’s a potential psychological advantage. “On paper, for sure, the Americans are better than the Europeans,” said France’s Karine Icher, who will be playing in her third Solheim Cup. “When you take the world rankings, there is no doubt they are much better. The magic of the match play, you never know. You can play No. 2 in the world against No. 100, and No. 100 wins, and you don’t know why. “It’s probably mental and how you can create a spirit together. It’s about being a team and being able to put aside every personal thing.” While bookmakers might not agree with U.S. captain Juli Inkster’s assertion that the United States is the underdog this week, there’s no denying the Americans have adopted the mindset. “My plan is to bring our lunch boxes over there,” Inkster said. “We’re going to have fun, but we’re also going to go to work. We’re tired of losing to the European team. We are the underdogs. It’s been a long time since we’ve been the underdogs, and the only way to get that back is to go over there and work hard and play some good golf.” What is it about international team events that makes everyone want to be the underdog? “I think it just makes you a little bit more scrappy, a little bit more willing to fight harder,” said Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champ who played on two European Solheim Cup teams. “There’s no real pressure on the performance, because you’re not expected to win, so you can go out there and just show everybody what you’ve got, but with a little chip on your shoulder to say. ‘You know what? It may not be thought that I’m as good, but I am as good.’ So that’s what the underdog role does for the players.” Whether the Americans should be favored or not, Koch knows they’re highly motivated and they’re feeling some heat. “In my eyes, it’s Team USA that’s under pressure,” Koch said. “But we also want it all. We want to win three in a row. That’s our big goal. It’s another tournament. It has nothing to do with what happened in Colorado or what happened the time before then. We start over, and it’s the Solheim Cup 2015 at St. Leon Rot, and this is the event. We’re there to win, but we’re also there to have a great match and to just have a lot of fun.” The winners always have the most fun.
SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Through rain squalls of rain and wind gusts, Brooke Henderson and Mirim Lee maintained their composure and patience even as the weather deteriorated. Henderson and Lee withstood the wild conditions Friday to share the lead at 2 under halfway through the KMPG Women’s PGA Championship, the second major of the year on the LPGA Tour. Playing in the afternoon, Henderson and Lee fought through a mix of heavy rain, wind and a significant drop in the temperature at Sahalee Country Club. After six straight pars, Henderson birdied the par-3 17th, but the 18-year-old Canadian bogeyed the 18th for a 2-over 73 that dropped her back into a tie with Lee. ”Definitely growing up, springtime, fall-time weather was very similar to this,” said Henderson, ranked fourth in the world. ”Definitely it gives me a little bit of advantage. But I like to think I’m a good player in all conditions. Maybe it runs in my favor a little bit.” Lee started on the back nine and surged when she got to the front, making three birdies before dropping a shot late and finishing with a 69. Lee had two top-10 finishes this year, but missed the cut at the ANA Inspiration, the first major. KPMG Women’s PGA Championship: Articles, photos and videos And sitting just one shot behind the leaders was top-ranked Lydia Ko, who scrambled to a 70 in her bid to win three straight majors. Ko was in a group with Gerina Piller (69) and Brittany Lincicome (70), with only five players under par after two rounds. ”It was really tough out there,” Ko said. ”I don’t know how many putts I had on the back nine, but the putter definitely saved me.” The real winner the first two days was Sahalee. Cut between the towering pine and cedar trees the course was unrelenting in its difficulty. Only two holes played under par on Friday – the par-4 third and the par-5 11th. For the first two days there have been only 22 rounds under par and seven in the 60s. The course is playing nearly 4 1/2 shots over par. ”It has some teeth,” Piller said. ”I think we had every element out here.” Piller birdied two of her final three holes to become the first player to finish 36 holes under par, including a long birdie on the 18th. It was just the seventh birdie on the long, uphill par 4. ”I’m putting great, so I know if I can just get around the hole I have a chance to make par or birdie or save some shots there,” Piller said. Lexi Thompson tried to get back into contention with three birdies in four holes to finish the front nine, but gave it all away with three straight bogeys to start the back side. She finished at 7 over along with Stacy Lewis (76), both barely making the cut and staying around for the weekend. Heading home is three-time defending champion Inbee Park. A day after wrapping up an LPGA Hall of Fame spot, the South Korean star shot an 79 on Friday to drop to 9 over. ”Today’s round was going all right on the front nine. I felt like I was holding on pretty good. On the back nine I just couldn’t get a rhythm with the swing and I missed a lot of shots to the right, what I have been doing in the last month or so,” Park said. Park has been dealing with inflammation in the tendons and ligaments around her left thumb. She shot a 72 on Thursday, the round she needed to complete the 10-year requirement for the LPGA Hall of Fame. At 27, she became the youngest player to accomplish the feat. Park said she will reconsider taking an extended break to let the thumb heal, one that could bring the Olympics into question. ”I think now having tried three, four times with the injury, playing with the injury I kind of have to rethink and regroup,” Park said. ”I might need some time to really get better and be back with the confidence. I’m just going to have to sit down with my team and discuss it.” Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, the winner of her last three tournaments, was 3 over after a 75. Michelle Wie missed the cut, shooting 78-80.
