Monday Finish Looms at Players

By Sports NetworkMarch 26, 2005, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Lee Westwood, Joe Durant and first-round leader Steve Jones share the lead during the second-round of the weather-plagued Players Championship Saturday at the TPC at Sawgrass.
Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood's only PGA Tour victory came in 1998 at New Orleans.
Westwood (69) and Durant (65) are in the clubhouse at 10-under-par 134. Jones, the 1996 U.S. Open champion, who is ranked 743rd in the world, is 2 under in his second round and played nine holes.
The second round was called for darkness as Saturday's play was hurt by a three-hour delay. Players will return to the course at 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday morning to complete the second round, then the 36-hole cut and the third round with players in threesomes off both the first and 10th tees.
Sunday's forecast calls for more storms so a Monday finish certainly looms. Unfortunately, Monday's forecast also predicts rain, so the future of this tournament remains undecided.
Zach Johnson had sole possession of the lead until a double bogey at the 18th. He shot a 2-under 70 and is tied for fourth place at 9-under-par 135. Luke Donald is 2 under on his round and is knotted in fourth through 13 holes.
Golf's 'Big Four' failed to get much going in the second round.
Vijay Singh, ranked first in the world, was moving up the leaderboard until he dumped two balls in the water at 18. He left with a quadruple-bogey eight for a 2-over 74 and a two-round total of 3-under-par 141.
Ernie Els got lucky when tournament officials decided to erase all play from Friday's attempted second round. He faced a 12-foot bogey putt on his first hole, but he could not advance up the leaderboard on Saturday. He posted his second consecutive 1-under 71 and is in at minus-2.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are part of the group that will return Sunday morning. Woods is 1 under through 10 holes in his second round and 3 under for the tournament. Mickelson is 2 under in round two and about to make the turn at minus-4 for the championship.
All players are trying to catch the trio on top.
Westwood wasted little time in breaking into red figures on Saturday. He sank a 20-foot birdie putt at the first, then converted an 8-foot birdie try at the par-5 second.
The Englishman ran into serious trouble at the fourth when his drive landed in the rough on the left-hand side. Unfortunately all he could do was hack it down the fairway, but from there he hit a terrible sand-wedge that plugged into the back bunker. Westwood ended up with a double bogey but rebounded.
He knocked a wedge to 8 feet to set up birdie at the sixth. Westwood collected his second birdie in a row at the seventh when he drained a 22- footer after his approach spun on to the fringe.
Westwood took the lead when the horn sounded after his seventh hole. He made a great par save at the ninth when he rolled in a 20-footer, then got up and down for birdie from the front bunker at the par-5 11th.
He saved another par from 20 feet at the 14th, but did not record another birdie. The four-time Ryder Cupper had birdie tries from inside 10 feet on several holes down the stretch, but failed to convert.
'I made a couple of good par saves. I missed a few good birdie chances,' said Westwood. 'I pretty much got what I deserved today just because the course was in the condition that it was in. Other days I got some odd bounces and maybe didn't get what I deserved.'
Durant got off to a poor start at No. 1 when he failed to save par from a bunker. He mixed three birdies and a bogey over a four-hole span on the front nine to make the turn at 1-under-par 35.
Durant caught fire on the back nine. He hit a 9-iron to 10 feet to set up birdie at 10, then ran home another 10-footer, this time for eagle at the par-5 11th. He tallied another birdie at 12 when his putt from 20 feet found the bottom of the cup.
At the 14th, Durant hit a 6-iron to 18 feet where he holed yet another long birdie putt. He reached the green in two with a 3-iron at the par-5 16th and two-putted from 25 feet for birdie. In all, Durant matched the tournament's back-nine record with his 30.
'I'm pleased with how I played today,' said Durant, who hasn't won on tour since his two wins early in the 2001 season. 'I felt like I was moving in the right direction coming here this week, but you never know when you tee it up on Thursday who's going to show up, so it's better. I'm more excited.'
Jones birdied the second, then joined the leaders with a 25-foot birdie putt at seven. He bogeyed the eighth, but birdied nine to reclaim his spot atop the leaderboard.
Defending champion Adam Scott (68), Vaughn Taylor (67), Graeme McDowell (66) and Fred Funk (72) are tied for sixth place at 7-under-par 137. Padraig Harrington, who has been the runner-up the last two years, is 7 under through nine holes.
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - The Players Championship
  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship
  • Getty Images

    'Putting Stroke Whisperer' helps get McIlroy on track

    By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 9:39 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – During a charity event a few years ago Brad Faxon was asked what he’s thinking about when he putts. A hush fell across the green as everyone within earshot eagerly awaited the answer.

    Imagine having the chance to quiz Leonardo da Vinci about the creative process, or Ben Hogan on the finer points of ball-striking. Arguably the best putter of his generation, if anyone could crack the complicated code of speed, line and pace, it would be Faxon.

