Gulbis fires 65 for share of Titleholders lead

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2013, 9:43 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Natalie Gulbis got off to a rocky start and put herself in position for a great finish. That describes her year as much as her third round Saturday in the LPGA Titleholders.

Gulbis hooked a 5-iron into the water and made bogey on the par-5 opening hole, and then bounced back for a 7-under 65. That gave Gulbis a share of the lead with Gerina Piller and Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand. They each had a 67.

The leaders were at 11-under 205, though it was far from a three-player race for the richest prize in women's golf.

Stacy Lewis virtually wrapped up the Vare Trophy with a tournament-record 63, and now has a chance to do so much more. Lewis was two shots behind, along with Shanshan Feng of China (67), Lexi Thompson (67) and 36-hole leader Sandra Gal, whose 74 let so many players back into contention.

Michelle Wie, on the one-year anniversary of her peculiar putting stroke, had a 66 and was among three shots behind.



A dozen players were separated by four shots going into the final round of the season at Tiburon Golf Club, where the winner gets $700,000 from the $2 million purse. That most likely won't be 16-year-old Lydia Ko, who had a 72 and was nine shots behind in her pro debut.

Gulbis hasn't won a tournament since 2007, and it looked unlikely for this year to end that drought.

She became ill at her first tournament of the year in Thailand and later was diagnosed with malaria. Gulbis was told to rest for two months, take ''medicine I can't even pronounce,'' and she spent the first part of the year trying to return too early and suffering setbacks.

It wasn't until June that she could get through a round of golf and have enough energy left to practice. She didn't qualify for any of the events on the Asia swing, instead spending that time at home in Las Vegas retooling her swing with coach Butch Harmon.

But she hit her stride on a warm day along the gulf shores of Florida. Even though the 5-iron was a shock – she was trying to lay it up on the right side of the fairway, and the water is way on the left – she quickly piled up birdies and finished with eight of them.

''To be in the mix, and to be making birdies, is what you play for,'' Gulbis said.

Five players had at least a share of the lead at one point, and Sunday figures to be a sprint to the finish. Gal made this dynamic leaderboard possible with a double bogey on the second hole, and the 28-year-old German never quite recovered. After making 14 birdies the opening two rounds, she made only one on Saturday.

Lewis felt a sense of relief even as the leaderboard was tightening.

Suzann Pettersen has to finish nine shots ahead of Lewis to win the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. They started the day tied at par, and Lewis walked off the 18th green knowing she was virtually a lock to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win the prestigious award.

Lewis had a 63. Pettersen struggled to a 71, and now needs a 17-shot swing on Sunday to overtake Lewis.

''Suzann was playing right behind me and I told myself I was not going to look back there all day long,'' Lewis said. ''I wasn't going to look at a leaderboard and I was just going to take care of myself. And that's why I did.''

Now there's that matter of winning a tournament that gives Lewis another chance to end a long drought. She can take the money title with a win Sunday, which would make Lewis the first American since Betsy King in 1995 to win the Vare Trophy and the money title in the same year.

The record day for Lewis started with a 5-iron from 177 yards that she holed for eagle on the third hole, though it still wasn't her best 5-iron of the year. She hit a pretty good one at St. Andrews on the 17th hole of the final round that carried her to victory in the Women's British Open.

It was at the Old Course when Lewis realized the golf can take some quick and unexpected turns. She was two shots behind playing the 17th at St. Andrews and wound up winning. So even 11 shots behind going into Saturday, Lewis realized there was plenty of golf left.

The final round is shaping up the same way, and it even includes Wie, who hasn't won since the Canadian Women's Open three years ago. It was at the CME Titleholders a year ago where she bent her torso parallel to the ground and turned that into her putting stroke.

''Proud creator of the tabletop – trademark, patent pending,'' she joked. ''But it feels good. It feels good that I found something I created myself.''

And it's working.

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Report: Augusta looking into lengthening par-4 fifth hole

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:18 am

One of the more difficult holes at Augusta National Golf Club could be adding some teeth in time for the 2019 Masters.

A recent report from the Augusta Chronicle details preliminary site plans from the Augusta Planning and Development Department. Chief among the proposed changes is a lengthening of the par-4 fifth hole, which currently measures 455 yards.

According to the report, a new tee could be constructed across Old Berckmans Road that could lengthen the hole by 20-30 yards. The change would alleviate congestion between the tee and the nearby fourth green and includes plans to curve the road – which has been closed to public traffic since 2015 – around the new fifth tee.

At last year’s Masters, former club chairman Billy Payne highlighted the area as a possible site for minor changes.

“We are always looking at certain holes, certain improvements to the golf course,” Payne said. “We have a great opportunity now in that we now own the Old Berckmans Road. It gives us the ability, as it touches certain holes, it gives us some way to expand or redesign – not redesign, but lengthen some of those holes, should we choose to do so, and all of them are under review.”

Should the new tee be built, it would mark the first club-enacted course changes since six holes were lengthened in 2006. According to the preliminary plans, construction would start on approximately May 1, following this year’s tournament, and would conclude by early November.

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Thomas: Raucus crowds becoming 'completely unacceptable'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 12:53 am

LOS ANGELES – After spending the first two rounds of the Genesis Open caught amid the traveling circus that accompanies tournament host Tiger Woods anytime he tees it up, Justin Thomas relished his third trip around Riviera with fewer bodies – and voices – in the crowd.

Thomas was part of this week’s marquee early-round grouping, playing the first 36 holes alongside Woods and Rory McIlroy. McIlroy suggested that the chaos of a Woods gallery costs the 42-year-old half a shot per round, and it’s a sentiment that Thomas supported after climbing into the top 10 with a third-round 67.

