Notes: Kelly eases off accelerator, goes forward

By Associated PressAugust 11, 2011, 11:24 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - Not everyone likes the changes at Atlanta Athletic Club since the last PGA Championship was held here.

Phil Mickelson, runner-up to winner David Toms in 2001, said the layout used to be a fun, great course. “Now, it’s long and its hard,” he said after an opening 1-over 71 on Thursday. “That’s what it is.”

Architect Rees Jones renovated the course in 2006 for the PGA, and it now measures 7,467 yards, the longest in major championship history for a par 70. Mickelson had no problems with the setup, the playability or the challenge to the world’s best golfers. He wondered, though, how the members would handle the new distances once the tournament left.

And Mickelson didn’t stop there.

He said four par 3s - three of them more than 200 yards long and all but one with water in play - are the perfect example of how course designers have made the game unplayable for the average Joe.

“That guy that redid this one,” Mickelson said, shaking his head. “It’s great for the championship, but it’s not great for the membership.”

Toms, paired with Mickelson like he was 10 years ago, said the course is a different animal than the one he won on in 2001.

“A lot longer, different greens, a lot of fairway bunkers, a lot of fairways are kind of awkward tee shots that we didn’t have last time,” Toms said after his 2-over 72. “It’s a tougher golf course, much tougher.”

Mickelson agreed wholeheartedly. He shot 14-under here in 2001, finishing in the 60s all four rounds. This time, he opened with a bogey on the very birdie-able No. 10 - “I spotted the field two shots right from the start,” he said - and was never below par at any point in the round.

Mickelson had no problems with the AAC’s shortest holes, making four pars. His beef is how regular golfers will manage with the long carries over water and punishing bunkers waiting behind the greens. “This is a great example again of how modern architecture is killing the participation of the sport,” Mickelson said.

COOL KELLY: Jerry Kelly said his aggressive nature has gotten in the way of good golf too often - and he’s taking steps to avoid that at the PGA Championship.

Kelly finished with a 5-under 65, matching his lowest score ever at the PGA Championship and ending a streak of 14 consecutive rounds in the 70s at this major. Kelly has missed the cut in his past four PGA appearances.

Kelly acknowledged he always pushed too hard on the accelerator, even when the situation called for some brake. “I’m trying to scale it back a little bit this week, consciously, and I did a fantastic job today,” Kelly said.

He had six birdies and just one bogey at Atlanta Athletic Club to move two shots off the lead of his good friend - and fellow Wisconsin native - Steve Stricker. The two practiced together this week along with Scott Verplank, who was two more shots behind after his 67.

Kelly said he’s always gone hard at whatever he did, especially golf. He has three PGA Tour wins, the last at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2009. Kelly hasn’t had a top-10 finish since a third at the Honda Classic in early March and missed the cut in the two majors he played, the Masters and British Open. So a change of style might be in order.

Kelly said he’s never been a power hitter and had to rely on effort to compete. These days, he’s more confident in his technique. “I’m able to actually hit it smooth. I’ve never been able to do that before and I hope it continues,” he said.

BUBBA’S TURNAROUND: Bubba Watson had a share of the PGA lead after four consecutive birdies on his first nine holes. Then came a big mistake.

Watson said he allowed himself to be distracted on the first hole, his 10th, by a volunteer pounding a stake back into the ground at the Atlanta Athletic Club. That led to bogey, the second of five straight Watson would make on the way to a 4-over 74, 11 shots behind leader Steve Stricker.

Watson said he couldn’t block out the noise and lost focus “for the rest of the day, and I was mad. I wasn’t mad at the volunteer, I was mad at myself.”

Watson lost this title in playoff to Germany’s Martin Kaymer at Whistling Straights in 2010. He’s ranked 15th in the world and was considered one of the best hopes to end America’s majors drought. A U.S. player hasn’t won a major since Phil Mickelson’s Masters win in 2010.

Watson was not the only one involved in last year’s dramatic PGA finish to struggle Thursday. Kaymer, the defending champ, was nine strokes behind at 2-over 72. Dustin Johnson, part of last year’s playoff before a two-stroke penalty dropped him to fifth, was 12 strokes back at 5-over 75.

Johnson grounded his club in a bunker on the 18th hole in the final round, although the area was tramped down by spectators all week and did not appear to be hazard.

Johnson came here off a strong showing in the last major, finishing second to Darren Clarke at the British Open.

BIG-TIME BOB: Bob Sowards, a club professional from Portsmouth, Ohio, hadn’t shot under par or made the cut in his four previous trips to the PGA Championship. He took care of the first goal Thursday with a 1-under 69 and is hoping to finish off the other come Friday.

Sowards was the lowest of the 20 club pros entered at Atlanta Athletic Club. He said the PGA is the pinnacle of the year for guys like him, who spend as much time teaching the game as playing it. Sowards is the pro at New Albany Country Club. He bettered his two playing partners in Ryan Moore (75) and Tetsuji Hiratsuka (76).

Sowards said it wouldn’t be easy keeping emotions in check for another 18 holes, especially with the chance to play the weekend with the world’s best. “Without a doubt, I’m going to be looking at the cut line,” he said. “Hopefully, I won’t have to” sneak a look if he has another stellar round like this.

DIVOTS: Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey had an 11-over 81 in first round at a major championship. Gainey, a former winner on The Golf Channel’s “Big Break” series, struggled at Atlanta Athletic Club and had a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 12th hole. … World No. 1 Luke Donald had two late bogeys to drop to even-par 70 while his English compatriot, world No. 2 Lee Westwood was shot further behind at 1-over 71. … British Open champion Darren Clarke was at 8-over 78, tied for 138th.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”