Ji leads LPGA field by 1; Creamer 3 back

By Associated PressJune 9, 2012, 10:03 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Karrie Webb is in territory she used to take for granted – in contention for a win at a major on the LPGA Tour. She relishes the feeling like never before.

''I still get really excited for the majors and the importance they have on everyone's career,'' Webb said Saturday after a 4-under 68 moved her within one shot of the lead after the third round of the LPGA Championship. ''I probably want it more than I ever have in my career.''

Webb, who counts seven majors among her 37 career wins, hasn't won one since beating Lorena Ochoa in a one-hole, sudden-death playoff in 2006 for her second Kraft Nabisco Championship title. Here, she's chasing Eun-Hee Ji heading to Sunday's final round.

Webb had four bogeys en route to a 2-over 74 on the opening round. The Australian has come back into contention with two straight rounds under par, though Friday's 71 was punctuated by five birdies and four bogeys. She had five more birdies on Saturday and only one bogey - at the first hole - to match Ji for the lowest round over the first three days.

''I think my patience level has really been quite good – for me,'' said Webb, whose best finish in 10 tournaments this year was a tie for fourth at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in late April. ''On Thursday, I started feeling sorry for myself. The fact that I overcame that early trouble really reinforced that. The stakes will be a lot higher (Sunday), but I've done a good job so far.''

Webb rallied with birdies on three of her final five holes, capping the rush with a 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe at No. 17.

''I want to have a chance to win,'' Webb said. ''It feels great to have a chance tomorrow.''

Ji, coming off her first top-10 in more than two years, was solid again off the tee on the unforgiving Locust Hill Country Club course, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and reaching 11 of 14 greens in regulation. That gave her an impressive total of 39 GIRs in 54 holes.

''I always trying hard,'' said Ji, who captured the 2009 U.S. Women's Open with a birdie putt on the final hole. ''My confidence is going lower last year. I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm trying to be hopeful and just playing my game.''

Giulia Sergas, who shared the first-round lead but had a 76 on Friday in the wind-swept second round, moved back near the top with four birdies on the front nine and also finished with a 69. Sergas was tied at 2 under with Stacy LewisSuzann Pettersen and Inbee Park. Lewis, a two-time winner in her last three events, had a 70, Pettersen shot a 71, and Park had a 72.

Paula Creamer was at or near the top most of the day, but faltered at the end and finished with a 73. She was in a seven-way tie at 1 under.

Defending champion Yani Tseng had her best round of the three days, finishing with at 74 after a 76 and a 75.

There were 24 players within four shots of the lead at the start of play. When the day ended, there were 13, including 2010 champion Cristie Kerr, within four shots of the top heading to the final round.

Jennifer Johnson was one of them after a 71. She hit her first six fairways and sank a pair of birdies on the front nine, eagled the par-5 17th hole to reach 3 under, then gave it back with a double bogey at the closing hole.

Still, Johnson was among five Americans – Sydnee Michaels was the other – in the hunt for the second major of the year.

Over the first two days, only 28 players broke par and only six scored below 70. Webb added her name to the latter list as the course played easier than it had the first two days.

The start of play on Saturday was delayed 2 1/2 hours by rain, adding tension to the moment, but the predicted storms held off. That allowed the players, who went in threesomes off both the first and 10th tees, to finish without another delay.

Ji, who won here at the Wegmans LPGA in 2008, was in a six-way tie two shots off the lead to start the day. She made four birdies and a bogey on the front nine and made the turn tied for the lead at 3 under. She took sole possession of the top spot with a birdie at the par-5 11th hole.

Creamer hit 10 of 14 fairways and reached 16 of 18 greens in regulation, but aside from a strong birdie to start the round, her putter deserted her all too often. She tied Ji at 4 under with a birdie at No. 12, but bogeyed the next hole and two of her final three to fall back.

Creamer's long birdie putt attempt at the par-5 eighth hole broke nicely toward the cup but didn't have enough behind it, leaving her shaking her head in frustration at a missed opportunity. She also missed another short birdie at No. 10 despite perfect pace on the ball as it came to a stop an inch or two to the left of the cup and slid another just past the hole at the par-5 11th hole.

''I've been working so hard with my golf swing, when things go wrong I kind of overanalyze,'' Creamer said. ''I made a great birdie putt on 12, and from there I didn't hit any good putts. I tried to stay positive, but. I was bummed. It's pretty disappointing. I kind of got in my way with my putter.''

Lewis missed a short birdie putt at No. 10 and did so again at the 12th hole, her 5-footer curling left of the hole as she, too, shook her head in dismay. A bogey at 13 dropped her back to 1 under, but a birdie at 17 put her in a position she relishes.

''It's a lot easier coming from behind,'' said Lewis, the top-ranked American. ''It's so hard to keep your focus. I almost like being at the back and kind of coming up and surprising someone.''

Se Ri Pak, still not fully recovered from a left shoulder injury suffered in April, had been the picture of consistency the first two rounds, shooting 70 and 71, and began the day with a one-shot lead.

The magic was gone, though, on this day, and it was evident after her first swing.

Pak drove the right rough at the opening hole and was unable to get up and down, making bogey to fall out of the lead. She followed that by making three more bogeys before the turn and added another at No. 10 to fall to 2 over, six shots behind Ji. Pak finished with a 76 and was five shots back.

Just how difficult were the conditions at Locust Hill over the first two rounds? For Tseng, they were insurmountable.

In winning the LPGA Championship by 10 shots a year ago, Tseng set a tournament record for most birdies with 26 and came back to defend her title leading the tour in birdie average (4.64). She managed only five over the first 42 holes to go with a whopping 14 bogeys as the narrow course proved the toughest of challenges with its extra-thick rough and swirling winds.

Divots: Jodi Ewart aced the 15th hole Saturday. It's the fifth time a hole-in-one has been made at the par 3 - Suzann Pettersen was the last to do it in 2004 – and the 15th ace in LPGA tournaments held at Locust Hill.

Getty Images

Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

“If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

“I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

“I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

“Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

“I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

“We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

“But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

“They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

Getty Images

Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

And now?

Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

“Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

“Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

“I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

“That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

“It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

Getty Images

Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

"This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

"I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

Getty Images

Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

"Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

Hard to argue with the result.