Notes Freddies Streak Beach Time for Clarke

By Associated PressApril 6, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The streak began well before Fred Couples' hair began to gray and his back began to go.
To keep it going for a record-tying 23rd year, he needed an up-and-down from 15 feet. When he made it, he let out a big sigh of relief and heard the roar of fans who love spending this weekend with him.
'I'm looking forward to playing two more rounds here,' said Couples, the winner in 1992. 'The streak, I'd rather miss the cut five years ago and win last year. But to make it is great because I certainly had no vision (of playing). I played two rounds of golf this year.'
Couples finished at 8-over 152, right on the cut line. Because scores in the first and second rounds were so high, the 10-shot cut rule was in effect, meaning 60 players -- the most since 1993 -- will return for the weekend.
The 152 cut score was the highest since 1982.
'Scary, isn't it?' former champion Fuzzy Zoeller said when told he could make the cut for the first time since 1998.
Missing was Ernie Els, who failed to make a cut in a major for the first time since the 1999 PGA Championship. It also ended the longest active cut streak on tour at 46. Jim Furyk now has the longest active cut streak at 20.
Couples, 47, has struggled with a bad back for years, but never has it been worse than the last few months. His back went out during practice at Pebble Beach, and he spent the next three days in bed. When he arrived at Augusta, he hadn't played a competitive round in two months.
And he has no idea when his back might go again. He had an epidural after Pebble Beach, and will probably get another when he's done here. In the meantime, he puts up with throbbing pain that he likened to a toothache.
He stretches on every hole, doing trunk twists and back bends. When he bends over to fish a ball out of a cup or put a tee in the ground, he leans heavily on a club.
But the lack of playing time hurts his score more than the back, Couples said.
'I can almost play this course blindfolded. I can get it around, and I think that's what I did yesterday and today,' he said. '(But) I would say this course is a little too tough for me.'
That's sort of what the folks at Augusta National were thinking when they subtly suggested in 2002 that past champions should call it quits once they reached a certain age.
Based on this year's cut list, maybe they should be sending out more invitations.
Sandy Lyle, 49; Craig Stadler, 53; and Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw, both 55, all made it. Crenshaw is in for the second straight year after missing every cut since 1997, even after closing with three straight bogeys.
Tom Watson could have been there, too, if not for a bogey on 17 and a triple-bogey on the last hole. He missed by a measly stroke.
'It was all defense today,' Watson said. 'I let them kick a field goal and let them run all the way back for a touchdown.'
Fifteen players have one guy to thank for their extended stays at Augusta. Zach Johnson was 3 under through 15 holes, but he staggered home with three straight bogeys and the cut stayed at 8 over.
One of those who sneaked in is new daddy and Masters rookie Brett Quigley, who will be thrilled that an already long week will be a little longer.
Besides Els, Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie also went home early. For a second straight year, no amateurs made the cut. That means U.S. Amateur runner-up John Kelly won a sterling silver cup as the low amateur. Kelly shot a pair of 77s.
Darren Clarke pulled his game together a little too late.
Even with bogeys on the last two holes, Clarke shot a 1-under 71 Friday -- a 12-stroke turnaround from the first round. But his 83 on Thursday put him 10 over for the tournament, two strokes above the cutline.
It's only the third time he's missed the cut in 10 trips to Augusta.
'Strangely enough, I didn't play that badly yesterday. Today I played just a little bit better,' he said. 'I had a lot of chances. Almost gave me a chance to make the cut there.
'Just a few things didn't go for me.'
Clarke made only one birdie and seven pars on Thursday to go with eight bogeys and two doubles. He made three birdies Friday but was bogey-free until those last two holes.
'I played really nice today, really nice,' he said. 'Yesterday was really disappointing. I didn't come here to do that. But I'm not the only one who's done that at Augusta.'
At least Clarke had a nice fallback plan.
'I'm back to the beach in the Bahamas,' Clarke said with a grin. 'Bye-bye.'
Somebody alert the alumni association at Brigham Young University.
Dean Wilson and Mike Weir, teammates and roommates at BYU, are paired together for the third round of the Masters. The two are at 3-over 147, five strokes off the lead.
Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, and Wilson, who is playing his first Masters, posted identical 75-72s.
Stewart Cink doesn't need to look at the course statistics to tell you what the toughest hole is at Augusta.
The par-4 No. 1, without a doubt.
'You're always nervous, always anxious,' Cink said. 'That hole is just wicked. I think that green is the hardest out there.'
Not exactly. No. 1 was the ninth-toughest hole Friday, playing at 4.291 strokes. The par-4 11th was the hardest, at 4.593 strokes.
No. 1 did rank as the second-toughest hole Thursday.
'Part of that might have something to do with people puking,' Cink said, 'but it's a hard hole.'
Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer and amateur Richie Ramsay were the only players to not make a birdie in the first two rounds. None made the cut. ... Seve Ballesteros' return to the Masters was a short one. The two-time former champion, playing Augusta for the first time in four years, was last at 22-over 166. His score was so ugly it wasn't posted on the 18th green leaderboard.
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    Koepka reveals he injured his ribs last week

    By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:19 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – There was a time when Brooks Koepka didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play this week’s U.S. Open as he recovered from a wrist injury that had sidelined him for 3 ½ months.

