Stricker birdies last, wins third straight John Deere

By Associated PressJuly 10, 2011, 10:32 pm

SILVIS, Ill. – Steve Stricker’s third straight victory in the John Deere Classic certainly was the most challenging – and by far the most dramatic.

With nine holes to play, Stricker led by five strokes. With two holes left, he was two shots down.

Twice, Stricker buried shots deep in bunkers, one so far under the sand he had a hard time finding the ball. At a third bunker, he had to take an awkward stance just to give himself a chance to swing.

But he won nevertheless, sinking a 25-foot putt from off the 18th green Sunday to beat rookie Kyle Stanley by one stroke.

“It became hard, real hard,” said Stricker, who was grateful for the encouraging words from caddie Jimmy Johnson.

“Jimmy was right there telling me the whole time, you know, it’s not over yet, just keep plugging, you never know what’s going to happen,” Stricker said. “And sure enough, he was right. Just play it all the way out and see what happens.”

Stricker’s clutch putt capped a roller coaster round on a steamy afternoon and gave him a 2-under par 69, good enough to make him the 10th golfer since World War II to win a tournament three straight times.

Despite a double-bogey on No. 5, when he needed two shots to get out of a greenside bunker, and bogeys on 15 and 16, Stricker finished at 22-under 262. Stanley, 23, whose best finish previously had been a tie for 12th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March, closed with a 66.

“It was an unbelievable week and an unbelievable finish,” Stricker said. “I still can’t believe I’m sitting here.”

Matt McQuillan, who had missed the cut in his previous 10 tournaments, shot a 64 to tie Zach Johnson (65) for third at 17 under. Charles Howell III (64) and Chez Reavie (72) were another stroke back.

Stanley zoomed in front with birdies on five of the first six holes on the back nine, and kept the lead by salvaging par on 17 after sending his tee shot into a grove of trees. But he missed a 9-foot par putt on 18 to open the door for Stricker, who took advantage.

Stricker had fallen two behind with those back-to-back bogeys, which seemingly ended his hopes of a threepeat.

“I really did feel like the momentum was gone for a while,” he said. “Those holes kind of derailed me there.”

But he regrouped quickly. Stricker knocked in a 15-foot putt for birdie on 17 to cut Stanley’s lead to one stroke, then made what turned out to be a tournament-saving shot from a bunker on the left side of the fairway on 18.

Standing with his left foot in the bunker and his right foot on the lip, Stricker hit the ball solidly and left it on the fringe of the green behind the pin, drawing a huge roar from the crowd.

The next roar was even louder. Using his putter, Stricker sent the ball toward the cup and watched it curl in from the left side. The 44-year-old from Madison, Wis., a crowd favorite at this tournament, backed away as the ball neared the hole, then raised his arms and pumped his fist to celebrate the moment.

“It’s weird,” Stricker said. “When I get into a situation where I have to make a putt, I feel like my nerves kind of go away and I focus extremely hard on trying to make that putt. And that’s kind of like the little zone I got into on 17 and 18, I guess.”

With the victory, Stricker joined a small but noteworthy group of golfers who have won a tournament three years running. The list reads like a Who’s Who’s of the game and includes Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ben Hogan and Johnny Miller.

Woods has done it six times and Palmer twice.

“I kept telling myself that it’s not a big deal and it really wasn’t – until today,” Stricker said. “That back nine trying to win, it’s just really hard. I don’t know any other way to say it. It’s extremely hard to put it away.

“When you watch guys like Tiger put away all those tournaments, anybody who’s put it away down the stretch, it’s a difficult thing to do. But I’m happy to come out on top. I made a couple of putts when I had to.”

Woods also is one of just four golfers who has won a tournament four straight years. The way Stricker has mastered the TPC Deere Run course, you can’t discount his chances of joining that group, too.

Stricker finished 26 under at last year’s tournament and was 20 under in his 2009 victory.

So, was he ready talk about four in a row.

“No,” Stricker said with a smile.

Stanley claimed a nice consolation prize, earning the spot in the British Open that goes to the highest finisher in this tournament who’s not already qualified. But if it hadn’t been for Stricker’s late heroics, Stanley would have had his first victory on the tour.

