Merritt leads by 4 after record-tying 61

By Will GrayApril 17, 2015, 8:59 pm

Winds were down Friday at Harbour Town, and the conditions allowed for a bevy of low scores. Here's how things look at the halfway point of the RBC Heritage, where Troy Merritt holds a four-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Troy Merritt (-12), Matt Kuchar (-8), John Merrick (-8), Jim Furyk (-7), Graeme McDowell (-7), Kevin Kisner (-7), Jordan Spieth (-6), Louis Oosthuizen (-6), Matt Every (-6)

What it means: McDowell and Every shared the overnight lead, but they were quickly overtaken by Kuchar, the defending champ who carded a 66 in the second round. His lead lasted only a few hours, though, as Merritt birdied six of his last seven holes to tie the course record as he looks to win for the first time on the PGA Tour.

Round of the day: Merritt started slowly but birdied nine of his final 12 holes, carding a 10-under 61 that included a back-nine 28. The score was Merritt's lowest ever on Tour by three shots and tied a Harbour Town record that was previously set by David Frost in 1994. Merritt birdied each of his last four holes to put himself in position for a career-best finish despite entering the week with only one top-25 finish this season.

Best of the rest: Spieth appeared headed for an early exit after a 74 in the opening round, but the Masters champ played his way back into contention with a 9-under 62. The score tied Spieth's lowest as a professional and was highlighted by a chip-in birdie on No. 8, his 17th hole of the day. After making only one birdie in the opening round, Spieth's second-round scorecard was bogey-free and included nine circles.

Biggest disappointment: Zach Johnson was coming off a strong showing at the Masters and seems ideally suited for the tight layout at Harbour Town, but Johnson missed the cut after rounds of 73 and 75. He made only one birdie in the second round and only three for the week, and his chances for a third-round tee time ended when he went double bogey-bogey on Nos. 15 and 16.

Main storyline heading into Saturday: Merritt has a sizeable cushion, but the group of players following him have plenty of experience at this event: Kuchar, McDowell and Furyk have all donned the tartan jacket since 2010. Then there's Spieth, who appears to have shaken off his post-Masters hangover and remains in the mix for what could be his fifth straight top-two finish.

Shot of the day: Needing a birdie at the last to make the cut, Tom Watson stuffed his approach to 4 feet on No. 18. He made the putt to cap a 1-under 70 and at even par, he'll play the weekend.

Quote of the day: "I found something in my ball position on the range, and it made a world of difference." - Spieth

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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.