Watson leads season-opening Mitsubishi

By Associated PressJanuary 24, 2010, 4:35 am

KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii (AP)—Tom Watson knows the simple solution to turningaround an ugly putting performance.

“Make them,” he said. “Just make them all and that’s what I did on theback nine.”

Watson birdied six holes on the back nine for a 6-under 66 and a two-strokelead Saturday over senior newcomer Fred Couples after the second round of theChampions Tour’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship.

The 60-year-old Watson, coming off a win with Jack Nicklaus in the ChampionsSkins at Kaanapali, overcame a rocky start and finished with nine birdies andthree bogeys for a 15-under 129 total.

Players had a second day of mostly calm and hazy conditions at Hualalai GolfCourse, with the volcanic fog from Kilauea covering the Kona Coast. The scoreswere low again on this resort course, which is among the easiest on tour. Watsoncalled it a quarterhorse race.

“I hope my horse doesn’t trip. I’m letting loose. I’m not holding back onthe reins,” he said.

Couples, who shot a bogey-free 66, is making his first official ChampionsTour start on a sponsor exemption to the winners-only event.

“It’s not like you’re going to be a nervous wreck, you just want toaccomplish a goal and that’s to win,” Couples said. “It’s been done before. Idon’t know how many guys have played their first champions event and won. Butthat’s my goal.”

Fifteen players have won in their Champions Tour debut. They includeNicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player and three players last year, includingTom Lehman .

Lehman had a 67 to join Michael Allen (66) at 12 under. They were a strokeahead of Mark O’Meara (65) and Phil Blackmar (67).

Watson was paired with Lehman and will be with Couples on Sunday.

“Freddie and Tom gives our tour some street cred,” Watson said.

Couples said he’s looking forward to playing with Watson again. They werelast paired together at the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George’s.

After momentarily giving away the lead when he missed three very short parputts on the front nine, Watson surged back to the top with five straightbirdies to start the back nine to reach 14 under and open up a three-strokelead.

The eight-time major winner got the birdiefest going by two putting forbirdie on the par-5 No. 10.

“I made my first birdie at 10 and I said, ‘Let’s see how many birdies I canmake on the back nine,’ and I kept on knocking it pretty close … lo andbehold, that was the turnaround I needed,” Watson said.

He followed with birdie putts from 8, 15 and 12 feet, and added a tap-in forbirdie on 14 after a near-perfect 8-iron shot.

The last time he had five birdies in a row was the first round of the 2008Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, where he went on to win.

After parring 15, Watson hit an 8-iron to 12 feet for his final birdie.

Watson is seeking his first win since teaming with Andy North to take the2008 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. Watson was winless last year, but finishedsecond at the British Open.

Watson, who was bogey free Friday, struggled with his putter early. Hestarted with a three-putt from 18 on No. 1 where he missed a 3-footer for par.He then missed a gimme on par-3 eighth and a 4-foot putt for par on the nexthole, which dropped him a stroke off the lead.

“I have a tendency of yanking it way inside and shut the face, and I justcan’t get away from it,” Watson said. “It’s a quirk in my stroke. I’ve foughtit for a long time. I haven’t been able to solve it yet.”

Just as it appeared Watson would self-destruct on the greens, he regainedcontrol of his putting and the lead.

Watson also led the first two rounds and took a three-stroke advantage intoSunday in 2005, but lost in a playoff to Dana Quigley , who closed with a 66.

Couples, who turned 50 in October, used his length to his advantage. The1992 Masters champion was steady all day, but his best shot came on aspectacular par save from the bunker on No. 11.

“You don’t hole bunker shots for par. It might be my only time I do thatall season, but it was good timing,” he said.

After his second shot skipped across the green and rolled into the bunker,Couples chunked his sand shot, which bounced off the grass and rolled back towithin a couple feet of Couples’ shoes.

He then holed his second bunker shot to save par and a share of the lead at10 under, drawing a wide grin from Couples.

“I did not want to make a bogey. I thought I could chop at it and pop it upand get it going, which I did on the second one,” Couples said. “That washuge.”

He closed the round with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17.

Lehman took the outright lead at 10 under by birdieing the par-3 fifth, ahole he triple bogeyed Friday. Watson took the lead right back with tap-inbirdies on the next two holes. He nearly holed it from the bunker on the par-5seventh, with his ball hitting the pin.

Lehman started the day with a birdie, hitting a wedge from about 80 yards to3 inches of the cup. But he couldn’t make a move after his birdie on No. 5 with10 straight pars.

The 74-year-old Player shot his age and for the 29th time in his storiedcareer, but was in last place at 6 over. Player got the birdie he needed toreach his age by holing a bunker shot for birdie on 16.

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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.”