Top Players Ready for Sawgrass

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2004, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Twelve tournaments. Twelve winners.
The first three months on the PGA Tour were similar to last year, when the biggest names were on top of their games, but no one - not even Tiger Woods - dominated golf.
'It just gets exponentially harder to win,' Davis Love III said Wednesday.
It doesn't get any easier this week.
All the best players are assembled at The Players Championship to face the first major test of the year, and perhaps to sort out who the top contenders are with the Masters just around the corner.
Woods seems like a logical choice, except that his only victory was the Match Play Championship, and he is coming off his worst finish on the PGA Tour in five years.
Vijay Singh was closing in on No. 1 until he missed the cut at Torrey Pines, then went two more tournaments without finishing in the top 10.
Phil Mickelson started his year with five straight finishes in the top 10, including a victory in the Bob Hope Classic. Masters champion Mike Weir repeated at Riviera. Ernie Els won another playoff at Waialae.
Seven of the top 10 players in the world have won.
None has dominated.
'There's a lot of guys playing great golf out here,' Love said. 'And it's hard to separate yourself.'
The Players Championship, which starts Thursday, has its strongest field ever with 80 of the top 100 in the world.
The Stadium Course on the TPC at Sawgrass looks as tough as ever, especially given the firm greens during practice rounds and dry conditions that are expected to last through the week.
'I can only imagine what they're going to be like on Sunday,' Chad Campbell said. 'It's going to be a hard test.'
Adding to the luster is the announcement Tuesday night at a players-only meeting that the richest purse in golf got even richer - $8 million, with $1.44 million going to the winner.
'There was a gasp in the room,' Love recalled. 'I don't think we were expecting that number.'
Love achieved rare separation last year, when he had a superb closing round of 8-under 64 in cold, blustery conditions to win by five shots.
But he has been reminded that no winner in the 30-year history of The Players Championship has ever repeated.
'I'm just trying to get lost in the process of golf and not think about results, not think about what I've heard for the last three weeks - that no one has ever won the championship back-to-back,' Love said. 'I've won twice. I just have to put the years together.'
Told that 12 players won the first 12 tournaments of the year, Love replied, 'I hope there's 13 different winners after this week.'
Love is among the top 10 players without a victory this year, although he is No. 4 on the money list. The others are Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk, who showed up Wednesday with a plastic brace on his left wrist from surgery Monday. Furyk will be out for at least three months.
Of the dozen winners this year, only Woods has to answer questions about what's wrong with his game, although his performance last week at Bay Hill was peculiar - after four straight years of winning, he went three straight rounds over par and tied for 46th, 18 shots behind Campbell.
The strongest and deepest field in golf tees off Thursday on a course that was reviled when it opened in 1982, but since has commanded the utmost respect.
The rough is a uniform 4 inches, and players got a sense of what they were up against by watching maintenance workers hose down areas of the rough around the green, making it even thicker.
The wind has blown up to 20 mph during the practice rounds, leading Els to suggest it could be an even tougher test than at Augusta National.
And they still haven't filled in the big pond that surrounds the 17th green.
The par 3 is the signature hole at The Players Championship, the penultimate hole on the ultimate target course that more often than not decides the tournament.
Woods has two historic moments there - a 25-foot birdie putt that led to his comeback in the 1994 U.S. Amateur, and a 60-foot birdie putt that broke three directions in the third round of his Players Championship victory in 2001.
Mickelson, always thinking aggressively, referred to it as a birdie hole.
'It's only 135, 140 yards,' he said. 'Guys have hit tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of 9-irons that distance and knocked it close or on the green. It's the penalty for the miss that is much more severe.
'I equate it to walking a balance beam,' he said. 'You can walk a balance beam no problem a foot off the ground. But raise it to 10 stories, it looks different.'
The rest of the course is like walking a tightrope, which is why this tournament - unlike the majors - rarely produces surprising winners. Only five winners cannot list a major among their credentials, and the only real shock was Craig Perks in 2002, the only guy to make The Players Championship his first tour victory.
But that's what makes this so hard to win.
Unlike the majors, all 149 players in the field are capable of winning.
'It just identifies the player who's playing the best, who has the whole package going,' Weir said.
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - The Players Championship

  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship

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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.