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Perry, Illini coach Small share lead at Senior Players

By Associated PressJuly 13, 2018, 1:00 am

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Kenny Perry wasn't sure what to expect.

He's still rounding back into form following shoulder surgery. His back's bothering him, too.

A spot at the top of the leaderboard in a major? He'll take it.

Perry and Mike Small shot 7-under 65s to share a one-stroke lead in the first round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Thursday.

Bart Bryant, Glen Day and 2015 U.S. Senior Open champion Jeff Maggert were one stroke back in the fourth of five majors on the PGA Tour Champions schedule.

Defending champion Scott McCarron was in a pack at 5 under, while three-time Senior Players winner Bernhard Langer and Vijay Singh were another shot back at Exmoor Country Club. David Toms, coming off a win at the U.S. Senior Open, shot 2 over.

The 57-year-old Perry and the 52-year-old Small - the longtime Illinois golf coach - each made eight birdies and one bogey. Perry is in contention for his fifth senior major to go with two U.S. Senior Opens (2013, 2017), a Senior Players Championship (2013) and the Regions Tradition (2014).

''I actually made some putts today,'' Perry said. ''I've had a tough year this year.''

Surgery on his right shoulder kept him out from November until late April. He has one top-10 finish in seven starts this season.

Adding to his difficulties, Perry's back flared up on him last week. He bent over to pick up a club while practicing at home in Kentucky. Next thing he knew, he was on the ground and then rushing to see his chiropractor.

All that happened as he was recovering from a bout with strep throat.

''I had played seven straight weeks in a row,'' Perry said. ''It was terrible. ... Seven weeks in a row was way too much golf for an old man, so I just said that was not what I needed to do anymore. Last week was horrible. I couldn't do a lot. And then didn't have a lot of expectations coming in here, but I hit the ball nice and finally made a few putts, and that's why I shot a good score.''

Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players

Perry three-putted for bogey on the par-4 seventh and missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th. Otherwise, his round was largely stress-free.

Small never has won on the PGA Tour Champions. He is not a tour member and made the field with strong performances in three events where he received sponsors' exemptions. He tied for 10th at the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, Wisconsin, in late June after tying for ninth at the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa, two weeks earlier.

What would a victory here mean?

''Well, that would be great, but there's a lot of golf to go,'' he said. ''So yeah, that would be awesome. That's what we're here for. Everybody is here to win.''

Bryant was 7 under before finishing with a bogey on 18. But he put himself in contention for his second senior victory to go with the 2013 Dick's Sporting Goods Open.

Not bad, in the midst of what he called a ''very mediocre'' season and a difficult few years on and off the golf course. His wife Cathy died of brain cancer in April 2017, and he finished outside the top 10 in all 14 starts last season. He has one top-10 finish in 10 events this year. But a recent putter switch has boosted his confidence.

Bryant ditched his Bobby Grace putter in favor of an Odyssey 2-Ball before the final round of the American Family Insurance Championship last month. He bought it at a Dick's Sporting Goods the night before, and then shot a 66.

''My caddie and I were having dinner. He goes, 'We've got to do something.' I go, 'Let's go buy a putter,''' Bryant said. ''So I went and bought a putter, and that was the first time I had putted OK.''

Toms struggled on the greens after making long putts on two of the final three holes at the Broadmoor two weeks ago to help secure his first PGA Tour Champions victory.

The 2001 PGA Championship winner was 2 under before missing the green on the par-3 eighth, starting a run of three straight bogeys and four in five holes.

Toms three-putted the par-4 ninth and hit a poor drive on No. 10.

''I still felt like I was playing OK,'' he said. ''But all of a sudden, instead of being three or four under, I was over par. The wind was a little tricky that back nine. I never made any putts, so that was the difference today.''

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Tiger Tracker: 42nd Ryder Cup

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 25, 2018, 1:15 pm

Fresh off his 80th PGA Tour victory at the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods is competing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012. We're tracking him.

