Despite lackluster 72, McIlroy still in contention

By Associated PressJune 9, 2012, 10:20 pm

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Davis Love III thinks he's playing as well as he did earlier this year before pulling a rib muscle at Bay Hill. Now the U.S. Ryder Cup captain is eager to see just how much he might do.

Love III shot his third straight 2-under 68 on Saturday to join Nick O'Hern and John Merrick atop the leaderboard at the windy St. Jude Classic. Asked what his first PGA Tour win since 2008 would mean, the 48-year-old Love had a quick answer.

''Be a lot of Ryder Cup points,'' Love said.

With a win, Love is projected to jump from 63 into the top 30 in the Ryder Cup standings. Love started off this year excited about how he was playing before injuries slowed him down. He wound up not playing at all for about six weeks after withdrawing on the final day at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March before returning at The Players Championship.

Love tied for 16th at the Memorial last week, then played 36 holes in Columbus, Ohio, to qualify for his 23rd U.S. Open. He committed late to play in Memphis, making sure he was healthy enough to use this event as a final tune-up.

Love had three birdies and only one bogey Saturday to match O'Hern and Merrick at 6- under 204, the highest 54-hole lead on Tour this year. O'Hern had a 67, and Merrick shot 69. The man with 20 career PGA wins said obviously there's a lot of pressure and he wants to win. He has only two wins since winning four times in 2003.

''Is it a big huge deal in my career that I have to win this week? No. But when you get up there at the top ... the old feeling kicks in. You concentrate better, you focus better and my routines of the day were coming down those last four, five holes. And I missed a couple putts, but I felt like I was right in like old times ... focused and playing and enjoying it,'' Love said.

''So it would mean a lot to win for sure. Anytime you win out here is important. But it's fun to be in it.''

Rory McIlroy, who will try to defend his U.S. Open title next week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, had a one-stroke lead when he teed off. He shot a 2-over 72 in a round that featured six bogeys and four birdies to drop in a tie at 5 under.

Dustin Johnson, making his second start after a 2 1/2-month layoff recovering from back pain, also was in the group at 5 under after a 67 that included a bogey on No. 18. J.B. Holmes was in that knot atop the leaderboard going to No. 18, but hit his tee shot into a bunker and three-putted for a double bogey to finish at 4 under.

Conditions got tougher Saturday as the greens firmed up at the TPC Southwind course along with the wind picking up through the day and gusting up to 23 mph at times. PGA Tour officials already have pushed up tee times Sunday morning and will use threesomes off both tees hoping to squeeze in the final round before thunderstorms expected in the afternoon.

''This course is sneaky,'' said Merrick, who had one bogey and two birdies. ''Once the wind starts blowing, the greens get firmer. You don't need to make a ton of birdies. You need to play smart and make a bunch of pars, kind of grind it out, you can move up the leaderboard.''

O'Hern, from Australia, is comfortable playing in the wind. He birdied Nos. 14, 15 and 16 to join the lead pack after he started hitting the ball harder, and now he has a share of the 54-hole lead for the first time in his career.

''Once I realized that, I just started hitting the ball harder and get some speed up I started hitting the ball well again,'' O'Hern said.

It was a wild day with eight players having at least a share of the lead at some point starting with McIlroy, who teed off with six just a stroke behind. McIlroy bogeyed two of his first five holes to fall off the pace. He tied Kevin Stadler at 7 under only to bogey No. 9 and fall back again.

Love took advantage of his experience to keep his ball out of the rough, giving himself better chances to score. He said he only hit driver a couple times, instead using his 3-wood or irons for strong tee shots leaving him plenty of wedge shots in hitting 14 of 18 greens.

''I got the right club a bunch,'' Love said. ''It was nice to drive it where I could hit sand wedges in. I tore up four golf balls in the front nine hitting 60-degree wedges.''

Love birdied No. 6 after hitting a wedge from 94 yards to 5 feet for his first. He rolled in a 10-footer for birdie on the par-3 11th, and he grabbed a piece of the lead with a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-5 No. 16.

Stadler birdied three of his first six holes and had a 3-stroke lead when he got to 9 under through eight. But he hit his approach on the par-4 ninth into the water fronting the green and bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15. He finished with a 71 and was tied at 5 under.

The leaderboard just kept changing up and down.

When Stadler hit into the water fronting the green at the par-3 No. 14, he wound up with a bogey dropping him into a four-way tie 6 under for the lead. Love made that a five-way tie when he birdied No. 16 just as Stadler yanked his tee shot on No. 15 so left past a cart path he had to take a drop and a penalty stroke on his way to a second straight bogey.

''Couldn't tell if it was hurting or helping,'' Stadler said of wind that made picking the right club challenging. ''It was tough.''

Kevin Kisner had a piece of the lead when he tried chipping onto the green with his third shot on the par-4 17th only to see the ball go only a few feet. That led to bogey.

Divots: Love's best finish in Memphis is a tie for fourth in 2005. This is his 10th start in this event. ... Love has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead 23 times, winning eight of those. The last was in 2003 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. ... O'Hern has yet to win on Tour, and this is his 166th career start. Only six players have made Memphis their first Tour win, with Harrison Frazar doing it last year. ... Keegan Bradley's 7-under total through three rounds at the Northern Trust Open in February had been the highest leading mark prior to this week.

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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”