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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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational
Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.
The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.
Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.
The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump
Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.
Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.
Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.
An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.
Playing with the pros
Tiger, DJ and Faxon
President at the Presidents Cup
Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham
Cart on the green
Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open
Trump golf properties
Reportedly fake TIME covers
Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story
Pros comment on the president
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates. And click here for the full collection of articles.
No. 1: Dec. 18