Watney Stricker share lead in Tampa

By Associated PressMarch 20, 2009, 4:00 pm
PALM HARBOR, Fla. 'Nick Watney is playing so well that he doesnt even realize it.
 
Coming off a wrenching one-shot loss to Phil Mickelson at Doral, Watney kept right on rolling Friday with a 4-under 67 at the Transitions Championship to share the 36-hole lead with Steve Stricker.
 
I guess Im playing very well, but it really seems like this is just what Im supposed to be doing, Watney said.
 
Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker had a four-birdie, no-bogey 67 Friday. (Getty Images)
It will be the third straight weekend round that Watney will be in the final group. He played with Mickelson the last two rounds at the CA Championship, and it might not get any easier at Innisbrook.
 
Stricker, who also had a bogey-free 67, is playing quite well this year, too.
 
Take away one bad patch ' a 77 in the last round to lose the Bob Hope Classic, followed by a missed cut in Phoenix ' and Stricker has shot par or better in every round this year. This was his 10th straight sub-par round.
 
I know that Ive been playing well, Stricker said. I know Ive been shooting some good scores. But no, I havent paid attention to that. I look at my stats and I realize I was up there in the stroke average. Obviously, I must have been shooting some decent scores.
 
They were at 6-under 136 on a Copperhead Course that is among the strongest tests on tour. It has become even tougher with sunshine that is baking out the greens and strong wind in the afternoon that makes it field more like June than the Florida swing.
 
You dont play this course thinking youre going to make a bunch of birdies, Charles Howell III said after a 66 put him in the large group at 5-under 137. At least I dont. Maybe thats my problem.
 
The bigger problem is finding separation at a tournament that doesnt seem to allow it. Some two dozen players were within four shots of the lead going into the weekend.
 
Jonathan Byrd reached 8 under through 11 holes until he kept finding the bunker and making bogeys. He had to settle for a 70 and joined Howell in the group at 137 that included two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen (68), Stuart Appleby (67) and former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman (69), who turned 50 last week.
 
This is a golf course that it kind of scrunches the field a little bit, said Joe Ogilvie, who joined that group after a 66. Youre not going to see a guy well, (Jim) Furyk might get it to 10 under but youre not going to see a guy shoot 62 on this golf course.
 
Ogilvie spoke too soon.
 
Furyk opened with a 65 for his first lead on the PGA Tour in nearly 20 months. He was 13 shots worse on Friday while playing in the afternoon, and had to two-putt from 30 feet on his final hole simply to make the cut. He wound up with a 78 to finish at 1-over 143.
 
Ryo Ishikawa, the 17-year-old from Japan, had a 73 to finish at even-par 142 and make his first PGA Tour cut. He missed the cut in his PGA Tour debut last month at Riviera.
 
Masters champion Trevor Immelman had consecutive sub-par rounds for the first time since the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, shooting a 70 to join the group at 4-under 138 that included Rich Beem and Steve Flesch, who each had 67.
 
Stricker made his blunder early in the tournament when he took double bogey on the second hole from a plugged lie in the bunker and a three-putt, which really irritated him. But he has been solid ever since, and was especially happy about two birdies on the par 3, the last one coming on No. 8 with a 5-iron to 15 feet.
 
If you play the par 3s well here this week ' play them at even par or better ' youre doing well, he said.
 
Watney seems to be everything well at the moment. He attributes most of that to a putting aid called Inside Down the Line Putting Track which swing coach Butch Harmon asked him to try. That was in October, and Watney has been rolling ever since.
 
First came his victory in the Buick Invitational with birdies on two of the last three holes, then a spirited duel with Mickelson in which Watney came up an inch short on a birdie putt at Doral to force a playoff.
 
Im keeping the game pretty simple and putting well, Watney said. Hopefully, that will continue.
 
Divots: Nick Watney wrote the initials LM on his cap in honor of Lee Markarian, a friend in Fresno, Calif., who had triple bypass surgery on Thursday. Just so he knows Im thinking about him, Watney said. Bob Estes had a 78 to miss the cut, but what really stung was an insect. After taking a penalty drop in the trees on the 11th hole, he felt something sting him while hitting his next shot. Estes said the stinger stayed in his neck until someone used a piece of tape to extract it. Brandt Snedeker missed the cut for the fifth time in seven starts this year.
 
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    After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

    By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the Nelson's future ...

    If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

    Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

    The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

    The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray


    On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

    Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

    He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

    Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

    Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta


    On golf and gambling ...

    On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

    Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

    Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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    Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

    By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

    DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

    Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

    He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

    Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

    With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.


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    As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

    “She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

    Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

    That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

    “I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

    Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

    “He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

    Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

    The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

    “I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

    Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

    “It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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    Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

    By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

    DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

    Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

    “Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”


    Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

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    Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

    “It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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    Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

    By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

    DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

    Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

    Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.


    Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

    AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


    “I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

    Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

    Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

    “I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.