Duval back at Augusta after 06 flameout

By Associated PressApril 7, 2010, 3:35 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – So much has changed for David Duval since the last time he contended at the Masters, nearly a decade ago.

From the expanded waistline to the errant shots to the wandering concentration, he barely resembles the guy who once ruled as golf’s No. 1 player.

Duval ambled away from the 13th tee Tuesday, strolled over the Nelson Bridge and found a nice, comfortable spot to plop down in the middle of the fairway.

He sat there for a couple of minutes, next to his ball, staring across Rae’s Creek toward the woods on the other side, soaking up the brilliant colors of the azaleas and dogwoods.

The perfect place to reflect, to think back on all he once was at Augusta National and still hopes to be?

Hardly. Duval isn’t much for reminiscing.

“It was brutal out there. They were playing soooo slow,” he grumbled after a practice round that dragged on for nearly five hours. “I was just trying to keep from going to sleep.”

This is the first time Duval has qualified for the Masters since 2006, when he shot a 10 on the second hole and missed the cut for the fourth year in a row. He’s here thanks to a runner-up finish at last year’s U.S. Open.

Duval still walks the course with an aura reserved for the greats, not someone who last won a tournament at the 2001 British Open, not someone who’s looks perpetually frumpy with his shirttail hanging out, not someone who comes here sandwiched between Anthony Wall and Danny Willett at No. 110 in the world rankings.

Maybe it’s the aloof demeanor, obscured by those wraparound glasses. Maybe it’s the standoffish body language, the sense that he’s not really paying attention to the folks shouting, “Go get ‘em, David” and other encouraging words.

There was always a mystery about Duval, and the fact that a once-brilliant game got away from him in the blink of an eye only adds to the intrigue. At nearly every hole, some patron posing as a fairway psychologist offered up a possible explanation for his baffling decline, everything from depression to vertigo.

For the record, Duval feels just fine – about his fame, too.

“I’m comfortable, entirely comfortable, with what I’m doing right now,” he said. “I feel like I’m swinging the golf club how I want to. I feel like I’m striking the golf ball how I want to. To me, it’s a matter of performing and doing that more regularly than I may be at the moment.”

If nothing else, Duval seems to have rekindled a sense of feistiness with the media that melted away as his scores went up and up. He now feels as though he’s put up enough good results—the 2009 U.S. Open and this year’s AT&T at Pebble Beach – to stop all those annoying questions about his slump.

Never mind that he’s missed the cut in four of his seven PGA Tour events this year.

“Some of this, I don’t understand,” he said. “I’m trying to talk about and answer questions I’ve been answering for a couple of years now, and I don’t know why I need to answer them any more than I have. I have talked about it.”

Duval might have hit rock bottom at that 2006 Masters. He opened with an 84, then started the second round with a double bogey at No. 1 and a quintuple-bogey 10 at the second, when he drove into a hazard on the left and took two more penalty strokes before he finally escaped.

But that day, as bad as it was, also signified that Duval’s shotmaking skills had not totally abandoned him. He bounced back to make five birdies over the final 12 holes, including a 32 on the back nine. Not nearly good enough to make the cut, of course, but a start.

Duval never doubted that he’d make it back to the Masters someday. Whether he can ever be the sort of player he once was at Augusta National remains to be seen.

Over a four-year stretch beginning in 1998, Duval had a pair of runner-up finishes, plus a third and a sixth. He still believes those are four green jackets that got away.

“I’d like to see him at his best again,” said Jim Furyk, who joined Duval for the practice round along with Justin Leonard. “I played a lot of golf with him back when he was the best player in the world, and he was really, really good. I guess the rest of that is: Does he really want to get back to that level again? It’s difficult to do. But I really liked what I saw today in his game.”

Duval is convinced that he’s worked out the flaws in his swing, which were caused by injuries and waning confidence. But he finds it difficult to keep it together from round to round, even shot to shot.

On Tuesday, for instance, he made a nifty little wedge shot right up next to the flag at No. 15. Then he came back with a wild swing off the tee at the par-3 16th, his left arm flying off the club as he hit a screaming line drive that cleared the water but skidded right through the green.

The patrons groaned.

“I probably need to think a little bit better on the golf course, manage my game a little bit better,” Duval said. “Get rid of some of the silly mistakes that tend to add up. Really, that’s probably it.”

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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”