Defending champ Johnson shares Deere lead

By Associated PressJuly 12, 2013, 12:30 am

SILVIS, Ill. – It took years for Zach Johnson to feel comfortable at his hometown tournament.

These days, Johnson is more relaxed than anyone in the field – and that's a major reason why he's in early position to repeat as the champion of the John Deere Classic.

Johnson shot a 7-under 64 and is tied with Camilo Villegas for the lead after Thursday's opening round of the John Deere Classic.

It was the 17th straight round in the 60s at TPC Deere Run for Johnson, who grew up roughly 100 miles away in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


John Deere Classic: Articles, videos and photos


Matt Bettencourt made the field as a late alternate and shot a 6-under 65. He's tied for second with Daniel Summerhays and Brendon De Jonge.

Boo Weekley is among a host of players at 5-under 66, while three-time tournament champion Steve Stricker is at 4-under 67 heading into Friday's second round.

''It's hard to believe that it's been a year. Yeah, I just kind of felt like you're just leading into the next round here,'' Johnson said. ''I've just gotten so used to just everything about this tournament.''

It wasn't always that way for Johnson.

Johnson finished 69th here five years ago after shooting 75 and 71 in the final two rounds – but he hasn't touched 70 since.

Johnson, who was second in 2009 and third in 2011 before winning last year, topped his final-round 65 of 2012 by one stroke Thursday. He avoided bogeys while picking up birdies on five par 4s.

''It just feels so natural now,'' Johnson said. 'It just feels very, very comfortable, much like my golf game – though I don't want to get overly content with the fact that I'm overly comfortable. So I've still got to go to work.''

Villegas was also very comfortable on a course that proved player-friendly in the morning session. He converted a pair of par-3 birdie putts to highlight a strong day on the greens.

''Made some great putts and just kept out of trouble. The golf course is a little receptive, and you could be aggressive,'' Villegas said. ''I was very pleased with the way I handled myself out there. It was nice, relaxed, chill attitude.''

Stricker entered the tournament as a co-favorite with Johnson, having won at TPC Deere Run from 2009-11. Stricker quickly showed why he's considered the man the rest of the field could be chasing this weekend.

He just couldn't keep it going for 18 holes.

De Jonge began his day with the one of the best shots of the tournament so far, holing out from 88 yards for an eagle on the par-5 10th hole. But Stricker matched him on No. 10 just 20 minutes later – pitching in from 83 yards out.

Stricker appeared to be in good shape as he made the turn at 4 under, but back-to-back bogeys helped put him three shots behind the leaders.

The most unlikely name among Thursday's leaders had to be Bettencourt's.

Sensing this week's field would be full, Bettencourt booked a flight to Salt Lake City for this weekend's Web.com event. But as he was sitting on a plane in Atlanta, the PGA Tour office called to tell him that he was eligible to replace Neal Lancaster.

Bettencourt was stuck with a flight to Utah regardless. But he then flew straight to Chicago, rented a car and arrived in the Quad Cities just before midnight.

Bettencourt didn't need any practice time, though. He shot his best round at Deere Run since also opening the 2009 tournament with a 65.

''Fortunately I know the golf course, pretty much know the setup, been here enough times,'' Bettencourt said. ''I love this golf course. It's a lot of fun, so I was really excited the entire flight to Chicago and kind of (on) adrenaline I guess.''

Getty Images

Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

Getty Images

One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

Getty Images

DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

Getty Images

Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.