McIlroy extends his lead to 8 through 54 holes at U.S. Open

By Associated PressJune 18, 2011, 1:21 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – With each remarkable round, with each record-setting performance, Rory McIlroy is making that Masters debacle seem like a distant memory.

A U.S. Open title could erase it altogether.

McIlroy moved closer to his first major Saturday at Congressional by stretching his lead for the third straight day with a 3-under 68 to set the 54-hole record at the U.S. Open – a mind-boggling 14-under 199 – and build an eight-shot lead going into the final round.

That’s twice the size of his lead going into the last day at Augusta National.

And this time, the 22-year-old Northern Irishman says he has learned from his mistakes.

“At Augusta, it was all a little bit new to me, going into the final round with the lead,” he said. “I didn’t know whether to be defensive, aggressive, go for it, not go for it. But now, I know what I need to do, which is a great thing to have. I have a clear mind going out there tomorrow, and I just need to stick to my game plan.”

This time, history is on his side.

No one has ever blown more than a five-shot lead at the U.S. Open. No has ever lost any major when leading by more than six shots going into the final round. And over three days on a rain-softened course, no one looks to be close to McIlroy.

“It’s just phenomenal,” defending champion Graeme McDowell said. “You run out of superlatives to describe what he’s doing this week. He’s decimating a field.”

For those curious whether he would crumble, as McIlroy did in the final round at the Masters when he lost a four-stroke lead and shot 80, he answered with a combination of smart play early and aggressive shots when he found his rhythm.

His only bogey came from a shot that was about 5 feet too long and tumbled into a back bunker on the par-3 10th. On the next hole, facing one of the most daunting shots on the course from deep rough, he hit a 7-iron that covered the flag and settled 18 feet away. McIlroy pumped his fist when he made the birdie putt. It was a knockout punch to everyone else.

When he walked off the 18th green with a par, he was eight shots clear of Y.E. Yang and one round away from his first major.

“I wanted to catch up a little bit,” Yang said. “But at the same time, the player with the better shot, with the better putt, with the better composure is leading right now. So I have no regrets. Right now, the better player is leading.

“I think it’s actually a race for second place right now.”

His performance has been so inspiring that comparisons to Tiger Woods’ record-setting romp at Pebble Beach in 2000 gave way to questions whether McIlroy ultimately would be the one to challenge Jack Nicklaus and his 18 majors.

“What is he, 22 years old? If you are going to talk about someone challenging Jack’s record, there’s your man,” fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington said. “Winning majors at 22 with his talent, he would have 20 more years … where he could be competitive. It would give him a great chance.”

McIlroy, perhaps still wary of what happened at Augusta, is not ready to celebrate.

“Paddy, Paddy, Paddy,” he said quietly as he shook his head and smiled. “I’m still looking for my first one. I’ve put myself in a great position to do that tomorrow, and then we’ll see what happens from there. It’s nice to have all these complimentary things said about you, but until you actually do these things, they don’t mean anything.”

With more rain overnight and cloud cover through the third round, scores resembled a regular PGA Tour event instead of a major championship designed to be the toughest exam golf has to offer.

There were 26 rounds under par, the most ever for the third round of a U.S. Open.

Lee Westwood and Jason Day provided the early challenge – if it could even be called that – with rounds of 65. Webb Simpson, who narrowly made the cut, was among the first out and shot 66.

“It’s not a true U.S. Open test out there, to be honest,” McDowell said. “There were some tough pins out there, no doubt. I’d like to see it tougher than it was. That’s the weather – you can’t control that. Take nothing away from him. Rory is doing a phenomenal job out there.”

Woods was the only player under par when he built his 10-shot lead at Pebble Beach. There were 20 players under par through three rounds at Congressional. But soft conditions tend to make it easier on everyone, and McIlroy has been the best all week in any condition.

The USGA made no apologies for the low scores, attributing that to the weather – and to McIlroy, the star of this U.S. Open.

“If he wasn’t in the field, we’d be talking about a pretty tight U.S. Open,” said Jeff Hall, part of the team setting up the golf course. “Rory is just obviously playing at a level that’s a bit above everybody else this week. There certainly are a number of birdies being made, but some folks are not finding it quite as easy as others.”

About the only drama Saturday, even after McIlroy reached 14-under par, was whether he also would break Woods’ record 10-shot lead through 54 holes at a U.S. Open. McIlroy had a nine-shot lead, but failed to birdie the par-5 16th and Yang added two late birdies.

Yang wound up with 70 and will be in the last group with McIlroy again. Westwood, Day and Robert Garrigus (68) were at 5-under 208.