“I’m very excited to go over there,” he said. “But I’m still trying to calm down from that round.”

Stanley trailed by five strokes after Stricker buried a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 9. But showing the poise of a tour veteran, he went on his birdie run to take the lead, making a 26-foot birdie putt on 13, an 18-footer on 14 and a 36-footer on 15 to go up by a stroke.

“I just kept giving myself good looks and putts that I did in practice rounds and putts that I knew what they were going to do,” he said. “I just kept trying to make birdies and give myself opportunities.”

After his par save on 17, Stanley got into trouble on 18 when he went from the rough to a greenside bunker. He was in good position to salvage par again when he chipped up to 9 feet, but he missed the putt and took bogey, giving Stricker the opportunity he needed.

Stricker won for the second time this year and 11th time in his career, with eight of those victories coming after he turned 40. He won the Memorial a month ago and now has multiple wins in three consecutive years.

Only four others have done that since 2000: Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.

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Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.

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Kupcho gets redemption with NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 2:54 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Driving from Chicago to Denver the night of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Championship, Mike Kupcho was worried about what the next two days might bring.

A few hours earlier, he’d watched his 20-year-old daughter, Jennifer, take a two-shot lead into the 71st hole at Rich Harvest Farms. With just 127 yards left for her approach, she hit her pitching wedge the one place she couldn’t afford to miss – short, in the pond – and then compounded the error with a three-putt. The triple bogey dropped her one shot behind Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn.

Kupcho conducted a series of teary interviews afterward, but she had no time to dwell on the heartbreaking finish. She hopped on a plane back home and competed in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier two days later.

“We were worried about how she’d react – I didn’t know what to expect,” Mike said. “I would have been a wreck.”

But Jennifer fired a 66 in the opening round, then a 72 in the afternoon to earn medalist honors.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


“Well,” Mike said, “I guess she’s over it.”

Kupcho made it official Monday at Karsten Creek, claiming the NCAA title that should have been hers last May.

The Wake Forest junior won by two shots – the same margin she blew a year ago – for her fourth victory of the season, vaulting her into contention for the Annika Award.

“It’s just exciting to get here after everything I’ve been through,” she said.

Entering the final round in a share of the lead, Kupcho birdied the first but played Nos. 5-7 in 4 over par. It seemed like another collapse was brewing.

“I told her she’s going to have to face some adversity at some point,” said Wake Forest assistant Ryan Potter, who walked alongside her Monday. “There was a lot of golf to play, especially on a course like this.”

A birdie on 11 sent her on her way. She added a birdie on the drivable 12th, dropped another one on the par-5 14th and then canned a 60-footer for birdie on 16.

And so there she was again, two shots clear with two holes to go, when she stepped to the tee on the 17th. She piped a drive down the center, then flushed her approach directly over the flag, leading to a stress-free par. On 18, with water all the way down the left side, she nuked her second shot into the middle of the green for a two-putt birdie.

If there were any lingering questions about whether Kupcho could close, she answered them emphatically Monday. She carded five back-nine birdies for a two-shot victory over Stanford’s Andrea Lee (66) and Arizona’s Bianca Pagdaganan (72).

“Redemption,” Potter said. “She knew she could do it. It was just a matter of holding the trophy.”

After last year’s devastating finish, Potter tacked a photo on his closet wall of a victorious Arizona State team posing with the NCAA trophy. Each day was a reminder of how close they’d come.

“That sticks with you,” he said.

There were areas of Kupcho's game to shore up – namely chipping and bunker play – and she worked tirelessly to turn them into strengths. She built momentum throughout the season, culminating with a dominant regional performance in which she tied a school record by shooting 15 under, holed the winning putt to send her teammates to the NCAA Championship and became just the second player in history to win a regional in consecutive years.

“She’s interesting,” Potter said, “because the bigger the tournament, the bigger the stage, the better she plays.”

Indeed, Kupcho became the first player in a decade to finish in the top 6 in three consecutive NCAAs.

Here at Karsten Creek, she tied a women’s course record with a 7-under 65 in the opening round. And even though she backed up on Day 2, she played the last two rounds in 3 under to claim the title.

The one she kicked away a year ago.

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Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard (total scores): Jennifer Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to shoot 71 and win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.