CHASKA, Minn. – The Europeans can take a punch. And, boy, can they counter punch. Rory McIlroy showed that with his wild roundhouse punch celebration after burying a 20-foot eagle putt at the 16th hole that helped put the Euros get back in this Ryder Cup. The Europeans didn’t just get throttled 4-0 by the Americans in the morning foursomes at Hazeltine Golf Club. The Euros felt pushed around by a rowdy, boisterous American crowd before they pushed back in afternoon fourballs to cut the U.S. lead to 5-3. McIlroy was asked if his celebratory punch was an attempt to let the American crowd know the Europeans are unfazed. “Yeah, for sure,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, not fazed by anything that is said by the crowd and not fazed by anything that the U.S. team throws at us. “We were 4-nil down going into this afternoon, and I thought the whole team showed a lot of heart out there. We played for each other. We went out there with the mindset of if we could just win this session somehow, we would be right back in it.” McIlroy’s last putt helped him and Thomas Pieters defeat Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, 3 and 2. McIlroy carved a 4-iron from 226 yards to 20 feet at the 16th. He was so determined to hole the eagle putt, he said he was actually thinking about how he was going to celebrate before he holed it. After the ball disappeared in the hole, he bowed one way to the crowd, then turned and bowed another way . . . and then balled up his fist and cold-cocked the air. “It’s a hostile environment out there, and I just want everyone that’s watching out there to know how much this means to us, how much it means to me personally and obviously us as a team,” McIlroy said. “And we’re not going down without a fight.” Ryder Cup: Scoring | Live blog: Day 1 | Photo gallery Full coverage from the Ryder Cup The Americans looked ready to turn this into a laugher sweeping the foursome session, but the European turnaround was stunning. They won every fourball match except one, with Americans Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka rolling over Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer, 5 and 4. McIlroy heard some fans rooting against, rooting for him to hit bad shots, but no European faced a tougher time Friday than Willett. With his brother, Pete, penning an article back in England that ridiculed American fans as “fat, stupid, greedy, classless bastards,” Willett found himself booed at the first tee in his first Ryder Cup appearance. His brother’s rant on American eating habits, including their love of hot dogs, became a popular topic among fans following Willett in fourballs. This from a man at the third tee: “Danny, you’re brother’s an idiot!” This from a man in the gallery at the sixth fairway: “I love hot dogs and I drink pissy beer! I’m literally the guy your brother was writing about!” And this from a woman in the bleachers behind the sixth green: “I fill my fat, jelly face with hot dogs. Don’t let it bother you.” Hazeltine is packed with crowds estimated at more than 50,000, and like Willett, McIlroy heard fans rooting for him to hit bad shots. “I’m all for people cheering for their team as much as they possibly can,” McIlroy said. “That was a little disappointing in my eyes, that that happened. But again, it’s a minority of people, and you know, most people out there are being respectful and respectful of the etiquette of our game of golf. “As we say, we want this Ryder Cup to be played in very sportsman like conduct, and a sportsmanlike conduct that the great late Arnold Palmer would be very proud of.” While the Americans may take a 5-3 lead into Saturday, the Europeans take terrific momentum. “They showed a massive amount, in my opinion, of desire and the fight in them to get themselves right back into it again,” European captain Darren Clarke said. With Sergio Garcia inspired by his teaming with fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, with Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose’s Olympic-like effort and with McIlroy launching missiles with big-hitting partner Pieters, the Euros rejuvenated themselves playing their own balls. “The mood in the team room just there was quite buoyant and definitely feels like there was a shift in momentum,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully, we can carry that into tomorrow morning.” The Americans also took a 5-3 lead into Saturday the last time the Ryder Cup was played on American soil. Back in 2012, the Euros made a historic Sunday comeback to win. The Euros have overcome first-day deficits in two of the last three beatings they’ve put on the Americans. Stenson and Rose helped swing momentum back Europe’s way in the leadoff fourballs match. They routed the dynamic duo of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, 5 and 4, after getting whipped by them in the morning. “It makes it sweet when you beat the guys you lost to in the morning,” Stenson said. Stenson and Rose teamed to birdie seven of the first 11 holes. The Spaniards have been a formidable part of Europe’s rise to power in the Ryder Cup, and they were an integral part of Europe’s rally on Friday. Garcia and Cabrera Bello won the first hole and never trailed the rest of the way, defeating J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore, 3 and 2. Garcia’s putter was on fire. He made three consecutive birdies on the back nine, five on the day. Making his first Ryder Cup appearance, Cabrera Bello birdied the first hole to jump start the tandem. “I love this,” Garcia said of the Ryder Cup. “This is very special for me. Sorry, I said that the wrong way. This is very special for us. Rafa was a rock out there. He gave me so much confidence to go for shots and putts.” The Euros will be looking to build on their momentum change to battle the Americans and the home-field advantage the Euros are finding so challenging.
