DeChambeau, Bard take different paths to final

By Ryan LavnerAugust 22, 2015, 8:29 pm

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Alec Bard watched his big brother float toward the Virginia stand bag, a Steadicam only a few feet from his face.

He watched his brother empty his pockets – a ball, some coins, plenty of tees – and grab his phone. And his keys. And his wallet.

He watched his brother rub his eyes. And shake his head. And sigh with relief.

Finally, Alec couldn’t take any more.

“So,” he said, clearing his throat, tugging at the strings on his caddie bib, “am I on the bag for the Masters?”

That snapped Derek out of his daze.

“Of course,” he said with a smile. “Of course you are.”

A likely invitation to the Masters is just one of the many perks that are headed Derek Bard’s way after a 3-and-2 victory Saturday over Kenta Konishi sent him into the finals of the U.S. Amateur.

Bard, a junior at Virginia, will face NCAA champion Bryson DeChambeau in the scheduled 36-hole final Sunday at Olympia Fields.

“It doesn’t feel like real life,” Bard said.

His journey to the finals couldn’t be more different than his opponent's.

On Saturday, at least, there was no need for a furious rally. For the first time all week, Bard didn’t trail in his match, putting away Konishi with wins on Nos. 12, 14 and 15. He closed out the match a hole later, flagging a 3-iron from 225 yards.

“One of the best shots of my life,” he said.

DeChambeau, meanwhile, joked that he will prepare for the championship match by figuring out how to play Nos. 17 and 18. The only times he has seen the final two holes this week were from the back of a cart. His victories have been too decisive.

Including stroke play and the usual match-play concessions, DeChambeau is a whopping 18 under par on this U.S. Open layout. Bard is 4 over.

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When asked if he has sent a message with his dominating play, DeChambeau said: “I would think so. I’ve been playing pretty well.”

Heck, even Bard, ranked 51st in the world, acknowledged that he will have to play his best to have even a chance during the marathon finale.

“I’m the underdog,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, it really is. I’m just going to have to have one of those days where everything falls the right way.”

No player of Bard’s caliber will ever admit that he’s surprised to be one of the last men standing in a field of 312. Still, there were few reasons to believe that this would be the week of his career breakthrough.

He has only one college victory, at the U.S. Collegiate last fall, but even that title was improbable. A week earlier, Bard recorded his worst finish as a Cavalier (48th) and had only three days to regroup. Then he shot 64 on the final day, overtook then-teammate Denny McCarthy (whom he may soon supplant on the U.S. Walker Cup team) and won by six.

Bard’s biggest amateur win came in June against a top-notch field at the Sunnehanna, but it didn’t prove to be a springboard. Prior to this week, he had poor finishes at the Porter Cup and Western Amateur.

And then there was his unfortunate history with USGA match-play events: Three tries, three exits in the Round of 32.

After he broke the curse this week, with a second-round victory over Georgia’s Sepp Straka, “Everything else was a bonus,” Bard said. “The monkey was off my back.”

Gaining confidence each day, he topped U.S. Walker Cupper Hunter Stewart in the Round of 16 and then flipped a 3-down deficit with eight holes to go against world No. 1 Jon Rahm.

“Long odds,” he said, but the turning point in the match – actually, the turning point in Bard’s week – came on the 11th hole, where he chipped a 9-iron to about 8 feet and made the putt. He won the next hole, Rahm missed a few shorties coming home, and Bard hung tough, a 1-up winner.

On the eve of his semifinal match, Bard swapped texts with Dr. Bob Rotella, a volunteer assistant coach at Virginia.

Rotella’s message was simple: “Be unflappable.”

The good doctor might need some different material Saturday night, because Bard won’t find a more composed opponent than DeChambeau, who has steamrolled through the match-play bracket with ruthless efficiency.

After a scare on Tuesday when the USGA assessed (and then rescinded) a two-shot penalty for being late to the tee, the SMU senior has been in complete control.

Following wins over NCAA player of the year Maverick McNealy and British Open star Paul Dunne, DeChambeau was matched up Saturday against USC sophomore Sean Crocker, a fiery competitor who has drawn the ire of TV commentators for his on-course etiquette.

Crocker unleashed a few fist pumps, but the electric moments were brief. DeChambeau silenced him with snug approach shots and timely putts, none more so than his 6-footer on 12 that boosted his lead back to 2 up. He eventually won, 4 and 3.

“He knew that he was behind and he needed to keep pressing and hitting good shots, because I wasn’t going to let down,” DeChambeau said. “Ultimately, it got to him.”

That’s been a familiar theme this week. One more to go.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.