Jones finally earns a ticket to Augusta

By Ryan LavnerApril 6, 2014, 10:12 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Matt Jones never wanted to visit Augusta National until he won or earned his way there.

He just didn’t imagine the journey would end this dramatically.

The 33-year-old Australian drained a 46-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation, then holed a 42-yard pitch shot on the first playoff hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, win the Shell Houston Open and earn the final win-and-you’re-in exemption into the year’s first major.

“When I saw it disappear,” Jones said afterward, “it was probably the happiest I’ve been on the golf course.”

And talk about timing: There is no better way to kick off Masters week than by seeing Jones hole a long, meandering chip shot that instantly recalled Larry Mize’s famous hole-out in 1987.

On this one, Jones actually called his shot. Walking up to his ball short of the right greenside bunker, he told his caddie, Scott McGuinness, that he was about to hole the chip – just as he had told his looper that he was going to birdie the final hole in regulation.

After all, Jones was two strokes down heading to his final hole after a bogey on 17. But after a long iron that barely crawled onto the front edge, he buried a 46-foot, double-breaking birdie putt that put the pressure back on Kuchar.

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Known as a brilliant game-manager, Kuchar opted against a bailout right on his second shot on 18. Alas, he tugged his hybrid from 216 yards into the water short and left of the green, and he needed to get up and down from 64 yards just to make bogey and force the playoff.

“I was looking to try and make 4 and win the tournament,” said Kuchar, but he wound up watching Jones steal the title with the shot of the year.

After laying up from the fairway bunker, Jones described his chip shot thusly: “I just had to land it into a little bit of a bank just to kill it with some spin, and then it just had to get on top of the ridge and let gravity and the slope do the rest.”

Said McGuinness: “To get that shot close, he was doing well. To hole it? Remarkable.”

Now, after a closing 66, Jones is headed to his first Masters, a berth he was denied seven months ago. 

The Australian thought he had made a 6-foot putt on the final hole at the BMW Championship, but his ball caught the edge of the cup and spun out. Two other players made 15-foot putts on the final green to leave Jones on the outside looking in, at No. 32 in FedEx Cup points. (The top 30 earn a spot in both the Tour Championship and Masters.) 

“It’s sweet justice that we’re there now,” McGuinness said.

After the BMW, Jones said he wasn’t too bummed about the close call, though. 

“There’s always a way to get back to Augusta,” he said. 

With no Masters invitation in hand, Jones was planning to head back to Australia next week to play with his 2-year-old and 3-week-old kids. He also had a doctor’s appointment to examine a long-standing back issue. 

Jones has a herniated disk in his thoracic (upper) spine and a couple of bulging disks. He’s been dealing with the problem since he was 17; it forced him to withdraw from last year’s Canadian Open, and the discomfort was so bad earlier this week that he considered pulling out of the Wednesday pro-am. 

“It got better (as the week went on),” Jones said, smiling. 

Added McGuinness, with a laugh: “He doesn’t need the epidural. He’s fine.”

Bad back or not, Jones always believed it was a matter of when, not if, he would win on the PGA Tour, even though he didn’t have much experience slamming the door. 

Jones, No. 90 in the world, never won on the Tour. He wasn’t a prolific winner in Australia. On Sunday, he remembered only capturing a small California State Open. 

Yet, McGuinness said, “To me, this will be a big breakthrough. I don’t think he’ll stop winning. He’s been knocking on the door for a long time. For it to happen, I think he’ll really kick forward.”

For now, he and his man are kicking forward to Augusta. They finally earned their way there.

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.