    He didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, which he missed, and returned to the PGA Tour in late April at the Zurich Classic. His return to competitive form accelerated from there with a runner-up finish last month at the Forth Worth Invitational.

    But if Sunday’s victory at Shinnecock Hills, where he became the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange in 1989, appeared to be an official return to full strength, it wasn’t exactly that seamless.

    U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

    Koepka, who closed with a 68 for a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood, revealed that he suffered a rib injury last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

    “My rib kind of came out last week. It bugged me a little bit,” he said. “Right when we got here, [Koepka’s trainer] worked on it, knew what it was. It was pretty sore, but I had no problems since then.”

    In 2015, Koepka withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a similar rib injury.

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    In the battle of bros, Koepka 1-ups DJ

    By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:12 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It’s a scene that occurs on a regular basis at the Joey D Golf Training Center, frenzied workouts driven by an intense combination of competition and desire.

    Under the watchful eye of longtime PGA Tour trainer Joey Diovisalvi, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson will turn even the most mundane elements of their workouts into winner-take-all contests – from the duo’s warmup on stationary bikes to the various exercises that have turned the twosome into a pair of the game’s most imposing figures.

    It was during one of these hyper-fueled sessions a few months ago when Koepka suggested he could become No. 1 world.

    “I think Brooks was 11th in the world at the time, and Dustin said, ‘Yeah, if you add a ‘1’ to that,’” Diovisalvi recalled. “Brooks said, ‘You wait and see; you want to come to my party and put the banner up?’ Dustin just laughed, ‘Not while I’m alive, it’s not happening.’”

    That rivalry, which is a friendly as it is genuine, was taken to a new level on Sunday at the U.S. Open when the duo set out for the final lap in the day’s penultimate group. Golf’s undisputed Bash Brothers going head-to-head after having traded titles at the last two U.S. Opens, the prototype of the modern professional playing on golf’s most demanding stage.

    To the New York masses, the twosome must have looked like the guy most likely to ask how long you’re going to be using the bench press at your local gym, a pair of golfing unicorns who have combined unrelenting power with wildly under-rated precision.

    U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

    With apologies to all those who set out for the final round at Shinnecock Hills with the greatest expectations, this was always going to come down to either Koepka or Johnson.

    Koepka won his first U.S. Open in dominant fashion last year at Erin Hills and Johnson got on the board in 2016 at Oakmont, so it should have been no surprise that, as the duo went through their normal “game day” workout early Sunday together, there was the unspoken realization that the day’s competition was just beginning.

    “[Koepka] likes to beat DJ,” said Claude Harmon III, the swing coach for both men. “We’re in an era now where it’s a great time in golf that all the guys are friends and there are great friendships, but trust me – all these guys want to win. Brooks wants to beat everybody, including DJ who is his closest friend out here. He wants to beat him in the gym, in everything they do.”

    Even in the Official World Golf Ranking, which currently features Johnson atop the pack?

    “Absolutely, he tells him all the time,” Harmon said.

    Koepka won’t climb to No. 1 in world on Monday, but he did one-up his South Florida stablemate by becoming the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1989, to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

    It was a perfectly Koepka performance.

    A day that began with a no small measure of apprehension following Saturday’s inexplicable setup snafu – that prompted some players to contend that the USGA had “lost” the golf course for the second consecutive championship at Shinnecock Hills – quickly settled into the kind of competitive grind for which the U.S. Open is known.

    Koepka broke out of a four-way tie for first place with a 20-footer for birdie at the second, added another at the third to go two strokes clear and appeared to be on cruise control. But then U.S. Opens, real U.S. Opens where par is a good score and the USGA dances dangerously close to the edge, are never that easy.

    The first crack came at the par-3 11th hole when Koepka airmailed the green and needed to convert a 12-footer for bogey. He scrambled again at the 12th with a 6-footer for par and salvaged his advantage at the 14th hole after finding the fescue with his drive.

    With Tommy Fleetwood – who became the sixth player to shoot 63 in a U.S. Open to settle into the clubhouse lead at 2 over par – watching from the range, Koepka walked to the 72nd tee with a two-stroke advantage. There was no suspense, no moments of anxiety, no reason to think he would allow this opportunity to slip away.

    For all the complaints about Saturday’s setup, which even USGA CEO Mike Davis said were justified, this was the kind of U.S. Open Koepka relishes.

    “This week is just back to a typical U.S. Open, where 1 over par wins the golf tournament,” said Koepka, who closed with a 68. “It's just a lot of grinding. But I couldn't be happier with the way I played.”

    Picking your favorite major is often like picking your favorite child – they are all special in their unique way – but Koepka had no problem giving his second turn as U.S. Open champion its proper place.

    This was special. Special because he outplayed Johnson, who closed with a 70 to finish in third place at 3 over. Special because of the workmanlike performance Shinnecock Hills demanded. And special because the last year hasn’t exactly been a celebration.

