Stefani leads Scott, Choi by 1

By Doug FergusonMarch 15, 2013, 10:38 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Adam Scott had a breakthrough with his short game this winter, and it's so good now that he hardly even has to use it.

Scott had a putt for birdie on 16 holes in a second round that was without a bogey and without much stress. He wound up with a 5-under 66 that left him one shot behind 31-year-old rookie Shawn Stefani.

Stefani had to scramble more that he would have preferred, though he converted all the putts he felt he was supposed to make in his round of 70.

Temperatures finally began to warm, and without much wind throughout the day, the tournament was wide open going into the weekend. Stefani was at 7-under 135, one shot ahead of Scott and past champion K.J. Choi, who had a 67.


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Twenty players were within five shots of the lead at the halfway point, a group that included everyone from Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar to 19-year-old Jordan Spieth and Erik Compton, the two-time heart transplant recipient whose 65 was the low round of the day.

It was the highest score to lead at Innisbrook in five years.

Scott was right in the middle of it all, which is where he wants to be.

The Australian hasn't shown too many scars from making bogeys on the last four holes to lose the British Open last summer. He finished the year by winning the Australian Masters, though it was a month later when he was working on his game at home on the Gold Coast that he experienced a significant turnaround with his short game.

''Just had a really nice feeling going that day, whatever it was, and I managed to get through the whole shag bag of balls hitting every chip the same,'' he said. ''Everything was very controlled and consistent. ... I've felt my confidence grow on the course with the pitching and chipping.''

Scott said when he was hitting the ball poorly in 2009, it put extraordinary pressure on his short game because he was missing greens. In this case, he said a solid short game has relieved any tension in the long game, and it's starting to show.

He closed with a 68-64 on the weekend at Doral, and carried that to a tougher Copperhead course at Innisbrook.

Scott has a limited schedule before his next crack at a major next month. The Tampa Bay Championship is only his fourth event this year (and fourth in the last five weeks), and then he plans to shut it down until going to Augusta National.

Choi has switched to a claw grip for putting, and he likes the results. He took only 12 putts on the back nine Friday, including birdies on two of the par 3s.

''Sometimes very nervous, but I keep going more in line,'' Choi said. ''But still, 6 under par, a very good position. My confidence is very well.''

John Daly registered his 15th score of 10 or higher on a hole in his PGA Tour career when he twice tried to get out of the trees, took two penalty drops and made what he called a ''beautiful chip'' to get up-and-down from 30 yards on the par-4 third hole. He made a 10 and had an 81.

Even though the tournament is at the halfway point, Stefani's confidence is growing. He finally made his first bogey of the tournament on the seventh hole, and then rebounded with a 5-iron to 10 feet for birdie on the par-3 eighth.

He hit another high cut with a 5-iron on the 220-yard 15th hole for a short birdie.

''Today was a little bit more of a struggle,'' Stefani said. ''Didn't really drive it super great. Didn't hit some of the best iron shots. But I scrambled well and I putted really great. When you putt good, that usually keeps rounds going, and that's pretty much what happened today.''

Harris English made four birdies on the tough par 3s to atone for not making up any ground on the par 5s. That gave him a 69, leaving him two shots behind with close friend and fellow Georgia alum Brian Harman (70), and Jason Dufner (66).

Scott played in the same group with Geoff Ogilvy, who is No. 49 in the world and needing to stay there by the end of the month to get into the Masters. Ogilvy was a runner-up at the Honda Classic to get back into the mix, though he was on the ropes Friday morning with a 39 on the back nine. He birdied three of his last four holes for a 72 and wound up only six shots behind Stefani.

Ogilvy wants to get into the Masters so badly that he said he wouldn't watch on TV if he wasn't there. He used to watch all the time before he played the Masters.

Scott made a detour this week to Augusta for a practice round with Ernie Els, who won the British Open when Scott collapsed.

''I thought it was in the best shape I've ever seen it in this early in the year,'' Scott said. ''It's Augusta. It's pretty much perfect.''

As for playing with the Big Easy? Scott says it was not the least bit awkward at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, nor is it today.

''I think he's an incredible talent and he's one of the best players I've of seen on a golf course,'' Scott said. ''I've played so much golf with him and seen him do such incredible things. I think he could have won 10 majors. So he paid his dues, and whether he won it or I helped him win it a little bit, it doesn't matter. He won it. Probably eased the pain a little bit that he was a closer friend of mine here, and I could feel some happiness for him.''

What made him the most thrilled Friday was going around Innisbrook without a bogey, putting him in a good position for the weekend.

''To go bogey-free anywhere is good, and I think here is particularly good,'' Scott said. ''It's quite a tricky golf course, and mistakes are easily made. Very pleased with that. I got myself right in contention for the weekend, which I'm pleased about.''


DIVOTS: Defending champion Luke Donald had a 72 and was seven shots behind. ... Vijay Singh had a 73 and made his 17th straight cut dating to the U.S. Open last year. ... Daniel Summerhays was one shot over the cut line when he flew the green on the 18th hole. He holed a tough flop shop for birdie to make the cut on the number.


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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry