Johnson Poised to Claim First Win

By Sports NetworkApril 3, 2004, 5:00 pm
DULUTH, Ga. -- Zach Johnson posted a 4-under 68 on Saturday to take the lead after 54 holes of the BellSouth Classic. He stands at 13-under-par 203 and owns a three-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington and Scott Hend.
Brian Gay carded a 3-under 69 in the third round and is alone in fourth place at minus-9. Defending champion Ben Crane shot a 1-under 71 and is in sole possession of fifth at 8-under-par 208.
In the first and second rounds, cool temperatures and winds made scoring very difficult. On Saturday, it was warmer and the wind was down. That may only last one day as the forecast on Sunday calls for wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour.
Johnson, the overnight leader and Nationwide Tour Player of the Year in 2003, lost his advantage after a bogey at the fourth on Saturday. Crane tied him atop the leaderboard, but fell one back with a bogey at the fifth. Johnson sank a 5-footer for birdie at the same hole, one group behind Crane, to go ahead by two.
Crane fell behind for good at the ninth when his approach sailed over the green. He made double bogey and never got close to the lead again.
Johnson had a comfortable margin and played like it with some looses drives. He hit his tee ball into some hay on the left side at 10, a bunker at the par-3 11th and into sand with a 3-wood past the fairway at 12. But the 28-year-old was able to save par at all three holes and keep his seat atop the leaderboard.
Johnson used the solid par saves to pick up his game. At 13, Johnson found yet another bunker, but knocked his approach to two feet to set up birdie and go three ahead of the field.
He made routine pars at 14 and 15 and even found the short grass off the tee.
While Johnson was playing solid golf on the back side, Harrington was charging. The Irishman tallied four birdies on the back nine, then birdied the 18th after attempting to go for the green in two.
Johnson's margin was now one, but the 36-hole leader hit his tee ball to three feet to set up birdie at the par-3 16th. Johnson knocked his approach 10 feet short of the hole at the 17th and rolled home the birdie putt to go three up on Harrington and Hend, who made a spectacular eagle at 18 to join the Irishman at minus-10.
Johnson had only the par-5 closing hole at the TPC at Sugarloaf. His drive landed in a drain and after his drop, he nailed his fairway metal right into the gallery. His ball was on a blanket and after two failed drops, Johnson placed his ball with no penalty on the hill where it landed.
He faced an extremely difficult shot with the slope of the green going against him and toward the water. Johnson had to hit a delicate pitch over a bunker and that's exactly what he did, landing on the fringe and watching as the ball rolled 20 feet left of the hole.
'The big pond behind crossed my mind,' admitted Johnson, who is the only player in the field to post three rounds in the 60s. 'The plan there was if I couldn't keep it on the green, then get it in the bunker. I just tried to land it over the bunker. If I did, it wouldn't release too far. I was playing the percentages.'
Johnson missed the birdie putt, but tapped in for a great par save.
Now Johnson has the 54-hole lead for the first time on the PGA Tour with win No. 1 in his radar.
'I'm going to go about it as I did today and the previous days,' said Johnson. 'I don't like to look at numbers. I go about it as my business. Two years ago, I played with Padraig on Sunday. Should be fun to play with him again.'
Harrington flew out of the gate on Saturday with two birdies in his first three holes, but lost it all with a triple-bogey 7 at the fifth. He made one more birdie on the front nine, but vaulted up the leaderboard with his play on the second nine.
The Irishman recorded four birdies in his first seven holes, including two in a row from the 10th. He had a look at birdie from 10 feet at the 17th, but the putt died on him at the hole. Harrington, who was the runner-up to Adam Scott last week at the Players Championship, made the birdie at 18 to polish off his round of 5-under 67.
Now Harrington, a week away from the Masters, has a shot at his first PGA Tour title.
'It's quite important,' said Harrington, referring to a win on the PGA Tour. 'Certainly a win on the U.S. tour is an important milestone. I'm not putting myself under any pressure that it has to happen tomorrow, but yes, a win would be very nice.'
Hend, an Australian who had not made a cut on tour until this week, was 2 under on his round until the 18th. He knocked his second shot to 5 feet and drained the eagle putt to finish his round of 68.
'I'm just trying to be composed and keep doing what I've been doing,' said Hend. 'I'm not really worried about what the lead is and what the tournament is doing, I just want to achieve my own goals this week. I'll be happy if I can achieve them.'
Mark Hensby (66), Peter Lonard (69) and Craig Bowden (72) share sixth place at 7-under-par 209. Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and Glen Hnatiuk each posted rounds of 4-under 68 and are knotted in ninth at 6-under-par 210.
Phil Mickelson shot a 1-under 71 and is tied for 18th at minus-4.
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    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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    Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

    When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

    Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

    "I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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    The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

    Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

    "It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.