Thompson plays for all the right reasons and wins

By Randall MellMarch 4, 2013, 2:00 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The challenge echoed out from all the boisterous noise in the bar above the Bear Trap’s 17th hole early Sunday evening at the Honda Classic.

“War Eagle!”

Michael Thompson heard it, and even as he fought to close out the first PGA Tour victory of his career, he couldn’t let that go as a former University of Alabama golfer.

He barked an answer before marching to the 18th tee.

“Roll Tide!”

There were so many questions about Thompson and whether he had the pedigree to hold off a couple of big names in the final round at PGA National’s Champion Course. He had answers for all of them with his terrific shot-making in the high winds Sunday, and yet this triumph might not have been possible if he didn’t find the answers to the tough questions he asked himself heading here last week.

Why was he really playing this game? Why was he putting himself through the torment?

Even Thompson didn’t see this breakthrough coming after the misery he endured in his last start at the Northern Trust Open.

He shot 80 and 78 at Riviera and missed the cut, finishing 138th, dead last with the six withdrawals. It was his third missed cut in four starts with his best finish a lowly T-78 at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Thompson uncannily made the leap from dead last to first in one start.

What turned him around so quickly?

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“I don’t know, other than him being completely at the bottom, being utterly broken down and feeling like he had nothing going for him, and just being able to focus on enjoying the game again, and practicing, and feeling like he was playing for himself and the passion he has for golf, rather than trying to please people and everyone around him,” his wife, Rachel, said as her husband signed for a closing 1-under-par 69, good for a two-shot victory. “I think he was able to let go of all the expectations with that last-place finish and just come out here and feel completely free to play the way he wanted to play.”

Thompson is a man of faith, and he found the answers to the hard questions he was asking himself in his Christian beliefs.

“I thought I would come out this year and play great,” said Thompson, who played collegiately at Alabama and Tulane. “As a golfer, that's what you want to believe. I do believe the Lord has different plans, and the best way He can humble us is by allowing us to experience a low point, whether it's rock bottom, or just the bottom of wherever you are.”

Thompson left Riviera with his confidence battered and little hope he was going to win anything anytime soon.

'I was having thoughts of, 'I'm going to miss every cut this year, I'm not going to play great at all, I’m going to lose my card,'' Thompson said. 'And then what?'

Thompson came to the conclusion that as long as he had a tour to play golf, even if it was a developmental tour, he was going to be happy.

“The Northern Trust was a good thing in my life,” Thompson said. “It allowed me to focus on what I needed to do in order to play like I did this week.”

Thompson arrived at PGA National one full week before the event started.

“He kept telling me he was going to find the answers in the dirt,” said Matt Bednarski, Thompson’s caddie.

PGA National played so difficult this week. With a couple par 5s turned into par 4s, and with howling winds making par a good score, Thompson thrived in a setup that almost felt major championship tough. He likes that kind of golf. He likes survival golf. He showed that when he made a stunning run at winning the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club last summer. In 51 PGA Tour starts heading to that U.S. Open, he had just four top-10 finishes.

Thompson tied for second at The Olympic Club.

“I've always been a scrappy player,” Thompson said. “One thing Coach [Jay] Seawell said to me was that while I was at Alabama, I hit the fewest number of fairways and the fewest number of greens compared to the rest of the team, but I made the most birdies. That's a perfect example of just who I am. I'm not a great ball striker. I think I'm pretty good. I was pretty good this week. But my putting is what saves me.”

Thompson grew up with a mentality that still serves him well.

“I think I've always been very good at having the mindset of just, 'Go struggle. Just go get it done,'' Thompson said. “I remember telling myself when I was 14, 15 years old, just get the ball in the hole, and all your playing competitors are going to be mad at you for that. That's just what I do.”

Rachel says Michael has learned his struggles have purpose. She says the pastor who married them, Stephen Bunn, helped him understand that when they met in Birmingham, Ala., before the marriage.

“Michael couldn’t really figure out how golf and God were related to each other,” said Rachel, who has a doctorate in physical therapy from Tulane, where she met Michael. “Stephen sat Michael down and basically pointed out that `You are playing golf because God gave you this talent, and he expects you to go out and use it.’ I think Michael gained confidence from that, knowing God expects him to work hard, work his butt off, achieve his goals and always do a little bit better every time he goes out there.”

Thompson did a lot better than his last start at Riviera.

“Michael just looked a lot calmer, a lot more confident, a lot more at peace with everything,” Thompson said.

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 sank a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without making a bogey on the Plantation Course or the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

Cook 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.

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.

Bubba (64) fires his lowest round of 2017

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:12 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bubba Watson’s plan when he left the Dell Technologies Championship in September was to take a few months off and come back fresh in 2018

Those plans changed after a few weeks.