    Faxon mulled the question for a moment, shrugged and finally said, “Rhythm and tempo.”

    If Faxon’s take seems a tad underwhelming, and it did that day to everyone in his group, the genius of his simplicity was on display last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    Before arriving at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, losing .1 strokes per round to the field. In fact, he’d missed the cut a week earlier at the Valspar Championship when he needed 58 putts for two days and made just a single attempt over 10 feet.

    It’s one of those competitive ironies that having the weekend off turned out to be just what McIlroy needed. He went home to South Florida to work on his game and ran across Faxon at The Bear’s Club.

    Although Faxon’s take on the art of putting was probably more involved than it had been a few years earlier, he seemed to have touched on all the right points.

    “Freed up my head more than my stroke,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of felt like maybe complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”

    Earlier in the week McIlroy had a slightly different take on his putting turnaround at Bay Hill, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting, picking up 10 shots for the week, and rolled in 49 feet of putts over his last five holes to end a victory drought that had stretched back to the 2016 Tour Championship.

    “Just playing around with it. Seeing balls go in in the front edge, trying to hit them in the left edge, the right edge, hit them off the back of the cup,” he said on Thursday. “Just trying to get a little bit more feel into it and a little more flow.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    If that doesn’t exactly sound like an exact science, welcome to the Faxon way. In recent years, he’s become something of F which is no huge surprise considering his status as one of the game’s best on the greens.

    Between 1991, the year he won the first of eight Tour titles, through 2005, the year he won his last, Faxon ranked outside the top 20 in putting average just four times, and he led the circuit in that category three of those years. But in recent years he’s come into his own as a putting guru.

    “The first clinic I attended that a Tour player gave, it was Hale Irwin, and he talked about rhythm and tempo, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear more than that,” Faxon explained. “I thought there would be more technical stuff. I thought it was the default phrase to take pressure off the player, but the more I’ve learned about teaching the best players in the world don’t have many complicated thoughts.”

    Faxon’s career has been nothing short of impressive, his eight Tour titles spanning two decades; but it’s his work with players like McIlroy and Gary Woodland that has inspired him in recent years.

    A man who has spent his life studying the nuances of the golf swing and putting stroke has created a teaching philosophy as simple, or complicated depending on the player, as rhythm and tempo.

    “He teaches me, which is a good thing. He doesn’t have a philosophy,” Woodland said. “I was around him a lot in 2011, 2010, it’s unbelievable how well he can relay it now. He has video of a million guys putting and he’s one of the best to do it, but he can show you that you don’t have to do it one certain way and that was good for me.”

    For Woodland, Faxon keyed in on his background as a college basketball player and compared the putting stroke to how he shoots free-throws. For McIlroy, it was a different sport but the concept remained the same.

    “We were talking about other sports where you have to create your own motion, a free-throw shooter, a baseball pitcher, but what related to him was a free-kicker in soccer, he mentioned Wayne Rooney,” Faxon said. “You have to have something to kick start your motion, maybe it’s a trigger, some might use a forward press, or tapping the putter like Steve Stricker, sometimes it’s finding the trigger like that for a player.”

    Faxon spent “a good two hours” with McIlroy last weekend at The Bear’s Club, not talking technique or method, but instead tapping into the intuitive nature of what makes someone a good putter. Midway through that session Faxon said he didn’t need to say another word.

    The duo ended the session with a putting contest. Putting 30-footers to different holes, the goal was to make five “aces.” Leading the contest 4-2, Faxon couldn’t resist.

    “Hey Rory, after you win Bay Hill this week you’ll have to tell the world you lost to Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” Faxon joked.

    McIlroy proceeded to hole three of his next four attempts to win the contest. “I’m going to tell everyone I beat Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” McIlroy laughed.

    Maybe it’s the way he’s able to so easily simplify an exceedingly complicated game, maybe it’s a resume filled with more clutch putts than one could count. Whatever it is, Faxon is good at teaching. More importantly, he’s having fun and doing something he loves.

    “I have a hard time being called a teacher or a coach, it was more of a conversation with Rory, being able to work with someone like Rory is as excited as I’ve ever been in my career,” Faxon said. “It meant much more to me than it did Rory.”

    Getty Images

    Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

    By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

    Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

    “I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

    “We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.

    Getty Images

    Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

    By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

    The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

    “I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    In a statement, the PGA Tour said, “While we do not comment specifically on security measures, the safety and security of our players and fans is, and always will be, our top priority. Our security advisors at the Tour are working in close collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to monitor, review and evaluate the situation and implement procedures as needed. We encourage all spectators to review the PGA Tour's bag policy and prohibited items list, available at, prior to arriving at the tournament."

    Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

    “It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

    Getty Images

    Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

    By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

    With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

    Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

    The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

    The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

    “There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

    Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

    Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

    “You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

    All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

    “It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

    Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

    Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

    “It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

    Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.