Gal takes three-shot lead to Titleholders weekend

By Associated PressNovember 22, 2013, 9:46 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – A windy afternoon along the Gulf Coast of Florida played right into the hands of Sandra Gal on Friday in the LPGA Titleholders.

Gal controlled the flight of her ball and picked up three birdies on the back nine at Tiburon Golf Club, giving her a 3-under 69 and a three-shot lead going into the weekend of an LPGA Tour finale that pays $700,000 to the winner.

The 28-year-old German has spent much of the year working on a shorter swing and hitting a variety of shapes and trajectories, and that was put to good use in the blustery conditions. And the fact she opened with a 64 didn't hurt.

''My advantage was yesterday,'' Gal said. ''Shooting 8-under was big. Today it was hard for everybody to catch up. That's what gave me that three-shot lead.''

Gal was at 11-under 133.



Sun Young Yoo, the former Kraft Nabisco champion, had a 68 and was alone in second. The degree of difficulty was best measured by what Yoo considered her best shot of the round – a 6-iron on the 18th hole that didn't even hit the green.

''I'm very pleased with how I played,'' Yoo said. ''I recovered very well.''

Lydia Ko, the 16-year-old from New Zealand making her pro debut, played her final 10 holes without a birdie and finished at 71, leaving her nine shots behind.

''I thought I played much better today than yesterday, but the score was the same,'' Ko said. ''I left a couple of my putts short just in front of the hole. Then when I got my speed right, the direction was wrong, so that was kind of frustrating.''

Gal hasn't won since her inaugural title at the Kia Classic two years ago, and her biggest disappointment this year was not getting picked for the Solheim Cup team. She felt her game was turning around, but not in time to warrant a captain's pick.

Instead, she might have to settle for the biggest payoff in women's golf. To win this week would amount to one-third of her career earnings.

''It's easier for people to say, 'I don't care about the money, I only want to play well.' But they don't mean it, right?'' she said with a smile. ''But I'm not out here to play for money. I'm out here to play with heart and to inspire others. It's a huge purse. But at the end of the day, when you win a tournament, you're happy about fighting and overcoming fear.''

Cristie Kerr had to fight plenty hard to get another 69 and lead the group at 6-under 138, five shots behind. Kerr thought she took take a 6-iron through a gap in the trees on the par-5 opening hole, and instead knocked it into the water. She had to drop in pine straw, and sent her fifth shot over the green. Her chip hit the pin, allowing her to tap in for a double bogey. What followed was a ''horrendous'' shot at the third (bogey) and a ''horrible'' shot on the fifth into a bunker.

But she saved par, and that changed her thinking.

''I wasn't going to let this tournament go down the toilet,'' she said.

Kerr then ran off three straight birdies, knocked in a 15-foot birdie putt on the 12th, and then holed an 80-foot putt for eagle on the 17th that put her back in the mix.

''On 17, I mean I was just due. I don't know how to describe it any other way than that,'' she said.

Morgan Pressel had a 67, the low score of the second round. Four players failed to break 80.

Inbee Park was within a shot of the lead early in the round, reaching 7 under, until she fell back to a 72 and was seven shots behind. Park headed off to rehearse her speech one last time before accepting LPGA player of the year at the awards dinner Friday night. Most players are nervous to stand before a big room for such a big moment.

''I've had a lot more pressure,'' Park said with a smile, a reference to going after a fourth straight major earlier this year at St. Andrews.

Stacey Lewis (73) and Suzann Pettersen (72) were in the group at even-par 144, significant only as it relates to the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. Pettersen would have to finish nine shots higher than the American to win the award.

Gal stayed in the lead most of the day, and one last birdie stretched her lead. She would expect to make birdie on the 17th, the shortest of the par 5s. Just not this way. She hooked her tee shot into the trees and wasn't sure she could find it.

''Happy to find my ball,'' she said. ''Had a swing – very happy. Had an 8-iron and thought, 'Let's go for the pin,' and almost holed it out. Made the putt (from 15 feet). All very simple Never in doubt.''

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”