Hamilton On the Fast Track

By Associated PressMarch 15, 2004, 5:00 pm
04 Honda ClassicPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Three months ago, Todd Hamilton headed to California for his eighth attempt at PGA Tour qualifying school. Now he's on the fast track to Augusta National.
His fortunes turned just as quickly Sunday in the Honda Classic.
Having squandered a four-shot lead, Hamilton walked to the 17th tee and saw that Davis Love III, one of golf's premier players, was one stroke ahead of him and finished with his round of 69 on a blustery day at Mirasol.
'I knew I had to at least make one birdie to have a chance,' Hamilton said.
No one could have guessed what followed.
In a dramatic finish to a journey that lasted 17 years, Hamilton birdied the final two holes, stuffing an 8-iron into 4 feet on No. 18 for a one-stroke victory.
'Maybe it was my turn to win,' Hamilton said.
He certainly paid his dues.
Hamilton, an All-American at Oklahoma who was once paired with Love (North Carolina) during a college tournament, always believed he had the talent to play on the PGA Tour.
He never realized how long it would take him, or where the road would lead -- first Canada, then the PGA Tour's minor leagues, and then to all parts of the globe. He played the Asian Tour five years and did well enough to make it on the Japanese tour, where he won six times.
Married with three young children, he spent the last 12 years playing in obscurity in the Far East.
'But this is the place,' he said. 'If you want to achieve, and you want to feel like you've accomplished something great, this is the place to do it right here.'
Hamilton, who didn't make a birdie in the final round until the last two holes, closed with a 2-over 72. It was the second time this year the winner failed to break par in the last round. John Daly had a 75 at Torrey Pines and won in a three-man playoff.
'He finished like a true champion and birdied those last two holes when he knew he had to do it,' Love said. 'It's a great, great story. I know he's worked long and hard for it.'
Hamilton, a 38-year-old rookie, finished at 12-under 276 and earned $900,000, about as much as his best season in Japan, and earned an exemption on the PGA Tour through the 2006 season.
The perks don't stop there.
At No. 96 in the world going into the Honda Classic, he should easily move into the top 50 in the world ranking Monday, high enough to qualify for the Masters when the deadline falls in two weeks.
'That would be special,' Hamilton said softly.
Love lost a final-round lead last year to Justin Leonard. This time, Love applied pressure by playing mistake-free down the stretch, taking the lead with a great lag putt from a deep swale off the 17th green. And he looked like a winner when he saved par with a 6-foot putt on the 18th.
Hamilton had not made a birdie throughout the gusty day at Mirasol, and twice had to make tough par saves just to keep his slim hopes alive.
'He gave everyone a chance,' Love said. 'And then he took it away from us.'
Hamilton split the middle of the 18th fairway, and had 162 yards to a front pin. Nervously wiping the grip of his 8-iron, the ball took dead aim at the flag and stopped 4 feet behind the hole.
'I was just trying to get to the front third of the green and give myself a chance,' Hamilton said. 'When I heard the people hollering, I knew it was close.'
The only battle left was his emotions.
'I bit my lip,' Hamilton said. 'I didn't realize my teeth were that sharp.'
Brian Bateman, who had never finished in the top 10 on the PGA Tour, had a share of the lead at 10 under when he finished with his 68. He wound up third and earned $340,000.
Kevin Na, at 20 the youngest player on the PGA Tour, shot a 69 and tied for fourth with Robert Allenby (70), Woody Austin (70) and Fredrik Jacobson (73).
It was the second straight day Hamilton birdied the 18th.
His 15-foot putt on Saturday expanded his lead to four shots, and figured that might come in handy. This was only his 18th start on the PGA Tour, and 20 mph gusts made the lead seem even smaller.
Hamilton struggled early, shot 39 on the front and his lead was gone when he three-putted at No. 13.
'I would like to say I was setting myself up for a great comeback,' he said. 'I couldn't get the ball close to the hole. And if I did, I couldn't make a putt.'
Just when it looked like he would fall apart, Hamilton kept it together with a remarkable short game.
He left himself 50 feet from the hole on No. 14, but rolled in a 7-foot par putt. He missed the green well to the right on the par-3 15th, into a deep collection area some 80 feet from the cup, but knocked it up to 3 feet for another par that kept him in the game.
That set him up for a finish no one saw coming, and a victory that even Hamilton doubted.
'Until I got my tour card, I always doubted something like this would happen,' he said. 'I don't think it's sunk in.'
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    Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

    TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

    He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

    “Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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    Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

    The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

    “Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

    Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

    “Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

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    Only putting is holding McIlroy back

    By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

    McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

    McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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    “I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

    McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

    “I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”

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    Rosaforte Report: Toski lively, singing and ready to go home

    By Tim RosaforteJune 22, 2018, 6:41 pm

    Bob Toski sounded pretty good for a man near death last week. When we spoke on Friday, the 91-year-old teaching legend and former PGA Tour leading money winner was alive and feeling well. Especially when he was talking about giving lessons, swinging a golf club again, and going down to the piano bar at Arturo’s near his home in Boca Raton, Fla., to sing his favorite song, “Sentimental Journey."

    “It’s been quite a journey,” Toski said in total bliss. “But I’m going home tomorrow.”

    Going back 10 days, to June 12, Toski suffered a severe heart attack that had him on life support, in critical condition, at a hospital not far from the South Florida golf community where he’s pro emeritus at St. Andrews.

    He opened 15 minutes on the phone on Friday by asking how much he owed me for the publicity he got during the U.S. Open. Typical Toski. His heart may have skipped a beat, but he hadn’t.

    At no more than 120 pounds, still larger than life.

    Bob Toski from his hospital bed in South Florida

    “This is the mouse,” he said when asked to confirm it really was him on the phone. “The Mighty Mouse.”

    We were laughing now, but there was a moment one night during “Live From the U.S. Open” when I got a message from the Boca hospital which sounded grim (hospital staff used a defibrillator on him six times during his stay). That’s when one of the friends by his side texted me and said it would be just like “Tosk” to sit up straight and ask everybody what was going on.

    Essentially, that’s what happened. And now here he was on the phone, cracking off one-liners, talking about Brooks Koepka’s win at Shinnecock, giving his take on the USGA and course setup, asking how much I’d been playing, and giving his love to everybody at “The Channel.”

    He invited me down for a lesson at St. Andrews and dinner at Arturos. “In a month’s time,” he said, “I’ll be ready to go.”

    He sounded ready right now, singing a line from his favorite song, from his hospital bed in the happiest of voices, “Gotta set my heart at ease.”

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    Spieth fades with 3-over 73: 'It's just golf'

    By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:10 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – After finding nothing but positives for his first five trips around the course, Jordan Spieth finally suffered a setback at TPC River Highlands.

    Spieth won the Travelers Championship last year in his tournament debut, and he quickly bounced back from a missed cut at Shinnecock Hills by firing a 7-under 63 in the opening round this week to take a share of the lead. Out early during the second round with a chance to move even further into red figures amid calm conditions, he instead went the other way.

    Undone by a triple bogey on the par-5 13th hole, Spieth was 5 over for his first 14 holes and needed an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole for the second straight day simply to salvage a 3-over 73. The score knocked him back to 4 under for the week and six shots behind Brian Harman.

    Despite finding three fewer fairways, three fewer greens in regulation and taking five more putts than he did in the opening round, Spieth still put a positive spin on a lackluster result.

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    “I actually felt like I had better control of my golf swing than I did yesterday. I really struggled with my swing yesterday and I kind of got some good breaks,” Spieth said. “It’s just golf. It’s kind of like yesterday I got three or four shots extra out of the round, and today I lost three or four based on how I felt.”

    Spieth was happy with his opening-round effort, but even after finishing late in the day he still went straight to the driving range that lines the ninth fairway at TPC River Highlands – not exactly standard behavior after grabbing a share of the lead.

    “So it’s not like things are on,” he said. “Sometimes it can get disguised by rounds, but it’s not far off. It really is close.”

    Spieth has lamented a lack of quality chances to win this year, which he has previously described as being within six shots of the lead heading into the final round. He’ll have some work to do to meet that mark this weekend in defense of his title, as his round hit a snag on No. 13, his fourth hole of the morning, when he pulled his tee shot out of bounds and then hit his subsequent approach into the water.

    “For whatever reason, it’s a large fairway but it’s always just killed me,” Spieth said. “I don’t know what it is about the hole, but that hole I get on the tee and for whatever reason I struggle. … I just hit a bad shot at the wrong time there.”