Paolucci Frasier each claim Junior PGA titles
Danielle Frasier of Encinitas, Calif., won the girls division by seven strokes.
The 15-year-old Paolucci closed with a 1-over 73 to match Spieth (68) at 12-under 276. Paolucci made a double bogey on No. 17, then made a 2-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to force the third playoff in tournament history.
I stopped that 64-degree wedge on the last hole a dime pretty much. Thank goodness I had that club in my bag, Paolucci said. Then after Jordan and I both missed putts on the first playoff hole, I made a putt on the second to win.
Both players made par on No. 18, the first playoff hole. They then moved to No. 7, a par-3. Both players hit the green, but only Paolucci was able to convert his putt.
I was so happy to make that 6-footer, Paolucci said. I struggled coming down the back nine, but pulled it out in the end when it mattered.
I thought after the first few holes it was going to be a great round, but then a few missed putts and it was tough. It was a battle out there today. Im so happy to win, but wish I could have played a little better.
Spieth overcame a five-hole deficit in the final round.
All I wanted to do coming here was make the Junior Ryder Cup, and I did that, Spieth said. I played a consistent round with no bogeys and that is definitely what I wanted to do. I would have liked for a couple of more putts to drop and I left a couple short, too.
Jeffrey Kang of Fullerton, Calif., and Luke Guthrie of Quincy, Ill., tied for third, a stroke back. Kang shot a 68, and Guthrie had a 74.
The 15-year-old Frasier finished with a 68 for an 11-under 277 total.
This is the biggest tournament that I have ever won, Frasier said. It is especially good because I was in the lead all four days. I am usually coming from behind when I win so it is nice to win when I have been in front of everyone else.
She made five birdies on the back nine.
I was telling myself to be patient all day and the putts finally started dropping and I extended the lead, said Frasier. I came here to get into the Junior Ryder Cup. Winning the Junior PGA Championship was a huge bonus.
Sarah Brown of Phillipsburg, N.J., finished second. She closed with a 70. Alexis Thompson of Coral Springs, Fla., the 2007 winner, was another stroke back after a 70.
The final two spots on the Junior Ryder Cup team were granted to the winner and runner-up in both divisions. The matches against Europe are set for Sept. 15-16 at The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Ky.
Anytime you get to represent your country and play in the Junior Ryder Cup it is an honor, Paolucci said I am excited to play on the American team this year.
PGA of America past president Ken Lindsay added two captains picks Saturday, Kang to the boys side and Tiffany Lua of Rowland Heights, Calif., to the girls team.
Leading the boys side will be Cameron Peck of Olympia, Wash., the No. 1 ranked junior player and U.S. Junior Amateur winner.
Joining Peck will be Cory Whitsett of Houston, and Andrew Yun of Chandler, Ariz.
Thompson also is on the girls team along with Jennifer Johnson of La Quinta, Calif., and Erynne Lee of Silverdale, Wash.
Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.
Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.
While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.
“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”
Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.
“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”
Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close
CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.
McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.
“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”
The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.
“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”
He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.
“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”
Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence
CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.
Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.
Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.
It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.
“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”
Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.
“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection
CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.
Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.
Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”
Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.
“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”
Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.
“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”