Jones tops Kuchar with playoff chip-in

By Associated PressApril 6, 2014, 9:06 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Matt Jones told his caddie he was about to make a 42-yard chip-in on the first playoff hole at the Houston Open.

The Australian did just that on Sunday, earning his first PGA Tour win in spectacular fashion – and changing his immediate travel plans in the process.

Jones, who began the day six shots off the lead, shot a final-round 66 and ended the tournament 15 under to earn his first trip to the Masters with the dramatic win over Matt Kuchar.

He earned nearly $1.2 million for the win, also making amends for a disastrous missed putt last September that appeared destined to keep him from playing at Augusta National.

Destiny, however, had other plans for the 33-year-old who played collegiately at Arizona State.

''Going to Augusta is amazing,'' Jones said. ''The win means everything to me right now because that's what we play for is to win. To have Augusta as a reward for that win is amazing.''

In September, Jones lipped out an 8-foot birdie putt on the last hole of the BMW Championship – a putt that would have earned him a trip to next week's Masters by sending him to the Tour Championship.

After briefly tying Kuchar in the middle of the round on Sunday, Jones' chances at redemption for last year appeared finished after he bogeyed the next-to-last hole in regulation. The setback left Jones at 14 under, two shots back of Kuchar.


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However, Jones – in the first of his two memorable moments on the 18th – rolled in a 46-foot putt for birdie. That pulled the Australian within one shot of Kuchar, who was watching his closest challenger from the tee.

''I was going to three-putt before I left it short,'' Jones said. ''I didn't care about finishing second or third or fourth; it didn't matter. I was only trying to get the win.''

Kuchar went on to bogey the final hole of regulation after sending his second shot into the water. That set the stage for the playoff in the soggy conditions at the Golf Club of Houston.

Jones sent his tee shot on the first hole of the playoff into the right fairway bunker. He then landed just short of the greenside bunker with his second shot, while Kuchar found the bunker from the fairway.

It was the second straight miss of the 18th green from the fairway for Kuchar, who sent his fairway metal on the 72nd hole into the water before recovering to make bogey and reach the playoff.

Jones didn't leave Kuchar any room for error in the playoff, sending his chip over the greenside bunker and watching as it rolled in – causing a roar from the gallery and leaving Jones standing with his arm raised in celebration.

''I walked up there and told my caddie I was going to chip it in,'' Jones said. ''... You don't know if it's going to lip out, low or high, but when I saw it disappear it's probably the happiest I've been on the golf course.''

Jones is the second straight Australian to win on the PGA Tour, following Steven Bowditch's win at the Texas Open last week.

It was in San Antonio that Kuchar struggled to a final-round 75 while playing in the final pairing with Bowditch. The American began Sunday with a four-shot lead over Sergio Garcia and Cameron Tringale, but he bogeyed the first hole on his way to a disappointing even-par 72 and bitter ending.

Kuchar had a chance to match Jones' chip-in, but his bunker shot came up short.

''Certainly fantastic stuff (by Jones) to birdie 18 twice,'' Kuchar said. ''That's probably the hardest hole on the golf course, and for him to put two 3s is pretty impressive stuff.''

Golfers were sent off in threesomes early Sunday morning for the second day in a row because of the threat of strong storms in the Houston area. The rain, heavy at times, began early during the final pairing's round, but the pros finished without any delays.

The playoff opening was all that was needed for Jones, whose previous best finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for second at last year's Greenbrier Classic.

It also resulted in an unexpected visit to next week's Masters, a tournament Jones said he wouldn't visit unless he earned his way there.

''I was going home to play with my 2-year-old and 3-week-old,'' Jones said. ''So, bit of a change now that I think they'll be on a plane to Augusta as well. We've got to find a house.''

Garcia finished in third at 13 under, while Tringale was fourth at 12 under.

Rory McIlroy matched the low round of the tournament with a 7-under 65 on Sunday, finishing tied for seventh at 8 under overall.

Phil Mickelson, who won the tournament in 2011, was 1 under on Sunday and finished 7 under overall in a tie for 12th – a week after he was forced to withdraw from the Texas Open because of a muscle pull in his right side.

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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.”