Notes Major hangover for 2009 major champions

By Associated PressApril 14, 2010, 1:47 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – British Open champion Stewart Cink feels as though he is giving away shots with his short game. U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover said his game is a little scratchy, a blend of not making enough putts and not hitting it where he is aiming.

All the major champions from 2009 share one thing in common. They haven’t had much of a year.

PGA champion Y.E. Yang was the only reigning major champion to finish in the top 10 at the Masters (a tie for eighth). His best finish this year is third place in the Phoenix Open, where he closed with a 65. Cink’s best was losing in the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship, while Glover tied for ninth in the San Diego.

In the year since winning the Masters, Angel Cabrera had only four top 10s in 24 starts without coming seriously close to winning.

Is it a major hangover?

“I can’t speak for anybody else,” said Glover, who tied for 36th at Augusta National. “I did the same thing in the offseason. I’m doing the same things now that I did before, and will continue to do them. Only difference for me is I’m not playing as much. I’ve having a little extra time off to try to stay fresh. Hopefully, that will pay off.”

Cink missed the cut as his love-hate relationship with the Masters continued.

“I need to compare myself to the players that are playing the very best,” Cink said. “And if you look, they are always efficient at getting the ball up-and-down from 50 yards, and their birdie conversation rate is pretty high.

“And neither of those two areas I’ve been great at this year.”

THE SHOUT AT AMEN CORNER: On what might be the loudest golf course, there is one spot at Augusta National that is eerily quiet. The 12th green is some 160 yards away from the gallery, and the view is blocked for some by the bunker. And even if they can see the ball disappear into the cup, the distance leads to a delay.

That’s why Jim “Bones” Mackay, the caddie for Phil Mickelson, will remember the 15-foot birdie putt on Sunday.

“I’ll tell you what a cool moment it was,” Mackay said. “It’s so silent back there, and to hear him yell as that putt went in a couple seconds before we heard from the crowd … it was a real special moment.”

And what did Mickelson yell when he made the birdie?

A number of European players hopeful of making the Ryder Cup might have a decision to make in August.

Nine players qualify for the European team – four from a list of world ranking points earned on any sanctioned tour in the world, five from a list based on money earned on the European Tour. The team will be determined on Aug. 29 after the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, the same week the FedEx Cup playoffs get under way with The Barclays.

And that could be a problem.

Europeans cannot earn world points at The Barclays because of the time difference. It will not end until about 11 p.m. in Scotland, and the team is to be announced that evening.

Money points can be earned at Gleneagles, however. There could be some Europeans on the bubble who might have to choose between going to Gleneagles to try to earn a spot on the team, or going to New Jersey with hopes of advancing in the lucrative FedEx Cup.

Then again, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey chose to stay behind two years ago and play the Deutsche Bank Championship. They wound up missing the cut, being eliminated from the playoffs, and making the team as captain’s picks.
Two years ago in a Detroit hotel, Angel Cabrera spoke of his fondness for the European Tour and how much he enjoyed playing there, particularly in Britain and the Iberian peninsula. He contemplated spending most of his time in Europe.

That was before he won the Masters for his second major. Cabrera is getting more comfortable in the United States, spending more time in Houston with coach Charlie Epps, and now he wants to beef up his PGA Tour schedule.

Cabrera plans to play at Colonial and the Memorial – he has never been to Muirfield Village. Asked about the European Tour in late spring and summer, he said he would play only the French Open and the British Open.

“I’m happy here,” he said.

Cabrera will keep Argentina as his home base, but he is looking into renting a house in Houston.
Steve Stricker has gone four years using the same Titleist irons because he doesn’t believe in changing what has been working. But after a disappointing week at the Masters, in which he didn’t break par until the final round, Stricker might have something new in the bag when he plays next in New Orleans.

Stricker’s biggest beef at Augusta National was his iron play.

“I may try something different,” he said. “I’ve been monkeying with some different sets the last year or two, and now might be a good time to switch it up, just to get a different look and a different feel.”

If he changes, Stricker said it likely would be to the AP2 irons. He actually put those in play at the Chevron World Challenge in December and shot 65 in the final round, but put the old 755s back in the bag when the new season started.

“I like the way I hit them, I just couldn’t pull the trigger on them,” he said. “I may do it this time.”
Another record held by Jack Nicklaus? He received eight special exemptions for the U.S. Open. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson are second with five. … Players who missed the cut at the Masters still get paid, and while it doesn’t count toward the money list, it does apply to the European points list for the Ryder Cup. … Golfsmith is refunding more than $1 million to customers who bought a Callaway driver and were promised their money back if Phil Mickelson won the Masters. The retailer had taken out an insurance policy on the promotion.
This was the first time Tiger Woods broke par all four rounds at the Masters without winning.
“A great shot is when you pull it off. A smart shot is when you don’t have the guts to try it.”– Phil Mickelson.

Even sweeter than Phil Mickelson slipping into another green jacket was seeing his wife waiting for him behind the 18th green Sunday at Augusta National with tears streaming down her face.

She had not been at a golf tournament since being diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months ago.

He had not looked the same ever since.

A shattered world seemed at peace in the fading sunlight Sunday at the Masters, where Mickelson made one last birdie for a 5-under 67 and a three-shot victory over Lee Westwood.

The conclusion was far more emotional than anyone expected.

“To win this tournament, it’s the most amazing feeling,” Mickelson said from Butler Cabin. “This has been a special day. I’ll look back on this day as very memorable, something I’ll always cherish.”

Determined to win one for his family, Mickelson made two remarkable par saves from the trees, then made a gutsy play off the pine straw and over Rae’s Creek on the par-5 13th hole. It was the kind of shot that has brought Mickelson so much criticism for taking too many risks. This time, nothing was going to stop him.

His final birdie only mattered on the scorecard, 16-under 272, the lowest by a Masters champion since Tiger Woods in 2001. Mickelson had this won as he walked up the 18th fairway to a massive ovation. He raised both arms when the putt fell, had a long embrace with caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay then walked toward the scoring hut and into Amy Mickelson’s arms.

Standing behind them was Mary Mickelson, his mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in July.
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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”