Nice guy Merritt finishes first at Quicken Loans

By Rex HoggardAugust 3, 2015, 12:11 am

GAINESVILLE, Va. – We’ve seen this before, a salt-of-the-earth Iowan wielding a lethal putter on his way to a career defining victory.

The only thing missing was the modest monologue: “I’m Troy Merritt and I’m from Osage, Iowa.” But even that wouldn’t be Merritt’s style.

If Zach Johnson is the most understated two-time major champion, then Merritt is nothing short of the most unassuming Tour winner in recent memory.

A wisp of a player who is generously listed at 6 feet, 160 pounds, Merritt has never played in a major, never finished better than 100th on the FedEx Cup point list and would never be confused for one of his high-profile PGA Tour frat brothers.

Someone like, say Rickie Fowler, who seemed to be the consensus and crowd favorite on Sunday at the Quicken Loans National.

But Merritt never gave Fowler or anyone else much of a chance on his way to a three-stroke victory and maiden Tour title.

“It's been a long journey the last five, six years,” said Merritt, who closed with a 67 that included a winding 34-footer for birdie at the last that prompted an almost apologetic shrug from the 29-year-old.

“Several life changes, couple moves, two boys but I wouldn't have done it any other way. I separate my life pretty well and, as a result, it really hasn't paid off in success on the golf course but it's the way I'm doing it. I'm a family man first and foremost.”

The timing couldn’t have been better for Merritt, who began this week on the inward loop of a grueling run that has included five events in six weeks.

During that stretch he missed five consecutive cuts, broke par just once in his last 10 Tour rounds and watched hopelessly as he tumbled down the FedEx Cup point list all the way to 123rd.

Quicken Loans National: Articles, photos and videos

It was a familiar feeling for Merritt, who has struggled since joining the Tour in 2010 after a stellar college career. Not that anyone around him could see the pressure building.

“Troy is one of the nicest guys to be around, period,” said his caddie Scott Sajtinac. “If you don’t get along with Troy, it’s probably you.” 

The only thing that seemed different on Sunday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club was the outcome, a victory that earned him a spot next week in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship and secured his Tour card for the next two seasons.

From the pavement to the penthouse just like that thanks in large part to a swing tip from Sajtinac during Tuesday’s practice round. After struggling with his driver the last few months Sajtinac suggested he square his shoulders more to his target and move away from the golf ball at address.

“Off the tee it has been tough,” Sajtinac said. “We’ve been playing out of the rough for two months and that’s hard to do.”

Just ask Tiger Woods how hard that can be.

The technical term for it is “transference,” that’s swing speak for having the ability to take what a player is doing on the range and in practice and apply it during a round of tournament golf.

Throughout Woods’ steady competitive swoon the last few months he referred to the phenomenon as “old patterns,” but in the simplest terms it has been an inability to carry what he has on the range to the first tee.

What else would explain his third-round 74 after playing his first 36 holes in 8 under?

The tournament host would rebound on Sunday, playing his opening nine in 4 under on his way to a closing 68; and while his tie for 18th did little for his FedEx Cup fortunes, he moved up just 12 spots to 185th, the psychological impact was evident.

“This is much better, much, much, much better to have a round like today,” smiled Woods, who moved to within five strokes of the lead with a birdie at the 10th hole before playing his final eight holes in even par.

Woods’ optimism seems to go well beyond his best Tour finish since the spring when he tied for 17th at the Masters. While the short term – the PGA Championship could be his final event of the 2015-16 season – remains shrouded in uncertainty, after a few trying months he is starting to see well beyond the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I've got years ahead of me, that's how I look at it, not just this season,” he said. “I've got years and if you would have asked me that back when I had my back surgery I would have probably . . . I didn't really know. That was a rough period in my career and my life. But now I'm on the good side of it.”

The same could be said for Merritt, who began the day tied with Kevin Chappell and quickly separated himself from the field with a birdie at the first.

The event quickly descended into a two-player race, with Bill Haas moving into a share of the lead at 17 under with six birdies through his first 10 holes but he unraveled just as quickly, playing Nos. 12 through 16in 4 over par and tying for fourth.

Fowler made a late run with birdies at three of his last five holes, but Merritt nearly made a hole-in-one at the 16th hole for a tap-in birdie and he added his walk-off at No. 18 to complete his breakthrough.

In fact, Merritt’s biggest obstacle as he made his way down the 18th hole was the emotion of the moment.

As Merritt – who set up his Sunday charge with a tournament-record 61 on Day 3 – approached the 18th green, the crowd broke into a large cheer. When the fans quieted he told Sajtinac, “That was nice.”

It was another nice finish for another nice guy from Iowa.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.