Van den Berg Riding Renewed Confidence
The 25-year-old made seven birdies in a 65 that was free of any dropped shots, equaling Michiel Bothma's course record and taking a one-shot lead over five players. Those snapping at his heels were Chris Williams, Don Gammon, Hennie Otto, Ian Hutchings and Wallie Coetsee, who was 7-under through 16 holes but unfortunately made a bogey five on the penultimate hole of his round, the eighth.
One of the most tightly bunched leaderboards the Sunshine Tour has seen appeared to point to an intriguing tussle for this coveted title, which is on offer again after a lack of sponsorship saw the event left off the calendar last year. There were 36 players within four shots of the lead.
Van den Berg had seen his confidence take a dive after struggling in the last two rounds of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Houghton and then comfortably missing the cut in the Mercedes Benz South African Open at the East London Golf Club, the course on which he cut his golfing teeth, the following week. He also missed the cut by three shots at the Dimension-Data Pro-Am last weekend, but that was ironically where he started to turn his game around.
The 25-year-old played the last nine holes before the cut was made in six-under-par 30, which wasn't enough to see him into the last two rounds, but did help ensure that he and amateur partner Graeme Morey would make the final 36 holes of the Pro-Am competition.
In those two rounds, Van den Berg turned in the kind of golf he had shown throughout a stellar amateur career he was capable of, shooting 65 and 68 as he and Morey won the Pro-Am. 'It's a little bit different (to a medal round), because it's betterball medal and sometimes you pick up when you've got a three-foot putt, but the first day I made eight birdies and an eagle and the second I made six birdies.'
Van den Berg said he had felt good during practice at Woodhill and it showed when the event proper started on Thursday as he played his first nine, from the 10th hole, in five-under-par 31. 'At that stage, I was still trailing (one of my playing partners) Alan McLean by a shot, so it was nice, because we were pushing each other.'
But while McLean went on to finish his round with a disappointing second nine of 39, Van den Berg went five better, kicking off with a rare birdie at the par-four first, which proved the most difficult hole on the course. It was an adventurous three, because his drive found a fairway bunker, landing up near the face of the trap. To make matters worse, there were some overhanging trees complicating his escape attempt. 'I played a risky shot, because I had to get over the face of the bunker but stay below the trees. I punched a low 6-iron, which skimmed the top of the bunker. That took some of the momentum off the ball, it finished 25 feet away and I holed it,' he explained.
Earlier, playing partners Williams and Gammon had been the first to reach the clubhouse in 66.
Williams, who won the event in 1985 when it was still being played at the Wanderers, and Gammon had contrasting rounds. Williams had seven birdies and an eagle to go with a bogey and a double-bogey in a fairly adventurous trip around the layout, while the lanky Gammon was steadiness personified, as he made six birdies and 12 pars.
'At this stage, the course doesn't really have any defense,' Williams said, referring to the fact that the trees were not mature on the two-year-old course. He added that the rough could be difficult to get out of , but said that anyone hitting it well off the tee would give himself some good scoring opportunities.
'The greens are the best we've played on since (the Alfred Dunhill Championship at) Houghton,' said Gammon, who added he felt the event could become 'a bit of a putting tournament. On the par-fives, you need to set yourself up with a good tee shot, but they're all reachable in two,' he said.
Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings
AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.
The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.
“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”
The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.
Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.
“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”
Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke
With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.
Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.
The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.
The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.
As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”
“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”
Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.
“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”
All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.
“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”
Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.
Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.
“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”
Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.
Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same
AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.
According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.
The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.
The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption
Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.
The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.
"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."
Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.
Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.