Cool, calm Dufner rebounds for big Memorial win

By Nick MentaJune 5, 2017, 2:40 am

DUBLIN, Ohio – Jason Dufner built a five-shot lead through 36 holes and lost it five holes into his third round.

He turned in one of the highest Saturday rounds anyone has ever posted on the PGA Tour and still gone on to win.

And he rallied back from three down in the final round and waited out two separate weather delays to finally take the Memorial Tournament.

Dufner birdied the 17th hole and jarred a 33-foot putt for par on the final green at Muirfield Village on Sunday to win by three over Anirban Lahiri and his playing partner and friend Rickie Fowler.

“A 35-foot or so putt to go in to win is always nice,” Dufner said, seated next to tournament host Jack Nicklaus in his post-round news conference.

Inclement weather halted play twice Sunday, the second time when Dufner and Fowler had just teed off on the 18th hole, with the former ahead by two. For an hour and 17 minutes, Dufner waited to play his second shot from the thick rough off a downslope immediately in front of a fairway bunker. A swift hack through the wet grass managed to push the ball 75 yards forward, leaving Dufner 119 from the pin – and still in the rough.

After finding the middle of the green with his third, the 2013 PGA Champion rolled in his longest-made putt of the week and pumped his fist in what counts for him as a wild celebration given his typically calm demeanor.

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“I didn’t want to celebrate too much because Rickie is my guy,” Dufner said, “and I didn’t want to rub it in too much. But he’s a pretty good sport about it, so I had a little fist pump there.”

Not yet finished but nonetheless unable to win the tournament and thoroughly unbothered by the fist pump, Fowler immediately went over to Dufner and extended his hand for a high-five.

“It was fun,” said Fowler, who finished tied for second with Lahiri after he failed to save par from the greenside rough at 18. “Just being able to push each other, to feed off each other, as well. I want to beat him just as bad as he wants to beat me. But to see him make that putt on the last was cool. … He earned it.”

Even though he settled for his 10th career runner-up, Fowler can partially take credit for the victory.

It was Fowler who “opened the doors” to Dufner and adopted him as a pseudo-roommate at his house in Florida this past winter. And it was playing and practicing with Fowler and Justin Thomas at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter that reignited in Dufner – who earlier this week called golf his job more than his passion – the kind of enjoyment that can escape him.

“There’s been times where I’ve fallen in and out of love with golf, to be honest with you,” he admitted. “It was good to be around those guys. They’re excited. They’re passionate. They’re working hard at it. They want to play good. They’re hungry. They want to win tournaments. They want to win majors. So for me to be around them I think helped me kind of get to this point.”

Asked why all those rounds at The Bear’s Club didn’t earn him a Spring Break invite from Thomas and Fowler, Dufner was quick to clarify that he’s always invited; he just always declines, opting instead to play Hilton Head the week after the Masters.

It would be somewhat odd to see a half-naked Dufner jumping off bridges and docks with his younger friends on Tour. It’s not exactly the vibe he gives off. Dufnering, after all, was basically just sitting.

To that point, Bubba Watson joked Sunday that when he watches Dufner, “it’s like his heart is not even beating.”

For a guy in Dufner who rarely shows emotion and usually answers questions in a monotone, Fowler believes his friend is sometimes a bit misunderstood.

“He’s one of a kind,” he said earlier in the week. “He’s one of the best guys I know out here. I know he would do anything for me. … Because he’s fairly quiet on the course, you don’t get to really see who he is as a person. He’s one of the funniest guys out here, too. But fan-wise, you wouldn’t really see that. The way he carries himself is pretty chill and mellow.”

This is only Dufner’s second PGA Tour win since he put on a ball-striking clinic at Oak Hill nearly four years ago to win the PGA. Thereafter he spent two inconsistent seasons finishing 88th and 90th in the FedExCup rankings. He broke through at the CareerBuilder in January of last year for his first post-major win, but he hasn’t represented the United States in a team event since the 2013 Presidents Cup played here at Muirfield Village. The win Sunday now has him sixth on the U.S list for Liberty National.

Dufner arrived in Ohio having missed only two cuts, but he hadn’t finished any better than T-11 in an individual stroke play event. Sunday night, he cited two unlikely shots at the 18th hole – his long par putt to win and his eagle holeout on Friday – as what propelled him to victory.

“Those are the types of things that can be the difference out here,” he said. “People kind of miss that. Everybody is playing pretty good in the top 10. It’s just a couple things that separate what I did today and the guys that finished second, third and fourth.”

Reflecting on what it meant to be sitting next Nicklaus having won on Jack’s course, Dufner made a thoughtful comparison.

“To always have my name attached with this event and Mr. Nicklaus, that’s the thing that makes me proud the most, I think,” he said. “I think just being part of history in golf is amazing to me. That’s why the Masters is my favorite tournament, because everybody that’s played golf at a high level has played that golf course, right? Is an amazing piece of history to be part of.

“So I’ll have a close place in my heart for this event, being a champion now. It will be very special for me to look back and know that I’m part of an event that Mr. Nicklaus puts on here on the PGA Tour.”

The Masters comment prompted Nicklaus to chime in.

“I think he probably likes this one better than Augusta right now,” he said.

“It’s paying a little bit better,” Dufner answered.

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''