2013 a good year for the good guys

By John FeinsteinDecember 4, 2013, 2:47 pm

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Or, with all due respect to Charles Dickens, it was a year that tested the patience of those who love golf and, ultimately, rewarded those who were most deserving.

The year produced four worthy major champions: Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. Tiger Woods won five times but was again shut out in the majors. Rory McIlroy’s year was a complete washout for 11 months. Like the PGA Tour, he began 2014 early with a win on the first day of December that may prove to be a starting point for the new beginning he clearly needs. Jordan Spieth became the latest ‘it’ kid with a breath-taking rookie season – much of it taking place while he was still a teenager. Inbee Park won the first three women’s majors of the year and almost didn’t win Player of the Year under the LPGA’s points system.

There was endless talk about anchored putters, perhaps the all-time “inside-baseball” story in sports history, but one that seemed to consume people in golf for a large chunk of the year.

Vijay Singh sued the PGA Tour after it decided NOT to suspend him for taking what was once a banned substance. One can only imagine what he might have done if the Tour had suspended him.

The Tour unveiled its new wrap-around schedule, beginning the 2013-14 season about 15 minutes after the 2013 season ended. The new schedule has received mixed reviews. Then again, a lot of people still don’t know it exists. They are waiting to kick off the new season next month in Hawaii.

Hey, maybe commissioner Tim Finchem’s next goal should be to have two seasons going on at the same time.

As is the case in most years, the majors provided a large chunk of the drama and almost all the highlights. If Scott’s playoff victory over Angel Cabrera at Augusta National had been the only sublime moment of the year, it would have been a pretty good year. His victory was about as popular as any in recent memory, in part because he finally lived up to the huge potential he flashed years ago when he first came to the U.S. as a kid with a pretty swing and a smile that made women swoon.

But it was more than that. It was the putt on 18 in the rain and the putt in the gloaming on the 10th green to clinch the green jacket. It was also Cabrera’s classy thumbs-up gesture to Scott after he had stuck his second shot to within 12 feet to set up the winning putt.

If Cabrera’s thumbs-up was the classiest gesture of the year, then Rose pointing to the sky in honor of his father – on Father’s Day – after his last putt went in the hole on the 18th at Merion, was the sweetest. There was a lot of concern prior to Day 1 at the U.S. Open that Merion would play like PGA West and the cut would be 4 under par.

It didn’t turn out that way. Rose’s winning score was 1 over and for all the whining about the golf course set-up and the narrowness of the fairways, it was a wonderful Open and it did, without question, identify the best player that week. Mickelson almost wrote a fairytale ending when he began the championship a couple hours after returning from his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation in California, but two blown wedge shots late on Sunday did him in. Rose was magnificent down the stretch; Mickelson wasn’t.

In the movies, the guy who suffers that heartbreak somehow finds a way to come back before the closing credits to be a hero. It never happens that way in real life.

Except in 2013, when Mickelson did exactly that. Coming off what he readily admitted was the most heartbreaking loss of a career that’s seen its share of heartache, he played the most gratifying – and brilliant – round of his life on the last day at Muirfield to win the Open Championship.

Like a lot of American players, it took Mickelson a long time to develop an affinity for links golf. In fact, he dreaded the entire experience when he made the trip to the British Isles each summer. He didn’t like driving on the wrong side of the road; the endless rotas; the tiny showers or the food. For a long time, he would fly in at the last possible minute, grit his teeth all week and breathe a sigh of relief when he got back on the plane to go home.

That changed in 2004 when, in his 12th attempt, he finished third, the first time he was even close to being in contention. He began coming over early to play the Scottish Open and almost won at Royal St. George’s in 2011. With another chance this past July at age 43, he shot 66 on a cold, windy Sunday to blow by everyone and win by three shots.

Finally, there was Dufner at Oak Hill. Many believed his one chance at greatness had come and gone in Atlanta two years earlier when he let a five-shot lead melt away down the stretch and lost to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. But, going head-to-head the final day of the PGA Championship with Jim Furyk, he played an almost perfect ball-striking round and was in control on the back nine. While it was tough to see Furyk once again miss a golden chance at his second major, it was heartwarming to see Dufner bounce back after the kind of loss that often kills careers to become a major champion.

Bradley’s decision to turn back after leaving the golf course on that glistening August Sunday afternoon so he could be one of the first to give Dufner a hug coming off 18, made for a perfect ending to golf’s majors season.

McIlroy tied for eighth at Oak Hill, the first time all year he was even on the golf course late on Sunday at a major. The fact that a top 10 was considered a big deal for him was a clear sign of how difficult his year had been. From the minute he fired Chubby Chandler as his agent soon after winning the 2012 PGA, McIlroy couldn’t seem to put a foot right on or off the course.

He got very rich by signing with Nike – he wasn’t exactly poor pre-Swoosh – but struggled from the start with the new clubs, the newfound notoriety of being No. 1 and the added pressure of being Woods’ latest business partner. He played badly, and then acted badly when he stalked off the golf course at the Honda Classic in the second round when he was en route to missing the cut by a million.

Then he fired his new agents; got embroiled in various lawsuits; endured rumors about his relationship with Caroline Wozniaki and continued to look lost on the golf course most of the summer. If he hadn’t been on Tour since he was a teenager it would have been a sophomore slump.

Slowly, starting with the PGA, things began to get better. He had two top-10s overseas in November and then, on the first of December, he outdueled Scott in what was very much a road game, to win the Australian Open – shooting 66 that day and finishing with a walk-off birdie for the win. It was vintage McIlroy, circa 2011 and ‘12.

Regardless of when the official season, began, McIlroy’s win sent golf into the New Year on a high: four classy major champions to savor from last year and a 2014 that should bring a rejuvenated McIlroy; the drama of Mickelson going for a career Grand Slam at Pinehurst; Woods desperately seeking to break his majors drought; Spieth continuing to ascend and, to top it off, a Ryder Cup with Tom Watson captaining the U.S. in Scotland, the country where he is an adopted son.

A lot to look forward to. And a lot to look back on with a smile.

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''