Johnson relishes being an underdog

By Jason SobelJanuary 7, 2014, 3:56 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – The last time we saw Zach Johnson playing the 72nd hole of a golf tournament, it was a whirlwind of emotions inside a vortex of dramatics. In case your memory can’t travel back to a time before you ate that holiday fruitcake, here’s the scenario: Tied going into the final hole of last month’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, Johnson shanked – his word, not mine – an iron shot into the water hazard guarding the right side of the green. He then took a drop and from 58 yards holed a wedge shot for par to eventually force a playoff that he would win over none other than Tiger Woods.

By comparison, Monday’s foray to the final hole reflected the laid-back nature of this small-field event in an idyllic island paradise. Johnson led by two strokes when he reached the par-5 18th at the Plantation Course, then made a more routine par, reaching the green in three and two-putting before being bum-rushed by his three adorable kids. When Jordan Spieth failed to post eagle in the group behind, Johnson had clinched his 11th career PGA Tour title.

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A player with that many victories – including one at a little place called Augusta National Golf Club – doesn’t need much confidence-boosting, but even Johnson acknowledged that beating the world’s No. 1-ranked player head-to-head didn’t hurt morale as he entered the 2014 campaign.

“Anytime you beat the No. 1 player in the world or one of the best players to ever play or arguably in a field of that depth - I know it's only 18 deep, but talent wise - confidence comes from it,” he said. “Hopefully it breeds it and it breeds momentum.”

Johnson is all about momentum right now. He won the BMW Championship in his penultimate start of last season, compiled a 3-1-0 record for the United States at the Presidents Cup, then won the event known as Tiger’s tournament in the so-called offseason.

The title of World’s Hottest Golfer is a fleeting one. Just ask Adam Scott, who seemed to have a stranglehold on that position after nearly winning the Australian triple crown recently. It’s a purely subjective ordering, but one which should find Johnson currently atop it after this second straight win.

Not that he’ll enjoy being there.

Never the longest hitter nor the most talented player, Johnson relishes the underdog role. He identifies with being David against fields of Goliaths – even if this David prevails more frequently.

“I've always liked the teams and the individuals that are kind of coming from behind, that are not supposed to win,” he explained. “Those always intrigued me in sports. Competition intrigues me more than anything. But the competitive aspects of sport that really drive me are those situations where Wichita State makes the Final Four, you know? George Mason and Butler almost win a national title. I love that kind of stuff. I'm not a fan of them, but you catch my drift. I love seeing the underdogs.

“I'm not saying I'm always an underdog, but I kind of feel like it. If anything, I put myself in that posture where I feel like I'm an underdog.”

He’s certainly among the most overlooked stars in the game. Already a top-10 player before this win, he’s now five victories away from equaling Jim Furyk’s career and four away from that of Fred Couples. There aren’t many who would place Johnson in the World Golf Hall of Fame right now – and for good reason; he’s not worthy yet – but the 37-year-old said this week that he’s made a goal of winning 20 times, which would undoubtedly qualify.

This one might have happened no matter what. It might have happened if he never chased down Woods last month; it might have happened if he didn’t recover from the shank; it might have happened if he’d lost in the ensuing playoff.

We’ll never know. What we do know is that beating Woods in such fashion definitely didn’t hurt his confidence going forward.

“When you beat the No. 1 player in the world,” said his longtime caddie Damon Green, “it makes you a little more comfortable, I think.”

Johnson was the underdog that day, just as he was on this one at Kapalua, with major champions and big bombers and young studs also in contention. And that was just fine with him.

As he’s come to learn 11 times now in his career, David can still beat those so-called Goliaths.

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Watch: Fathauer dunks one off flagstick for eagle

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 17, 2018, 7:45 pm

The NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest will take place Saturday night in Los Angeles, but Derek Fathauer kicked things off a little early with this eagle in the third round of the Genesis Open.

Playing his second shot on the par-4 third hole at Riviera Country Club, Fathauer dunked one off the flagstick and into the hole for an eagle-2:

The shot got the the 32-year-old, in search of his first PGA Tour victory, under par for the round and into the mix early on Moving Day.

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Luiten in three-way tie at Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 4:17 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten showed a return to form after a mediocre 2017 as he moved into a three-way tie for the lead in the Oman Open on Saturday.

The Dutchman shot a second straight 6-under 66 - the joint best score of the day - to move to 12-under 204. He was joined at the top by Matthew Southgate (69) and Frenchman Julien Guerrier (66) after the third round at the Greg Norman-designed Al Mouj Golf Club.

England's Chris Wood (69), another man on the comeback trail, was in fourth place at 11 under, but it could have been a lot better if not for a bogey-bogey finish. Adrian Otaegui (66) was a shot behind Wood while pre-tournament favorite, France's Alexander Levy (67), was at 9 under.

