Noren enjoying rankings rise after three wins

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2016, 12:59 am

The hottest stretch of Alex Noren's career has come a few weeks too late.

If only two of his three European Tour wins since early July hadn't arrived after the qualification period for the Ryder Cup ended and Darren Clarke had selected his captain's picks.

''I wasn't on their minds,'' Noren says.

Too bad for Clarke. With Noren on the team, the Europeans might not have been humbled at Hazeltine.

The 34-year-old Swede is easily playing the best golf of his life - and, as a consequence, earning more money than he could ever have imagined.

''Please take a week off and give someone else a chance,'' English golfer Chris Paisley tweeted Sunday, hours after Noren won the British Masters at The Grove to take his 2016 prize money over 2 million euros ($2.2 million).

The hot streak began when Noren won the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart the week before the Open. He lost in the final of the Paul Lawrie Match Play in early August, won the Omega European Masters in September, and then triumphed at the British Masters at the weekend.

Noren woke up Monday at a career-high No. 18 in the rankings and is guaranteed to play in all the majors in 2017, which means a first appearance at Augusta National for the Masters.

''I've been trying to get into the top 50 to play in more (big) tournaments,'' Noren told The Associated Press in a phone interview from his hotel after arriving for the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura. ''But to get into the top 20, I really couldn't dream about it.''

Noren appreciates the upturn in fortunes more than most golfers would.

In 2014, he played just two events because of tendinitis in both wrists that required surgery. Every time he tried to play, he got extreme inflammation in the wrists and lost most of the movement in them. He was told not to compete or train.

That year, he earned less than 5,000 euros ($5,500) in prize money.

''Maybe it was good for me that I had this injury,'' Noren said. ''I could do something else other than golf.''

There have been more changes in perspective for Noren this year.

He and his girlfriend, Jennifer, had their first child - Iris - early this year. Suddenly his mood stopped depending on the numbers on a scorecard.

''Maybe that's the biggest contributor to my form this year,'' Noren said. ''Golf was everything to me before ... It put a lot of pressure on me.''

He has also decided to spend less time at the range. That has meant practicing at a different club - Ullna Golf Club, near Stockholm - which Noren says doesn't have a driving range.

''I play a lot more golf on the course than before and try to achieve scores even when my game doesn't feel so good,'' he said. ''Before, if I played nine holes and I didn't feel so good, I went to the driving range. Now I use the course as my driving range, hitting extra balls here, extra balls there.''

Noren said he might take advantage of his lofty ranking by playing more events on the PGA Tour in future, allowing him to ''play the best tournaments against the best players on the best courses.'' But he said he will not turn his back on the European Tour.

But in the short term, Noren has the end of the best season of his career to focus on. He is currently ranked fourth in the Race to Dubai and must be one of the favorites a month out from the World Tour Championship finale.

''I know how tough golf can be. I've had my really bad runs before, so I don't take it for granted,'' Noren said.

''I'm just really happy with what I've done this summer. I have more self-confidence now than before. But I honestly don't feel that other people are looking at me in a different way.''

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

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Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”

Rookie Cook (66) handling RSM like a pro

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:24 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Of all the impressive statistics Austin Cook has put up this week at the RSM Classic – he is first in strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach to the green and scrambling – the one number that stands out is 49.

That’s how many holes Cook went this week without a bogey or worse, a moment that prompted his caddie, Kip Henley, to joke, “The dream is over.”

That loss of momentum at the 14th hole didn’t last long, with the PGA Tour rookie making birdie at the next hole on his way to a third-round 66 and a three-stroke lead.

“Bouncing back from any bogey with a birdie is nice and helps get the number right back. Being my only bogey of the week so far, it was really nice to be able to get that back on the next hole,” said Cook, who leads Chris Kirk at 18 under par. “Going into tomorrow with a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead I think is crucial.”

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Although this is the first time Cook has held a 54-hole lead on the Tour, in fact it’s just his fourth start as a Tour member, he has experienced Sunday pressure before. In 2015, he began the final round at the Shell Houston Open one stroke off the lead held by Jordan Spieth.

“Back then my game was good as well, but mentally I've grown a lot and matured a lot and been able to kind of just let small things on the golf course roll off my shoulder instead of getting tied up in one little small mistake,” said Cook, who closed with a 75 at the ’15 Shell Houston Open to tie for 11th.

Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.