Tall Order Holmes Takes On Tiger

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2008, 5:00 pm
2007- WGC-AccentureTUCSON, Arizona -- J.B. Holmes was on his way to register Monday for the Accenture Match Play Championship when he bumped into Masters champion Zach Johnson, who stopped in mock surprise.
'Wow! So you did decide to show up,' Johnson said to him.
Holmes has taken this kind of teasing since the 64-man field at Dove Mountain became official Friday and he unofficially became the sacrificial lamb, the No. 64 seed who has to face top-ranked Tiger Woods in the opening round.
But the 25-year-old from Kentucky with Paul Bunyan length off the tee doesn't look at it that way.
He only sees an oasis in this desert course above Tucson, an opportunity to deliver a 1-2 punch in Arizona. It was only two weeks ago that Holmes knocked out Phil Mickelson in a sudden-death playoff to win the FBR Open, which essentially amounted to match play.
'Except that if you screw up once, you don't get another chance,' Holmes said. 'Match play is a little more forgiving than that. You can go down a couple of holes and come back and still do well in the end.'
Woods has won seven of the last eight times he has played, including his unofficial Target World Challenge. But if ever there was a tournament where -- with apologies to Rory Sabbatini -- Woods is 'more beatable than ever,' this is it.
Anything goes over 18 holes, especially in match play where no one knows who will show up with his best golf, or his worst. Woods has played this tournament nine times and only reached the final three times, winning in 2003 and 2004.
He lost in the first round to Peter O'Malley in 2002, was knocked out in second round by Nick O'Hern in 2005 and was eliminated by O'Hern in the third round a year ago.
None of those players can be regarded as world-beaters, and while Holmes' resume is a work in progress, he is coming off a victory outside Phoenix when he overwhelmed the TPC Scottsdale with his length, particularly in the playoff against Mickelson.
And it doesn't hurt that The Gallery is a haven for guys who can hammer it. A year ago, Henrik Stenson defeated Geoff Ogilvy in the championship match.
'Two short knockers,' Steve Stricker said with a grin. 'It was meant for guys who hit it a long way.'
No matter the course or the opponent, Holmes is simply happy to be in his first World Golf Championship, where all it takes is six matches to capture the $1.35 million prize.
He wasn't even in the top 100 until winning the FBR Open, and only got into the 64-man field when Brett Wetterich withdrew because of a shoulder injury. So a first-round match with Woods is nothing to complain about.
'Anytime you get a chance to play against the best player in any profession, you have to be doing pretty good to even have that opportunity,' Holmes said. 'I'm just excited to be able to go out and play and see what I can do. I've never seen him up close and watched him play. I get to see and maybe compare a little bit, and see what I need to improve on.'
Holmes' length is prodigious. He recently told how he reached the 542-yard 18th hole at Valhalla in two with a pitching wedge, and he hit one tee shot 389 yards last week at Riviera, the wind at his back on a firm fairway.
Woods arrived at midday and played his practice round, catching up to join a most appropriate person, Richard Green. Perhaps it was only a coincidence that Green is Australian and left-handed, a combination Woods has yet to conquer in this format (O'Hern is the same).
There was one nervous moment for Woods on the par-4 ninth, when his 3-wood found a bunker and he decided to hit another one. Halfway down his swing, he tried to stop when he heard the click of a camera from a fan in the gallery, and he winced and grabbed his side. He told his caddie to pick up the ball, and Woods walked down the fairway stretching out his right arm.
The other issue is his driver, which cracked during his victory in Dubai earlier this month.
Swing coach Hank Haney, in town for a few days, said with Woods' swing speed, it usually takes 1,500 to 2,000 strikes before a driver will crack. 'The driver is at its hottest right before it breaks,' Haney said. 'But I think he likes this one.'
The only thing that matters to Woods, Holmes or anyone else is simply to keep playing as long as possible.
Mickelson, the No. 2 seed and coming off a victory at Riviera, meets Pat Perez in the battle of San Diego public kids. Stricker is the No. 3 seed and gets a rematch of sorts with Daniel Chopra, who beat him in a playoff at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Ernie Els is No. 4 and will play Jonathan Byrd.
Picking a winner is about as easy as predicting weather on a late summer afternoon in the South. With so much parity in golf, they say there is no such thing as an upset.
But there's plenty of players who will be upset on Wednesday, namely the 32 guys going home.
'When you do get beat in this situation, it tends to hurt a lot more,' said Stricker, who won the Match Play in Australia in 2001. 'I don't know why. One guy beats you. But it does. It hurts more.'

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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.”