Climbing the Mountain Top

By Rex HoggardJanuary 14, 2009, 5:00 pm
Each year they climb from the far reaches of the tee sheet, sending on-air analysts scrambling for bios and infusing the normally ordered world of the PGA Tour with a refreshing dose of uncertainty.
Consider them leaderboard lagniappe. These are the fresh-faced Tour pros who defy odds and conventional wisdom and nerves to climb from near obscurity to near stardom with what seems like a single revolution.

Five to watch

Steve Marino: Tap-in ' Solid ballstriker who makes birdies, which could make him a favorite at user-friendly layouts at the Bob Hope and Pebble Beach.
Peter Tomasulo: Tap-in ' California kid paid his dues and learned patience on the Nationwide Tour and will feel at home on the West Coast.
Webb Simpson: Tap-in ' Has solid amateur pedigree and an intangible quality that could make him a quick study on Tour.
Colt Knost: Tap-in ' Tough competitor who quieted critics when he passed on his 2008 Masters invitation. Dont be surprised to see Texan heading down Magnolia Lane this year.
Derek Fathauer: Tap-in ' Finished tied for 69th at Torrey Pines during last years U.S. Open, which should make a Buick Torrey look like a pitch-and-putt.

Flash back to 2007 and a beaming Brandt Snedeker stealing everyones thunder with a front-nine 27 on Thursday at the Buick Invitational. Last year it was Kevin Streelman who landed the Buick breakthrough, surging into second place through two rounds at Torrey Pines on his way to a breakout year.
They are Tour staples, like azaleas in April and five-hour pro-am rounds, and they will begin their climb from obscurity this week at the Sony Open. The years first full-field event is ripe with potential and soulful Steve Marino tops any list of PGA Tour prospects.
Marinos swing is a tad more upright than your off-the-shelf Tour pro and his on-course demeanor is more Jerry Seinfeld than Jerry Kelly, but the results have been unmistakable. He earned over $1 million and played three of the four FedEx Cup playoff events his rookie year (2007) and defied the sophomore slump last year, missing just five cuts during a Herculean 32-event campaign and finishing 34th in earnings.
Statistically, the highlight of 2008 was a runner-up showing at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Sentimentally, the Kodak moment came more than four months later when he led after the first round of the AT&T National and he remained in contention throughout.
At that point in the season I wasnt playing real well and wasnt expecting much, so to play like that was pretty exciting, said Marino, who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. That was the best part of my year, getting to go out and perform in my home town in front of all my friends and everyone.
On the course, the 27-year-old brings a potent combination of style and substance. The above-average ballstriker recorded the seasons third-longest drive in 2008 ' a 424-yard bomb during Round 4 of the Valero Texas Open ' and had more birdies (440) than anyone else on Tour.
The only missing element on an ever-expanding resume is a Tour title. In Mexico he came within a stroke of eventual champion Brian Gay and he posted five other top-10s. Many contend the only thing standing between Marino and his first Tour tilt are a few good breaks on Sunday and more reps in contention.
He has an insouciance about him. Hes habitually nonchalant. Youd want him to be your college roommate, said Mike Dunphy, player development manager for Cleveland Golf/Srixon. Hes not going to get all wacked out about anything.
Marino also concedes that a hectic 2008 schedule probably didnt help. In two years Marino has played 63 Tour events, which is manna from heaven for events in need of potential star power but not the best recipe to stay fresh. Consider, by comparison, thats the same number of events Tiger Woods played in 2004, 05, 06 and 07.
Im going to try and play a little less so I can be a little fresher, said Marino, who estimates hell play about 25 events in 2009. Ive realized theres a point of mental fatigue. You dont realize it but your mind is not ready to perform.
That shouldnt be a problem this week for Marino. His last event was the Childrens Miracle Network Classic in November and he went nearly a month without touching a golf club. When he did return to work, Marino ' a self-described feel player who normally prepares for the season by standing on the practice range at Bear Lakes Country Club in south Florida hitting countless buckets of golf balls ' focused on his short game.
I wanted to get back to more of a feel so I spent a lot of time chipping and putting, he said. Nothing real exciting, just playing games with myself and focused more on a practice routine. Id never done that before.
Talent, meet tenacity.
Each year those little-known climbers spring atop leaderboards seemingly from nowhere. The odds are good this years Cinderella began his climb on the chipping green at Bear Lakes.
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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.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

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).

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

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.

Korda sisters poised to make a run at CME

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 9:47 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Jessica Korda wasn’t feeling well making her way around the CME Group Tour Championship battling congestion Friday, but the leaderboard walking to the ninth tee gave her a nice lift.

That’s where she saw younger sister Nelly’s name tucked right next to hers.

They were within a shot of each other amid hard charges up the leaderboard, with Nelly playing just in front of her.

“I was like, 'Dang!’ It was good to see,” said Jessica, 24. “It’s fun to see her playing this well. I know what she puts into it. I’m kind of jealous of the rookie year she’s having, because mine sucked.”

Nelly, 19, is looking to put a special ending on her first year on tour. She posted a 6-under-par 66, good for a tie for fourth, six shots behind Sung Hyun Park (65). Nelly has given herself a weekend shot at her first victory.

Just a year ago, Nelly was here as a spectator, watching her sister.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I found it funny,” Nelly said. “I was walking to the range on Tuesday, thinking just last year, people were asking me, 'When are you going to be out here?’ It seems surreal to be out here, playing alongside my sister and the best players in the world.

“Being in contention is really, really special.”

Jessica shot 68 and sits a shot behind her sister.

Nelly said seeing the leaderboard gave her a lift, too.

“Maybe it amps me up just a little bit,” Nelly said. “It’s a friendly competition. Even though we want each other to succeed, we also want to beat each other. I think she would say that, too.”

Jessica is seeking her fifth LPGA title. She’s coming off a tie for third at the Blue Bay LPGA last week.

Jessica is 35th on the LPGA money list this year, with $515,521 in earnings. Nelly is 51st, with $388,983 in earnings.

“I definitely look for Jess on the board,” Nelly said. “We’ve very supportive of each other.”