Kuchar in mix despite tragic loss of caddie's wife

By Will GrayAugust 30, 2014, 8:53 pm

NORTON, Mass. – As a 14-year veteran of the PGA Tour, Matt Kuchar has worn plenty of ribbons.

Some have been for causes he supports, and some have been donned as a sign of solidarity among his Tour brethren. None, though, have hit as close to home as the orange ribbon adorning his hat this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Three days have passed since Angela Bennett, whose husband Lance caddies for Kuchar, passed away unexpectedly. With Bennett’s encouragement, Kuchar decided to play this week at TPC Boston while his caddie remained home with family in Texas.

Kuchar thought of Angela before his first tee shot Friday, which he admitted was more difficult to hit than he expected. He thought of her when he began his second round, and he thought of her when he reeled off six straight birdies in the middle of his round to surge into contention.

He thought of the friend he lost, and also perhaps sensed her working on his behalf as the putts began to fall.

“You never know how things will work out in the game of golf,” he said, “But it felt like there’s some fate working, as well.”

Kuchar’s round of 5-under 66 was sparked by a run that began on the par-4 17th, when he rolled in a 9-foot putt for birdie. Three more birdies followed before he carved a hybrid to 12 feet on the lengthy par-3 third hole, and after he got up and down for birdie on No. 4 he had completed a career-best run of six birdies in a row.

“The holes that I birdied were all holes that you think there’s a possibility there,” he said. “I’ve done it at home a couple of times. Fun to do it out here.”

Brian Reed, who first connected Kuchar with Bennett seven years ago, is filling in on the bag for him this week. A veteran caddie, he explained that he was simply trying to stay out of the way while his player climbed the leaderboard.

“I didn’t even realize it was six in a row, with two before the turn and then four in a row,” Reed said. “Once he got going, I just sort of let him go.”

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While the golf this week is important, the impact of Bennett’s death is clear when speaking with Kuchar, whose typically cheery demeanor is understandably muted. His tone of voice is softer; his pauses are longer when asked about how his longtime partner is coping with the loss.

“I talked to him a couple times,” Kuchar said of Bennett. “Not much I can say, not much he can say. We had a few more normal conversations.”

With a makeshift memorial for Angela adjacent to the first tee during the opening round, Kuchar struggled to take the club back on his first swing of the tournament. The round became easier from there, he explained, and the second round easier than the first, though his thoughts often strayed off the course – even during the run of birdies that moved him onto the first page of the standings.

“Today was easier. I think that’s the natural progression of how these things work. Day by day I think it gets a little bit easier,” he said. “Still felt like Angela was on my mind almost every hole, every shot, but yesterday I had a hard time pulling the trigger a couple of times.”

At 7 under, Kuchar is now in contention for his second win of 2014, and he carries plenty of momentum after a T-5 finish at The Barclays. The divide between the two weeks, though, is evident.

As Kuchar spoke of the importance of the ribbon clipped to his hat – one that honors not a cause, or a group, but a close, personal friend – it remained clear that much of his attention is still focused away from birdies and bogeys. Focused on a daughter who lost her mother, and on a friend who Tuesday will bury his wife.

So while the golf he plays this weekend pales in comparison to the grieving process that continues 1,500 miles away, Kuchar hopes to honor the memory of Angela Bennett with his performance – one that he insists may be aided by forces outside of his control.

“It’s an interesting cycle in life that we live,” he said. “To have such a close person pass … right now I feel like there’s some inspiration and some fate working.”

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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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."