Good Guys Finish First

By Rex HoggardFebruary 1, 2010, 5:26 am

Farmers Insurance OpenSAN DIEGO – Seems about right that Ben Crane’s journey back to a PGA Tour winner’s circle began just up the San Diego Freeway in Oceanside.

Five years ago he limped into Greg Rose’s gym at the Titleist Performance Institute, hurting and hopeless, at least on the golf course, and looking for help. Rose gave him answers, mending Crane’s chronically ailing back and so much more.

“I wouldn’t be here talking to you without him,” Crane told a reporter at Torrey Pines. “He’s my best friend.”

Truth is, he’s a friend with benefits – trainer, swing coach, sounding board, mentor.

Ben and Cassidy Crane
Ben Crane gives daughter Cassidy a hug after his win. (Getty Images)
“Five years ago he came in thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can play because of my back,’” said Rose, who is scheduled to go on a skiing vacation with Crane after next week’s Northern Trust Open. “The first time we met he didn’t think I could help but he was desperate.”

At Torrey Pines, where words like cheater and slander were being hoisted about like flyers from the rough, the Tour’s preeminent nice guy prevailed over spotty putting and an eclectic field of young and old. In the end, Crane held off 21-year-old Rickie Fowler and 51-year-old Michael Allen and every demographic in between for his first Tour title since 2005.

Wasn’t easy. The South Course made sure of that.

With a three-stroke lead and a cast of crumbling characters ahead of him, Crane three-putted from 13 feet at the 13th to open the door for Michael Sim and Brandt Snedeker. A three-putt from 31 feet four holes later added even more drama, but ultimately Crane’s putter and psyche delivered.

“It was a grind,” said Crane, who holed a 2-footer for par at the last to hold off Snedeker, Sim and Marc Leishman by one stroke.

But then the Farmers Insurance Open was more than a schneid-beater for Crane, whose back troubles have paled to the scrutiny he’s received from Tour officials and some of his Tour brethren over his pace of play.

We don’t want to say Crane is slow, but when he began his final round Sunday at Torrey Pines the grooves in Phil Mickelson’s Ping Eye 2 wedge were not in dispute.

Crane is slow. So slow he’s spent the time since his high-profile run-in with Rory Sabbatini in 2005 at Booz Allen Classic trying to pick up the pace, not because he had to but because he didn’t want to be “that” guy.

“I need to play ready golf,” said Crane, who noted, only half jokingly, that his group spent much of Sunday waiting to tee off. “I’m too slow and in the past it’s bothered me.”

But on a cool SoCal Sunday he was faster than all comers – posting a final-round 70 for a 13-under 275 total. While further down the leaderboard, playing the role of hero and antagonist, was Mickelson, who seemed poised for a fast start to a year that desperately needs him.

Just four down when the final lap began, Lefty faded quickly with a trifecta of bogeys to begin his round. Mickelson met with Butch Harmon at dawn Sunday to fix a slightly misfiring swing, but after a series of missed putts it was clear he needed help from another member of “Team Phil” – Dave Stockton Sr.

The man who has made a career, and sometimes a mess, by playing like Palmer, began the year quoting Nicklaus and practicing like Hogan.

He called his opening 70 on the South Course “cautious,” and echoed the Golden Bear’s ability to lay in wait until the back nine on Sunday. Before his closing round he plowed through more range pellets than Vijay Singh in search of answers.

Fit and having more fun than should be allowed playing Tour golf, Phil 2K10 has the look of a man with a secret. Winged Foot never seemed so far away, at least until he faded on Sunday.

“I got off to a terrible start and then throughout the round didn’t get much out of it,” said Mickelson, who closed with 73 and finished 19th, extending his post-Rees Jones nip/tuck of the South Course to 11 starts without a title.

But then Mickelson’s on-course trauma seemed trite when compared to a series of off-course happenings that quickly slipped from curious to contentious when veteran Scott McCarron compared Mickelson’s use of grandfathered Pine Eye 2 wedges to cheating.

McCarron seemed to miss the mark, if not the point. The veteran clearly out-kicked his coverage on this one. He should have been more concerned with Mickelson’s driver, which left Lefty tied for 75th in driving accuracy (out of 78) for the week, than 1990s-era grooves.

Mickelson punched back at McCarron on Saturday, telling reporters he had been slandered and hinting there would be retribution, either from the Tour or elsewhere.

Others joined the fun. Joe Ogilvie, a member of the Tour’s Player Advisory Council, Tweeted late Saturday: “I had a dream today, Phil won the Farmers (Insurance Open) by getting up and in on 72nd, impossible short sided shot, thank god [sic] for 1980s era PING wedges!”

Commissioner Tim Finchem is scheduled for fire protection duty on Tuesday when he meets with players in Los Angeles, but, as Ernie Els sadly reasoned, that ship has sailed.

“It’s just not good,” said Els, who added a tie for fifth to his 2010 resume at Torrey Pines. “Players have come out blasting each other. We have to find a solution.”

John Daly added to the curious circumstances when he waffled more than a University of Florida coach. He followed rounds of 79-71 with what appeared to be an emotional letter of resignation, then retracted his post-round opinion before finally abusing his Twitter privileges in an attempt at damage control.

Torrey Pines marks the end of a difficult three months for golf during which the Tour has been dragged from the tabloids to the courthouse and back. From Doug Barron to Tiger Woods to GrooveGate, it has been the meanest of quarters.

That was until Sunday at Torrey Pines.

“The nicest guy on Tour by far,” Rose said of Crane. “He always wants to help someone else.”

And it seems he’s just in time.


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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.