Donald's wild ride at Disney

By Jason SobelOctober 23, 2011, 11:06 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It wasn’t Babe Ruth’s called shot. It wasn’t Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee. It wasn’t even Ben Crenshaw’s coy proclamation of, “I’ve got a good feeling about tomorrow.'

No, Luke Donald never stated that he was coming to Disney World to win the PGA Tour’s season finale. There was no hubris, no bravado, no boasting.

Even though the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer was competing in a field of journeymen, also-rans and youngsters trying to retain or at least improve their status, he never predicted a victory.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t his sole intention for making the journey.

Let’s face facts: Players don’t compete in Fall Series tournaments unless there’s a worthy reason. Maybe it’s a home game. Maybe they need to fulfill the minimum appearance requirement. Maybe they need to finish in the top 30 on the money list to reach the Masters or the top 70 to qualify for invitationals or the top 125 just to keep their cards.

In the curious case of Donald, there were much different numbers at stake. With money leader Webb Simpson already committed to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic field, he followed suit in an attempt to not only overtake that position – and give himself an opportunity to become the first player to win both the PGA and European money lists in the same season – but secure the Vardon Trophy and, very possibly, the Player of the Year award.

It says a lot about a player who would make the trip for such spoils. It says even more about one who accomplishes everything he intended.

To an outsider, Donald’s two-stroke, come-from-behind triumph on Sunday may have contained all the thrills of a sixth-grader robbing the kindergarten kids of their lunch money. Quite the contrary. It’s one thing to win when you want; it’s another to win when you need.

“The goal was to win,” Donald said. “Nothing was really going to be good enough other than that. You know, I think this is probably one of the most satisfying wins of my career just because of that. It was kind of do or die.”

In the end, Donald did. Entering the final round with a five-stroke deficit and playing head to head with Simpson for a fourth straight day, he shifted into another gear, racing to the top of the leaderboard. Donald carded a total of 10 birdies, including six in a row on the back nine, to post a final-round-best 8-under 64 – two shots clear of closest competitor Justin Leonard.

While the world’s No. 1 player winning a regular-season tournament isn’t normally a rare occurrence, as Donald astutely noted afterward, this was his first PGA Tour stroke-play victory in more than a half-decade. He previously won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this season and followed with a pair of European Tour titles, but it’s not as if he’s piled up dozens of wins like certain players to formerly hold those top-rank honors.

He can now start building shelves for all the trophies he’s about to accumulate. Donald has already notched the Arnold Palmer award for leading the money list, the Vardon Trophy for lowest stroke-play average and the PGA of America’s Player of the Year award, which is based on a points system.

Still in doubt is the PGA Tour’s own POY award, to be voted on by the membership, but expect Donald’s victory to carry some extra weight in the decision-making process.

“It was pretty clear to me that from what everyone thought, I needed to win this week to be able to sway some people's votes,” he said. “In terms of Player of the Year, obviously I needed at the very least to win the money list. You know, to be able to do that, it's special when it really mattered. I think as golfers, it's nice to win, but much more pleasing when things really mean something a little bit extra.”

It’s funny. If there’s been a prevailing theme throughout the PGA Tour campaign, it’s that this has been the Year of Parity. And that’s true to a point – seven different players won two titles and nobody won more.

Donald’s victory may have lent a little more credence to the theory that this is still a tour comprised partially of haves and have-nots, one in which every player is not created equally. For so much of the year – heck, even until the back nine of the final round in the last event – the Tour was muddled with myriad questions and unsolved mysteries about its proceedings.

He may not have called his shot this week, but simply by showing up with a stated goal and achieving it, Donald wrapped up the season into a neat bow on Sunday, his name becoming the sole answer to so many of those questions.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.

Seeking awards sweep, Park 1 off lead

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:03 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park made a strong start in her bid to make LPGA history with an epic sweep of the year’s major awards.

Park opened the CME Group Tour Championship Thursday with a 5-under-par 67, moving her a shot off the lead.

Park is looking to join Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park has already clinched the Rookie of the Year Award.

Park, 24, can also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.

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Nobody has ever swept all those awards.

There’s even more for Park to claim. She can also take back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. She’s No. 2, just two hundredths of a point behind Shanshan Feng.

“I think the course suits my game really well,” Park said through a translator. “I think I can play well in the next rounds.”

Park played the course just once before Thursday’s start, in Wednesday’s pro-am.

The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park won twice this year. She also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open this summer.