SHANGHAI – Matt Kuchar stood on the tee at the par-3 17th hole waiting his turn to hit when his caddie noticed the fine print. The shiny Cadillac nearby indicated that it would be awarded to whoever made a hole-in-one during the HSBC Champions. There was just one catch. Because the tee had been moved forward Saturday in the third round, the hole played only 193 yards. The notice next to the car said it would not be offered as a prize on this day because the hole had to be at least 200 yards. John Wood, his caddie, nudged Kuchar and jokingly told him, ”Don’t worry about a hole-in-one today. We don’t get the car.” ”And then he makes it,” Wood said. Timing was everything. An ace is cool on any occasion, especially a World Golf Championship when it leads to a 4-under 68. Kuchar was no less wistful. ”That was probably one of the saddest hole-in-ones I’ve ever had,” he said. ”Most of the time, a hole-in-one you’re just overjoyed with excitement. But then there’s a car sitting there, the most beautiful Cadillac on a tee.” WGC-HSBC Champions: Articles, photos and videos And the note. ”I looked down and it had a note that said something about round three and four,” Kuchar said. ”And I thought, ‘Well, the car probably just applies for this weekend’s hole-in-ones, that maybe it did not apply to round one and two. Then my caddie alerted me. ”I was teased by this beautiful car sitting there that’s not to be mine.” Kuchar will survive. He said his favorite car at home on Sea Island, Georgia, is a 1972 Trailblazer that has been restored. Still, he might have to do some explaining to Cameron, his 9-year-old son whom Kuchar described as a golf junkie who asks him about various shots he has made. One of those questions was if he had ever made an ace to win a car. The answer: Yes and now. ”Unfortunately, the insurance was taken away due to the forward tee,” Kuchar said. Kuchar was playing with Henrik Stenson, and he said the British Open champion took the blame. He said Stenson told him he was the one who recommended that the tee be moved forward because the back tee was not in good shape. ”He owes me something,” Kuchar said. Kuchar said it was his ninth ace in competition, and this would not rank as his most memorable. He says the best ace he ever made was during the Par 3 Tournament at the Masters one year when his grandfather was caddying for him. It was a special moment that didn’t need a car on offer.
SILVIS, Ill. – Charles Howell III and Ollie Schniederjans each shot 8-under 63 on Thursday to share the first-round lead in the John Deere Classic. Playing alongside local favorite Zach Johnson, Howell birdied seven his first nine holes and added a birdie on No. 7 in his morning round at rain-softened TPC Deere Run. The two-time PGA Tour winner lost a playoff to Kyle Stanley two weeks ago in the Quicken Loans National. ”This morning without traffic, they were rolling like carpet,” Howell said. ”This morning was absolutely the best scoring we’ll see all week, which would also lead me to believe that tomorrow morning you’re going to see some low scores as well. Here, it’s about minimizing bogeys as much as you can and take advantage of the holes that you need to.” Schniederjans birdied five of his last eight holes in his lowest round of the PGA Tour. The 24-year-old former Georgia Tech star earned a PGA Tour card last year through the Web.com Tour. ”I haven’t had a great start really all year on the first round,” Schniederjans said. ”I have had some decent first rounds and good Fridays, but this is the first really goof round I’ve had on Thursday. It’s nice to get off to a good start and hopefully keep it going.” John Deere Classic: Articles, photos and videos Johnson was two strokes back at 65 along with Rory Sabbatini, Patrick Rodgers and Chad Campbell. Johnson, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, won the 2012 tournament. ”With this Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday rain we had, it’s one of those you feel like you got to keep the pedal down,” Johnson said. ”The course is still nice. I was surprised we didn’t play it up today. I technically only had 1 1/2 mud balls probably, so that was pretty good considering.” He holed a 24-foot birdie putt on his second-to-last hole to get within two strokes. ”I’m very comfortable with this golf course, essentially any condition,” Johnson said. ”All that being said, you still have to execute. (Thursday) was one of those good days.” Howell and Schniederjans are coming off injuries. ”I had nine weeks off prior to the Quicken Loans with a rib injury, and it was my first injury – knock on wood – I’ve had in my career,” said Howell, making his 11th at Deere Run. ”I went to Quicken Loans quite honestly not prepared to play well. I had only been hitting balls for four or five days prior to that event. Expectations were extremely low and I played well.” Schniederjans has been fighting a pulled muscle in his back since Colonial in late May. ”It kind of lingered and I tried to play through it, and then ended up taking like 15 days off without hitting a ball and still is sort of there,” Schniederjans. ”Kind of have to have maintenance. … It’s been fine the last three weeks, but my game has been getting better as the days have gone on, too.” Bubba Wastson, the two-time Masters making his first Quad Cities start in seven years, opened with a 69. Fifty-year-old Steve Stricker, the winner from 2009-11 at Deere Run, had a 73. Defending champion Ryan Moore had a 74 in his return from a strained tendon in his left shoulder that sidelined him for five weeks. The British Open is holding one spot for the leading player among the top five who is not already exempt next week at Royal Birkdale.
