Byrd Early Leader at Cog Hill

By Associated PressSeptember 6, 2007, 4:00 pm
BMW ChampionshipLEMONT, Ill. -- Jonathan Byrd forgot what it was like to play in one of those PGA TOUR boondoggles that have no cut and guaranteed money even for last place.
 
But the BMW Championship is no place for him to relax, even if Cog Hill had the atmosphere of a library Thursday.
 
Needing a solid week to advance to the FedEx Cup finale at the TOUR Championship, Byrd fired off three straight birdies late in his round for a 7-under 64 and a one-shot lead Thursday at soft, calm and ghostly quiet Cog Hill.
 
'I'm the bubble boy this week, and I told my wife this is the worst bubble to be on,' Byrd said.
 
He is at No. 30 in the playoff standings, the cutoff for going to East Lake. He could easily be knocked out if someone behind him finishes in the top 10, so Byrd figured the best solution was to play his best golf.
 
And it was his best score of the year, capped off by a string of birdies that began with a 25-foot birdie putt up the shelf on the par-3 sixth green and ended with a wedge into 6 feet on No. 8.
 
Justin Rose reached 8 under through 11 holes before he dropped two shots coming in and had to settle for a 65, leaving him tied with Camilo Villegas. Stewart Cink was among those another shot back.
 
Tiger Woods, a three-time winner at Cog Hill, was poised to join the leaders until a double bogey on No. 7 spoiled his round of 67. He went over the green with a pitching wedge, flubbed a flop shot that moved only about four paces and then chipped 12 feet by the hole.
 
'Other than that, it was a pretty good day,' Woods said.
 
Byrd wasn't the only player desperate for good results. Villegas is at No. 34 in the standings, while Cink is at No. 32.
 
'Obviously, we're out here to win golf tournaments,' Villegas said. 'But I believe if I finish top eight, I will be in for next week. I'm trying to win the golf tournament, trying to hit one shot at a time, and it's not going to change the way I play out there.'
 
There were plenty of changes at Cog Hill that went beyond the golf.
 
The tournament, for years known as the Western Open, moved its traditional Fourth of July spot on the calendar to the third event in the PGA TOUR Playoffs, held after Labor Day when kids are back in school and the Chicago Bears are about to start the NFL season.
 
Players were sent off in threesomes and the tee times were moved up to the morning because of the threat of rain. And with only 66 players in the field (four withdrew), all the golf was over in about six hours.
 
Remember that picture in 1997 when Woods, the 21-year-old Masters champion, approached the 18th green at Cog Hill with an army of fans walking behind him? He played Thursday with Steve Stricker and K.J. Choi before a crowd typically found at the old Disney Classic.
 
'This is about what we see for the pro-am,' Woods said.
 
Byrd and Cink were playing two groups ahead of him, and that usually means getting distracted as fans scurry from one spot to the next. That wasn't an issue in the first round.
 
'It just didn't seem like there was that many people out there today,' Byrd said. 'He usually brings everybody out.'
 
The other debate is whether three weeks in a row is bringing out the best golf.
 
Some of the players looked like zombies, and there was a sense of fatigue for those who started these 'playoffs' at The Barclays in New York two weeks ago. Others simply couldn't take advantage of such perfect scoring conditions.
 
Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy took a triple bogey on his fourth hole, No. 13, and never recovered on his way to a 78. Ernie Els, who took last week off to fly home to London, was never under par at any point and shot 72. Vijay Singh had a 74.
 
Phil Mickelson, of course, didn't play.
 
He made a point on national television Monday after winning outside Boston that PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem didn't accommodate some of his suggestions in the FedExCup, then withdrew a day later and said he wanted to spend time with his family.
 
Mickelson is atop the playoff standings, and that could change if Woods finishes second alone.
 
The world's No. 1 player looked like he might be in the hunt the rest of the week, making a half-dozen birdies until his double bogey on the seventh. Woods caught one big break on the par-5 15th, courtesy of players being able to lift, clean and place their golf balls because of the threat of rain that never materialized.
 
