Koepka in three-way tie for St. Jude lead

By Associated PressJune 12, 2015, 12:06 am

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Ryan Palmer, Brooks Koepka and Greg Owen each shot 6-under 64 Thursday for a three-way tie atop the leaderboard after the opening round of the St. Jude Classic.

Palmer, a three-time PGA Tour winner, turned in a bogey-free round with six birdies in the afternoon to join Koepka and Owen atop the leaderboard at TPC Southwind. Koepka, who won in Phoenix earlier this year, matched his low round of 2015 with eight birdies and two bogeys, while Owen shot his best round this year with no bogeys and six birdies.

Scott Brown, Steven Alker, Brian Davis and Richard Sterne each shot 65s. Defending champ Ben Crane tied four others with 66s.

Boo Weekley was tied with six others at 67, and Phil Mickelson was in a group of 11 at 68.

Palmer had seven holes left after reaching 6 under, but he had to scramble down the stretch and needed to get up and down on his 18th hole, No. 9, to keep a piece of the lead. His last victory came in 2010 at the Sony Open, though he tied for second in Phoenix and tied for sixth at the Texas Open this year.

His key Thursday was his putter. He needed only 24 putts with his closest birdie putt at 6 feet with a couple 20 feet and longer.

''I've been trying to get comfortable with the putter,'' Palmer said. ''I finally found the position I had last year from the British Open through the playoffs when I putted some of my best I felt. And I get on the putting green this morning and found it. The ball position, the width of my stance, where my shoulders and feet were, and it paid off today.''


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Koepka has had three Top 20 finishes since his win in February, but he also withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March before missing the cut at The Players Championship. Needing to play better before heading to Chambers Bay in Washington for the U.S. Open prompted him to add Memphis to his schedule. He said he was playing good golf but not scoring well enough. He gave himself a nice confidence boost, especially finishing with back-to-back birdies for a share of the lead.

''To me, it's been expectations,'' Koepka said. ''My expectations have been a little too high. When you're able to kind of put it in the center of the greens, give yourself uphill putts, that makes this golf course a lot easier, and being in the fairway helps a lot.''

Owen, an Englishman who now lives in Florida, has played 213 PGA Tour events since turning pro in 2005. He's back on tour thanks to a Web.com Tour exemption. He topped the 66 that had been his low round this year back in April in New Orleans in the opening round where he wound up tied for 43rd. Owen said his game started coming around at the Byron Nelson where he shot in the 60s his final three rounds and tied for 46th.

''I'm healthy and fit and I'm putting well,'' Owen said. ''That's a big bonus for me, confidence with the putt.''

Crane was the only player to get to 7 under as he rolled in seven birdies in nine holes. But he started hitting shots into the rough and wound up with bogeys on three of his final five holes.

''Obviously had it going pretty low there for a while, and all in all, I feel like my game is going in the right direction,'' Crane said. ''Feel very comfortable on this golf course. I love this place.''

Mickelson was at 4 under after a quick start with four birdies over his first seven holes starting on the back nine. A couple bogeys on the par 3s on the front nine dropped him to 2 under.

''I had a couple of opportunities coming in that would have really made the round a few more shots lower, but they didn't quite fall,'' Mickelson said. ''That happens. But I made a bunch on the front. Made some good putts on the front, so it's going to come down to ... you got to get some putts to fall because it's not a course you can overpower. It's a course if you hit some poor shots will bite you.''

Divots: Dustin Johnson, the highest-ranked player in this event at No. 7 in the world and the 2012 champ here, withdrew after nine holes. Johnson opened with three bogeys and had six pars. Crane played with Johnson, who told him he wasn't going to make it on the ninth hole. ''Clearly, he wasn't feeling good,'' Crane said.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.