Levin surges ahead at Phoenix Open

By Associated PressFebruary 3, 2012, 11:57 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Spencer Levin took the Phoenix Open lead with a hard-charging approach. He figures that’s the best way to stay there, too.

“You don’t want to get too tentative or play away from shots,” Levin said. “If you want to play well and make birdies you can’t do that, so I’m just going to try and stay as aggressive as I can the next two days.”

Levin holed out from a greenside bunker for eagle on the par-4 17th and shot an 8-under 63 on Friday to reach 14 under. He had a five-stroke lead when the delayed second round was completed Saturday morning at TPC Scottsdale.

“Hopefully, I can just keep trying to believe in myself and just keep trying to make my swing, and we’ll see what happens,” Levin said. “I’m going to give it my best shot. It should be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

On 17, Levin took one last drag on his cigarette, stamped it out in the rough and climbed into the bunker behind the 17th green. He set up quickly, took a quick glance at the hole and splashed out. The ball landed about 10 feet from the hole, bounced twice and rolled into the cup for an eagle-2.

“That was pretty cool,” Levin said.

Harrison Frazar was 11 under with three holes left Friday when play was suspended because of darkness. He had two bogeys Saturday morning to drop to 9 under.

“There toward the end it was getting kind of tough to control the ball and to see it,” said Frazar, the St. Jude Classic winner last year. “The temperature dropped, so the ball flies a little differently.”

Webb Simpson, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 6, was third at 8 under along with tour rookie John Huh. Simpson shot a 69 in the last group to finish play on No. 18, and Huh had a 66.

“That was probably the darkest I’ve ever played,” Simpson said. “I couldn’t really see anything.”

Kyle Stanley was 7 under after a 66 as he tries to rebound from a devastating loss last week. On Sunday at Torrey Pines, he made a triple-bogey 8 on the final hole of regulation and lost to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff.

The 27-year-old Levin, remembered for a hole-in-one and 13th-place tie in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock while still in school at New Mexico, is winless on the PGA Tour. He came close last year, losing a playoff to Johnson Wagner in the Mayakoba Golf Classic. At Torrey Pines, Levin had a share of the first-round lead after a 62, but followed with rounds of 76, 73 and 72 to tie for 43rd.

“Last week I played great the first round and didn’t play well the rest of the week, but overall I think my game is getting better,” Levin said.

Fan favorite Phil Mickelson finished off a 70 at dusk to reach 4 under. He had a bogey and a double bogey in a front-nine 38, then made four birdies—the last drawing the loudest cheers of the day on the amphitheater par-3 16th—on the back nine.

“The front nine, I don’t know what to say. I mean, it was just terrible,” said Mickelson, the former Arizona State star who won the tournament in 1996 and 2005.

“I was able to kind of self-correct it a little bit for the back to shoot 4 under and turn it around. It’s not what I was hoping for going into the day, but I’m looking forward to playing the weekend and seeing if I can light it up.”

Defending champion Mark Wilson, coming off a victory two weeks ago in the Humana Challenge, was 3 under after a 69.

Levin was one of 42 players who finished the first round Friday morning after play was suspended because of darkness Thursday.

He hit his first shot of the day to 3 feet to set up a birdie on the par-3 seventh and parred the final two holes for a 65 that left him a stroke behind first-round leaders Jason Dufner and Ryan Palmer.

Levin then birdied the first two holes in the second round, holing 20- and 15-foot putts. He hit to 2 feet to set up a birdie on the fifth, added a 15-footer on No. 12 and got up and down from behind the green on the par-5 13th for another birdie.

The key shots came on the par-5 15th after he hit his approach into the water and had his ball roll into a sand-filled divot on the penalty drop. He hit to 10 feet, made the putt to save par, then birdied the par-3 16th and eagled the par-4 17th.

“That was huge,” Levin said. “I took a drop and the ball rolled a good step and a half into this sand divot. I didn’t even see it. Some weird thoughts were going through my head. I actually hit a great shot. I hit it out of the sand divot to about 10 feet. I was just trying to get it on the green.

“So, the momentum from being in the sand divot to making a par and then going 2-2 on the next two holes was huge. It could have gone the other way.”

On the 16th, he hit a little draw pin-high to 8 feet and made the putt to the delight of the noisy fans who chanted his name before he teed off. He then holed the bunker shot after driving over the green on the 335-yard 17th and closed with a par on 18, missing a tricky, downhill 10-footer.

“That was a fast one,” Levin said. “I didn’t really get it started on line, but I just nudged it and it still went a foot and a half by. But that was a tough pin because if you get left of it, it’s off the green, so I hit a good second shot.”

Thirty-four players were unable to finish the second round Friday after frost delayed the start for an hour for the second straight day. On Saturday, play was delayed 15 minutes because of frost. Last year, frost and frozen greens delayed play nine hours during the week, forcing a Monday finish.

DIVOTS: The crowd was announced at 116,299, the fourth-largest for a Friday in tournament history. … Arron Oberholser, returning from hand and hip injuries, shot 72-71 in his first PGA Tour start since October 2009. He missed the cut by a stroke. … Jeff Overton withdrew on the final hole because of a lingering left wrist injury. After opening with a 67, he was 5 over for the round when he hooked his tee shot into the water on 18 and stopped playing. … Vijay Singh, Stewart Cink, Tommy Gainey and Chris Kirk withdrew after play was suspended.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

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Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari

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5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

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5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello