Notes Lucky bounces and a Tiger sighting

By Associated PressMarch 28, 2010, 3:13 am

Arnold Palmer Invitational

ORLANDO, Fla. – Chris Couch guesses he wrote to Arnold Palmer about 18 straight years asking for an exemption at Bay Hill – with no luck.

He finally caught a break Saturday.

Couch’s approach on the 18th from 152 yards out bounced not once, not twice, but three times off the rocks – narrowly missing the water – and skipped onto the green. He saved par and closed with a 3-under 69 in the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, finishing 7 under for the tournament and three shots behind leader Ernie Els.

“I kept thinking, ‘Please, please, bounce on the green, baby, bounce on the green,”’ Couch said. “I’ve never considered myself a very lucky person on the golf course. But that was a great break at the right time.”

Couch has long waited for this chance.

A high school phenom who now lives in the Orlando area, Couch qualified for the 1990 Honda Classic at age 16 but missed the cut. He gained entry at Bay Hill this year because he was high enough in the FedExCup standings.

“I was very thrilled,” he said. “It was nice to get in, being a local. I have a lot of friends around that love to come out and watch and it was enjoyable having them out there today, and hearing their screams and yells and having my wife out there.”

Even being able to play this week could be considered an accomplishment.

Couch had to withdraw at the Transitions Championship last week with a right knee injury that prevented him from walking, even though he couldn’t figure out how it got hurt. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in 2007, and then he had an episode known as “frozen shoulder” in 2008 where he had no movement.

“A lot of rehab, a lot of prayers,” Couch said. “It’s been frustrating. “

So imagine the relief when the ball bounced on the green on 18. For Couch, it was merely another footnote to add in an up-and-down career.

“I don’t know if it will make ten worst or ten best,” he joked.

CHANCE MEETING: Brad Faxon played golf at Isleworth on Saturday morning and ran into Tiger Woods on the back of the range.

“I haven’t seen him since the accident and he hasn’t seen me,” Faxon, an NBC Sports analyst, said during the telecast. “I was as nervous to see him as anything. I walked out there and said, ‘Do you need a putting lesson?’ He started laughing.”

Faxon, an eight-time winner who played on two Ryder Cup teams, is regarded as one of the best putters in golf.

He said Woods was getting ready for the Masters and appeared on edge.

“And what I think he’s most nervous about is getting there on Monday in front of everybody who he hasn’t been in front of for a long time,” Faxon said. “I feel for him. It’s going to be hard for him that day. I have no problem believing that when he puts that peg in the ground on Thursday, he’ll be fine. But those first few days are going to be tough.”

GETTING THERE: There might not be a better example of how things have changed for Jim Furyk than his final hole Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Furyk hit a 6-iron from 192 yards out so far left that the ball bounced off the grandstands, ricocheted off a railing, redirected off a marshal’s hat and landed safely in low-lying rough for a much easier chip onto the green. He saved par, ended with a third-round 66 and signed the ball for the marshal on his way out.

“You get the one with the green mark on it,” Furyk said, smiling.

And why not?

After ending his longest stretch without a victory on the PGA Tour at last week’s Transitions Championship, Furyk is looking to make it two straight wins. He moved 5 under for the tournament and five shots behind leader Ernie Els.

Not bad for a guy who made the cut by one stroke a day earlier.1

“It’s a little bit of a hangover-type feeling after winning to kind of come back and mentally be prepared,” he said. “But I wouldn’t mind winning again.”

Furyk put himself in position to do so rather quickly.

He made up six strokes in seven holes early in his round when the greens were still moist from the low fog that blanketed Bay Hill before dawn. The run was highlighted with an eagle on No. 6 when he nailed a three wood from 242 yards out to within 33 feet, sinking the putt.

After going 32 months and 58 tournaments between PGA Tour wins until last week, Furyk wants to avoid repeating such a drought. He did capture the Chevron World Challenge in December at Sherwood against a world-class field, but his last win on the PGA Tour came in the 2007 Canadian Open.

With the Masters only two weeks away, Furyk feels his luck is starting to change just in time.

“I feel better than I have the last couple years,” he said. “I’m close. I’m not saying I’m ready, but I’m a lot closer than I’ve been for two or three years.”

ARNIE ADVICE: Arnold Palmer took to the television airwaves Saturday to deliver a similar message again to Tiger Woods as he prepares to make his return in two weeks at the Masters.

“My advice would be to open up to the media,” Palmer said while sharing the booth with NBC Sports’ Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller.

“To bring them in and talk to them, and talk to them like a man. That’s the only way you’re going to accomplish what he wants to accomplish right now. He needs to open the door, let them come in and talk to them like he knows them.”

Woods is missing Bay Hill – just around the corner from his Isleworth mansion – for the first time in his career. It had been the only regular PGA Tour event he played every year. Palmer has said he was disappointed Woods wasn’t playing.

DIVOTS: With rain and thunderstorms expected Sunday afternoon, the final round at Bay Hill will be played with threesomes starting on split tees at 8:30 a.m. Mostly cloudy skies with a high around 82 degrees is forecast before the rain pushes in. The tournament is expected to finish around 3:30 p.m., far earlier than when Tiger Woods won last year with a dramatic 12-foot birdie on the 18th under fading light and popping flashbulbs. … Phil Mickelson started Saturday one shot off the lead, but his third round 75 put him seven shots down entering the final round.

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Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

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Glover (64) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

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Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

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McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”