A New Look for Seasons Last Major

By Associated PressAugust 8, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 PGA ChampionshipThe PGA Championship is known as Glorys Last Shot, but this major will be a first.
No one has ever played a competitive round at Whistling Straits, the course built along the shores of Lake Michigan. The links-styled course is the longest in major championship history at 7,514 yards, with three par 4s at least 500 yards and the shortest par 5 measuring 569 yards.
There are more than 1,000 bunkers, so much sand that its hard to tell when one bunker ends and the other starts.
By the sound of some early reviews of Whistling Straits, players might be whistling past the graveyard.
Defending champion Shaun Micheel shot 77 with no birdies the first time he played the Pete Dye design on a windy afternoon in June, then said the cut could be 10 to 12 over par. He later amended his prediction.
If the wind comes up at all, and they play the golf course the way it did when I played, it really felt like double digits over par could win the golf tournament, Micheel said.
Loren Roberts called it the hardest course he has ever played. Former PGA champion Rich Beem heard the fairways were long and tight, but didnt believe the scouting report.
I just figured theres just no way, he said. But when we played it, it was awful.
Indeed, curiosity is at an all-time high for the final major of the year'and so is the hysteria.
Ive heard so many different opinions, Tiger Woods said before going up to Wisconsin for his first look at Whistling Straits. Ive heard its too tight in the landing areas, and Ive heard other guys say its a fair test with plenty of room. Some guys say you can roll the ball up to the greens, others say you have to carry it to get to the right spot.
Thats the thing, he said. We dont know.
About the only thing anyone expects is another strong performance by Phil Mickelson, who transformed himself from the guy who couldnt win a major into the lefty who does everything right.
If not for missing a couple of short par putts at Shinnecock and Troon, Mickelson could be going for the Grand Slam. Instead, he has gone 1-2-3 in the majors, starting with his breakthrough win at the Masters, and now has a chance to become the first player to finish in the top 3 in all four professional majors in the same year.
Ernie Els gets one last chance to erase a season of major heartache. While he is closer than ever to replacing Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking, all that matters to the Big Easy is winning majors. And all he has this year are three close calls, including runner-up finishes to Mickelson at the Masters and Todd Hamilton in a playoff at the British Open.
Ive come this close, so obviously Im doing something right, Els said. Something is good in my game. Its just not quite there at the end.
At stake for the Americans is the last hope of making the Ryder Cup team. Because the points are double at a major, 34 players have a mathematical chance of getting into the top 10.
Most of the attention is on John Daly (No. 20), the only two-time major winner to have never played in the Ryder Cup, and Jay Haas (No. 14), at age 50 trying to become the oldest American to qualify for the team.
The other focus at Whistling Straits is whether Woods can end a drought that has reached nine majors since he last hoisted a trophy. Woods has twice gone entire years without winning a major (1998 and 2003), but this is the first time he has not seriously contended on the back nine on Sunday.
His only victory this year is the Match Play Championship in February. He is $2.3 million behind Mickelson on the money list. He is assured of being No. 1 in the world for the 331st week when he arrives at the PGA, which will tie the record set by Greg Norman, although Els will have another chance to surpass him.
But Woods outlook on his season could change in four days.
Any time you win a major, its going to be a great year, Woods said.
Vijay Singh could only go to No. 1 if he wins and Woods misses the cut. The big Fijian already has four victories this year'twice as many as anyone else'but he is 0-for-19 in the majors since winning the 2000 Masters.
When Tiger was winning every other one, we said, Look, this is unusual; you guys dont understand, Davis Love III said. Its going to go back to normal sometime when we get a streak of different guys winning.
That certainly has been the case. Ten players have won the last 10 majors dating to Woods last major victory at the 02 U.S. Open. And the PGA Championship is a good place for that trend to continue, since 13 of the last 16 winners had never won a major.
Woods can still go another three majors without winning before he matches the dry spell Jack Nicklaus endured at about the same point in his career. And while Woods has been stuck on eight majors in pursuit of Nicklaus record 18, he still thinks he can get there.
Im still right on pace'actually, ahead of his pace, Woods said. It wasnt going to happen overnight. It wasnt going to happen in my 20s. For Jack, it took him 23 years to accomplish that. So its going to take a long time.
It seems like Woods has been part of the golf landscape forever, although this is only his eighth full year playing the majors. In some respects, he comes full circle at the PGA Championship, returning to Wisconsin for the first time since he made his professional debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1996.
Whistling Straits was still two years away from opening at the time. The PGA of America is not afraid to try something new, jumping at a chance to go to Whistling Straits when the U.S. Open hesitated.
But whether it was Crooked Stick or Oak Tree, Sahalee or Valhalla, its courses have always been user-friendly. The last time a score of 280 or higher won the PGA Championship was in 1990, the longest stretch of any major.
That could be about to change.
This is the third consecutive major played on a links-style course, preceded by Shinnecock Hills at the U.S. Open and the true links, Royal Troon, at the British Open.
Whistling Straits figures to be so much different than the other two.
Theres a few more penal areas where you just cannot hit the ball, Love said after his practice round on Monday.
What could help the players is that Shinnecock Hills has become a battle cry for how not to set up a golf course. The USGA refused to water the greens, which all but died during the final round and led to 28 players in the 80s and the best score at even par.
But at more than 7,500 yards and with the potential for big wind, Whistling Straits could get silly.
Then again, no one knows.
The last major won with a score over par was the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, which Paul Lawrie won in a playoff after finishing at 6-over 290.
Carnoustie is regarded as the toughest links in golf, a big course with tiny fairways and waist-high fescue, made even more punishing by the whipping wind off the Firth of Tay.
By the end of next week, that could all sound very familiar.
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    Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

    Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

    Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

    Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

    Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

    Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

    Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

    Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

    Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

    Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

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    JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking

    By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.

    Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.

    “It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.

    Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.

    Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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    But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.

    “He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”

    Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.

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    Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

    By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

    Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

    She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

    Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

    After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

    “The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

    Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

    It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

    “I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

    Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    “The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

    Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

    It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

    “I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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    Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

    By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

    CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

    The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

    ''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

    She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

    ''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

    Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

    ''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

    Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

    Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

    Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

    ''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

    She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

    ''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

    Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.