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Spieth shares lead with DJ, Fowler, Vegas in N.Y.

By Doug FergusonAugust 25, 2017, 10:48 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – Two swings cost Dustin Johnson the lead. It wasn't long before Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler caught up to him in The Northern Trust, setting up a weekend of star power in the opening FedEx Cup playoff event.

Johnson, finally looking like the No. 1 player who looked unstoppable in the spring, appeared on the verge of building a big lead at Glen Oaks Club until consecutive tee shots wound up on the wrong holes and forced him to scramble just to escape with bogey.

Fowler made up a five-shot deficit in six holes playing alongside Johnson, making a 15-foot birdie on the last hole for a 66 to join Johnson and Jhonattan Vegas (65) atop the leaderboard. And then Spieth put together a stretch Friday afternoon reminiscent of his British Open victory, minus a shot from the driving range, in a 65.

Spieth began the back nine with five straight birdies, matching his longest birdie streak on the PGA Tour. It ended with a bogey on the par-3 15th when his tee shot rolled back into the water, but then he answered with a 40-foot birdie putt up the slope on the 16th.

Even without his best year with his best club, Spieth has won three times and captured the third leg of the Grand Slam. But his putter doesn't leave him for long.

The Northern Trust: Articles, video and photos

FedExCup standings entering the playoffs

''Putter has been streaky for me this summer, which is better than just kind of not-so-great, which it was before that,'' he said. ''So I've been able to mentally use one or two good putts to make me feel like I'm putting awesome.

''I got on the good side of the streak on the back nine today.''

Spieth made pars from the bunkers on the last two holes to join the others at 6-under 134.

He wasn't alone in running off a string of birdies. Matt Kuchar looked as though he might miss the cut until his caddie encourage him to try to get back to even par. Kuchar ran off four straight birdies and kept right on rolling, ending his round of 64 with eight birdies on the last 10 holes.

Kuchar and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson (68) were one shot out of the lead.

Watson is at No. 113 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 100 after The Northern Trust advance to the next playoff event at the TPC Boston. Watson says he won't play the rest of the year once he is eliminating. A big finish this week could delay that another month, a nice problem to have.

Jon Rahm, who played with Johnson and Fowler, had a 68 and was two shots behind along with Justin Rose (68) and Russell Henley (72).

Seventy players made the cut at 2 over par. That included Geoff Ogilvy, who went bunker-to-bunker-to-bunker on his final hole and had to make a 4-foot putt for double bogey. If he had missed, then it would have let 11 players back into the tournament. Among those missing the cut were Hideki Matsuyama, the No. 1 seed going into the playoffs, who three-putted the last hole and missed by one.

The cut ended the season of 13 players, a group that included Presidents Cup captain Steve Stricker and former PGA champion Jimmy Walker.

Johnson looked so sharp early on that he didn't have a birdie putt longer than 12 feet over his first six holes, though he converted just two of them. He reached 8 under when he hammered a driver and a fairway metal to the back of the green on the 629-yard third hole, two-putting for birdie.

But his tee shot on No. 4 was inches away from the third fairway, and his next shot struck a tree. He had to get up-and-down from 50 feet right to save bogey. The next tee shot was so far left it was in the rough on the fourth hole. He clipped branches, hit a poor chip and had to two-putt from 80 feet for his bogey.

''But other than that, I felt like it was a really solid day,'' Johnson said. ''I'm really pleased with the way the golf game is right now and I'm looking forward to this weekend.''

Fowler, meanwhile stuffed it on No. 4 and rolled in an 8-footer on the par-3 sixth over water, and just like that they were tied.

''Pretty stress-free,'' Fowler said. ''I've been driving it well this week, which is key around here. You don't want to play out of the rough.''

Phil Mickelson limited his mistakes and made four birdies in a round of 68, which left him six shots behind but gave him two more rounds at Glen Oaks to post the kind of scores that would make him a viable pick for the Presidents Cup. Rory McIlroy chipped in for birdie on the tough par-3 second and shot 68. He was seven shots behind.

The focus was at the top with so many popular players contending - Spieth, Fowler, Johnson at the top.

''That's what tends to happen in the playoffs,'' Spieth said. ''As less guys make the next tournaments, you start to get players that are playing very well, and to no surprise, those guys are toward the top. ... Should be an exciting weekend.''

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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.