Story 5 Another Thrilling Chapter

By Rex HoggardDecember 22, 2008, 5:00 pm
Top 10 StoriesOn the eve of the 137th Open Championship a group of reporters had gathered at a Southport, England, watering hole when the proceedings were interrupted by a familiar figure meandering down Lord Street.
Linn The Growler Strickler is a caddie-yard legend having looped for the high-profile likes of Curtis Strange, Fred Couples and Nick Price. He had emerged from semi-retirement to carry Greg Normans bag at Royal Birkdale.
Greg Norman
Greg Norman acknowledges the crowd during the Open Championship. (Getty Images)
As omens go, the random encounter didnt send any of the scribes scrambling to Ladbrokes to play a hunch. But it should have.
Six windswept days later Norman had nearly beaten the elements, the toughest course and the deepest field on Tour in 2008 and the games hottest player not on the DL. Instead, the Sharks parting gift was a 1-up victory over the relentless efforts of time and a cosmic make-good in the form of a 2009 Masters invitation.
At 53, Norman came within an untimely poor Sunday start of the Claret Jug, finishing six strokes behind champion Padraig Harrington after starting his final round bogey-bogey-bogey.
I can walk away from here being disappointed, but I can walk away from here with my head held high because I hung in there, Norman reasoned as Harrington collected the games oldest title for the second time in 12 months. It wasnt meant to be and youve got to take that with a grain of salt.
But this was a slight of different sort, a respectful nod from the golf gods to a man who has suffered more than his share of slings and arrows from the heavens.
Norman had spent the days before arriving at Royal Birkdale working on his game with longtime swing coach David Leadbetter, but there was little in the part-time players prep work that made him think his 26th British Open would be his most memorable.
More important than Normans resurgent swing, however, was his relaxed deamenor. Less than three weeks before Norman teed off at Royal Birkdale hed married tennis great Chris Evert in a sunset ceremony in the Bahamas.
I came in here with a good attitude and kind of like a fresh approach to life in general, Norman said. Its nice to have a balanced life.
The extended honeymoon seemed to carry Norman for three days, particularly when reality and the relentless conditions began closing in on the storybook week. He answered every major setback, posting back-to-back birdies after an untidy double-bogey at the sixth hole on Friday. He pulled off a similar rally after a double bogey at the 10th on Saturday with birdies at the 14th and 17th to close his round.
As the wind howled through the rough-covered dunes and the rain pelted the games best into submission, Normans age became less liability and more lethal. His towering drives seemed to defy the thick, heavy howl and his calm stroke on the greens belied the blustery conditions.
The Australian followed his opening-round 70 in the weeks worst conditions with cards of 70-72 for an unlikely two-stroke cushion heading into the closing frame.
But three consecutive bogeys to begin the final round gave Harrington all the room he needed and the Irishman closed out the field with a 5-wood second shot at the par-5 17th for eagle.
If he wouldve won, it wouldve knocked the stands down, Strickler said. It wouldve been Woodstock. I was going to go to Amsterdam if he knocked this one out, never to be seen again.
For a career defined by near-misses more so than a Hall of Fame resume, Birkdale was a heartache with a measure of hope. That 1996 Masters meltdown suddenly didnt seem so sour.
I can stand here now and say, yeah, I'm disappointed. Where does it rank in those (other disappointments)? Probably not as high as some of the other ones. Quite honestly, I'm sure I surprised a lot of people, Norman said.
Even to his contemporaries, Normans ageless Open set a new standard for Grand Slam expectations, regardless of age or psychological baggage.
I want to go out and pull a Norman, said Paul Azinger prior to the PGA Championship, transforming the Aussies name into verb of another sort.
Normans tie for third also delivered an expected opportunity ' another shot at Masters redemption.
Im going to have my expectations the same level as when I went into the British Open, because I havent played (Augusta National) for . . . six years, said Norman, who plans to focus on his game early next year and the games of others as he transitions to his role as International Presidents Cup captain after the Masters.
I still think Augusta is the purest golf tournament in the world. Of course, I have had a lot of pain there, too.
After Royal Birkdale, Norman has never seemed more prepared to put that pain behind him.

Related Links:
  • Top 10 Stories of the Year archive
  • Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

    By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

    Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

    ''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

    Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

    ''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

    Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

    ''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

    ''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

    ''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

    He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

    ''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

    Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

    ''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''

    Park's stumble creates wide-open finale

    By Randall MellNovember 18, 2017, 11:46 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park didn’t turn the CME Group Tour Championship into a runaway Saturday at Tiburon Golf Club.

    She left with bloody fingernails after a brutal day failing to hold on to her spot atop the leaderboard.

    OK, they weren’t really bloody, but even the unflappable Park wasn’t immune to mounting pressure, with the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the money-winning title among the prizes she knew were within reach when she teed it up.

    “It’s honestly some of the worst pressure,” Stacy Lewis said of CME week. “It’s so much pressure.  It’s just really hard to free yourself up and play golf.”

    Lewis isn’t in the mix for all those prizes this year, but the two-time Rolex Player of the Year and two-time Vare Trophy winner knows what the full weight of this week’s possibilities bring.

    “It’s almost nice to come here without all that pressure, but you want to be in that situation,” Lewis said. “It’s just really tough.”

    Park is no longer in charge at Tiburon.

    This championship is wide, wide open with a four-way tie for first place and 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Park is one shot back after stumbling to a 3-over-par 75.

    Count Michelle Wie among the four tied for the lead after charging with a 66.

    Former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn (67), Suzann Pettersen (69) and Kim Kaufman (64) are also atop the leaderboard.

    Kaufman was the story of the day, getting herself in contention with a sizzling round just two weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

    Park is in a seven-way tie for fifth place just one shot back.

    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

    Lexi Thompson (69) is in that mix a shot back, as is Lewis (67), who is seeking to add a second title this year to her emotional win for Houston hurricane relief.

    For Wie, winning the tournament will be reward enough, given how her strong rebound this year seemed derailed in September by an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

    Before the surgery, Wie fought her way back from two of the most disappointing years of her career, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

    “I gained a lot of confidence this year,” Wie said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun. That’s when I play my best.”

    All the subplots make Sunday so much more complicated for Park and Thompson, who are best positioned for a giant haul of hardware.

    They have the most to gain in the final round.

    Park has already clinched the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, but she can add the Rolex Player of the Year title, joining Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win both those awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978.

    A fifth place finish or better could give Park the Player of the Year Award outright, depending what others do.

    “There are a lot of top players right now at the top of the leaderboard,” Park said. “Keeping my focus will be key.”

    Thompson can still take home the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy and the CME Globe jackpot. She needs to win the tournament Sunday to win Player of the Year.

    Like Park, Thompson is trying not to think about it all of that.

    “I treat every tournament the same,” Thompson said. “I go into it wanting to win. I’m not really thinking about anything else.”

    The Vare Trophy for low scoring average is Thompson’s to lose.

    Park has to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson on Sunday to have a shot at the trophy, and they are tied at 9-under overall.

    The money-winning title is Park’s to lose. So Yeon Ryu has to win the tournament Sunday to have a chance to wrestle the title from Park, but Ryu has to pass 31 players to do so.

    The CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot remains more up for grabs, with Thompson and Park best positioned to win it, though Jutanugarn is poised to pounce if both stumble. A lot is still possible in the race for the jackpot.

    The pressure will be turned way up on the first tee Sunday.

    “There is always that little bit of adrenaline,” Thompson said. “You just have to tame it and control it.”

    Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

    By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

    On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

    “Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

    “My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

    Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

    New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

    By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

    In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

    Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

    “It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

    His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

    “I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”