Byrd Nicklaus Crane and Toms
'I remember looking at the board when I finished 1 under,' Byrd said. 'I was eight out of the lead at the time. I was thinking, 'If I can just make the cut, there's a chance. It's so packed, you just never know.''
A record number of first-time winners on the PGA Tour last year (18) illustrated the depth and strength of fields. Another indication is how many players still have a chance to win on the weekend, even when they narrowly make the cut.
The Ford Championship at Doral was only the latest example.
Dating to the start of last season, there have been 29 tournaments where only 10 strokes separated the leaders from those who made the cut on the number. Eight guys who barely made it to the weekend wound up with top-10 finishes.
Ian Leggatt made the cut by one stroke in Tucson last year and won the tournament. Steve Elkington went from last place on Friday to a playoff in the British Open.
'I had one year where I made about five cuts on the number, and in three or four of those events I finished in the top 10,' Jim Furyk said.
Major moves on the weekend are rare on the West Coast because of early starts to accommodate television, leading to two-tee starts.
Players who make the cut on the number get late tee times (starting on No. 10) and face the same conditions as the leaders.
Tiger Woods was the exception last year. He made the cut on the number at Torrey Pines, and finished in a tie for fifth, three strokes out of the lead.
'This tour has more depth than we've ever had,' Billy Mayfair said. 'It's my 15th year out here, and these guys have gotten better and better.'
NO TIME TO PLAY: Jack Nicklaus is so excited about his health that he would like to play more tournaments, especially as he tries to decide whether to play the Masters.
One problem: He doesn't have time.
'Six months ago, I didn't think I'd be able to play golf at all,' the 63-year-old Nicklaus said. 'Like an idiot, I totally booked up my schedule between now and Augusta because I had no intention to play any golf.'
He played back-to-back weeks on the Champions Tour, took a week off and then played at Doral. He would have liked to play this week at the Honda Classic.
Instead, he has to travel to Phoenix to accept an award. Also on the itinerary is a trip to Las Vegas to see Celine Dion, a birthday present for his wife.
The only opening might be next week on the Champions Tour in California -- although he has a commitment in Ohio on Wednesday, and another in New York on Sunday night. The only other break is the members-only Jamboree at Augusta National at the end of March, which Nicklaus doesn't want to miss.
Nicklaus might not make up his mind about the Masters until the week before.
'I'm not going up there just to be part of the field,' he said. 'I don't expect to win, but if I play well, I think I can finish in the top 10.'
PICKING UP THE PACE: Ask just about any PGA Tour player or rules official to identify the biggest culprit in slow play, and Ben Crane's name would top every list.
Crane heard the whispers and is trying to do something about it.
'I would love for you to write that it hasn't been a problem,' Crane said. 'But it was a problem last year. I've worked extremely hard and gotten a lot better. The officials are seeing a change. It's just a matter of time.'
Crane is one of the most polite players on tour -- which might have been the problem. He said he would step to the side as his playing partners hit their shots, then go to his ball and start figuring out the yardage and which club to hit.
A couple of players told him last year he needed to pick up the pace, but what really got Crane's attention was being paired with guys slower than him.
'I was like, 'Wow. When I'm slow ... that must be terrible,'' Crane said. 'I want to get this off my back. In order to be the best I can be, this shouldn't be an issue. It's a matter of getting your homework done before it's your turn to play.'
ROYAL ST. HOCH: Scott Hoch already has set a personal record by playing in two consecutive British Opens. Will he make it three in a row?
'That's yet to be decided,' Hoch said last week at Doral.
Hoch doesn't care for the British weather -- usually cold, windy and rainy -- although he has said the only course he doesn't like is St. Andrews. Turns out there might be others.
'I have a tough time with 'Saint' courses over there,' he said. 'Anything with a 'Saint' has been tough on me.'
This year's Open is at Royal St. George.
Hoch has played the British Open five times. His best finish was a tie for eighth last year at Muirfield. He also has played Royal Birkdale (missed cut), Royal Lytham & St. Annes (missed cut) and twice at St. Andrews (missed cut in '90, tied for 68th in '95).
DIVOTS: The Royal Bank of Scotland, trying to raise its profile in the United States, continued to build a golf team this week by announcing endorsement deals with Charles Howell III and Luke Donald. The world's fifth largest bank already has a partnership with Jack Nicklaus. All three players will appear in print and television ads in the United States and around the world. ... Annika Sorenstam has added to her collection of logos by signing a two-year deal with Kraft. She will wear the logo on the upper left collar of her shirt and the upper part of her golf bag. ... Chris Smith had a wide range of numbers on his scorecard Friday at Doral -- 2-3-4-5-6-7-8, although not in that order.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Jim Furyk had four eagles last week at Doral. He made only two in 85 rounds last year.
FINAL WORD: 'You're going to have people who aren't golfers know who I am. They might wish they knew my wife, but at least they'll know my name.' -- David Toms, pictured with wife Sonya in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.
Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.
She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.
Her confidence is high.
“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”
Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.
Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.
“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”
Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.
“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”
Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.
“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”
That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.
While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.
But then . . .
“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”
In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.
She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.
With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.
At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).
Park’s back with a hot putter.
That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.
“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.
“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.
Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.
“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.
Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.
Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.
They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.
Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.
“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.
“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”
Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.
“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”
Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.
“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”
Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers
PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.
It came on St. Patrick’s Day.
“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”
Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).
One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.
“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.
Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year. Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.
Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF
PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”
She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.
That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.
With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.
Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.
Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.
Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?
“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”
Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.
“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”
Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.
“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”
About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.
“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.
Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.
While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.
“You never know,” she said.