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Euros wearing yellow ribbons to honor slain golfer

By Will GraySeptember 25, 2018, 12:51 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – European Ryder Cup team members will wear yellow ribbons this week to honor Celia Barquin Arozamena, who was murdered last week while playing golf.

Arozamena went to school at Iowa State, but she was a native of Spain and won the European Amateur Championship in July. She was attacked and killed Sept. 17 while playing a round by herself at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, Iowa.

European captain Thomas Bjorn wore one of the ribbons while addressing media Tuesday at Le Golf National, and he explained that the decision to honor Arozamena came out of a discussion between Ryder Cup Europe and her mother.

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“The golfing family extends beyond what we are trying to do this week,” Bjorn said. “It’s nothing about us, but it’s just more about that the golfing family gets touched by these things all over the world. It’s terrible when things like this happen.”

Arozamena considered Ryder Cup stalwart and fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia one of her idols growing up, and the two met when she was a child. Garcia sent condolences out via social media last week, saying he was “heartbroken” over her death.

“Such a great prospect for the game of golf she was, but also a wonderful person,” Bjorn said. “When you speak to Sergio and [Spaniard] Jon [Rahm] about it, they couldn’t talk highly enough about her. We felt like that was appropriate for the week.”

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Spieth, Reed in different groups during Tuesday practice

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 12:38 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tuesday’s U.S. groupings at the Ryder Cup may give a glimpse into what potential pairings we will see this week at Le Golf National.

In the day’s first foursome, Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed played together. The second group included Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas; and the anchor group was Bubba Watson, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson.

Whether those groups will make up captain Jim Furyk’s version of the team’s pods, however, remains to be seen. Given that half of his team has never played Le Golf National, Furyk said he tried to match players on Tuesday with those who had some experience on the course.

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“Today is really about trying to learn the golf course and hit some solid golf shots,” Furyk said. “There may be some pairings out there and there's some groups there isn't. Just want them concentrating on their own game right now. They are very aware of who they will be playing with this week and they are very aware of some of the options they have.”

Given the success of previous pairings and some relatively obvious choices, it seems there are some likely options for the U.S. Woods and DeChambeau have become regular practice-round partners and at the Tour Championship they experimented with the other player’s golf balls on Tuesday.

It also seems likely that Spieth-Thomas and Fowler-Johnson will be paired in some form this week.

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Le Golf National nothing like wide open Hazeltine

By Will GraySeptember 25, 2018, 12:00 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The layout at Le Golf National has a distinctly European feel, and captain Thomas Bjorn hopes to keep it that way at the Ryder Cup.

Gone are the wide fairways and short rough of Hazeltine, where the Americans bombed and gouged their way to their first team victory in nearly a decade. This week players will encounter one of the tightest and most demanding tracks on the European Tour, where water lurks around nearly every corner.

“Well this is a tough golf course, to start with,” Bjorn said Tuesday. “I like the idea of a golf course that’s set up like a championship golf course. You’ve got to identify guys that are hitting the golf ball well. Identify guys that are playing good golf that week.”

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Unlike the other recent Ryder Cup host venues on this side of the Atlantic, Le Golf National is somewhat of a known entity in that it annually hosts the European Tour’s French Open. It’s a tournament that Ryder Cup rookies Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren have won each of the last two years, while teammates Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia both cracked the top 10 in June.

That should give the Europeans an advantage when it comes to familiarity, and Bjorn’s plans for course setup included a desire to ensure the experience factor for his players would still be relevant this week amid larger-than-normal grandstands.

“There’s guys on this team that have played a lot of French Opens. I don’t want them to show up and it’s a completely different golf course to what they are used to,” Bjorn said. “This is very similar to what it is normally.”

Despite the similarities in setup, there will still be plenty of adjustments for the American squad. Justin Thomas was the only U.S. player to make the trek for this year’s French Open, and captain Jim Furyk admitted that only six of his 12 players had seen the course at all prior to this week.

“We’re just trying to figure it out,” Furyk said. “Europe knows this golf course well. They have played the French Open here. We’re trying to figure out the setup and what they have in store for the week.”