Levin takes Memorial lead; Woods 4 back

By Doug FergusonJune 2, 2012, 10:28 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Spencer Levin realizes that a one-shot lead going into the final round means next to nothing. If he didn't learn this by blowing a six-shot lead at the Phoenix Open earlier this year, he was reminded of it on the back nine Saturday at the Memorial.

For the longest time, Levin simply couldn't miss. He chipped in for eagle from behind the fifth green. He holed a chip from 30 yards short of the 10th green for birdie, this one giving him a four-shot lead on a tough day at Muirfield Village.

Eight holes later, his lead was down to one over Rory Sabbatini.

If that wasn't enough, a collection of stars and proven players were lined up behind him – including four-time Memorial champion Tiger Woods.

Levin relied on a few good breaks and one good par save to match the low round of the day with a 3-under 69, giving him another chance at his first PGA Tour victory and an opportunity to get into the U.S. Open on Sunday without having to go through a 36-hole qualifier.

The circumstances are far different from when Levin lost that six-shot lead in Phoenix, not only the margin but the caliber of players chasing him. He'll find out Sunday if he learned from his failure, though the self-styled Californian already is loaded with perspective.

''I did learn that I still got to play golf, I still got to eat the same stuff, still have the same friends, still have the same family, so nothing really changed,'' he said. ''Obviously, you want to win when you're in positions. But I'm just going to go out there tomorrow and have fun. Nothing really changed in my life, and I don't think anything will change that big in my life if I do win. It's just going out there and try and do my best.''

It might take more than that.

Levin, who had one of only three rounds in the 60s, was at 8-under 208 and will play in the final group with Sabbatini, a six-time PGA Tour winner who shot 71.

The attention figures to be on the twosome in front of them – Rickie Fowler (69), the Quail Hollow winner who has been playing his best golf over the last month, and Woods, whose other win this year came in demanding conditions at Bay Hill. Woods bogeyed two of the last three holes for a 73.

Right behind them were Ryo Ishikawa (71), Henrik Stenson (71) and Jonathan Byrd (72), with Vijay Singh (69) on the outskirts of contention, six shots behind.

''Four shots is definitely manageable around this golf course, considering the conditions and what they're going to be tomorrow,'' Woods said. ''A lot of guys are still in this ballgame. It'll be an exciting day tomorrow.''

Levin provided plenty of excitement during the first few hours Saturday.

For a guy who has never won, Levin is easy to identify. He twists and turns his body on just about every shot, willing it to turn in various directions. He rarely is without a cigarette. And he lets the world know exactly what he's thinking. This is not the stereotype of a golfing robot.

If he sounds as if winning or losing doesn't matter, don't believe it.

Levin's father, Don, played against tournament host Jack Nicklaus in the early 1980s, including a U.S. Open. Levin grew up in the game, and knows exactly what's at stake on Sunday – his first win on Tour, a chance to shake hands with Nicklaus in more than just a casual greeting.

''I'm excited,'' he said. ''It's all the practice and work from being a kid. This is what I've dreamed of, to be in the lead of a tournament, especially Jack's tournament. This is one of the biggest tournaments on the Tour. You couldn't put yourself in a better position.''

''All those years and all that work and practice is going to come down to tomorrow,'' he said. ''And I'm just really fired up about it.''

Levin rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the second hole. From behind the green on the par-5 fifth, with the green running away from him, his chip hit the pin and dropped for eagle. After going out in 32, he appeared to be in trouble on the 10th when his second shot came up 30 yards short. No problem. He holed that chip for birdie to become the only player all week to reach 10-under par.

At that point, Levin had a four-shot lead and looked to be building the kind of third-round margin he had in Phoenix. Muirfield Village was such a stern test, however, that it wouldn't allow it. The par 5s on the back nine - along with the delicate par-3 12th over the water – were into a strong wind. It was equally difficult to control shots with the wind at the back, and the greens were faster than they have been all week.

Levin found the back bunker at No. 12 and wisely played away from the flag to avoid going through the green, making a bogey. He was walking after his tee shot on the par-3 16th, believing it would land near the flag, and then stopped in his tracks when it bounced over the green. He missed a 4-foot putt for par, and then nearly made another bogey on the 17th when he hooked his tee shot into the bunker and chose to chip out sideways. He escaped with par by making a 15-foot putt.

Woods expected much more from his game, especially the way he controlled the ball when the wind was at its worst. He holed a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the opening hole, got up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 seventh for another birdie and made the turn in good shape.

But he pulled his tee shot on the 10th hole into the wind and couldn't reach the green, found the back bunker on the par-3 12th that forced him to settle for bogey and couldn't make a putt over the last three holes - a three-putt from 20 feet on the 16th for bogey, a 10-footer for birdie on the 17th, and another 10-footer for par on the last hole when his approach rolled back off the green.

''I probably shot the highest score I could have shot today considering the way I hit it,'' Woods said.

Woods already has won the Memorial more than anyone, and if he can rally from four shots to win on Sunday, he would join tournament host Jack Nicklaus at No. 2 in career wins on the PGA Tour at 73.

''I can't look at it that way,'' Woods said. ''I have to look at it like I'm four back. And I know conditions are going to be difficult again.''

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.