Scott with best chance to claim first major

By Doug FergusonJuly 21, 2012, 8:36 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – The ball tumbled over the edge of a pot bunker and appeared to put Adam Scott in the worst spot he had been all day at the British Open.

All he saw was opportunity.

From the wet sand right of the 17th green, Scott had to clear two more pot bunkers to reach the green, with the flag only five paces from the edge. Scott was thinking about birdie, not trying to save par, so he confidently told caddie Steve Williams, ''I can handle this.'' The shot came out pure, trickled by the cup and settled a foot away.

The more relevant questions are one round away.

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Can he handle a four-shot lead, knowing this is a year when no lead appears safe? Can he handle a leaderboard with four major champions among the top six names, including Tiger Woods? Can he handle the wind that is expected to finally arrive at Royal Lytham & St. Annes?

''I'm just happy to be in this position,'' Scott said. ''To be honest, I'm really excited about tomorrow.''

Scott has never had a better chance to end his long wait for a major - and he owes much of that to his long putter. He stayed in the game early with two key par saves, pulled away with three birdies around the turn and was solid at the end Saturday for a 2-under 68 and a four-shot lead over Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker.

It's the fourth time in the last nine majors that a player had a four-shot lead with one round to go. Rory McIlroy at the 2011 Masters is the only player who didn't win. Scott has been so steady all week that he has put himself in position to become only the fourth Open champion with all rounds in the 60s.

''It was all pretty solid stuff, considering the circumstances and how much trouble there is on this golf course,'' Scott said.

Scott narrowly missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have given him a share of the 54-hole Open scoring record. He settled for 11-under 199 and will play in the final group with McDowell, who had a 67 to get into the final group for the second straight time at a major.

Snedeker, who went from a one-shot lead to a six-shot deficit in seven holes, birdied two of his last three holes to salvage a 73.

Right behind them were three major champions, starting with the guy who has won 14 of them. Woods recovered from a sloppy start and was within three shots of the lead on the front nine until Scott pulled away. Woods missed a short par putt on the 15th and didn't give himself many good looks at birdie on the back nine for a 70, leaving him five shots behind. Woods has never won a major when trailing going into the last round.

Three-time major champion Ernie Els was solid in his round of 68 and was six back, along with former Masters champion Zach Johnson, who had a 66.

Even so, the biggest challenge might be the weather. If the forecast holds true – and there's been no reason to believe that - the greatest defense of links golf could finally arrive with wind projected to gust up to 25 mph.

''It will be in Adam's hands tomorrow if the conditions are as straightforward as they have been the last few days,'' McDowell said. ''Throw a bit of wind across this course like perhaps they are forecasting, he will have to go and work a lot harder, and he will have to go win it.

''He's going to have to go win it anyway, for sure.''

McDowell was seven shots behind as he walked up to the 13th green and found three birdies coming in to get into the last group, just as he was at Olympic Club last month in the U.S. Open, where he was one putt away from forcing a playoff.

Snedeker opened this championship by playing 40 holes without a bogey, and then he couldn't buy a par. He had to blast backward out of a bunker, chunked a pitch shot from the fairway, missed short putts and was reeling.

Snedeker rolled in a birdie on the 16th and stretched out his arms in mock wonder, and then finished with a birdie that could bode well for Sunday.

''It's just one of those things where you've got to find out if you have some guts or don't,'' he said. ''I could have packed up and gone home today, but I didn't.''

Scott was becoming a forgotten star until he switched to the long putter in February of last year, and it has been the biggest reason for the turnaround - his runner-up at the Masters last year, winning his first World Golf Championship at Firestone, and now on the cusp of his first major.

Showing nerves on the opening tee, he hit into a bunker and played a beautiful shot from the back of the wet sand to 8 feet, holing the putt for par. Scott made another par putt from the same distance on the third hole. And in the middle of his run of birdies - including a 30-foot putt on the eighth – he escaped with par on the 10th hole by making one from 18 feet.

''To make a nice putt like that on the first and make par is obviously very settling,'' Scott said. ''And then to do the same thing on 3, that's been a hole that I haven't parred this week. From there on, I was very settled into the round and started hitting fairways and greens.''

He played it safe on the back nine, giving himself a few good looks, but mostly making sure he didn't get into position for big numbers.

''That's what I felt I needed to do,'' Scott said. ''I didn't need to take any risks out there.''

The only drama left at the end of the round was the size of Scott's lead and whether Woods could get into the final group for another reunion with Williams, the caddie he fired last summer in a split that remains acrimonious.

McDowell took care of that with a late surge, starting with birdies on the 13th and 14th holes, and a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th.

''I kind of felt the tournament perhaps slipping away from me a little bit and really had to dig deep for some patience,'' McDowell said. ''From about the 14th tee onwards, it's probably about as good as I've swung the club all week.''

Snedeker's bogey-free streak - the longest to start a major championship since at least 1995 - ended with a three-putt from just short of the fifth green, and it spiraled from there. With his ball a foot away from a 4-foot bunker wall, he played back toward the fairway and hit a superb pitch from 40 yards to escape with bogey on the sixth. After that, nothing went his way until the end of the round.

He will be in the penultimate group with Woods, who has rallied to win from five shots behind - but never in a major. It probably would help for the wind to arrive, although Woods is skeptical about the forecast. Perhaps his best chance is for Scott to struggle with his nerves while going for his first major.

''He's been out here a long time,'' said Woods, who once shared a coach (Butch Harmon) with Scott. ''And he's won a Players Championship. I don't think he's really done probably as well as he'd like to in major championships. But I think that he's maturing in his game, and I think over the last year or so he's really improved his game.''

Scott turned pro a dozen years ago and was billed as the young Australian who swung the club like Woods. He's poised to become the first Aussie since Greg Norman in 1993 to get his name on the claret jug.

But this has been a tough year for 54-hole leaders. Five players have rallied from deficits of at least six shots to win, a peculiar trend that Snedeker started at Torrey Pines in January.

''A four-shot lead doesn't seem to be very much this year on any golf tournament that I've watched,'' Scott said. ''That doesn't mean a lot. The good part is if I play a solid round of golf tomorrow, it will be very hard for the others to beat me, and that's all I'm thinking about.''

It's best that he not think about how his fellow Aussies have fared. Scott is the fourth Australian to have a 54-hole lead in a major dating to the 2007 Masters. None of the other tree – Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley and Norman – left with the trophy.

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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.