Dufner no longer waiting to exhale at Memorial

By Nick MentaJune 2, 2017, 10:34 pm

DUBLIN Ohio –Jason Dufner’s play thus far at Muirfield Village has largely resembled his performance from four years ago at Oak Hill save for one key difference.

He’s putting better.

Dufner blitzed Muirfield again Friday morning, posting his second consecutive round of 7-under 65 to sit atop the leaderboard at the Memorial (as pictured here.

He’ll head into the weekend five shots ahead of his nearest challenger, Daniel Summerhays, and six clear of Rickie Fowler.

Dufner leads the field in putts per green in regulation and is 30 for 32 on putts holed from inside 10 feet this week.

When he captured his lone major title at the 2013 PGA Championship, he put on a ball-striking clinic that more than made up for his shaky putting, particularly from close range.

But with his putting vastly improved thanks to a new breathing technique, Dufner is feeling freed up to play his best golf.

“When you’re not holing putts, it puts more pressure on every part of your game,” he said. “You feel like you have to get your irons closer, take more chances from time to time. … You feel like your chipping and your pitching has to be perfect so you can make pars when you need to. You feel like your lag putting has to be good if you’re not holing putts. It can manifest itself into something you don’t want out there.”

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Through 36 holes, his success on the greens has made his ball-striking that much more devastating. Dufner has hit 21 of 28 fairways and 31 of 36 greens, including 17 of 18 on Thursday. When he has missed the putting surface, he’s gone 4 for 5 scrambling to save par. He dropped his only shot of the week at the 18th hole Thursday and made up for it with an eagle hole-out there on Friday.

In the process, Dufner set a new 36-hole Memorial scoring record, topping the previous 13-under mark set by Scott Hoch (1987) and Rickie Fowler (2012). It’s been a dominant performance from a guy who at one point cut this event from his schedule.

After missed cuts and four rounds in the 70s in his first two starts at Muirfield Village, Dufner opted to skip the Memorial for three straight years, from 2011-2013.

But he was forced to come back as a member of the victorious 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup team. He went 3-1 that week, pairing with Zach Johnson and winning his singles match over Brendon de Jonge, 4 and 3. It was at the Presidents Cup that Dufner picked the brains of some of his teammates and finally started feeling comfortable on a track that had previously frustrated him.

“How do you play these holes? How do you play these situations?” he would ask. “I played a lot with Zach, Matt Kuchar. Tiger was on the team. He’s pretty good around this track. I think [Jim] Furyk helped me out, Davis Love a little bit.

“I was able to use that and come back and have success. … Now it’s one of the events that don’t really want to miss and feel like I can play well.”

Since returning to the Memorial in 2014, Dufner’s worst finish is a T-33 he posted last year, and his performance through two days is eerily reminiscent of what he did here in 2015.

Two years ago, he hit 17 of 18 greens in Round 1, missing only on 18, just as he did this week. He also held the lead at one point on Friday thanks to an ace at the par-3 16th. This year, it was an eagle at the home hole.

But unlike in 2015, Dufner was up a whopping six shots when he met with the media mid-day Friday. Asked if he’s ever had to protect a lead that large, he flatlined:

“I can’t remember. I haven’t won many tournaments, so probably not.”

The four-time PGA Tour winner is aware he’s unlikely to go another 14 under on the weekend, but he isn’t thinking about it.

“To be honest, tomorrow is another day,” he said. “I’m working on my breathing.”

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Web.com Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “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.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”

Rookie Cook (66) handling RSM like a pro

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:24 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Of all the impressive statistics Austin Cook has put up this week at the RSM Classic – he is first in strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach to the green and scrambling – the one number that stands out is 49.

That’s how many holes Cook went this week without a bogey or worse, a moment that prompted his caddie, Kip Henley, to joke, “The dream is over.”

That loss of momentum at the 14th hole didn’t last long, with the PGA Tour rookie making birdie at the next hole on his way to a third-round 66 and a three-stroke lead.

“Bouncing back from any bogey with a birdie is nice and helps get the number right back. Being my only bogey of the week so far, it was really nice to be able to get that back on the next hole,” said Cook, who leads Chris Kirk at 18 under par. “Going into tomorrow with a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead I think is crucial.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Although this is the first time Cook has held a 54-hole lead on the Tour, in fact it’s just his fourth start as a Tour member, he has experienced Sunday pressure before. In 2015, he began the final round at the Shell Houston Open one stroke off the lead held by Jordan Spieth.

“Back then my game was good as well, but mentally I've grown a lot and matured a lot and been able to kind of just let small things on the golf course roll off my shoulder instead of getting tied up in one little small mistake,” said Cook, who closed with a 75 at the ’15 Shell Houston Open to tie for 11th.

Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.