Garcia Builds an Early Lead at Sawgrass

By Associated PressMay 8, 2008, 4:00 pm
2007 THE PLAYERSPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Sergio Garcia put together his third straight impressive round at The Players Championship. The first two gave him a runner-up finish last year. The 6-under 66 on Thursday was only a great start.
 
With growing confidence in his balky putting stroke and superb ball-striking that has become his hallmark, Garcia birdied all the par 5s and picked up a bonus birdie with a 50-foot putt on the 14th hole to build a two-shot lead on the frightening Stadium Course.
 
It was a good step toward ending an 0-for-53 drought on the PGA Tour, the longest of his career.
 
At the end of the day, the only thing I can do is keep working on it, keep giving myself chances, and its going to happen, Garcia said. I feel like Im getting closer and closer. At least now, I feel like I can do it, and its just a matter of being able to do it.
 
Kenny Perry and Paul Goydos each had a 68 in the mild, morning breeze on a perfectly conditioned golf course. Sawgrass turned tricky, if not downright difficult, in the afternoon, and Ernie Els was among those who paid dearly.
 
Els was at 2 under until his wedge came up 20 feet short of the island green on the 17th, and he barely kept his third shot on land. He wound up with a triple bogey, and a 12-foot birdie on the final hole for a 70 didnt improve his spirits much.
 
I think they should blow it up, Els said. Everything you worked for in 4 1/2 hours, in one shot its all gone.
 
Of the 34 players who broke par in the opening round, only eight played in the afternoon in the increasingly blustery conditions. Todd Hamilton was the best among late starters with a 69, while Wachovia winner Anthony Kim rallied for a 70.
 
Even though this tournament has a diverse list of champions, it was no less surprising to see Goydos so high up the leaderboard. He had never broken 70 in his nine previous appearances.
 
Skipping 18 was a good idea, though, Goydos said.
 
Goydos hit one of 19 balls into the water on the 17th, but he scrambled for a bogey and rode that momentum to four birdies over his next six holes.
 
Phil Mickelson, trying to become the first player in the history of this tournament to successfully defend his title, was flirting with the leaders until a sloppy middle to his round put him at 70. Coming off consecutive birdies, including a wedge to 4 feet on the 17th, Mickelson failed to reach the 18th green from the right rough, then made bogey from 95 yards away in the middle of the fairway on No. 1.
 
I feel as though Im turning 66s into 70s, and Im going to have to fix that this weekend, he said. Im going to have to stop letting those shots slide in the middle of the round that are costing me in the end. But I would have taken anything under par starting the day.
 
Mickelson won by two shots last year over Garcia, even though the Spaniard was never really in the mix. Garcia was the runner-up when Sean OHair put two in the water on the 17th to slide down the leaderboard.
 
Even so, Garcia finished 67-66, and one year later, nothing has slowed his momentum.
 
In his 10th year as a pro, Garcia has been an enigma. No other player younger than Tiger Woods has contended so often in the majors and showed so much variety in his game.
 
Hes like Tiger, Goydos said. His go-to shot is the shot thats needed.
 
But frustration has been setting in over three winless seasons, dating to the old Booz Allen Classic at Congressional, and Garcia recently turned to putting guru Stan Utley for help. This was a major move, for Garcia has relied almost exclusively on his father for help.
 
My main idea was to get back to the way I used to putt, like 10 or 12 years ago, when I was a good putter, Garcia said. At least now I have some rounds where I come out and say I actually shot what I should have shot, and not come out and think, I should have been four or five shots better which is always not very nice.
 
And after one round, Garcia did not say he was playing more than just the field.
 
He is tied with Adam Scott for most PGA Tour victories (six) by players under 30, although it was hard to fathom how he could go nearly three years without winning.
 
Its not secret to anybody that hes been struggling with his putting for a little while, but as soon as he gets it right, we all know hes going to be winning, said Ian Poulter, among five players at 69. I know hes working hard, and Im sure hell be in the winners circle as soon as he gets it right. It may be this week. If hes putting well this week, then who knows? And watch out.
 
Garcia had only one bogey, a three-putt on the par-3 eighth, and that was no disgrace. His ball came up short of a mound that looked like an elephant burial ground, and he missed the 8-footer for par. But he answered with a pair of 3-woods on the par-5 ninth, followed by a simple up-and-down to end his day with a birdie.
 
He also made birdie from the bunker on the par-5 11th, chipped to 4 feet on the par-5 second and two-putted for birdie on the 16th.
 
Typical of this tournament, there were plenty of scores under par, and an equal amount of big numbers. Someone asked Garcia if he felt the Stadium Course was more fair on Thursday.
 
Its always fair, he said. Its just a matter of being tougher or easier.
 
Garcia is 17-under par over his last three rounds, so it must feel awfully easy. All he needs now is a trophy to show for it.
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard
  • Full Coverage
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Getty Images

    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.


    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    “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.”

    Getty Images

    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.”


    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    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.”

    Getty Images

    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.


    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    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.”

    Getty Images

    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.”


    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    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.”