Blanks' five-birdie finish leads Love by one at John Deere

By Associated PressJuly 8, 2011, 12:43 am

SILVIS, Ill. – His putting was miserable, he was missing cuts and every round was turning into a struggle.

Kris Blanks knew he was better than that so he made a change, focusing on the part of his game that was causing the most grief. He had to do something about his putting.

“I always equate a golfer to NASCAR. We’re always making tweaks,” Blanks said. “I just needed to do something to change it up and that’s what we did.”

Sometimes the tweaks don’t work.

This time, they did.

Blanks birdied his final five holes Thursday to finish with an 8-under-par 63 and grab the first-round lead at the John Deere Classic.

Blanks, who played the back nine first, rolled in a 25-foot putt on No. 5 to start his late run and capped it with an 11-footer to leave him alone at the top after Canadian rookie Matt McQuillan and veteran Davis Love III had held that spot much of the day with 64s.

“I hope I can keep it going,” Blanks said. “I’ve never made a cut here. I think this week I will – hopefully.”

Blanks, 38, is in his third year on the Tour and came in tied for 175th in putting. But after tinkering with his approach the previous night, he found what he needed and put himself in good position to reach the weekend.

“It was good to finally see some putts fall, which I’ve been struggling with all year,” said Blanks, who has missed the cut in 11 of 20 tournaments. “So that was definitely a positive. It’s just fun to make some putts.”

If Blanks was a surprise in the lead, seeing McQuillan near the top was even a bigger shock. McQuillan, who has missed 10 straight cuts this year, grew so discouraged with his game in 2005 that he spent two years tending bar in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario.

He then played a year on the Canadian Tour and two on the eGolf Tour before going to Q-School on what he called “a shot in the dark” and earning a spot on this year’s PGA Tour.

But he hasn’t made a cut since tying for 54th at the Sony Open in mid-January and has won just $12,705 on the year.

“It’s very difficult, and to stay positive and patient has been the key for me,” McQuillan said. “I’m out here playing with the best players in the world and on the best golf courses in the world.

“So it’s very tough to stay positive and patient. But I just figure I’m out here, I qualified to get out here, so I’m trying to have fun and make some birdies.”

Though no one approached the eye-popping numbers of last year’s first round, when Paul Goydos shot a 59 and Stricker had a 60, there were plenty of golfers bunched in the mid-60s. Goydos matched Stricker with a 66, as did Charles Howell III, Josh Teater, Lee Janzen, D.A. Points, Cameron Percy, Brendon De Jonge, Zach Johnson, Cameron Beckman, Chez Reavie and Jim Herman.

Goydos said conditions were completely different from a year ago, when rain left the course soft and vulnerable to low scores.

“It plays shorter, but it plays harder,” he said. “It’s hard to kind of squeeze your ball in there on some of the holes. Last year we were just shooting darts. The ball stopped where it landed. Today, you had to kind of bounce it in a little. It makes it more difficult.”

It wasn’t particularly difficult for Blanks, who spent time on the putting green Wednesday and a half-hour in front of the mirror in his hotel room later that evening trying to get everything right.

“The way I was stepping into the ball was creating my shoulders to be open, so I just changed my routine where I don’t go with it the same way,” Blanks said. “It was more awkward, but at this point, I kind of needed some awkwardness. If it felt comfortable, I was back to my older tendencies.”

After a bogey on No. 4 dropped him to 3 under, Blanks faced a 25-foot uphill putt on 5 and knocked it in. His confidence suddenly fired, he came back with a 14-footer for birdie on 6, rolled in birdie putts of 17 feet on each of the next two holes, then topped off his big day with a final birdie at No. 9.

“I thought my speed was real good all day,” he said. “I worked real hard yesterday afternoon and evening and went to a heavier putter to try to get the ball rolling.”

McQuillan recovered from a crazy bogey-eagle-bogey start to play near flawless golf the rest of the way – seven birdies without a bogey.

“Well, I figured I got my great stuff and bad stuff out early and then just tried to make some good swings,” he said.

His play Thursday left him with a much better feeling than he had when stepped away from the game six years ago. He welcomed the change at first because he needed something different. Eventually, it helped the former University of Georgia golfer realize what he really wanted to do.

“After about a year working, I realized golf wasn’t too bad,” he said.

Starting on the back nine, Love rolled in an 11-foot birdie putt on his first hole and went on to his best round of the year. He salvaged par on No. 17 by holing out from a greenside bunker and made a 13-foot putt for par on No. 8 after hitting into a bunker and then the rough.

“I putted well,” Love said. “Even the ones that didn’t go in, most of them I felt like I hit really good.”

Marino, who has two runner-up finishes this year, was even after three holes and a modest 2 under at the turn. But birdies on 10, 11, 12 and 13 put him in a position to challenge for the lead, a spot he would have held had he not missed a 9-footer for birdie at 14.

“Shooting 7 under the first day is awesome,” Marino said. “But it’s not going to get you anything come Sunday.”

David Toms (hip) and Robert Garrigus (back) withdrew from the tournament halfway through their rounds because of injuries. Toms said his injury will keep him out of next week’s British Open. George McNeill (76) and Scott Verplank (78) pulled out after finishing their rounds.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).