Scenery Change at Shinnecock

By Associated PressJune 15, 2004, 4:00 pm
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- The scenery was so much different when the U.S. Open last went to Long Island.
It was two years ago at Bethpage Black, a beast of a golf course anyone could play for $31, where raucous New Yorkers cheered for Phil Mickelson, razzed Sergio Garcia and left amazed at the incomparable Tiger Woods, who won his seventh major in his last 11 tries and then set off to win the Grand Slam.
No one was close to him that Sunday. No one was close in the game. That's hardly the case now.
The U.S. Open will be played at Shinnecock Hills, an exclusive country club in the Hamptons that reeks of wealth and civility, and values its place in history as one of the five founding clubs of the U.S. Golf Association.
Players rolled up their sleeves and bashed the ball at Bethpage. At Shinnecock, they straighten their collar and carefully steer through a links-styled course that relies on wind and waist-high fescue to protect par.
The landscape is just as different at the top of golf.
Woods hasn't captured a major since he left Long Island. And for the first time since winning his first major at the '97 Masters with record-breaking, breathtaking ease, he no longer is the prohibitive favorite.
``Times have changed,'' Ernie Els said. ``I think guys get on the first tee and really believe they can win with Tiger in the field. Golf will always humble the best of them. That's where we are.''
Woods is still No. 1 in the world, but now it's a number, not a statement.
His only victory this year came at the Match Play Championship, where who you play can be more important than how you play. Woods had his worst finish ever at Augusta National as a pro. He squandered 36-hole leads in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour, something he had not done in 18 previous occasions over five years.
``Everybody feels the intimidation factor is not what it was,'' Brad Faxon said.
Els climbed to No. 2 in the world by winning the Memorial, his third victory worldwide this year. Vijay Singh is right behind, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour after snatching the money title away from Woods last season. Phil Mickelson is playing as well as both of them, now armed with confidence after winning the Masters.
``I think Vijay and Ernie are certainly playing the best golf of anybody on tour,'' Davis Love III said. ``Leave the rankings out of it. You say, 'Who do you like for this horse race this week?' Well, you'd be hard-pressed to pass Vijay and Ernie.''
The U.S. Open is rarely a horse race. Regarded as the toughest test in golf, it is a four-day survival -- five if it goes to a playoff -- that chews up any player of any level who loses his patience or his mind. Usually, the two go together.
``You've got to be prepared to see stuff you've never seen before,'' John Cook said.
The wind blew hard only one round in each of the last two U.S. Opens at Shinnecock, and birdies were still rare. Raymond Floyd won in 1986 at 1-under 279, Corey Pavin in 1995 at even par.
``It's one of the best golf courses in the world I've played,'' Singh said. ``I think everybody is excited, but at the same time a little fearful of how tough the golf course is going to play. If the wind blows, it's going to be almost impossible.''
The course has been lengthened by about 80 yards, and tweaked in other areas. Several chipping areas have been created, similar to Pinehurst No. 2. Faxon found that instead of having the ball in an uphill lie in rough, it rolled some 20 yards away from the green, making it much tougher to get the ball close.
Mickelson spent three days at Shinnecock last week, studying the venerable course as though he were cramming for a final exam. Lefty had his first good shot at winning a major in the '95 U.S. Open, finishing four shots behind despite playing the par-5 16th in 6 over par for the week.
Nine years later, Mickelson finally has his major after winning the Masters with a 31 on the back nine.
``I'm looking forward to the U.S. Open this year,'' Mickelson said. ``It's not because I won't have to answer the question of a guy who's never won a major. It's because I have a lot of confidence now, a lot of belief that I can break through and win big tournaments.''
Els' confidence is typically high coming into any U.S. Open. He is a two-time champion (Oakmont in '94 and Congressional in '97), although he doesn't have the best memories of Shinnecock. He was the defending champion that year and in the traditional pairing with British Open champion Nick Price and the U.S. Amateur champ -- Woods, playing in his first U.S. Open.
Els missed the cut. Woods didn't even make it through two rounds, tearing ligaments in his wrist on the third hole of the second round while trying to hack out of the rough. He withdrew three holes later.
``He took a cut out of that rough like I've never seen before,'' Price said. ``Now, he might be able to get away with it because he's that much stronger. He was a skinny little guy in those days.''
Not anymore. Everyone is wondering what happened to the guy who dominated the majors during a three-year stretch.
This isn't the longest Woods has gone without winning a major; he went 10 majors from the '97 Masters to the '99 PGA Championship. Jack Nicklaus, whose record 18 professional majors is the benchmark Woods chases, once went 12 consecutive majors without winning during his prime.
That intimidating presence started to wane a month after he left Long Island.
Woods was two shots out of the lead going into the third round of the British Open at Muirfield, primed to add the third leg of the Grand Slam. But in whipping wind off the Firth of Forth, Woods crashed to an 81. A month later at Hazeltine, he flinched trying to catch Rich Beem at the PGA, and even Woods closing with four straight birdies wasn't enough to scare the former car stereo salesman.
``He had just won two majors and was going for the Grand Slam. That gap was so big,'' Els said. ``I didn't see any light there. That Saturday (at Muirfield) really changed a lot of things, how we see it today. Since then, it's been quite different. There is a huge shift.''
Woods might not be the clear-cut favorite, but he figures to command the most attention at this U.S. Open.
His swing is under constant scrutiny, and so is his split two years ago from longtime coach Butch Harmon. Harmon recently suggested Woods look at videotape of his 2000 swing to see how far off he is. Woods says he is tinkering with his swing to make it even better, although he gets lockjaw whenever he is asked to explain exactly what he's working on.
Then again, Woods still commands respect from his peers.
``Other players are playing better,'' Faxon said. ``But where would everybody else be if Tiger was still in the form he was? It wouldn't look that way. We all know how good he can be.''
And everyone knows how tough the U.S. Open can be -- especially at Shinnecock Hills.
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    Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

    By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

    Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

    She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

    Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

    After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

    “The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

    Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

    It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

    “I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

    Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    “The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

    Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

    It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

    “I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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    Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

    By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

    CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

    The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

    ''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

    She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

    ''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

    Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

    ''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

    Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

    Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

    Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

    ''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

    She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

    ''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

    Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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    DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

    By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

    AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

    Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

    “He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

    The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

    It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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    Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

    By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

    BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

    Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

    ''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

    He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

    Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

    ''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

    Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

    ''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

    Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

    ''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

    Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

    Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

    Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.