    Toward the end of 2017, Koepka began to feel pain in his left wrist. He would miss the Masters with a partially torn tendon and spend 3 ½ maddening months on his couch recovering.

    “We were worried that he wasn’t even going to be able to come here and defend,” said Koepka’s father, Bob. “I’m just thankful that he’s been able to recover. It’s been a long three months for him.”

    Although he didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, his return to competitive form was nothing short of meteoric, even by modern standards. And when he finished runner-up at last month’s Fort Worth Invitational, just his fourth event back, his confidence quickly returned.

    “He’d never really been a golf nerd and I think he fell in love with golf again,” Harmon said. “When he came back there was something I hadn’t seen with him wanting to play again. He watched the Masters. He never watches the Masters.”

    He also was back in the gym, alongside Johnson, rekindling the duo’s ongoing bout of one-upmanship. Early Sunday during their pre-round workout it was the status quo for Koepka and Johnson, friendly banter that both lightens the mood and inspires excellence.

    But it was different once the two set out for the final round. There were no jokes, no trash talking, no talking of any kind, in fact.

    “I love Dustin. He's one of my best friends,” Koepka said. “To play alongside him, it was fun today. I was excited about it. I figured he would be the guy to beat. But I didn't talk to him today. Maybe I said something on [No.] 3, and that was about it.”

    There will be plenty to talk about next week when they renew what is one of the game’s most unique friendships and rivalries. Koepka won’t ascend to No. 1 in the world just yet, but he will hang a banner in Diovisalvi’s gym – 2018 U.S. Open champion – and Johnson wouldn’t miss that moment.

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    Balky putter dooms DJ's run for second U.S. Open

    By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 12:31 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – While the course conditions during the final round of the U.S. Open were decidedly different than the day before, Dustin Johnson’s struggles on the greens remained the same.

    Johnson appeared in command of the tournament at the halfway point at Shinnecock Hills, building a four-shot lead as the only player under par. But he, like many of the leaders, fell victim to borderline third-round conditions and struggled to a 7-over 77.

    That still left him with a share of the lead at 3 over heading into the final round and a great chance to earn his second U.S. Open title in the last three years. Instead, he couldn’t keep pace with playing partner Brooks Koepka, shooting an even-par 70 to finish alone in third while Koepka went two shots better to successfully defend his title.

    U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

    Johnson declined to speak with media following his round.

    Johnson was 2 over for the week heading to the back nine on Sunday, only one shot behind Koepka. But he made three bogeys on the inward half, including dropped shots on Nos. 11 and 14 that effectively ended his title chances.

    The culprit for Johnson’s regression was clear. After leading the field in strokes gained: putting through the first two rounds, he couldn’t get comfortable on the greens on the weekend.

    Johnson needed 38 putts to complete his third round, T-64 among the 67 players who made the cut, and his 35 final-round putts were T-63 in the same category.

    Despite the putting woes, Johnson has now finished T-4 or better at the U.S. Open four times in the last five years. In addition to his third-place showing this week and his win at Oakmont in 2016, he also tied for second at Chambers Bay in 2015 and was T-4 at Pinehurst the year prior.

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    Closing double bogey on Sunday costs Finau $217K

    By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 12:18 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Despite a costly final hole, Tony Finau had plenty to smile about after notching a career-best major finish at the U.S. Open.

    Finau made it past the 36-hole cut with only a shot to spare, and his third-round 66 came hours before the leaders played on a course that quickly became burnt to a crisp. Finau explained that it was “nuts” watching his name slowly creep up the leaderboard until he had a share of the 54-hole lead and a spot in Sunday’s final pairing alongside Daniel Berger, who, like Finau, shot a third-round 66 in easier conditions.

    But Finau struggled out of the gates in the final round, with consecutive bogeys on Nos. 2-4 to fall well off the pace while eventual champ Brooks Koepka birdied three of his first five. Finau eventually steadied the ship, making five birdies in the middle of his round and ultimately stood over a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 17 that would have brought him within a shot of Koepka’s lead.

    U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

    “I don’t know what it is with this golf course. I can never get off to a good start,” Finau said. “It was that way every round. I don’t know what the deal was. I couldn’t get off to a good start any of the rounds.”

    Finau headed to the 72nd hole in third place, but a wayward drive led to a closing double bogey that left him in solo fifth at 5 over. It was his first top-5 in a major and paid $474,659, but that was $217,746 less than he would have earned with a par on the final hole to join Dustin Johnson in a two-way tie for third.

    Finau has never played in a Ryder Cup before, but he entered this week at No. 16 on the U.S. points race and will improve that standing with his performance at Shinnecock Hills. Throw in a T-10 finish in his Masters debut and the 28-year-old is officially compiling credentials that could give captain Jim Furyk something to think about come September.

    “Reflecting on the week, it’s a cool thing. It’s a goal of mine to be on the team,” Finau said. “I haven’t won this year. That’s something I want to do. But hopefully, just proving to the captains, whether I play myself onto the team or not, that, you know, I step up on the big stage and I can compete.”