After a poor chip that left him slamming his wedge into the ground and against his bag, Woods replaced his ball on the fringe next to the green, so he could putt through a few inches of fringe instead of a few feet. He holed the 25-footer for birdie.
 
Otherwise, it was another short day for a short field, and the fatigue of these playoffs showed when it was over.
 
Hardly anyone went to the practice range.
 
Related Links:
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Full Coverage - BMW Championship
  • Getty Images

    Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

    By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

    Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

    Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

    Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

    “Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

    Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

    “Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

    Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.

    Getty Images

    Just like last year, Spieth in desperate need of a spark

    By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Jordan Spieth has arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a turnaround. Again.

    Spieth’s playoff victory last year over Daniel Berger, complete with a bunker hole-out and raucous celebration, went down as one of the most electrifying moments of 2017. It also propelled Spieth to some more major glory, as he won The Open in his very next start.

    So it’s easy to forget the state of Spieth’s game when he first stepped foot on the grounds of TPC River Highlands a year ago. Things were, quite plainly, not going well.

    He was struggling on the greens, even going so far as to switch putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He then failed to contend at Erin Hills, only netting a T-35 finish thanks to a final-round 69 that came hours before the leaders teed off.

    So here we are again, with Spieth in search of a spark after a series of underwhelming performances that included last week’s effort at Shinnecock Hills, where he bogeyed the last two holes of his second round to miss the cut by a shot. Except this time, the climb back to the top may be even steeper than it was a year ago.

    “I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now,” Spieth said. “If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming. But the last couple weeks I’ve played Muirfield and then the (U.S.) Open, and I hit the ball really poorly and didn’t give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work.”

    While many big names play sporadically in the time between the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth remained as busy as ever thanks to the Tour’s swing through Texas. So even after failing to contend much in the spring outside of a memorable finale in Augusta, and even after struggling for much of his week at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth looked out at his schedule and saw a myriad of possible turning points.

    There was the AT&T Byron Nelson, played in his hometown and at a venue on which he was one of only a handful with any experience (T-21). Then a trip across town to Colonial, where he had beaten all but two players in a three-year stretch (T-32).


    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    Throw in the missed cuts at Muirfield Village and Shinnecock Hills, and Spieth has made it to the last leg of a six-event stretch that has included only one off week and, to date, zero chances to contend come Sunday.

    “I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and try not to do too much,” Spieth said. “I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournaments the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I’ve had too much to do from here on.”

    That was certainly the case last week on Long Island, where Spieth’s hopes for a fourth major title evaporated well before course conditions became a focal point over the weekend. He was 4 over through his first two holes and spent much of the next 34 stuck in a fit of frustration. He gave himself a glimmer of hope with four late birdies Friday followed by a pair of bogeys that snuffed it out with equal speed.

    Spieth has continued to preach patience throughout the year, but there’s no getting around some eye-popping stats; he's 188th on Tour this year in strokes gained: putting and 93rd in fairways hit. It can foster a pressure to find a cure-all in any given week, especially given how quickly he got a middling summer back on track last year.

    “It’s something that you fight, sure,” Spieth said. “It’s been that way just about every tournament except Muirfield, because then you go to the U.S. Open and think you don’t even have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament. So as much as that kind of comes into your head, it’s not bothering me this time. I’m going to try and have fun, and make progress.”

    After this week, Spieth will have some down time with family before making the trip overseas to Carnoustie. He plans to have a few private dinners accompanied by the claret jug, one last toast to last year’s success before turning the trophy back over to the R&A.

    But even Spieth admitted that as it pertains to his chances to follow in Brooks Koepka’s footsteps by successfully defending a major title, he’ll be greatly aided by working his way into the mix this weekend. It represents the last chance in this early-summer swing to get his name back on the leaderboard, an opportunity to light fire to a pedestrian campaign like he did a year ago.

    No pressure.

    “It’s your basic stuff that sometimes gets off, that the harder you try to get them back on sometimes, the worse it gets,” Spieth said. “It can be frustrating, or you can just kind of wait for it to come to you. I think I’m OK with where things are, whether it’s the rest of this year or next year. I feel like there are good scores coming.”