“It definitely wasn’t as easy as it was the first couple of days,” McIlroy said. “I knew that I was going to feel a little bit of pressure and a little bit of nerves, and it took me a few holes to get into the round.”

If there was a turning point, it might have come on the third hole.

McIlroy pushed his tee shot into the rough, and a tree blocked a clear shot at the green. Studying his options with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, McIlroy pointed to a gap, then backed off and reached for a wedge to pitch back into the fairway. His third shot stopped 3 feet from the cup for a par, and he was on his way.

“That gave me a little bit of momentum,” McIlroy said. “I sort of found my rhythm quite quickly after that.”

Day played the opening three rounds with McIlroy at the Masters, and knew what he was capable of doing. The Australian still gave it his best shot, shooting a 32 on the tougher back nine, finishing with a rare birdie on the 18th.

All that, and he was still nine shots behind.

“The way he’s playing out there, it’s almost Tigeresque,” Day said. “It’s unbelievable how good he’s playing. Obviously, to have the lead that he has in the U.S. Open is pretty ridiculous, and at such a young age. The next generation is starting to kick up now, and he’s the guy that’s leading it.”

Westwood, considered the best player without a major, wasn’t ready to concede even as McIlroy was passing his first big test.

“He had a big lead in a major and didn’t deal with it before,” Westwood said. “There’s pressure on him with regards to that. So we’ll see. All I can do is control my game and try and shoot as low a score as possible for me.”

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Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.

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Kupcho gets redemption with NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 2:54 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Driving from Chicago to Denver the night of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Championship, Mike Kupcho was worried about what the next two days might bring.

A few hours earlier, he’d watched his 20-year-old daughter, Jennifer, take a two-shot lead into the 71st hole at Rich Harvest Farms. With just 127 yards left for her approach, she hit her pitching wedge the one place she couldn’t afford to miss – short, in the pond – and then compounded the error with a three-putt. The triple bogey dropped her one shot behind Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn.

Kupcho conducted a series of teary interviews afterward, but she had no time to dwell on the heartbreaking finish. She hopped on a plane back home and competed in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier two days later.

“We were worried about how she’d react – I didn’t know what to expect,” Mike said. “I would have been a wreck.”

But Jennifer fired a 66 in the opening round, then a 72 in the afternoon to earn medalist honors.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


“Well,” Mike said, “I guess she’s over it.”

Kupcho made it official Monday at Karsten Creek, claiming the NCAA title that should have been hers last May.

The Wake Forest junior won by two shots – the same margin she blew a year ago – for her fourth victory of the season, vaulting her into contention for the Annika Award.

“It’s just exciting to get here after everything I’ve been through,” she said.

Entering the final round in a share of the lead, Kupcho birdied the first but played Nos. 5-7 in 4 over par. It seemed like another collapse was brewing.

“I told her she’s going to have to face some adversity at some point,” said Wake Forest assistant Ryan Potter, who walked alongside her Monday. “There was a lot of golf to play, especially on a course like this.”

A birdie on 11 sent her on her way. She added a birdie on the drivable 12th, dropped another one on the par-5 14th and then canned a 60-footer for birdie on 16.

And so there she was again, two shots clear with two holes to go, when she stepped to the tee on the 17th. She piped a drive down the center, then flushed her approach directly over the flag, leading to a stress-free par. On 18, with water all the way down the left side, she nuked her second shot into the middle of the green for a two-putt birdie.

If there were any lingering questions about whether Kupcho could close, she answered them emphatically Monday. She carded five back-nine birdies for a two-shot victory over Stanford’s Andrea Lee (66) and Arizona’s Bianca Pagdaganan (72).

“Redemption,” Potter said. “She knew she could do it. It was just a matter of holding the trophy.”

After last year’s devastating finish, Potter tacked a photo on his closet wall of a victorious Arizona State team posing with the NCAA trophy. Each day was a reminder of how close they’d come.

“That sticks with you,” he said.

There were areas of Kupcho's game to shore up – namely chipping and bunker play – and she worked tirelessly to turn them into strengths. She built momentum throughout the season, culminating with a dominant regional performance in which she tied a school record by shooting 15 under, holed the winning putt to send her teammates to the NCAA Championship and became just the second player in history to win a regional in consecutive years.

“She’s interesting,” Potter said, “because the bigger the tournament, the bigger the stage, the better she plays.”

Indeed, Kupcho became the first player in a decade to finish in the top 6 in three consecutive NCAAs.

Here at Karsten Creek, she tied a women’s course record with a 7-under 65 in the opening round. And even though she backed up on Day 2, she played the last two rounds in 3 under to claim the title.

The one she kicked away a year ago.

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Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard (total scores): Jennifer Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to shoot 71 and win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.