Wind and rain may be only defense against Woods

By Ryan LavnerMarch 24, 2013, 12:44 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – The early forecast, the one meteorologists always stress is subject to change, calls for a chance of showers and thunderstorms Sunday at Bay Hill, with wind gusts up to 35 mph.

And there it is, a sliver of hope. Because inclement weather might be the only thing stopping an ultra-motivated Tiger Woods.

Motivated because he can return to world No. 1 with a victory. Motivated because Sunday will mark his last competitive round before the Masters, the major he covets most, and this is his best form in years. Motivated because he can tie a PGA Tour record with his eighth victory at Arnie’s Place.

“Just because I’ve won here doesn’t ensure that I’m going to win the tournament,” said Woods, which is true, of course, even if the numbers tell a different story.

He is 41-2 on the PGA Tour when he has the outright lead after 54 holes, and 51-4 when holding at least a share.

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The largest 54-hole lead Woods has ever surrendered was two strokes, at the 2009 PGA Championship. And last we checked, Y.E. Yang is not expected to make a cameo here.

“Tiger has made No. 1 his destination,” John Huh said. “If he plays well here, there isn’t anything we can do about it.”

Who will step up and make Tiger sweat Sunday?

Well, there are a few boldfaced names lurking.

In two hours Justin Rose went from four shots ahead to two strokes behind, then was criticized by Johnny Miller on the NBC telecast – “He hasn’t learned how to be good in the clutch yet,” Miller said.

Bill Haas, a four-time winner, had a share of the 36-hole lead, but made two double bogeys Saturday and dropped three shots back. Another stroke behind is Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA champion, who might have too much ground to make up.

So the spotlight will fall on Rickie Fowler, thrust into the final pairing with Woods once more.

You may recall their first encounter. From Fowler’s perspective, it was rather forgettable.

Playing in the final group at last year’s Memorial, Woods waxed his playing competitor by 17 strokes, 67-84, while winning the second of his three titles last season.

“After Memorial, I’m looking for a little redemption,” Fowler said. “I’m feeling good about the pairing, about my game. He’s definitely the guy to beat, but I’ll be right there to see what’s going on. … So I’m going in there with the attitude that I have nothing to lose, and we’ll see what happens from there.”

Also in the go-for-broke category is Rose, who outplayed Woods over the first two rounds here and enjoyed the accompanying circus.

There was quite a different vibe Saturday, when he pegged it alongside Haas in the final group. “It felt like a Thursday on the first tee today,” Rose said.

No buzz. No roars. No energy.

If the wind is up Sunday, and no player is making a move, Woods can put Bay Hill in a half nelson and par the place to death. There is a certain beauty in the silence.

Last year, at the WGC-Match Play, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano found Woods in flux, full of noise. Fighting his swing during their opening-round match, Woods didn’t play well but still eked out a narrow victory.  

“He’s definitely more comfortable,” Castano said after being paired with Woods again on Saturday. “Last year his routine was longer; you could see he wasn’t comfortable with what he was doing. Now he just stands over the ball and hits it. And he hits it good.”

Woods is likely to do the same Sunday, as he has done so many times before at Bay Hill.

Which is why for the Spaniard, the game plan is simple: Make birdies. Lots of them. In conditions that might not be conducive for scoring.

“Hopefully I can give him a few headaches,” he said.

And then he smiled, knowingly.

“But I don’t think so, if he keeps playing this way.”

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.

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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.”

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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.”

Rookie Cook (66) handling RSM like a pro

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:24 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Of all the impressive statistics Austin Cook has put up this week at the RSM Classic – he is first in strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach to the green and scrambling – the one number that stands out is 49.

That’s how many holes Cook went this week without a bogey or worse, a moment that prompted his caddie, Kip Henley, to joke, “The dream is over.”

That loss of momentum at the 14th hole didn’t last long, with the PGA Tour rookie making birdie at the next hole on his way to a third-round 66 and a three-stroke lead.

“Bouncing back from any bogey with a birdie is nice and helps get the number right back. Being my only bogey of the week so far, it was really nice to be able to get that back on the next hole,” said Cook, who leads Chris Kirk at 18 under par. “Going into tomorrow with a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead I think is crucial.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Although this is the first time Cook has held a 54-hole lead on the Tour, in fact it’s just his fourth start as a Tour member, he has experienced Sunday pressure before. In 2015, he began the final round at the Shell Houston Open one stroke off the lead held by Jordan Spieth.

“Back then my game was good as well, but mentally I've grown a lot and matured a lot and been able to kind of just let small things on the golf course roll off my shoulder instead of getting tied up in one little small mistake,” said Cook, who closed with a 75 at the ’15 Shell Houston Open to tie for 11th.

Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.