Norwegian Leads in Hong Kong
Scott, 21, owned a piece of the lead until a bogey at the last saw him finish with a 66 for a three-day total of 16-under-par 197. He was followed by two-time Masters champion Jos Maria Olazbal, whose 7-under 64 earned him a share of third place at minus 15.
Bjornstad began the day six strokes off the lead but quickly made his presence felt with four birdies and an eagle over a span of five holes, starting at the second. He rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-3 8th for his third 2 of the round, then saved par out of bunker at the 9th to cap a sizzling front-side 28.
After spinning a wedge back to two feet for birdie at the 10th, Bjornstad found a bunker with his second shot at the par-5 12th and blasted out to tap-in range for a birdie that took him to 16-under.
The Norwegian's run at the magic number 59 came screeching to a halt at the 13th, where he failed to convert a birdie putt after his approach stopped within three feet of the hole. Bjornstad also missed a 10-foot try at the 14th but did manage to sink a 25-footer for birdie at 16 to post a new course record at Hong Kong Golf Club.
'Everything just went my way. I hit almost every shot good,' said Bjornstad, who is seeking his first professional victory. 'If I had made the putts, it would have been real good. But I can't complain about a 61.'
Bjornstad, the Norwegian Amateur champion in 1996, was a member of the European Tour in 1999 but lost his playing privileges after missing 13 cuts in 20 starts. His best showing that year was a tie for 13th at the Heineken Classic.
Since winning his card back at Q-School prior to the 2001 season, Bjornstad has recorded three top-10s, including a career-best tie for fourth at the Argentina Open. His improved play helped him finish 83rd on the Order of Merit, giving him exempt status on the 2002 tour.
Scott, the first-round leader after shooting 64 on Thursday, turned a poor opening drive into a bogey and slipped to 10-under-par. But he birdied half of his next 14 holes, culminating in a chip-in birdie at the 15th, to join Bjornstad, who was already in the clubhouse, at 17-under.
Although Scott missed the fairway at the 18th, his approach easily carried the water fronting the green and landed on the front edge of the putting surface. He left his first putt five feet short, however, and his bid to save par slid by the left edge of the cup.
'I moved myself into contention. It was a good job done,' Scott said. 'I played much better than yesterday and hopefully, I can keep it going. It would have been nice to have tied for the lead but a lot of stuff can happen out there.'
Scott, who turned pro in mid-2000 after an outstanding amateur career, reeled in his breakthrough win in his first start of 2001 at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.
Olazabal, who captured his 19th European Tour title at the French Open in May, put himself in position to seriously contend for No. 20 with a bogey-free round made up of five birdies and an eagle.
The 35-year-old Spaniard, a runner-up at the BMW Asian Open in Taiwan a week ago, admitted he'll have to do better than his average of 31 putts per round this week if he wants to come out on top Sunday.
'Its going to be a matter of making putts and that is going to be a tough task for me,' he said. 'The grains break one way, then another way and finally you really don't know where to hit it. It is tough to get the pace right. That has been my problem.'
Also at 15-under was England's Mark Foster, who finished first on the 2001 Challenge Tour money list. He turned in a six-birdie, two-bogey 67.
Welshman Mark Pilkington carded a flawless 62 to finish three strokes off the pace with Swedish players Anders Forsbrand and Carl Pettersson, who had matching 68s.
Taiwan's Yeh Wei-Tze and Zaw Moe of Myanmar were 1-2 after Friday's second round but fell back into a tie for eighth place at 12-under 201 with four others, most notably defending champion Simon Dyson of England.
The Hong Kong Open, which began in 1959, is being co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Davidoff (Asian PGA) Tour for the first time. This is the second event to count toward the 2002 European Tour Order of Merit and the season-ending tournament on the 2001 Davidoff Tour schedule.
Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, who also finished second last week in Taiwan, has all but locked up the 2001 Davidoff Tour Order of Merit title. He shot a third-round 67 for a share of 26th place while his main competition, Charlie Wi of Korea, struggled to a 3-over 74 and dropped to 78th.
For Wi to take the money title he will need to finish in the top five and Jaidee will have to take the same sort of tumble that Wi suffered Saturday.
Full-field scores from the Hong Kong Open
Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause
AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.
The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.
“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”
Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.
As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.
“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”
Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid
AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.
Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.
“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”
Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.
“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”
Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.
“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”
This week, let the games(manship) begin
AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.
What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.
During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.
“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”
Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.
“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].
Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.
Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.
“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”
Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.
“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”
While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.
But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.
“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”
It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”
McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”
It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.
“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.
Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.
Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana
While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.
The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.
"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."
Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.
According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."
"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."
Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.
Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.
"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."
Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.