Kelly Drives Way to the Top at The Players
After years of using a grip-it-and-rip-it philosophy, Kelly knew the only way to survive this weeks Players Championship was to place his tee shots in the fairway, and out of the penal rough.
Through two rounds, his new strategy is paying dividends. The former Buy.Com Player of the Year has found the rough on only four occasions. That has helped translate into scores of 69-66, and the lead through two days in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Kelly followed a bogey-free 69 with a one-eagle, five-birdie, one-bogey 66 to move to 9-under-par entering the weekend. Hes one shot clear of overnight leader Paul Azinger, who shot a 2-under 70. Scott Hoch (70), Vijay Singh (70) and Kenny Perry (66) are two off the lead at 8-under-par.
A lot tougher conditions today, said Azinger, who opened in 66.
With the winds picking up and the greens drying out, no one was able to go low enough to break from the pack.
Tiger Woods carded a 3-under-par 69 ' just his second sub-70 score in 18 professional rounds on the Stadium Course. Tigers round included five birdies and a double bogey on the par-3 17th (his 8th hole of the day).
Woods tried to get an 8-iron to the flag, but came up short and wet. Nonetheless, hes relatively pleased to be entering the weekend at 3-under-par.
I didnt really hit the ball as good as yesterday, thats for sure. But I scored better today, said Woods, who shot 72 in the first round. It was definitely a day of patience.
Kelly is no biblical Job, but he did adhere to his game plan; and it worked. His 66 was easily his lowest score in 16 rounds played at The Players.
Aggressive by nature ' he played hockey at the University of Hartford ' Kelly shortened his swing to control his accuracy.
Surprisingly I tend to be hitting it farther now that I'm shortening it up and just trying to hit it in the fairways, said Kelly, who entered the event ranked 152nd on the Tour in driving accuracy.
Kelly kick-started his round by dropping in an eight-foot eagle putt on the par-4 2nd. He then picked up two more shots before making the turn. After a bogey on the par-3 13th, Kelly responded by sticking an 8-iron to four feet on the next hole.
Another birdie at the par-5 16th moved him into a share of first place at 8-under. He then rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the last to take the outright lead into the clubhouse.
I played smart golf, which is kind of new to me, said Kelly. Ive always been a hard swinger, a little preoccupied with distance. Now, Im getting the ball in good position to use my irons.
Kellys PGA Tour career began in 1996, following a two-win season on the Buy.Com Tour in 1995 ' a year in which he also won Player of the Year honors.
The Madison, Wis., native nearly captured his first PGA Tour title in his rookie campaign at the 96 Greater Milwaukee Open. Playing amid a media circus ' it was Woods professional debut ' Kelly shot a final-round 64 to force a playoff with Loren Roberts; which Roberts won with a birdie on the first extra hole.
Though he hasnt won in five full seasons on Tour, Kelly has been quite consistent. Hes yet to have to make a trip to Q-School, and hes earned more than $2.5 million.
2001 is shaping up to be a career-best season for Kelly. Hes now made the cut in all eight of his starts. Hes also collected a pair of top-10 finishes, and currently stands in 34th place on the money list with over $340,000.
Now, hes at the top of the leaderboard in the Tours most lucrative event.
You know, I really feel like I havent achieved a lot, said Kelly, who lived in Florida for 15 years before recently moving back to Wisconsin fulltime. Where Ive put my potential within myself is a lot higher than whats happened in my golf career.
Thursday, Azinger was asked what it would mean for him to win this event. His response: Id be rich.
Of course, he was joking. But there is a $1,080,000 first-place prize up for grabs. Friday, Azinger closed his second round by bogeying the par-3 8th and birdieing the par-5 9th.
Tied for the lead at the time, Azinger got over-aggressive with his tee shot on the 8th (his 17th) and landed in the left greenside bunker. Faced with a side-slope stance, Azinger hacked out past the pin and through the green.
Azingers bogey, combined with Kellys birdie at the 18th, meant the 18-hole leader trailed by two entering his final hole of the day. Fortunately, that last hole was a par-5.
With 114 yards to the green after two shots, Azinger hesitated between using a 9-iron and a pitching wedge. He chose the 9-iron. Good choice. Azinger stuck his approach shot to a foot and tapped in for birdie to finish the day in second place.
I think it doesnt matter really where you are after two days or after three; its where you are after four days, Azinger said.
It wasnt love at first strike for Hoch and the TPC at Sawgrass. In his first 13 Players starts, Hoch missed seven cuts and withdrew twice. Then, after Greg Normans 24-under-par performance in 1994, changes were made to the course - much to the delight of Hoch.
They added rough. By making it tougher, you add rough, stated Hoch. Ever since they have had rough here, which they have had some serious rough here, I went from not cashing in a check for ten years to finishing second, because they had rough. Then my attitude changed, and I played well, obviously.
Since 1994s Stadium Course slaughter, the winning score has been lower than 10-under-par only twice; and Hoch has finished in the top-20 on all six occasions. His best finish came in 1997, when he finished runner-up behind Steve Elkington.
Singh has never really come close to contending in this event. In eight prior starts, the Fijian has only recorded one top-10.
This year, however, things are different. Thanks to rounds of 67-70, Singh is just two back with two to play.
I was never this close to the lead before. Im usually close to making the cut, Singh said. Im actually looking forward to the weekend. I think I have a better than good chance to win this thing.
News, Notes and Numbers
*The cutline fell at 3-over-par. Seventy-six players made the cut. Lee Westwood carded a quadruple bogey 8 on the par-4 18th to fall from even par to 4-over. He missed the cut by a stroke.
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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain
PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.
She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.
“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.
Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.
“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”
She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.
“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”
Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.
“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.
She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.
“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”
Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.
While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.
“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”
Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead
PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.
In fact, she named her “Mona.”
For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.
While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.
And that has her excited about this year.
Well, that and having a healthy back again.
“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”
Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”
Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.
She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”
Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.
Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders
PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.
Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.
Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.
Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.
Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC
PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.
With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.
After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.
“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”
It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.
Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.
“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”
Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.
Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.
“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”
Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).
Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.
“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”
Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.
“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”
Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.