Stricker leads TOC by 5 after 36 holes

By Doug FergusonJanuary 8, 2012, 3:00 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Steve Stricker, considered the best putter on the PGA Tour, felt as though he couldn’t miss Saturday at Kapalua. That meant big trouble for the rest of the field at the Tournament of Champions.

Stricker made even some of the longer putts look like tap-ins on his way to a 10-under 63, giving him a five-shot lead over Webb Simpson halfway through the PGA Tour’s season opener.

Stricker played the final five holes in 5 under, which included a 3-wood up the hill and into a blazing sun that settled about 12 feet away for eagle. That allowed Stricker to get some separation from Simpson, and from the amazing eagle-eagle finish by Kevin Na.

Stricker was at 15-under 131, two shots off the 36-hole record that Ernie Els set in 2003.

Na, six strokes back at 9 under, wasn’t even part of the picture until he holed a 5-iron from 221 yards for eagle on the 554-yard 17th hole, then hit 3-wood down the hill on the par-5 18th to about 10 feet for another eagle.

“I think it’ll be the best finish of my life,” Na said.

It turned a good round into a 64, and it at least kept Na in the hunt against a 27-man field that suddenly felt much smaller when Stricker put together a strong finish of his own.

Only eight players were within 10 shots of Stricker.

As much as he loves starting his year in Kapalua – this is his third straight trip, the longest streak of anyone in the field – Stricker has yet to hoist a trophy with a lei draped around his neck. He took a big step toward that on another day of glorious sunshine.

Starting with a simple up-and-down on the par-5 ninth, Stricker was 7 under over the last 10 holes.

“I felt like I was going to make every putt I looked at for a while,” Stricker said.

His big run began with a wedge against the wind that landed softly 7 feet below the hole on No. 14. After his eagle on the 15th, Stricker holed a 15-foot birdie from the front of the green on the 17th, and finished with a long two-putt birdie from just off the 18th.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under for the week.

“I’ve had some good success here,” said Stricker, who has lost in a playoff and tied for fourth over the last four years. “The more times you can play it, the better off you are. I’d sure like to get off to a good start this year.”

Rory Sabbatini has been here before, though that didn’t keep him from a two-shot penalty at the start of his round for being late to the first tee. It was a bizarre penalty, only because the putting green is about 25 yards below the first tee.

His caddie, Mick Doran, took the blame. Instead of looking at the group ahead tee off, he was checking his watch – and his watch was four minutes slow. They rushed to the tee, but it was too late.

Sabbatini had a 70 – including the two-shot penalty – and was 12 shots behind.

“It’s the first time ever for me on Tour. I know it’s the first time for Mick,” Sabbatini said. “I guess neither of us were really paying attention. Just one of those goofy moments.”

Last year, Doran was on the bag for Camilo Villegas, who was disqualified for tapping down grass as his ball was rolling back toward him.

Martin Laird had a birdie putt on No. 13 to get within one shot of Stricker, his playing partner. Four holes later, he was seven shots behind, hurt mostly by missing two short birdie putts and by hitting his tee shot into the trees on the 17th. A search party found more than a dozen balls, none belonging to Laird.

The Scot had a 70 and was at 8-under 138, along with first-round leader Jonathan Byrd, who had a 71. Chris Kirk was among the early starters and shot 66, though that turned out to be ordinary by the end of the day.

The trade wind has been strong enough to get players’ attention, yet gentle enough to allow for good scoring. The key is to keep the ball out of trouble, to be in the right spots on the greens and to make a few putts.

It’s that final area where Stricker has few peers.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that when he arrived in Hawaii from a short winter break in Wisconsin – with a three-day detour to Phoenix to play some golf – he focused primarily on his putting.

The closest he came to make a bogey came on the par-4 sixth, when he found a bunker at the top of the hill, failed to reach the green and chipped 8 feet by the hole. He poured in the par putt, rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the seventh and was on his way.

“I kind of ran with it,” Stricker said. “I felt good. I started making some birdies, and I was patient when I wasn’t making some. So it was good, and that’s what you have to do when you get it going, it just kind of keep it going.”

Even so, Stricker was quick to point that while a five-shot lead usually comes in handy on Saturday, this is only the halfway point for an experimental Monday finish. Besides, Stricker doesn’t always make it easy on himself with a big lead.

In his most recent win, he had a four-shot lead at the turn at the Memorial and hung on to win by one shot.

Simpson, playing in the group ahead of Stricker, birdied three of his last four holes to get into the final group. He had made only two birdies until that point, but wasn’t about to fret.

“It’s the kind of course where you’re going to have plenty of birdie opportunities,” Simpson said. “So if you can keep your ball in play, you’ll probably make a few.”

He might need a few more to put pressure on Stricker, who came to Hawaii to see what kind of shape his game was in, and got a pretty good idea after the first two rounds of the year.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."