“Yeah, it was pretty wild this first couple days. It was all right for a little bit today, but there at the end it got a little out of hand,” Thomas said. “I guess it’s a part of it now, unfortunately. I wish it wasn’t. I wish people didn’t think it was so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots and play.”


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Thomas enters the final round four shots behind Bubba Watson as he looks to win for the second time this season. While the crowds at Riviera are a fraction of the size encountered two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, Thomas recalled a couple of unfortunate incidents from that event when fans spoke up and snapped mid-swing pictures while he played the first two rounds alongside Jordan Spieth.

“I don’t know - I guess they just think it’s funny,” Thomas said. “It might be funny to them, and obviously people think of it differently and I could just be overreacting. But when people are now starting to time it wrong and get in people’s swings, is just completely unacceptable really.

“We’re out here playing for a lot of money, a lot of points, and a lot of things can happen. And you would just hate to have, hate to see in the future something happen down the line because of something like that.”

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Durant leads Stricker, MAJ into Chubb Classic Sunday

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 12:50 am

NAPLES, Fla. - Joe Durant birdied five of the last eight holes for a 9-under 63 to match Steve Stricker's Saturday finish and take the second-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Chubb Classic.

Durant rebounded from a three-putt bogey on the par-4 10th with birdies on the next two holes and also birdied Nos. 15-17. He had a 14-under 130 total on TwinEagles' Talon course for a one-stroke lead over Stricker.

''You're going to laugh at me when I tell you this, but it was actually a par I made on my first hole,'' Durant said. ''I pulled my tee shot left, went into a bush and had to take an unplayable, had to drop back and hit an 8-iron about 15 feet and made par and it was kind of like, 'OK, well, maybe the putter is going to work today.'''

Stricker had nine birdies in a bogey-free round.

''I look forward to playing with Steve,'' Durant said. ''He's a class act, one of my buddies out here, and obviously he is playing well and he had a great round today. It will be a shootout tomorrow, no question, but it will be fun.''

The 53-year-old Durant has two PGA Tour Champions victories after winning four times on the PGA Tour.

The 50-year-old Stricker is making his first start of the year on the 50-and-over tour after playing six tournaments last year - a runner-up finish in his debut and three third-places ties but not a victory.

''That's why I'm here, to try to win the golf tournament,'' the 12-time PGA Tour winner said.

He played the last two weeks on the PGA Tour, tying for 31st in the Phoenix Open and tying for 26th at Pebble Beach.

''You can be a little more patient on the big tour because pars sometimes are good scores,'' Stricker said. ''Out here you need to make some birdies and when you see guys running away, that's when you lose your patience, at least I did yesterday.''

Playing alongside John Daly, Stricker birdied three of the last four on the front nine and birdied the last two for a back-nine 31.

''Yesterday, I wasn't very patient and I let a couple slip away that I should have had,'' Stricker said. ''On the par 5s on my second nine yesterday, I walked away from a couple pars, and that was frustrating. So I kind of let that get to me. Today, I was a lot more patient, and I felt it on the greens. When you're patient on the greens, you tend to roll the ball a little bit better, and I rolled a lot of nice putts.''

First-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez was two strokes back. He birdied three of the last four in a 68 after opening with a 64.

''Tomorrow is going to be a fight,'' Jimenez said. ''It's going to be nice. As long as you are around the lead, one shot behind, one shot ahead. A lot of golf to come. Just play golf, let everything come.''

Lee Janzen (67) was 11 under, and Kevin Sutherland (68) and Scott McCarron (68) were another stroke back. Daly was 8 under after his second 68. Three-time champion Bernhard Langer had a 70 to get to 5 under.

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Watson takes one-shot lead at Riviera

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 17, 2018, 11:49 pm

It's an even-numbered year, so we shouldn't be surprised that Bubba Watson is leading at Riviera. Here's how things shake out going into the final round of the Genesis Open:

Leaderboard: Bubba Watson (-10), Patrick Cantlay (-9), Cameron Smith (-8), Kevin Na (-8), Tony Finau (-8), Graeme McDowell (-8)

What it means: Watson won the Tour's Los Angeles stop in 2014 and 2016, first shooting 64-64 on the weekend to come from eight shots back and beat Dustin Johnson by two strokes, then edging Jason Kokrak and Adam Scott by a stroke two years later. On Saturday, after a Friday night spent playing in a celebrity basketball game that was part of NBA All-Star Weekend (and getting a shot swatted into the stands by 6-foot-8 Tracy McGrady), he eagled the par-5 first hole, hitting a 200-yard approach to 18 inches, and kept his foot on the gas the rest of the way, adding five birdies against one bogey.

Round of the day: Dustin Johnson moved up 45 spots with a 64. Like Watson, he eagled the first hole, then added four birdies to make the turn in 29. His back nine was an exercise in treading water, with eight pars and a birdie, at the par-5 11th.


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Best of the rest: Watson's 65 was matched by Cameron Smith, who moved up 12 spots to T-3 by making an eagle and four birdies.

Biggest disappointment: At 49, two-time former U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen was just four shots off the lead after 36 holes, but a Saturday 75 dropped him to a tie for 51st. Goosen's round was a matter of slow bleeding, with three bogeys and a birdie on both sides.

Shot of the day: Derek Fathauer eagled the par-4 third hole, holing his approach shot from 120 yards.

Quote of the day: "You've got to know that this golf course is going to make you mess up." - Bubba Watson

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: Although Watson has won twice at Riviera, he hasn't won anywhere since his 2016 victory in L.A. His 2016-17 season finish of 75th in the FedExCup standings was the worst of his career. His closest pursuer, Cantlay, is just one stroke back after closing with a 54-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.