Tianlang opens Zurich with impressive 72

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2013, 12:00 am

AVONDALE, La. – By the time Guan Tianlang finished his opening round of the Zurich Classic, the leader had been off the property for about six hours, the struggling players likely were two beers deep in the French Quarter, and the grandstands behind the 18th green were virtually empty, save for a few hearty volunteers. No, that was not a slow-play reference.

In the gloaming Thursday, the 14-year-old from China polished off another impressive performance, even if this time, the viewing audience paled in comparison.

His even-par 72 – punctuated by a near-ace on the 17th hole – left him at T-85 in the 156-player field. The low 70 and ties make the cut. More history awaits.

“I think I played pretty good golf,” he said afterward. “Not the best, but I made some up and downs and a couple of birdies.”

Asked if he thinks he can make the cut, Guan replied, unsmiling: “If I play well.”

TPC Louisiana never will be mistaken for Augusta National, but what the kid has accomplished (again) baffles his peers.

Here’s one of Guan’s fellow playing competitors, Justin Bolli: “I didn’t think this course set up that well for him, because it’s wet and long (1.4 inches of rain fell Wednesday). But he definitely left a couple out there. I think he could probably have played better, but for a 14-year-old it was phenomenal. I don’t think I would have broken 90 out here if I was 14.”

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Video: Guan Tianlang highlights

Sadly, the unusualness of his stroke-play penalty at the Masters has overshadowed the incredible achievement – that a 14-year-old made the cut in a major, easily becoming the youngest ever to do so, and eventually finished T-58.

To many, the penalty – surprising, yes, but not undeserved – has turned Guan into a sympathetic figure. Jack Nicklaus, deliberate in his day, said earlier this week, “There are hundreds of guys who are much slower probably than (he was) and they figure out a way to get away with it.”

And clearly, Guan has made a concerted effort to pick up the pace, perhaps stung by the criticism.

On Thursday, he was almost always the first to walk off the tee box or approach the green.

When he used the restroom between Nos. 5 and 6, he jogged back to the tee so as not to give the appearance that he was lagging behind. Never mind that the group ahead was still in the fairway. His threesome played in 5 hours, 10 minutes.

“He’s not fast, but it was not an issue at all,” said Henrik Norlander, the third player in Guan’s group. “We couldn’t go anywhere. We waited most of the day. I’m sure he learned something at the Masters to speed up a little bit. But it’s tough for him too, because he’s hitting first into every green.”

For full shots, Guan takes one practice swing, then no more than four looks.

On the greens, he makes two practice strokes, steps in, then takes two or three peeks at the hole.

He’s not Dustin Johnson or Brandt Snedeker, both refreshingly quick. But he’s not a dawdler either, like some of the Tour’s well-known slowpokes. 

During his 72 – an opening-round score better than Bubba Watson and Charles Howell III, Thorbjorn Olesen and Jordan Spieth – Guan stayed largely out of trouble, save for a drive on No. 6 that left him stymied against a tree.

“His short game,” said Todd McPherson, Guan’s local caddie for the week, “is better than a lot of pros out here.”

At 5-foot-9, 135 pounds, Guan still is the ultimate “game manager,” to borrow a phrase that will be uttered hundreds of times during this week’s NFL Draft coverage. When he’s in trouble, he finds a way out. He doesn’t make double bogeys. He lags long putts close. He attacks only when the opportunity arises. Indeed, he’s sounding more and more like a backup quarterback.

But if he’s to play more of these Tour events – and Nick Faldo was among those who urged the 14-year-old to remain amateur until he was “bored winning amateur events” – this is about what he will face: a rain-soaked course that played about 7,400 yards on the card.

Guan hit 5-woods into par 3s, never threatened the par 5s, and rarely had irons left into the greens.

In all, he found 9 of 14 fairways, 11 greens, and took 29 putts. That, perhaps, is the most telling statistic. He made all 16 attempts inside 10 feet, but sank only two putts longer than 6 feet. In other words, it could have been better.

“It wasn’t like he was chipping it in from everywhere,” Norlander said. “He was playing solid. But more impressive is that he goes out here and isn’t afraid at all. It’s like he’s been playing out here for years.”

Last month, Norlander – who went to Augusta State and helped the team win back-to-back NCAA titles a few years ago – played a practice round while Guan while he was in the area preparing for the Masters.

“I don’t even want to think if he hit the same clubs I was hitting into the greens,” Norlander said. “The thing is, he gets close with a 5-wood. His 5-wood is his go-to. It’s so good.

“He’s just a solid putter, good chipper, and great emotionally, pretty level. When I was 14, I was throwing clubs and screaming and wanting to quit after one bad shot. But he’s very mature for his age. It’s unreal, actually.”

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”