Andy Zhang, 14, to be youngest Open competitor

By Jason SobelJune 12, 2012, 1:04 am

SAN FRANCISCO – At an age when most kids are primarily concerned with their paper route or baseball card collection, 14-year-old Andy Zhang will make history this week as the youngest U.S. Open competitor ever.

After losing in a playoff at the Lecanto, Fla., sectional qualifier, Zhang entered the week as the second alternate in the field. He moved up one spot when Brandt Snedeker was replaced by another teenager, Jordan Spieth, then got into the field when oft-injured Paul Casey was also forced to withdraw.

At 14 years, 6 months, Zhang is nearly a full year younger than the previously youngest U.S. Open competitor. Tadd Fujikawa set the prior mark back in 2006.

A native of China, Zhang lives in the United States, attending the IMG Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

He will play in the 11:21 a.m. ET group on Thursday at The Olympic Club alongside Hiroyuki Fujita and Mark Wilson.

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Stenson one clear of loaded leaderboard at Bay Hill

By Nick MentaMarch 17, 2018, 10:10 pm

Four of the top 15 players in the world and two men with stellar amateur resumes will do battle Sunday to win Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how things look through 54 holes at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods sits five back at 7 under par.

Leaderboard: Henrik Stenson (-12), Bryson DeChambeau (-11), Rory McIlroy (-10), Justin Rose (-9), Ryan Moore (-9), Charley Hoffman (-8), Rickie Fowler (-8), Talor Gooch (-8), Ben An (-8)

What it means:  For the second straight day, Stenson (71) will go off in the final pairing with DeChambeau (72), after both players failed to separate themselves from the field in Round 3, shooting a combined 1 under. Stenson really should have a win at Bay Hill by now. He finished in the top-10 four years in a row from 2013-2016, with three top-5s. The closest he came to victory was in 2015, when he lost to Matt Every by one shot after being put on the clock and three-putting the 15th and 16th greens. If he’s finally going to close the deal Sunday, the world No. 15 will need to hold off challenges from three of the top 13 players in the OWGR – No. 5 Rose, No. 7 Fowler and No. 13 McIlroy – and two men who won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur – DeChambeau and Moore.

Round of the day: John Huh and Austin Cook both made the 1-over cut on the number and shot 66 Saturday to move into a tie for 18th at 5 under.

Best of the rest: McIlroy, Rose and Jason Day (-5) all signed for 67. McIlroy remains in search of his first worldwide win since he walked away from East Lake with the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2016.

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Biggest disappointment: Fowler was 11 under for the week but dropped three shots in his last two holes. He failed to get up and down from the front bunker at 17 and then had his ball almost fully bury in the lip of a greenside trap at 18. With only a small portion of the ball visible, Fowler took two to get out of the sand and two-putted his way to a double-bogey 6, dropping him to 2 under for the day and 8 under for the championship.

Shot of the day: Woods’ 210-yard 5-iron from the fairway bunker at the par-5 16th:

Quote of the day: "I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow, and probably get a little bit of help. But my responsibility is to go out there and shoot a low one first." – Woods

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TT postscript: Many birdies, but not much momentum

By Tiger TrackerMarch 17, 2018, 10:09 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – There were plenty of cheers for Tiger Woods during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but there’s also still plenty of ground to make up on the leaders. Here are some thoughts and observations after walking and tracking on a steamy afternoon at Bay Hill:

• Let’s start with the good. Tiger birdied a third of the holes Saturday, including a 12-footer on the final green that nearly blew the roof off the place. On a day when he didn’t appear to be firing on all cylinders, it’s yet another encouraging sign that he’s able to put up circles by the handful on a course where he once dominated.

• There is, however, a reason that we’re not talking about a vintage Saturday charge from Woods. His six birdies were countered by three bogeys, including a wobbly effort on the second hole and another dropped shot on the 17th when his ball became plugged in a bunker. It added up to a 3-under 69, and at 7 under he trails Henrik Stenson by five shots heading into the final round.