“What we figured out was the mental side, preparing for kindergarten - not for me, for my son - preparing for [wife] Angie's knee surgery. It's been a tough go,” Watson said.

“Being home and being with the family and everything, I realized how much I missed the game of golf, and that's why I wanted to come and play in these tournaments.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

The plan has paid off this week at the RSM Classic, where Watson is tied for 12th place after a second-round 64 on the Seaside course moved him to 7 under par.

Watson, who tied for 51st two weeks ago in Las Vegas, got off to a quick start on Day 2, playing the opening nine in 29. Despite a miscue at the 14th hole, when his tee shot wedged into a tree, he was solid coming in for his best individual round this year.

The left-hander was particularly sharp with his ball-striking after what has been a difficult year.

“I want to play golf now and right now I'm swinging at it pretty nicely,” he said.

S.H. Park (65) builds three-shot lead at LPGA finale

By Doug FergusonNovember 17, 2017, 9:58 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Golf felt so easy to Sung Hyun Park that only when she took out her card to catch up on her scores did she realize she had closed out the front nine with five straight birdies at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Park kept right on attacking.

The 24-year-old from South Korea added a 30-foot eagle putt late in her second round and finished with a 7-under 65, giving her a three-shot lead going into the weekend at Tiburon Golf Club.

Nothing seems to bother her, even the chance to cap off an amazing rookie season by sweeping all the big awards on the LPGA Tour.

''To be honest, I don't feel quite as nervous as I thought I would,'' Park said through an interpreter. ''After the first shot, after the first hole, I felt a lot more comfortable. I'm not feeling as nervous as I thought I might be going into today.''

Leave that to the players chasing her.

Even with a three-putt bogey on the final hole, Park was at 12-under 132 and was three shots clear of Caroline Masson (66) and Sarah Jane Smith (69).

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

More importantly, none of the other players in the chase for the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus or any other big award was within five shots of Park, who is trying to become the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to win LPGA player of the year.

Lexi Thompson, who leads the Race to the CME Globe and the Vare Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average, shot a 67 and wound up losing ground. She was six shots behind and must stay within 10 shots of Park to win the Vare.

So Yeon Ryu, who leads the points-based award for player of the year, managed a 71 with her sore right shoulder but was 11 shots back.

The other two players who need to win the tournament to collect the $1 million bonus also had their work cut out for them. Brooke Henderson had another 70 and was eight shots behind, while world No. 1 Shanshan Feng shot 73 and was 11 shots behind.

Park was in control, only she didn't see it that way.

''I don't think it's quite that far of a lead,'' Park said. ''Two, three shots of a lead can change at any moment. We will have to see what's in store for this weekend.''

Park began her big run with an 18-foot birdie on No. 5, got up-and-down for birdie from just off the green at the par-5 sixth, holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7, and then closed out the front nine with birdie putts from 8 feet and 15 feet.

''I actually didn't know that I was going five birdies in a row,'' Park said. ''Come hole No. 10, I realized that I hadn't been jotting down my scores as diligently, and so I realized it a little bit later on. And it felt great.''

That gave her the lead by one shot over Suzann Pettersen, except that Pettersen faded badly on the back nine.

Pettersen dropped four shots in a three-hole stretch by getting out of position off the tee and she shot 39 on the back nine for a 70 to fall five shots behind.

''I feel like I'm playing good,'' Pettersen said. ''Three bad drives on the back nine cost me four shots. That should not be possible on this course, where the fairways are about 100 yards wide.''

Park was honored at an awards banquet Thursday night as the LPGA rookie of the year. Now, she has more awards in her sights. A victory would give her the award for player of the year. She would capture the money title, which she leads over Ryu. And depending on how the weekend goes, she might be able to surpass Thompson in the race for the Vare Trophy.

Thompson did well to recover from two bogeys on her opening three holes.

''I hit a few really erratic shots in the beginning. It wasn't a good start to the round,'' Thompson said. ''Just tried to stay positive and find something that could work for the last 14, 15 holes.''

Lydia Ko fell six shots behind in her bid to avoid a winless season. She was one shot behind going into the second round but managed only three birdies in her round of 71.

Park, meanwhile, had everything going her way. Even when she pulled her drive on the par-5 14th into a sandy area with a root next to her ball, she picked it clear and sent it through a goal post of trees back to the fairway. Three holes later, she blasted a drive and had only a 7-iron into the green at the par-5 17th, which she hit to 30 feet and made the long putt.

Does anything make her nervous?

''I hate spiders,'' she said. ''But in terms of golf, I always get nervous to this day on the first tee. I can feel my heart pounding.''

It's a feeling that doesn't appear to last very long.