The 90th-ranked Luiten credited some hot iron play for his success after a cracked driver set him back last year when he had just two top-10 finishes the whole season.

Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic

''I cracked my driver in my first tournament of the year in Abu Dhabi and it took me almost six months to get another one that I really liked. Once you are not driving the ball well, it puts pressure on other parts of your game,'' said the 32-year-old Luiten. ''My iron play did not get me into trouble at all today.''

Southgate was quick off the block with three birdies in his first three holes. But the Englishman then made two bogeys and a double bogey in his next four holes, and a birdie on the ninth saw him make the turn at even-par.

That forced him to think differently for the back nine and he was rewarded with three birdies.

''It was quite funny really,'' Southgate said. ''We birdied the ninth and I walked off and said to my caddie Gary ... 'We've just shot level par, so let's just pretend that we've made nine solid pars and that we haven't holed a putt and haven't made a birdie. Let's just start again on the 10th'.''

The 32-year-old Guerrier started his round with a monster 48-foot birdie putt and had an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys.

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J.Y. Ko increases lead; Lydia focuses on positives

By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 3:33 pm

ADELAIDE, Australia - Jin Young Ko continued her domination of the Women's Australian Open, shooting a 1-under 71 Saturday to increase her lead to four strokes after three rounds.

The South Korean, who led after each of the opening two rounds of the LPGA tournament, had a three-round total of 11-under 205 at Kooyonga Golf Club.

Australian golfer Hannah Green moved into second place after the round of the day, a 66.

Green, 21, is seeking to become the first Australian to claim her national crown since Karrie Webb won the last of her five titles in 2014. Webb, who is playing a part-time schedule in 2018, missed the cut Friday by one stroke.

Green birdied her first three holes on Saturday and then added two more on the eighth and ninth. Two more birdies followed on the back nine with her only dropped shot a bogey on the 17th.

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"I was very pleased with my ball striking," Green said. "I have put myself in contention so I'm very happy with how things are panning out.

"It was a real shame about Karrie missing the cut, but I know she has got different plans."

South Korea's Hyejin Choi (70), was tied for third, five strokes behind. Australia's top-ranked golfer Minjee Lee was tied for fifth after a 69, six off the lead.

Former No. 1 Lydia Ko shot a 71 and was eight strokes behind.

"It's always nice to be able to start the season on a good note, and I've obviously got tomorrow," Lydia Ko said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to finish off on a high note."

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Cantlay, McDowell, Saunders share lead at Riviera

By Doug FergusonFebruary 17, 2018, 3:51 am

LOS ANGELES - Tiger Woods waited 12 years to get back to Riviera and lasted only two days.

Woods had three straight bogeys early on the back nine Friday and didn't play well enough to make up for his misses. He had a 5-over 76 and missed the cut in the Genesis Open for the first time in nine appearances as a pro.

He was at 6-over 148, one shot worse than his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old at Riviera.

''I missed every tee shot left and I did not putt well, didn't feel very good on the greens,'' Woods said. ''And consequently, never made a run. I knew I had to make a run on that back nine, and I went the other way.''

Patrick Cantlay ran off three straight birdies toward the end of his morning round, starting with a tap-in on the par-3 sixth when he missed a hole-in-one by a fraction of an inch, and shot a 69. He was tied with Graeme McDowell (66), the former U.S. Open champion who is trying to work his way back from a two-year slump.

They were at 7-under 135.

Sam Saunders also was at 7 under, making back-to-back birdies until it was too dark to continue. He had three holes remaining in his second round. Ryan Moore bogeyed his final hole for a 68 and was one shot behind at 136.

Rory McIlroy overcame a few short misses on the front nine for a 69 and was at 2-under 140.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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Cantlay was coming off a three-putt bogey when his tee shot at the par-3 sixth - the hole with a bunker in the middle of the green - landed above the flag and to the right, and then rolled back down the slope just over the right edge of the cup.

''I actually missed a little to the right, but it's a bowl back there so as long as you get the number right, it should be pretty close,'' Cantlay said.

He followed with a short iron into 5 feet for birdie, a 15-foot birdie on the next hole and then a wild drive that led to a bogey on his final hole.

McDowell has gone 59 starts worldwide since his last victory and has fallen out of the top 200 in the world. He had missed four straight cuts dating to late last year, though he felt he was hitting it well in practice. What helped was seeing some good scores.

''All I'm missing is a couple little numbers and a little bit of confidence,'' McDowell said.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson shot a 69 and gets to stick around for the weekend. He was at 1-over 143. Bubba Watson, who won in 2014 and 2016, has fallen out of the top 200 in the world after a two-year drought. He shot a 70 and was at 4-under 138, and then headed for the NBA All-Star weekend to play in the celebrity game.