International Still Seeking a Niche

By Associated PressAugust 3, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 The INTERNATIONALSome think it's goofy golf. Others find it to be a refreshing change.
Twenty years since it started, the International -- one of golf's most unique events -- is still going strong, but also still looking to find a more fitting niche within the PGA Tour.
This is the tournament played at altitude -- about 6,000 feet, an elevation at which the ball flies about 10 percent farther.
But the real uniqueness of the International is the use of the modified Stableford scoring system, one that awards five points for eagles, two for birdies, nothing for pars and deducts one for bogeys.
It places a premium on aggressiveness and turns a couple of the par-5s, especially the uphill, 492-yard 17th hole, into must-see events that can swing the tournament.
``The aggressive people get rewarded here. Those that don't pay a price,'' said Greg Norman, who won the tournament in 1989. ``I like it here. I like the system.''
Last year, Rod Pampling made eagle on 17 to capture the tournament, his first win on the PGA Tour. Three years ago, it was 1994 champion Steve Lowery who knocked his second shot in on 17 for a double-eagle, worth eight points that vaulted him from the middle of the pack to second place with one hole left. He lost by one point to Rich Beem.
The International has produced its share of unsuspecting champions -- Pampling, Lowery, Beem the week before his big win at the PGA Championship. But it has also put some big-time names in the winner's circle. Phil Mickelson won in 1993 and 1997, Davis Love III in 1990 and 2003, Vijay Singh in 1998 and Ernie Els in 2000.
``I look forward to it,'' Mickelson said. ``It's no screwy tournament. I look forward to playing it. I like the need for aggressive play.''
As much as the scoring system, it has been the ability to attract big names -- or lack thereof -- that has been the longtime conundrum for this tournament.
In the early days, the International was played the week after the PGA Championship, something of a letdown week for players, who have just completed the year's last major. At the request of tournament officials, the event was moved to one week before the PGA Championship in 2000.
It seemed like the perfect setup, but it signaled the last the International would see of Tiger Woods, who likes to use that week to tune up for the year's final major instead of coming to a tournament where the ball flies farther and the scoring system is strange.
Ideas have been floated about moving the tournament to June, or trying to turn it into a World Golf Championship event when the new TV contract goes into effect in 2007.
``It's been common knowledge that we've got to look at some alternatives for the future of this tournament,'' International executive director Larry Thiel told the Denver Post.
One good thing about the timing is that the International and PGA Championship are the final two tournaments in which players can gather points to make the President's Cup team (in odd years) or Ryder Cup team (in even years).
It puts some pressure on Love, who is ranked ninth coming into this week. The top 10 get automatic spots on the team.
Mickelson is here. So are Retief Goosen, Fred Couples, Norman and David Duval. Singh was once a regular but is skipping this year. Els is out for the season with a knee injury.
Those who are entered will play a tournament like no other, but one still well toned down from its brash beginnings two decades ago.
When the event was first played in 1986, there were cuts after every round and all players started back at zero at the beginning of each round.
The event was modified over the years -- the first-round cut was eliminated in 1989 -- and the events of 1992 triggered the final change.
That year, with all players starting the final round at zero, Brad Faxon teed off early on Sunday, birdied six of his first eight holes and had 14 points, which was good enough to win. One problem: Faxon was done playing by the time the television broadcast began.
The other problem was that, had the scores been cumulative, the winner would have been none other than fan favorite John Daly.
The next year, points were made cumulative and Mickelson was the winner.
Things haven't changed since.
``I think it's fantastic,'' Pampling said. ``Just look at Steve Lowery a few years ago. He came from nowhere, which formally you can't do in a stroke-play event.''
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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.”