    Getty Images

    Twice winner Kizzire on missing U.S. Open: 'Fuel to my fire'

    By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:59 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Based on recent form, there likely wasn’t a more decorated player watching last week’s U.S. Open from home than Patton Kizzire.

    Kizzire is in the midst of a breakthrough season that has already included two wins: a maiden victory at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November, and a marathon playoff triumph over James Hahn at the Sony Open in January. While those titles got him into the Masters and the PGA Championship, they didn’t mean an exemption to Shinnecock Hills.

    Kizzire got as high as 51st in the world rankings after his win in Honolulu, but his game started to turn shortly thereafter. A T-12 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship is his lone top-25 finish in 12 starts since his Sony victory, and he missed four straight cuts from the Masters to The Players Championship.


    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    The U.S. Open grants exemptions to the top 60 in the world at two different cutoff points close to the tournament. But in the midst of a cold streak, Kizzire was 63rd and 65th at each of those deadlines. He attempted to earn a spot at sectional qualifying in Columbus, only to find that his score of 5 under was one shot too many.

    “I guess just adding a little fuel to my fire, adding insult to injury,” Kizzire said. “Just to have narrowly missed several different ways of qualification was disappointing. But I just tried to spin it as a positive. I got two weeks off, and I did watch those guys struggle a little bit. I wasn’t struggling at home, we’ll just say that.”

    Kizzire hopes to put the disappointment behind him this week at the Travelers Championship, where he finished T-53 a year ago. And while his pair of trophies didn’t get him a tee time last week – or guarantee him a berth in The Open next month – they put him in prime position to make the season-ending Tour Championship, which would mean spots in the first three majors of 2019.

    The combination of two recent wins and a ranking outside the top 60 isn’t one that comes up often on Tour, but Kizzire maintains a balanced perspective as he looks to get back to playing the kind of golf that will ensure he doesn’t miss any more majors in the near future.

    “If I would have played better in between the U.S. Open and my last win, I would have gotten in. So my play was the reason I wasn’t in,” Kizzire said. “You certainly could look at it and say, ‘This guy’s got two wins, he should be in.’ But I’m not making too much of it.”

    Getty Images

    Masters, Players and U.S. Open champs grouped at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:50 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Fresh off a second straight U.S. Open victory, Brooks Koepka is getting right back to work at the Travelers Championship.

    Koepka has stood by his commitment to tee it up at TPC River Highlands, becoming the first U.S. Open champ to play the following week on the PGA Tour since Justin Rose played the Travelers after his 2013 win at Merion. Koepka will play the first two rounds alongside Masters champ Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson, who captured The Players Championship last month.

    Here’s a look at some of the other marquee, early-round groupings for a star-studded field outside Hartford (all times ET):

    7:50 a.m. Thursday, 12:50 p.m. Friday: Jason Day, Xander Schauffele, Daniel Berger

    Day is making his second straight Travelers appearance, having missed the cut both last year in Cromwell and last week at Shinnecock Hills. He’ll be joined by reigning Rookie of the Year Schauffele and Berger, who took home ROY honors in 2015 and last year was on the losing end of Jordan Spieth’s playoff dramatics at this event.


    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    8 a.m. Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson

    Koepka is making his third tournament appearance overall, but his first since a T-9 finish in 2016, before he had either of his two U.S. Open trophies. Reed has become a regular at this event and enters off a fourth-place showing on Long Island, while Simpson cruised to victory last month at TPC Sawgrass and tied for 10th last week.


    12:50 p.m. Thursday, 7:50 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman, Russell Knox

    This was the tournament that turned things around last year for Spieth, who took home the title in his debut thanks to one of the most dramatic shots of the year in a playoff against Berger. He’ll start his title defense alongside a pair of past champs, as Leishman won here for his first Tour title back in 2012 and Knox was a winner two years ago when the tournament was played in August.


    1 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m. Friday: Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

    This group should get plenty of attention in the early rounds, with Thomas entering as the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 2 and joined a pair of players who will launch drives all across TPC River Highlands. Watson has feasted on this layout, winning in both 2010 and 2015 among five top-10 finishes, while McIlroy tied for 17th last year in his tournament debut but missed the cut last week at Shinnecock.