Great Start for the PGA Tour But Give It Time

By Associated PressFebruary 15, 2005, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)Be careful not to judge a PGA Tour season by the first few months.
It was only three years ago that Tiger Woods went 10 weeks without winning and endured endless questions about a slump. By summer, he had become the first player in 30 years to capture the first two legs of the Grand Slam.
Or look at Vijay Singh last year.
He won just one tournament (Pebble Beach) through the Masters, and had only three trophies heading into August. By the end of the year, Singh became only the sixth man in PGA Tour history with at least nine victories.
This promised to be a grandiose year in golf with so many top players either hitting or regaining their stride.
So far, it has not disappointed.
The first six winners are all ranked in the top 20. All but one (Stuart Appleby) are major champions.
Singh got off to such a strong start that he should have won the Mercedes Championships and did win the Sony Open. It looked as though he would be No. 1 for the rest of his life, or until retirement, whichever came first.
Then it was Woods' turn.
His victory the following week at Torrey Pines was his first stroke-play title on the PGA Tour in about 16 months, and most people figured it was only a matter of time before Woods established himself anew as the player to beat.
But that was before Phil Mickelson won back-to-back at Phoenix and Pebble Beach, setting a slew of records along the way. He tied the course record on the TPC at Scottsdale (60), broke the record at Spyglass Hill (62) and became the first wire-to-wire winner over 72 holes in the 68-year history of Pebble Beach.
'I don't know what specifically is driving everybody to play so well,' Mickelson said. 'But I think it's exciting for the game to see all the top players contending.'
Next up is Riviera, which also has some intriguing possibilities.
The Nissan Open is the first PGA Tour event Woods played, as a 16-year-old, and it remains the only tournament he has played at least four times without winning. He returns to Riviera this week needing only to finish fourth to take the No. 1 ranking away from Singh.
Plus, Mike Weir has a chance to become the first player to win three straight years at the Nissan Open. Canada's Lefty is coming off one of the best rounds of the year, hitting every fairway and missing only one green in the rain and wind at Pebble Beach.
With so many players doing so well, Mickelson has high hopes for rare drama at the Match Play Championship, where two players from the top 10 have reached the finals only once since it began in 1999.
'I think there is a good chance this year a lot of the top guys will win the first few matches and square off later in the final rounds,' Mickelson said.
The only player missing from the mix is Ernie Els, in more ways than one.
He hasn't won, although the Big Easy has finished in the top 10 every time he has played. And after three stops on the PGA Tour, he departed for his global travels and won't return to the PGA Tour until the middle of March.
'Many of the big names on tour ... are off to great starts in 2005,' Woods said in his monthly newsletter. 'That's good for golf and should make the Masters even more exciting.'
How long it lasts is another story.
And one thing to keep in mind as the West Coast Swing wraps up over the next two weeks is how many of the top players will be around when the Tour Championship arrives.
Two years ago, Els won the first two PGA Tour events, then Woods won in his first start after knee surgery. By the end of the year, Ben Curtis was the British Open champion, and Shaun Micheel won the PGA Championship.
Not until after the Masters, probably the U.S. Open or maybe as late as the British Open will anyone be able to get a firm grasp on how this season is shaping up.
The No. 1 spot in the world ranking could change every week from now through the end of March, with the two-year system favoring Singh during that stretch.
Right now, the only sure thing looks to be Mickelson.
Woods won at Torrey Pines, but the way he nearly whiffed a 2-iron on the 18th hole left some questions about how confident he is with his swing changes. Perhaps those will be answered in the next two months.
Despite his hot start, Singh is using a new driver and has a different caddie. He has gone three straight finishes out of the top 10, and last week he missed the cut for the first time in a year. Scrutiny will be even greater when he returns next week at the Match Play Championship, where he has never made it past the second round.
Els is fueled by emotion. It's too early to say whether his first two months will put him in a good frame of mind heading to Augusta National, or whether the little voice in his head will drag him down with doubt.
All that is certain is that golf is off to a great start.
But that's all it is - a start.
Only after the four majors, and maybe longer, will anyone know whether the season lives up to its hype.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”