Dorals No 18 shows its teeth on a windy day

By Associated PressMarch 12, 2010, 5:35 am

DORAL, Fla. – Matt Kuchar got to Doral’s 18th tee and immediately groaned.

He wasn’t alone.

The finishing hole at the Blue Monster was downright nasty Thursday in the opening round of the CA Championship, playing nearly a half-stroke over par – making it the toughest on a windy course. In a field with most of the world’s best players, Tiger Woods the notable exception, No. 18 at Doral yielded only five birdies in 68 attempts, with 4.647 being the average score on the par 4.

– Vijay Singh led by one when he got to 18. He made double bogey.

– Francesco Molinari, tied for the lead when he got there. Double bogey.

– Ernie Els, tied for the top spot near the end of the day. Bogey.

In all, there were 18 shots into the water on No. 18. And only when the wind dropped considerably near the very end of the day did the scoring average improve.

The final total: 26 pars, 26 bogeys, 10 double bogeys, and Marc Leishman with a triple bogey after hitting both his tee shot and an approach into the water running down the left side.

“You’re not going to see many birdies,” Kuchar said. “It’s a mean golf hole. We got up to the tee and we expected it, as hard as it was blowing … I expected to see the tees up 30 yards or so and they were up only 10 yards. They could have moved it up 20 yards and it still would have been the toughest hole on the golf course.”

Luke Donald chipped in from a greenside bunker for the first birdie at No. 18 – no surprise, considering he’s 19 of 21 on sand-save attempts this year, after leading the PGA Tour in that statistic last year.

John Senden stuck his approach inside of 2 feet about an hour later for a tap-in 3.

The other three birdies all came near the very end of the round: Steve Stricker made a 45-footer, Padraig Harrington a 15-footer and Dustin Johnson a 10-footer. Not coincidentally, the wind was a touch calmer then, though still blowing.

How strong were the gusts? Put it this way: Masters champion Angel Cabrera walked up 18 holding his cap, about five minutes after a ticket-holder’s hat blew halfway across the fairway.

“It was consistent all day,” first-round leader Charl Schwartzel said. “Consistently strong.”

LEFTY’S DAY: Defending champion Phil Mickelson had three birdies and two bogeys, opening his quest for a second straight win at Doral with a 1-under 71.

He ended the day four shots back, and with no complaints.

“I mean, I know it’s not in contention yet, but my goal was to shoot something somewhat solid today, which I felt I did, and then improve on it every day,” Mickelson said. “So I’ve got to go lower each day.”

He thinks he has the game plan to make that happen.

Mickelson is carrying two drivers this week, something he’s done before – most notably, on his way to winning the Masters in 2006. He’s also tried playing with no drivers, like at the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, something that was widely regarded as a mistake.

This year, he’s planning to go the two-driver route more, putting both his Callaway FT-9 and FT-5 in the bag. Including at Augusta National.

“The driver that I have, the FT-9, it hits the ball long and far, but it’s also very high, and has great carry,” said Mickelson, who took out a 57-degree wedge to accommodate the second driver. “A course like Doral, where it’s very windy, this driver helps keep it down out of the wind, as well as it doesn’t go quite as far as my current driver.”

Mickelson never shot lower than 69 at Doral last year on his way to the $1.4 million winner’s check.

He didn’t play a practice round at Doral this week, because of family responsibilities in Houston with wife Amy, who’s been fighting breast cancer. Mickelson said his wife is doing well.

MOLINARI, MOLINARI: Italy’s Molinari brothers got off to solid starts Thursday.

Francesco Molinari shot a 3-under 69, three shots better than Edoardo Molinari. Edoardo had one of the shots of the day, holing out from 149 yards at the par-4 17th for eagle, helping him get back on track after making bogeys on two of the previous three holes.

They’ll both play at the Masters next month. They’ve been there together before; Edoardo played there after winning the U.S. Amateur in 2005 (and getting paired with Tiger Woods the following year). Francesco Molinari was his brother’s caddie for that trip to Augusta National.

WEATHER WOES: Tee times have been moved up nearly 3 1/2 hours on Friday because of expected afternoon thunderstorms.

Forecasters say up to an inch of rain could fall on South Florida during the day, with the worst of the weather expected later in the day. If everything goes off as scheduled, second-round play at Doral could be wrapped up by about 2:30 p.m.

NOTES: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was among those watching Thursday. … Robert Allenby closed with four straight bogeys, the most he has strung together since opening the second round of the 2009 Memorial with five straight. That came after he shot a 30 on the front nine, one off the nine-hole course record set by Tom Kite in 1974 and matched by Kite in 1979.

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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.