CHIBA, Japan – Scott McCarron was in a familiar spot at the top of a PGA Tour Champions leaderboard in his first trip to Japan. California childhood rival Kevin Sutherland was close behind – again. Coming off his third victory in the last six tournaments, the 52-year-old McCarron shot his second straight 6-under 66 on Saturday at Narita Golf Club to take a one-stroke lead over Sutherland in the Japan Airlines Championship – the senior tour’s first event in Japan. ”I’ve been in this position a lot as of late,” McCarron said. ”I really enjoy being in this position. I get to play with Kevin Sutherland again. We’ve been making a habit out of it this last month, I think we’ve been in the final group three out of the last four weeks. We’ve been battling it out and I’m sure it will be a good battle tomorrow.” Sutherland, tied for the first-round lead with Glen Day at 65, had a 68. Also visiting Japan for the first time, Sutherland made a 30-foot putt on the par-4 18th for his third birdie on the last four holes. ”I stayed really patient today,” Sutherland said. ”I didn’t get frustrated at all. I wasn’t making any birdies and then all of a sudden you birdie three of the last four. But I think a lot of it was just early in the round I just didn’t let any sort of frustration creep in.” The long-hitting McCarron birdied all four par 5s after birdieing three of them Friday. He saved par on 18 with a 6-footer to keep the outright lead. ”These greens are absolutely perfect,” McCarron said. ”The golf course is in great shape, so we’re just having a lot of fun here.” McCarron won the Shaw Charity Classic last week in Calgary, Alberta, to tie Bernhard Langer for the tour victory lead with four. The three-time PGA Tour winner won the Allianz Championship in February in Florida, the major Senior Players Championship in July in Maryland and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open three weeks ago in upstate New York. He has six victories in the last two seasons on the 50-and-over tour. ”I prepared very hard to get ready for this PGA Tour Champions,” McCarron said. ”I knew how good these guys were and I wanted to get my game in the best shape that I could possibly be in. I’m starting to reap some of those rewards from all that hard work. But it’s just been a lot of fun for me. That’s the biggest thing I think why I’m playing well, I’m really enjoying it out here.” The 53-year-old Sutherland has five straight top-10 finishes. He was second in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open and tied for third in Calgary to remain winless on the tour. His lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron’s expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat the fellow Sacramento, California-area player 1 up in the 36-hole final. ”I felt like I drove the ball a lot better today, which is a good sign for tomorrow,” said Sutherland, the only player to shoot 59 in tour history. Todd Hamilton, the 2004 British Open champion and an 11-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, was three strokes back at 9 under along with Colin Montgomerie and Carlos Franco. Hamilton birdied the last two holes and five of the last seven for a 65. ”I figured I would see some people I hadn’t seen for a while, which I have,” Hamilton said. ”The Japanese people are very good hosts and I think we’ve been treated to a very good week.” Montgomerie had a 66, and Franco shot 68. ”The greens were most difficult today,” Montgomerie said. ”They were quicker and the pins were on more slopes than they were yesterday, so it was harder.” Jeff Sluman birdied the last four holes for 66 to match Paul Goydos (69), Stephen Ames (67) and Wes Short Jr. (69) at 8 under. Goydos won the 3M Championship last month in Minnesota. Day was another stroke back after a 72. Massy Kuramoto topped the six Japanese players in the field at 5 under after a 72. Fan favorite John Daly closed with a double bogey for a 73 that left him 2 under. Tom Watson, at 68 the oldest player in the field, was 1 under after a 73.