Thomas tops Spieth in latest battle between buddies

By Rex HoggardSeptember 5, 2017, 12:00 am

NORTON, Mass. – In what is quickly turning into a high-stakes game of give-and-take, this was inevitable.

After years of forshadowing for both Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, the duo’s lifelong collision course toward each other reached a new level on Labor Day.

On the eve the final round, Spieth said Monday at TPC Boston would be nothing like last week’s final lap at the playoff opener.

He was right. It was better.

There was no Dustin Johnson blasting a ridiculously long tee shot over the corner in a playoff, no heroic putts, just a grinding to and fro that stretched from the opening tee shot and into an early fall evening.

Spoiler alert: Thomas hoisted the hardware, but it was a title bout that has been a decade in the making, the dye first cast when the two 24-year-olds squared off for the first time in a junior event in Mansfield, Texas.

“We battled it out on Sunday and we were about tied and I edged him out that day,” Spieth recalled. “We played a few more tournaments throughout the year and went back and forth.”

And they continue to go back and forth, the most recent edition a final-round shootout at the Dell Technologies Championship that did what so rarely happens in sports – exceed expectations.

Thomas began the final turn tied with Marc Leishman for the lead, but quickly fell behind when Spieth did what Spieth does, beginning his round birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to take the solo lead.

“Obviously a dream start, and then you're not going to keep pace and shoot, you know, 54,” said Spieth, who dropped an overtime decision to Johnson last week on Long Island. “So at some point, you've got to recognize the difficult holes are coming up.”

Spieth would turn in 30, as would Leishman, before they all hit that TPC Boston wall, with the Australian opening the inward loop with three consecutive bogeys to fall into a tie with Spieth and Thomas.

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Spieth bookended a pair of bogeys around a birdie at the 13th hole, a rollercoaster where he was tied for the lead (after the 12th hole), leading by himself (after the 13th hole) and one behind Thomas (after No. 14).

It was that kind of day.

All total, there were seven lead changes on the closing nine before Spieth’s putter finally went cold and Thomas pulled away, making methodical birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 to take a two-stroke lead and sealing the victory with a clutch par save at the 16th hole.

“I don't like when my friends beat me. I don't like when people beat me. So I'm putting in work to hopefully beat all them,” said Thomas, who closed with a 66 for a 17-under total and three-stroke victory over Spieth.

In sports, there’s always a fine line between friend and rival. For decades Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson dominated the golf landscape at arm’s length with a relationship that was best described as frosty.

For Thomas and Spieth, however, those roots run far too deep to let competitive differences come between them. That junior event a decade ago was just the start of a truly unique relationship.

“We grew up together,” said Spieth, who moved to first on the playoff points list with his runner-up finish. “You grow up and you watch each other work from when you're 14 years old. We roomed together when we were 14 years old. He's one of my best friends in the whole world.”

Although that friendship has endured, for Thomas there was a twisted pressure by association as he watched Spieth collect titles at an amazing rate.

Thomas joined the PGA Tour in 2015, the same year Spieth won two majors (the Masters and U.S. Open) and five titles total. For so long the duo had been defined competitively by a rivalry that suddenly seemed heavily one-sided.

“Definitely jealousy. I still get jealous,” Thomas said. “Any time any of my friends win and I don't, I'm extremely happy for them, I'm pumped for them, I'm excited but I'm jealous. I wish I had three majors right now. I mean, I'm obviously pleased with one but I wish I had three.”

Thomas joined the Tour winner’s club in late 2015 and has been on a tear this season, winning for the fifth time this week to add to his PGA Championship title and virtually locking up the Player of the Year Award unless something dramatic happens over the last two events (Johnson has four victories this season and Spieth three).

He also became just the fourth player since 1960 with five victories and a major in a season before the age of 25, joining the likes Woods, Jack Nicklaus and, yes, Spieth.

It’s yet another connection in a relationship that has now come full circle, but didn’t begin well for Thomas.

“I was a sore loser, so I was just angry. I probably wasn’t much fun to be around,” Thomas recalled when asked about being beat by Spieth at that junior event 10 years ago.

A few months later, Thomas got his revenge while the two were playing for the U.S. team at the Evian Junior Masters in France. Because he’d finished in the top 3 in the event and Spieth didn’t, Thomas was invited to play in a pro-am with LPGA star Juli Inkster. Thomas had Spieth caddie for him.

“He wasn’t a very good caddie,” Thomas laughed.

But he has since turned into a very good friend and the best of rivals.

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she 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, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

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.''

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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.''