Aussies Day, Leishman in contention in RBC Heritage

By Associated PressApril 18, 2013, 10:51 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Jason Day and Marc Leishman kept the Australian flag flying high at the RBC Heritage.

Four days after countryman Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters, Day and Leishman shot 4-under 67 and trailed leader Brian Davis by two shots Thursday after the first round at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Davis lost a playoff to Jim Furyk in 2010 at Harbour Town after calling a penalty on himself. This time, the Englishman birdied eight of his final 14 holes for a 65 to pull past Day and Leishman, who were back in contention after falling short Sunday at Augusta National.

Kevin Streelman and Charley Hoffman were a stroke behind Davis at 66, while Johnson Wagner also shot 67. U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson led a large group at 68.

Day and Leishman can't make history for their country at the RBC Heritage – only enhance it. Several Aussies have won at Harbour Town, including Graham Marsh in 1977 and Greg Norman 11 years later. Aaron Baddeley was the last Australian to take the champion's tartan jacket in 2006.

''For a population that I think is around 23 million people in Australia, and the last time I checked the land size is a little bit bigger than North America,'' Day says. ''We do pretty well in sports.''

That's been apparent on the PGA Tour in recent weeks.

Highlights: Davis leads Day, Leishman on Day 1

Harbour Town: Round 1 at a glance

RBC Heritage: Articles, videos and photos

Scott, Day and Leishman were all in hunt at Augusta National on the back nine until Scott, the most experienced of the Aussie trio, rose up at the end and beat Angel Cabrera in a playoff. Day finished third and Leishman tied for fourth, meaning all three are already qualified to return for the 2014 Masters.

There's a lot of work ahead before then, Day said, especially with Davis playing Harbour Town as well as anyone in recent years.

Davis was toe-to-toe with Furyk three year ago until he brushed a loose reed with his club in the marsh area left of the 18th green. Davis immediately called the infraction, which essentially gave Furyk the crown.

Davis, never better than second on the PGA Tour, still gets stopped at country clubs and airports by admirers of his honest act on the course in a situation where victory would've made Davis' career much smoother.

''I'd like to do something else in this tournament so I don't get remembered just for that,'' he said, chuckling.

If Davis keeps playing like he did in the first round, he might reach that goal come Sunday. He was 1 over on his first four holes when he put his approach on the par-5 fifth about 6 feet away for an eagle try. Davis missed and left disappointed with a birdie, but that began a run of eight birdies on his final 14 holes. He rolled in a 22-foot birdie putt on the tricky 17th hole to reach 6 under and score in the 60s for the 10th time in his last 13 rounds at Harbour Town.

''I wasn't worried about my score or about my misses, I was just playing,'' Davis said.

Day and Leishman excelled despite the fatigue that builds up playing a major – ''I felt like I was there for a month,'' Day said of Augusta – and both found their stride in a group of three that included Simpson, who'll defend his major championship in two months at Merion.

None of the three made bogey on the round. Simpson headed up a group three shots behind that included defending RBC Heritage champ Carl Pettersson and Bill Haas. Luke Donald, sixth in the world, was another stroke back at 69.

Leishman didn't play much since last Sunday. He took an ocean swim Wednesday and felt refreshed and primed for another run to the top before some time away from the course. ''I'm planning on being in contention all week and then really enjoying my two weeks off,'' he said.

Not all the Masters contenders who chose to play – there were 14 of the world's top 29 golfers in the field – came back with a strong round. Brandt Snedeker, at No. 5 the highest-ranked player in the field, bogeyed four of his first nine holes and was eight shots back after a 73.

Snedeker came into last Sunday with a share of the Masters lead, but fell off with a final-round 75.

''A few loose shots here and there and maybe a little overconfidence,'' Snedeker said. ''I was kind of thinking the course was going to be really easy. And it's never easy. It's a good little wake up call.''

Masters champion Scott is taking the week off, as are the world's top two players in Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Day and Leishman are glad for the strong start and eager to bring more golf glory to fans back home. ''It's exciting for the future of Australian golf,'' Leishman said. ''Hopefully, we can all keep playing well and keep the excitement levels up.''

DIVOTS: The field was increased to 144 players this week, a one-time bump to make up opportunities to play because of the PGA Tour's switch to starting the 2014 season in October. This is the fifth of seven Tour events affected. The final two this season are the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial next month and the AT&T National at Congressional in June. ... It's the second straight RBC Heritage without five-time champion Davis Love III. Love withdrew a year ago because of a cracked rib. This time, Love's recovering from spinal-fusion surgery in February. Love also had bone spurs removed. ... Tommy ''Two Gloves'' Gainey holed out from 175 yards for an eagle-2 on the lighthouse 18th. The South Carolina native shot 70.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

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.

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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.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

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.”

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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.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

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.”

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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.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

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 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.