Duke grateful to be playing at Kapalua, Masters

By Doug FergusonJanuary 1, 2014, 7:01 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Every day brought another reminder to Ken Duke of what it means to finally be a PGA Tour winner.

When he was fishing during the offseason, someone passing by in a boat would greet him with congratulations. A few days before Christmas, he was sifting through a stack of mail when he came across a cream envelope with impeccable writing and a postmark from Augusta, Ga. – his official invitation to the Masters. Then he learned he was being inducted next year into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

All that before he boarded a plane for paradise.

''This is the way I pictured this place, just like this,'' Duke said as he gazed at an emerald green fairway at Kapalua with the blazing blue Pacific Ocean on the horizon. ''It's breathtaking. Every shot, you look at the water. You've just got to soak it in.''

That he can manage.

Duke is among 13 players who are eligible for the first time to play in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which starts Friday. It might be hard to find anyone who appreciates being here more.

Diagnosed with scoliosis when he was in the seventh grade, Duke had a 16-inch rod inserted in his back to correct the curvature in his spine. His was a ''C'' shape, and the top of his spin had gone from 40 degrees to 72 degrees just before surgery. It was starting to put pressure on his lungs. Even now, Duke occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night gasping for a full breath.

''If you would have told me back then I was going to be a professional athlete, I'd say you were crazy,'' Duke said. ''My doctor says the same thing now.''

He couldn't afford to take a partial scholarship out of state, so he went to Henderson State in Arkansas, and then worked in a pro shop for a couple of years trying to hone his game and drum up financial support. He didn't turn pro until he was 25 – Tiger Woods had won six majors at that age – and spent 10 years toiling on smaller tours before he finally reached the big leagues.

It all was made worthwhile in June when the 44-year-old Duke won the Travelers Championship in a playoff.

''It took me 10 years to get to the tour,'' Duke said. ''And it took me 10 years to win.''

This won't be his first trip to Augusta National. Duke reached the Tour Championship in 2008, which got him into the Masters for the first time. He still has his first invitation on the wall in a frame. He goes back to the Masters this time as a PGA Tour winner, which to him makes it even more gratifying.

Kapalua is not a bad place to be, either. There's only one way to get into the field, and that's by winning.

''It feels really good here,'' he said. ''You watch this tournament every year, and that's the one tournament I never played in. My wife said when I won, 'We can go to Kapalua.' I said, 'We can go to Augusta.' That was the discrepancy.''

But he sees one parallel to two tournaments that could not be any more different – once you're there, you want to go back.

Dustin Johnson is back at Kapalua for the sixth straight year. Matt Kuchar is playing for the fifth time. Jordan Spieth is here for the first time, and with his talent, figures to be back plenty. Duke is not the kind of player who looks at this event as just another week on the schedule.

''We were trying to think the other night of all these guys who win every year,'' Duke said, shaking his head. ''It's like Augusta. You get a piece of it, you want to come back here. That's something I'm going to work hard on the next couple of years. I want to get back here.''

He has not forgotten what he went through to get here.

When he was voted PGA Tour player of the month after his win in Hartford, he donated the $50,000 award to the Stephens Spine Institute in Arkansas, this after writing a personal check for $25,000 to the charities of the Travelers Championship after he won.

He goes with his doctor, Richard McCarthy, a few times a year to meet with children who are about to have back surgery, and Duke's manager arranges for four or five hospital visits a year so Duke can meet with kids and help alleviate their concerns.

''When I was 10 to 15, I would have loved to have someone to talk to,'' he said. ''You're getting ready to go to major surgery, getting rods and pins. I was scared to death. Back then, Mom and Dad said this is what you're supposed to do, and you've got to do it.''

Trying to make it on tour was daunting, too. There were times in the late 1990s when Duke had to borrow money just to pay the rent, but he always seemed to pick up some cash on some mini-tour to get by.

His big break came after he won the Nationwide Tour money list in 2006 and he ran into swing coach Bob Toski.

''I used to hook the ball,'' he said. ''I was open in my stance, but I would aim to the right and hook everything. He said, 'Why are you doing that?' I said, 'Nobody told me any different.' The reason I remain open is because I have scoliosis. I can't aim square because it gets me to push everything to the right. That's just the way I learned to play. He just took the way my back was, and the way I had to play, and he kind of taught me from there.''

Toski had him swing more to the left to play a fade, and to Duke it seemed like every shot was going straight. He's not long off the tee, but he's accurate. He doesn't take the club back very far because his back won't let him.

But he makes it work, and it has worked quite nicely. Duke is a PGA Tour winner, and he's in good company this week.

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Watch: Tiger birdies 3 of 4, then goes OB

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 8:30 pm

Starting Sunday five off the lead, Tiger Woods teed off in his final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and another birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

And with this roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, the charge was officially on, with Woods just one back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and sniped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 to drop back to 11 under, three behind.

(More coming...)

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.