Brian Gay leads Verizon Heritage by a stroke

By Associated PressApril 17, 2009, 4:00 pm
Bookmark and Share
2007 Verizon HeritageHILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. ' Brian Gays run of five straight birdies lifted him past a revived Todd Hamilton after two rounds of the Verizon Heritage on Friday.
 
Gay made six birdies on the front nine, including five in a row from the fourth through ninth holes to help him to a 66 and, at 9-under par, a one-stroke lead over former British Open champion Hamilton.
 
First-round leader Alex Cejka followed his 64 with an even-par 71 and was tied at 7-under with two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen.
 
Janzens round of 70 featured an ace on the 17th hole.
 
Gay has steadily improved over his 11 full PGA Tour seasons. His best came last year with his first career victory at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and a personal high of more than $2.2 million in earnings.
 
That front nine was awesome, Gay said.
 
Gays streak began when he rolled in an 18-footer for birdie on the par-3 4th hole, then picked up steam with a 25-foot putt a hole later. His approach from a fairway bunker landed inside 5 feet for a third straight birdie.
 
After a birdie putt inside 10 feet on the seventh, Gay closed the stretch with another sizeable putt of 20 feet to get reach 10 under.
 
Gay had a chance from 15 feet away on the ninth hole to keep things going, but settled for par.
 
He was well shy of the PGA Tour mark of eight straight birdies, accomplished many times. Last year, champion Boo Weekley and Jay Williamson each had streaks of five consecutive birdies at Harbour Town.
 
Gay made his only bogey on the 10th hole, then parred in to hold on to the lead.
 
Hes had his struggles here, missing the cut six times in his nine previous trips. And Gay felt as challenged Friday with the swirling winds, despite his charge.
 
Heck, I was as surprised as anybody about his birdie run, he said.
 
Gay led a strong, if not stellar field, as many of the worlds best players took the week off to recuperate after the Masters.
 
Green jacket winner Angel Cabrera took a break as did Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. In all, just six of the top 20 ranked golfers teed it up here.
 
Hamilton, who tied for 15th at Augusta, may have found his major championship at the right time.
 
His five-year PGA Tour exemption from that 2004 win ends after this season. And Hamilton had done little in the years first three months ' seven missed cuts in nine events ' to guarantee him a spot beyond December.
 
Getting off to a slow start, I think thats when I started thinking, Man, you better start doing something and not waste your opportunity. Youve got one year of a free pass left, you better start getting after it.
 
Hamilton went after it hard last week to earn his biggest prize ($131,250) since 2004. The bounce back continued at Sea Pines Resort. He posted two sub-70 rounds in a tournament for the first time all season.
 
Hamilton got going with three birdies over four holes of his starting nine. He put a pitching wedge about 3 feet away on the 13th for the first birdie, knocked in a 12-footer on the par-3 14th and then added an 8-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole.
 
Hamilton closed with a birdie for the second straight day, rolling in a 10-foot putt on the ninth.
 
Theres no mystery about Hamiltons improved play. He said he has worked hard on his iron, wedge and bunker play, some things I havent been doing well over the last four years.
 
Janzen, whose last tour win was that 1998 U.S. Open win over the late Payne Stewart, continued his own try at shoring up his shaky playing status. Janzens finished outside the top 125 the past four years and missed the cut in four of his seven events this year.
 
The highlight was the hole in one on the breezy 17th that moved him to a shot off the lead. Janzens 8-iron tee shot took three hops, rolled against the pin and dropped in.
 
It was just drawing a little bit, bounced right towards the hole and when somebody said, Go in, I was just waiting for the reaction up on the green, Janzen said.
 
Two-time defending champ Weekley nearly shot himself out of the tournament early on. He made three bogeys and a double bogey when he four-putted the simple par-4 9th from 14 feet away.
 
However, Weekley rebounded with three birdies coming in to finish 1-under, eight shots back.
 
You never know what can happen on the weekend, he said.
 
DIVOTS
Missing the cut were Steve Flesch and Jim Furyk, the two highest Masters finishers competing at Harbour Town. Flesch tied for sixth at Augusta, but was 5-over here. Furyk, who tied for 12th last week, was 3-over. Along with Janzen, Tommy Armour III also aced a hole in the second round. He hit an 8-iron 162 yards into the cup on the 7th. Jerry Kelly withdrew with illness after carding a 10 on the par-5 15th hole.
 

Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Verizon Heritage
  • Getty Images

    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

    Getty Images

    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

    Getty Images

    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

    Getty Images

    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”