Notes: Kelly eases off accelerator, goes forward

By Associated PressAugust 11, 2011, 11:24 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - Not everyone likes the changes at Atlanta Athletic Club since the last PGA Championship was held here.

Phil Mickelson, runner-up to winner David Toms in 2001, said the layout used to be a fun, great course. “Now, it’s long and its hard,” he said after an opening 1-over 71 on Thursday. “That’s what it is.”

Architect Rees Jones renovated the course in 2006 for the PGA, and it now measures 7,467 yards, the longest in major championship history for a par 70. Mickelson had no problems with the setup, the playability or the challenge to the world’s best golfers. He wondered, though, how the members would handle the new distances once the tournament left.

And Mickelson didn’t stop there.

He said four par 3s - three of them more than 200 yards long and all but one with water in play - are the perfect example of how course designers have made the game unplayable for the average Joe.

“That guy that redid this one,” Mickelson said, shaking his head. “It’s great for the championship, but it’s not great for the membership.”

Toms, paired with Mickelson like he was 10 years ago, said the course is a different animal than the one he won on in 2001.

“A lot longer, different greens, a lot of fairway bunkers, a lot of fairways are kind of awkward tee shots that we didn’t have last time,” Toms said after his 2-over 72. “It’s a tougher golf course, much tougher.”

Mickelson agreed wholeheartedly. He shot 14-under here in 2001, finishing in the 60s all four rounds. This time, he opened with a bogey on the very birdie-able No. 10 - “I spotted the field two shots right from the start,” he said - and was never below par at any point in the round.

Mickelson had no problems with the AAC’s shortest holes, making four pars. His beef is how regular golfers will manage with the long carries over water and punishing bunkers waiting behind the greens. “This is a great example again of how modern architecture is killing the participation of the sport,” Mickelson said.

COOL KELLY: Jerry Kelly said his aggressive nature has gotten in the way of good golf too often - and he’s taking steps to avoid that at the PGA Championship.

Kelly finished with a 5-under 65, matching his lowest score ever at the PGA Championship and ending a streak of 14 consecutive rounds in the 70s at this major. Kelly has missed the cut in his past four PGA appearances.

Kelly acknowledged he always pushed too hard on the accelerator, even when the situation called for some brake. “I’m trying to scale it back a little bit this week, consciously, and I did a fantastic job today,” Kelly said.

He had six birdies and just one bogey at Atlanta Athletic Club to move two shots off the lead of his good friend - and fellow Wisconsin native - Steve Stricker. The two practiced together this week along with Scott Verplank, who was two more shots behind after his 67.

Kelly said he’s always gone hard at whatever he did, especially golf. He has three PGA Tour wins, the last at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2009. Kelly hasn’t had a top-10 finish since a third at the Honda Classic in early March and missed the cut in the two majors he played, the Masters and British Open. So a change of style might be in order.

Kelly said he’s never been a power hitter and had to rely on effort to compete. These days, he’s more confident in his technique. “I’m able to actually hit it smooth. I’ve never been able to do that before and I hope it continues,” he said.

BUBBA’S TURNAROUND: Bubba Watson had a share of the PGA lead after four consecutive birdies on his first nine holes. Then came a big mistake.

Watson said he allowed himself to be distracted on the first hole, his 10th, by a volunteer pounding a stake back into the ground at the Atlanta Athletic Club. That led to bogey, the second of five straight Watson would make on the way to a 4-over 74, 11 shots behind leader Steve Stricker.

Watson said he couldn’t block out the noise and lost focus “for the rest of the day, and I was mad. I wasn’t mad at the volunteer, I was mad at myself.”

Watson lost this title in playoff to Germany’s Martin Kaymer at Whistling Straights in 2010. He’s ranked 15th in the world and was considered one of the best hopes to end America’s majors drought. A U.S. player hasn’t won a major since Phil Mickelson’s Masters win in 2010.

Watson was not the only one involved in last year’s dramatic PGA finish to struggle Thursday. Kaymer, the defending champ, was nine strokes behind at 2-over 72. Dustin Johnson, part of last year’s playoff before a two-stroke penalty dropped him to fifth, was 12 strokes back at 5-over 75.

Johnson grounded his club in a bunker on the 18th hole in the final round, although the area was tramped down by spectators all week and did not appear to be hazard.

Johnson came here off a strong showing in the last major, finishing second to Darren Clarke at the British Open.

BIG-TIME BOB: Bob Sowards, a club professional from Portsmouth, Ohio, hadn’t shot under par or made the cut in his four previous trips to the PGA Championship. He took care of the first goal Thursday with a 1-under 69 and is hoping to finish off the other come Friday.

Sowards was the lowest of the 20 club pros entered at Atlanta Athletic Club. He said the PGA is the pinnacle of the year for guys like him, who spend as much time teaching the game as playing it. Sowards is the pro at New Albany Country Club. He bettered his two playing partners in Ryan Moore (75) and Tetsuji Hiratsuka (76).

Sowards said it wouldn’t be easy keeping emotions in check for another 18 holes, especially with the chance to play the weekend with the world’s best. “Without a doubt, I’m going to be looking at the cut line,” he said. “Hopefully, I won’t have to” sneak a look if he has another stellar round like this.

DIVOTS: Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey had an 11-over 81 in first round at a major championship. Gainey, a former winner on The Golf Channel’s “Big Break” series, struggled at Atlanta Athletic Club and had a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 12th hole. … World No. 1 Luke Donald had two late bogeys to drop to even-par 70 while his English compatriot, world No. 2 Lee Westwood was shot further behind at 1-over 71. … British Open champion Darren Clarke was at 8-over 78, tied for 138th.

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Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

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Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

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10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

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Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”