Sergio in Command Tiger in Trouble at Open

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2007, 4:00 pm
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- A shank for Sergio Garcia. A duck-hook for Tiger Woods.
Both shots were shocking to see on the opening hole at Carnoustie. The bigger surprise Friday at the British Open was which player recovered -- not the guy with 12 majors, but the one seeking his first.
Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia reacts to his par save on the final hole Friday. (Getty Images)
'It was a solid shank,' Garcia said, able to laugh after an even-par 71 put him 6 under for the tournament and gave him a two-shot lead going into the weekend.
His 9-iron skidded into a nasty lie in the rough right of the green, and what followed was a chip that would have made short-game genius Seve Ballesteros proud. It skirted the edge of a bunker and rolled to tap-in range for an unlikely par that brightened Garcia's mood.
Woods, on the other hand, hit his iron off the tee so poorly that it found the Barry Burn. That's not unusual at Carnoustie, except the winding stream shouldn't come into play until the final hole, not the first one.
It was that far left.
He dropped the club right after impact and watched the ball sail over the gallery, hop along the turf and disappear into the burn and out-of-bounds, putting two strokes on his card before he put a ball in play.
'It was such a poor shot because the commitment wasn't there,' said Woods, who made double bogey on his way to a 3-over 74 that left him seven shots behind in his quest to become the first player in 51 years to win the claret jug three straight times.
'Still not out of it,' Woods said, even though 18 players separated him from the top of the leaderboard.
Garcia took another step toward validating his promise, grinding his way through chilly breezes with birdies on both par 5s and only a couple of mistakes that put him two shots clear of K.J. Choi.
He has contended for majors since he was a teenager, but the 27-year-old Spaniard looks as though he might finally have figured them out. Garcia wasn't at his best in the second round, but he was good enough.
'I was hoping for a little better than what I did,' Garcia said. 'But that was not a bad round. Every time you shoot on a difficult course ... an under-par or even-par round, you know you're not too far away.'
Choi, perhaps the hottest player in golf with victories at two big tournaments in the last two months, was bearing down on Garcia with a string of birdies along the back nine until a bogey on the final hole that was a foot away from being worse. His tee shot narrowly avoided the burn left of the 18th fairway, forcing Choi to stand on the stone steps and punch back to the fairway.
'You've just got to play that hole as a par 5,' Choi said after a 69. 'Even if you get a bogey, just consider it a good par.'
They will be in the final group Saturday of a major that is starting to take shape.
The best round of the day belonged to former Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada, a 68 that put him at 3-under 139 along with another Spaniard, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who had a 70. Another shot behind was former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (70) and Boo Weekley, whose backwoods charm is starting to captivate Britain as much as his ball-striking.
The group at 1-under 141 included U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
Absent from the mix is Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut for the second straight time in a major.
Lefty needed a par on the final hole to make the weekend but hit a power fade into Barry Burn for double bogey and a 77. It was a setback for the three-time major champion, who lost in a playoff last week at the Scottish Open.
'I thought I was playing better than this,' Mickelson said.
Also leaving early was Colin Montgomerie, whose victory two weeks ago in Ireland renewed hopes that a major was still in his future. Paul Lawrie, the shock winner at Carnoustie in 1999, took double bogey on the final hole and missed the cut by one.
Garcia has never had the lead going into the weekend at a major, and his work is far from done. Five major champions are among those within six shots of the lead, with nasty weather forecast for Saturday.
'I'd rather be leading than being eight shots back, that's for sure,' Garcia said. 'You don't feel like you have to push your game to the limit all the time. So I'm pretty happy the way I'm standing right now.'
Woods ended his streak of nine consecutive rounds under par at the British Open. And he was lucky it wasn't worse.
Two shots came within inches of going into those perilous pot bunkers. He turned away in disgust as his approach on the 10th hole headed for the burn, only to rattle through a small cluster of trees and land safely in the middle of them.
'I could have easily shot myself out of the tournament today,' Woods said. 'But I kept myself right in there.'
Garcia was stalking a 5-foot par putt on the 18th green when Woods was announced on the first tee.
Then came a buzz that Garcia could not ignore. He was startled by the sound coming from Woods' direction -- not cheers, but groans and gasps of the gallery seeing the two-time defending champion hit such a miserable shot.
Woods hit into the right rough on the first hole at Royal St. George's in 2003, a ball that was never found. But that was only about 10 yards off line. This shot looked like it belonged on the municipal course at Monifieth up the road.
Rarer than the shot was the indecision. He practiced a low stinger on the range, but as Woods settled over the ball, he wondered whether that shot might run into a bunker on the right or if he should hit the ball a little higher.
Either way, the result was double bogey and a battle to stay in the game. Woods saved par from a bunker on the ninth, from the trees by the burn on No. 10 and with an approach while standing upright on the edge of a fairway bunker on the 11th.
Garcia could have put some distance between his challengers, although he still looked very much in control. He didn't have as many birdie chances as Thursday, when he opened with a 65, but he picked his spots.
'I'm not going to lie. I was a little bit nervous at the beginning because you want to do well like I had yesterday,' Garcia said.
His confidence was soaring at the end, so much that he broke a golfer's unwritten code never to say 'shank.'
'I don't mind it,' Garcia said.
He recalled a similar start in the final round of Sun City in 2003, playing with Goosen in the final group.
'Down the middle, got the 9-iron out, same club I hit today and shanked it way right of the green,' Garcia said. 'That time I made bogey. I managed to win the tournament.
'It's not a bad thing.'
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    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.

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    “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.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    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.”

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    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.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    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.

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    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.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    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.”

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    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.”