Koepka leads Frys, trying to secure PGA Tour card

By Doug FergusonOctober 13, 2013, 12:30 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – On a day of low scoring, Brooks Koepka kept up his end of the bargain and stayed in the lead at the Frys.com Open.

In his first regular PGA Tour event, Koepka rolled in two birdies putts to start his round Saturday and drove the par-4 17th green for another birdie. It added to a 4-under 67 and a two-shot lead over George McNeill and Jason Kokrak going into the final round at CordeValle.

A win would mean more than just a trip to the Masters for Koepka.

The 23-year-old Floridian started the year with no status on any tour, and since then has earned membership on the Challenge Tour and European Tour. A victory Sunday would give him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and keep him from having to reload the pages in his passport. He already has played in 15 countries this year, with three victories on the Challenge Tour.

Frys.com Open: Articles, videos and photos

''The Challenge Tour prepared me pretty well,'' Koepka said. ''Learning how to win is a big deal.''

CordeValle was set up for low scoring on a Saturday of ample sunshine and very little wind.

McNeill made 10 birdies in his round of 62 that put him in the last group with Koepka. McNeill is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. He has never played in the Masters because both wins were opposite-field events that didn't award full FedEx Cup points.

''I'm going for the record to win the most times without qualifying,'' McNeill said.

That's no longer the case.

The Frys.com Open is the first event on the 2013-14 PGA Tour schedule, which has gone to a wraparound season for the first time in history. It's the start of the FedEx Cup season, offering full points, meaning the winner goes to Augusta National.

Kokrak started his day by holing out from 129 yards in the first fairway for eagle, and he nearly ended his third round the same way. He settled for a short birdie putt and a 68 that kept him in the game.

Koepka was at 15-under 198. He has played every major once except the Masters, though this is his first regular PGA Tour start. He was between stops in Scotland (Dunhill Links) and Shanghai (BMW Masters) when he received a sponsor exemption to the Frys.com Open.

Jimmy Walker also had a 62 and was three shots behind with Robert Garrigus (68) and Vijay Singh, the 50-year-old Fijian making his first PGA Tour start in nearly two months. Singh hit driver on the par-4 17th hole up the back of the green, back down the slope to about 2 feet for an eagle. That carried him to a 65.

Singh last season failed to finish in the top 125 on the money list for the first time in his career. He missed the cut in six of his last 11 tournaments since filing a lawsuit against the PGA Tour for the way it investigated his admission that he used deer antler spray, which was said to contain a banned substance.

Ryo Ishikawa also holed out from the fairway at No. 10 and had a 67. He was among those five shots behind, still in the mix but needing something low to have any chance the way the leaders are playing.

''I don't think you can play overly aggressive,'' Koepka said. ''You can't play not to lose, either. It's conservatively aggressive.''

Whatever it's called, it worked.

The average score was 68.8, and Koepka had one of the 24 rounds at 67 or better. Only six players were over par, led by Camilo Villegas with a 77 that dropped him out of contention. It could have been worse for the Colombian. He tried playing a shot from the water in front of the ninth green, and the ball hit off the bank and nearly struck him.

Koepka had no such trouble. He made bogeys on the sixth and 14th hole, but otherwise was giving himself plenty of looks at birdie.

He said he has won all his Challenge Tour events from the lead. Koepka will be paired with McNeil, a pair of Florida State alums. It was last year when McNeill called Koepka to answer any questions he had about qualifying for the U.S. Open.

''We just had a nice talk,'' McNeill said. ''Honestly, I've never met him. Never seen him in person. I would like to.''

And he will, in the final round of the first PGA Tour event of the season with plenty at stake.

DIVOTS: Because 81 players made the cut, there was a 54-hole cut. Among those who won't return on Sunday were Geoff Ogilvy, Justin Leonard, Tim Clark and Justin Thomas, who was making his first PGA Tour start as a pro. Thomas still earned his first PGA Tour check worth $9,600. ... Hideki Matsuyama had a 68 and was six shots out of the lead, and one shot behind Ishikawa. ... Since the Frys.com Open moved to CordeValle, Rocco Mediate is the only player who converted a 54-hole lead into the win.

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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.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.