Notes Arnies grandson in contention at Bay Hill

By Associated PressMarch 27, 2010, 3:04 am

Arnold Palmer Invitational

ORLANDO, Fla. – Sam Saunders was at the driving range Friday morning after an up-and-down round a day earlier. He took a swing, glanced over and saw his grandfather staring sternly in his face.

Family pressure isn’t anything unusual for players. Except when your grandfather is Arnold Palmer.

“He didn’t give me a very good look,” Saunders said. “He came out to the range and talked to me about a few things that we were working on, and we got it straightened out.”

Just in time, too.

Saunders shot a 2-under 70 on Friday in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. That moved him five shots behind leaders Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Ben Curtis and D.J. Trahan.

Saunders is 1 under for the tournament and suddenly a lot less stressed after making the cut on an exemption granted by his grandfather.

“I was as nervous as I’ve ever been teeing off on the first hole,” Saunders said. “This being my fifth start, I didn’t think I would have that feeling again, and I did. The first hole, my hands were shaking.”

Playing Bay Hill is hardly new for Saunders.

After all, his grandfather designed the course. The 22-year-old said he’s shot a 66 a few times on the course, only those came without fans – many knowing his family roots – surrounding his every shot.

“I play the course almost every day,” Saunders said. “Everybody always asks me, ‘What other courses do you play in Orlando?’ There are none. Why would I go anywhere else?”

He’s hoping to do more than play a few tournaments.

Saunders will need a top-10 finish at Bay Hill to guarantee him entry next week at Houston. Otherwise, he’ll have to hope for sponsor’s exemptions or qualify.

He’s starting to make a name for himself.

Saunders tied for 17th at the Honda Classic three weeks ago, his best finish. And with a strong push on the weekend, there might be more opportunities soon.

“One of the biggest hurdles is making the cut and not disappointing,” Saunders said. “I’m glad I was able to do that. Now I can focus on putting myself in contention to win the tournament.”

ALL HEART: Erik Compton is trying to earn full status on the PGA Tour. Helping pay all those medical bills wouldn’t hurt, either.

He helped both matters Friday.

Compton closed with a 9-foot birdie putt in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, finishing 1 under entering the weekend. He’s six shots off the lead.

The two-time heart transplant recipient and former No. 1-ranked junior is still searching for his tour card. In the meantime, he’s doing the best he can on sponsor’s exemptions.

“You need to pay bills,” Compton said. “But I want to play my way on the tour more than anything.”

Compton has had plenty of other things to worry about besides his health.

He has a 13-month-old daughter, Petra, and just moved his family from a condo on South Beach to a house in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables. The work on that keeps him busy during weeks he doesn’t play.

“I got a yard and everything,” he joked.

Making a living for his family is just as important.

Compton was diagnosed at age 9 with cardiomyopathy, an enlarging of the heart that hinders its ability to pump blood. Three years later in 1992, he received a new heart. That one failed in 2008, and he had another transplant.

Compton said he has a “clean bill of health,” but still carries around bottles of heart medication and has to have regular checkups. He’s made the cut at all three PGA events – Riviera and Puerto Rico were the others – he’s played this year.

His family still worries about his health. Compton worries about them, and he spends the rest of time trying to improve his game.

Compton also tries not to worry about his schedule. Mostly because he just doesn’t know what it will be.

“I get way ahead of myself,” he said. “Hopefully, something opens up. As long as I’m playing good, I think I’ll have opportunities to play.”

MASTERS ON THE MIND: The final week to qualify for the Masters through top 50 in the world ranking again presents multiple possibilities.

J.B. Holmes was one of those who needed a strong finish. He’s 2 under through two rounds at Bay Hill in what will surely be another weekend of Masters uncertainty for many.

“Seems like every year I’m missing it by a few spots,” he said. “One year I win, and they take that rule out so that the winners don’t get in. Last year, I lost in a playoff near the end.

“Seems like I’ve missed a lot of World Championship events by one or two rankings, so it’s a very familiar spot that I’m in right now. I don’t enjoy it.”

There are plenty others with a lot on the line.

Davis Love III and D.J. Trahan share a four-way tie atop the leaderboard and need nothing short of a victory to make the Masters. Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa tied for the lead in Spain and also needs a win. And K.J. Choi is 4 under, but he really only needs to finish in the top 50 at Bay Hill to stay in the top 50 in the world ranking.

The hard work belongs to Stephen Ames. He made the cut and is at even par for the tournament, but will likely need to land inside the top 5 to get into the top 50.

Justin Rose and Bubba Watson were among those to miss the cut, and their only chance to go to the Masters will be to win the Houston Open next week.

For most, blocking out thoughts of Augusta might be the hardest part.

“I’ll think about that on Sunday and when I get done finishing,” Holmes said. “It’s not going to do me any good thinking about it now.”

DIVOTS: Henrik Stenson entered the day one shot off the lead, but he needed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th to make the cut and close with a second round 78. … The second round leader has gone on to win four of 12 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour this season, most recently Ernie Els at the CA Championship at Doral. … There hasn’t been a multiple winner on tour through the first 13 events this season. There have been only three seasons since 1983 that have gone further into the year without a multiple winner: Phil Mickelson in 2004 (14 events), Tiger Woods in 2002 (15 events) and Nick Price (20 events) in 1994.

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Els: Tiger playing well validates his generation

By Doug FergusonMarch 21, 2018, 12:42 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.

Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.

He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 PGA Tour victories if he had to face this group.

''I'm just glad he's playing like I know he can play to validate me – validate me, Phil and Vijay,'' Els said. ''We weren't bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again ... is great for the game.''

Generational debates are nothing new.

Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.

Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.

Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation's players?

''It doesn't (tick) me off. Can you imagine how it must (tick) Tiger off?'' he said. ''He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can't take anything away from anybody.''

Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.