Thompson shoots 64 in Rd. 2, shares Kraft lead

By Associated PressApril 5, 2014, 12:55 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Lexi Thompson's play around the greens has held her back at times in her young LPGA career, lagging behind her powerful long game.

On Friday in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, her putting touch carried her to the top of the leaderboard in the first major championship of the year.

The 19-year-old, already a three-time winner on the tour, shot a bogey-free 8-under 64 at Mission Hills for a share of the lead with Se Ri Pak.

''I worked extremely hard in the offseason on my short game and just trying to get my game a lot more consistent,'' Thompson said.

She had only 25 putts after taking 35 in a first-round 73.

''I just had a little bit of speed issues yesterday,'' Thompson said. ''I didn't really commit to my lines and I came up short a lot. I just went out today and picked my line and sped up my tempo a little bit and went up to it and said, 'I'm going to knock it in.'''

After experimenting with a stance close to the ball to get her eyes more over the putting line, she's standing farther away in a more natural position.


Kraft Nabisco Championship: Articles, photos and videos


''Even as a little kid I stood far away from the ball and took the putter inside. I just went right back to that,'' Thompson said. ''I moved farther away and just take one look at the hole and just knock it in. Hopefully.''

Pak birdied the final hole for a 70 to match Thompson at 7-under 137. The 36-year-old South Korean player won the last of her five major titles in 2006 and has 25 LPGA victories.

''Everything has just been really solid,'' Pak said. ''I kept it fairways, greens, always the goal every hole. I had a lot of opportunities, but putting is not as good as yesterday. Still, just really smooth, solid round. I'm really happy about the way I finished.''

Michelle Wie was a stroke back after a 71.

''I'm really excited,'' Wie said. ''It's fun being near the top of the leaderboard. But try not to look forward too much. It's a long way 'til Sunday.''

Thompson birdied eight of the last 13 holes after opening with five pars.

''I was just trying to stay in the moment and focus on each shot, not really think about what I was shooting,'' Thompson said. ''I had the same confidence over every shot, just committing to my line and just being confident.''

She made a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 17th - her eighth hole - and two-putted for birdie after reaching the par-5 18th in two.

Thompson holed a breaking 30-foot birdie putt on the par-4 first, made a 4-footer on the par-4 third and ran in a 20-foot putt on the par-4 fourth after slashing out from under a tree in the left rough. She added an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-4 seventh and closed with a 10-footer on the par-5 ninth after hitting into the greenside bunker in two.

''This is my favorite tournament of the year,'' Thompson said. ''It's so beautiful, like really nice weather, and the fans are amazing. I'm really comfortable with the golf course. I get to hit a lot of drivers, so I just aim up the right side and hit my little draw.''

Wie opened with a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-4 10th, and dropped a stroke on the par 13th after driving behind a tree in the right rough. She had a three-putt par on 18 - missing a 3-footer - after reaching the water-guarded green in two.

''It felt good to start off with a birdie,'' Wie said. ''After that, really just couldn't get anything going. ... But it felt good. Par is a good score out here.''

On the par-5 second, she made a 25-foot birdie putt after hitting a snap hook off the tee. Instead of going out of bounds, the ball hit a tree and ricocheted into the fairway.

''It was a pretty lucky shot,'' Wie said. ''I thought it was for sure OB.''

First-round leader Shanshan Feng bogeyed the final two holes for a 73 to drop into a tie for fourth with Cristie Kerr at 5 under. Kerr had a 70.

Thompson, Pak and Wie played in calm morning conditions, while the breeze picked up as Feng and Kerr finished their afternoon rounds on the overcast day.

''The wind kind of picked up, so it was actually tougher playing compared to yesterday,'' Feng said. ''I think I actually did pretty well. I did make two bogeys coming in, but I was still concentrating, and it just happens. Sometimes you make good strokes and they don't fall on this course. I'm still positive.''

Anna Nordqvist, the winner in Thailand in February and Carlsbad last week, was tied for sixth at 4 under after a 69. Stacy Lewis, the 2011 champion, had a 70 to join 16-year-old Lydia Ko and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb at 1 under. Ko and Webb, a two-time winner this year, also shot 70. Defending champion Inbee Park was even par after a 70.

Getty Images

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.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“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.”

Getty Images

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.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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.”

Getty Images

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.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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.”

Getty Images

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.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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.”