Furyk, Dufner desperate to win PGA Championship

By Rex HoggardAugust 11, 2013, 12:46 am

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Jason Dufner is a funny man, or so those close to him say. Jim Furyk can own a room, at least that’s what he claims. On Sunday, professional golf’s favorite flat-liners will find out if karma has a sense of humor.

The duo will set out for the final lap at Oak Hill as they always do – stone-faced, stoic, steely-eyed – looking to pen a cosmic punch line out of the depths of major misfortune.

For Furyk, it was the golf gods – or maybe it was the USGA’s clever executive director Mike Davis – who punked him when he stepped to the 16th tee at the Olympic Club at last year’s U.S. Open. Tied for the lead, Furyk became flummoxed by a tee that was some 100 yards forward and made a bogey he would never recover from.

The man who made “Dufnering” a social media sensation, and Retief Goosen look like he’s suffering from hyper-tension, started the final turn at the 2011 PGA Championship tied for the lead. Dufner waggled his way to a four-stroke advantage with four to play at Atlanta Athletic Club only to drop his tee shot in the water at the 15th and eventually lose a playoff to Keegan Bradley.

Still too soon?

But now the stoic tandem will set out together on Sunday separated by a stroke and staked atop the PGA Championship leaderboard, kindred cool heads who may well ignite the gallery with their play. But just don’t expect anything by way of histrionics.

That’s not their style.

“People tell me, ‘Smile, you look mean.’ But that’s just not my demeanor,” said Furyk, who opened with two early bogeys on Saturday but rallied for a 68 and a one-stroke advantage over Dufner.

They will tell you they feel the pressure, and the elation, but fist pumps and high-fives are not in their repertoire.

“It was enjoyable at certain points in the round, not enjoyable at others,” said Dufner, whose 1-over 71 left him alone in second place at 8 under.Birdies at Nos. 7 and 10 qualify as the latter, a double bogey at the fifth the former. But such was a reset day at Oak Hill that finally felt like a major championship.

Following two rounds of record scoring, the track meet turned into a Turn 3 pileup early and often for the front-runners. Matt Kuchar made double bogey at the par-3 third; Justin Rose started his day bogey (No. 2), double bogey (No. 3), bogey (No. 4), double bogey (No. 5); and after an early birdie, Adam Scott bogeyed Nos. 2 and 3.

And they say Oak Hill’s closing stretch leaves a mark.

By the fourth hole, Dufner was three clear and doing his Ben Hogan thing. At the fifth, however, the idiosyncratic American found Allen’s Creek with his drive, missed the green with his third shot and joined the fading pack with a double-bogey 6.

All total, just two players from the final 10 groups, Furyk and Henrik Stenson (69) managed to break par, and Sunday promises to be more of the same at Chalk Hill thanks to a rapidly drying golf course and freshening winds.

With the tougher conditions came the normal cast of major contenders. Steve Stricker (70), Scott (72), Rory McIlroy (67) and Lee Westwood (68) are all within six strokes of the lead – a margin that Dufner proved on Saturday could vanish in a New York minute.

“It’s difficult on a course like this to maintain your momentum all the way around,” said Stricker, who is tied with Scott at 5 under par and looking to become the first part-time player to win a major in the modern era.

McIlroy’s has been the most dramatic turnaround this week, if not this season. Through nine holes on Friday the Ulsterman was grinding to make the cut, but he’s played his last 27 holes in 6 under par and was starting to look the part of the world’s third-ranked player when he moved into a tie for seventh.

The same could not be said of the world Nos. 1 and 2.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will be around for the final turn, but you may want to tune in early to catch them. Woods signed for a 73 and has still never broken par in seven major championship trips around Oak Hill. He’s tied for 48th at 4 over par and the formality of Sunday’s final round away from dropping his major record to 0-for-18 since 2008.

Still, Woods managed better than Lefty, who reverted to his Phranken-wood, which doubles as his driver, in an aggressive attempt to get back in the game at Oak Hill, but he spent most of the day playing from the hay. He will tee off in Sunday’s first group at 10 over par and in need of a few days of RR.

“I’ve been swinging well this year and hitting shots easy, but these last two weeks after taking a week off after the British it just hasn’t quite clicked,” Mickelson told Golf Channel. “I’m going to take a week off and start fresh.”

Not having Woods and Mickelson in the Sunday conversation is about the only thing that hasn’t gone to script this week at Oak Hill, which showed a surprising amount of fight following Friday’s deluge.

It remains to be seen if Furyk and Dufner have a similar amount of gumption given the duo’s history of major misery.

“I know I’m going to go into the media room and someone is going to ask me, ‘You’re 43, how many more opportunities do you think you’re going to have?’” Furyk smiled . . . really, he smiled. “I’m going to look at this as an opportunity.”

Or maybe a punch line: a 43-year-old grizzled veteran and a Twitter-happy curiosity walk to the first tee on Sunday at Oak Hill . . .

Getty Images

Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

Getty Images

Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

Getty Images

Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

Getty Images

Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.