• The unquestioned shot of the day came on the par-5 16th hole, where Woods found himself up against the lip in a fairway bunker. After initially pulling out a sand wedge to lay up, he went back to the bag and grabbed a mid-iron after deciding he had found a way to skirt the lip on the right side. His shot carried the grass face by inches before flying over a greenside creek and running out 15 feet behind the hole. While he failed to convert on the eagle putt, it’s a risk-reward shot that brought a smile to his face after the round. “I tried to pull it off, and I hit a good one,” he said.

• Heading into what’s likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Woods believes one of the strengths of his sudden resurgence has been his ability to once again rely on feel rather than swing thoughts. “I’m just playing shots, playing the holes, playing angles, where to miss the golf ball,” he said. “All these things are becoming more intuitive.”

• Woods was largely optimistic after the round, explaining that in his mind he both played well and scored well. But the strokes gained numbers indicate he actually lost nearly a half shot to the field around the greens after going only 1 for 4 on sand saves. He converted a tricky up-and-down on No. 5, but couldn’t make mid-range saves on Nos. 2 and 17 and failed to get up and down for birdie on the par-5 12th after a birdie on the previous hole.

• Ever the numbers guy, Woods expected to be trailing by five or six shots after posting 7 under. The deficit is officially five, and while he still holds out hope of a ninth API victory he knows that a strong close may not be enough. “I’m going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow and probably get a little bit of help,” he said.

• Overall, it felt like a middling performance, and a round largely devoid of momentum. But that in and of itself is a testament to how far Woods has come in the last three weeks. Perhaps he’s become a victim of his own hype after a runner-up finish at Valspar turned him into the tournament favorite this week, to the point where anything short of a drought-breaking win will seem disappointing. But a largely solid 54-hole stretch that has him inside the top 10 heading into Sunday would have seemed like a Herculean achievement as recently as a month ago.

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Rose thrives in Tiger's group, shoots 67 at Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 10:05 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose has played plenty with Tiger Woods over the years.

Saturday’s round was just … louder.

The Englishman had a feeling that the third round might be a little different when he was waiting to be introduced on the first hole at Bay Hill.

“Hurry up, Justin!” a fan hollered. “We want to see Tiger!”

That spectator was roundly booed, and Rose proceeded to stripe his fairway wood down the center. In fact, even with the decidedly pro-Tiger crowds, Rose barely missed a shot in shooting a 67 that put him just three shots back of Henrik Stenson.

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“It focused your mind,” he said afterward. “I was definitely more nervous today – it took me a hole or two to settle into my round 100 percent, just because there’s more energy out there on the course.

“But for me, Ryder Cups and major championships, those are the types of atmospheres you’ve got to play well in and I enjoy it, so it focuses your mind.”

Rose beat Woods by two shots Saturday, 67-69, in their first Tour round together in five years.

“People are more into this comeback this time around, I think,” Rose said. “It’s fun to play out there, for sure.”  

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Lesson with Faxon gets McIlroy's putting on track

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 9:53 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Two tweaks have Rory McIlroy in position to earn his first PGA Tour title in 18 months.

The first was to McIlroy’s long game.

One of the game’s preeminent ball-strikers and most prodigious drivers, he has struggled over the past few weeks, including a missed cut at last week’s Valspar Championship.

The fix was “a feeling” with his backswing. He said that he’s trying to feel as though he’s making a three-quarter backswing, because when he’s too long he misses both ways.

“I’m just bunting it around,” he said with a smile, but actually he’s ranked first in driving distance this week.

The second fix was to his maligned putting stroke.

Ranked 124th on Tour in putting, McIlroy met with former PGA Tour player and putting savant Brad Faxon for a few hours Monday at the Bear’s Club in South Florida.

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“I didn’t really hit many putts,” McIlroy said. “It was more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

The goal was to making McIlroy’s putting more instinctive and reactive, instead of being bogged down with mechanics.

It has worked so far. Through three rounds, he is ranked second in strokes gained-putting, gaining more than seven-and-a-half shots on the field on the greens.

McIlroy’s third-round 67 put him in the penultimate group, just two shots back of Henrik Stenson.

“I can’t really ask for much more,” McIlroy said.