Yang returns to defend Honda title

By Associated PressMarch 4, 2010, 2:59 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Y.E. Yang rubbed his hands together against the chill as the wind nearly sent his visor flying, then tugged on his bright red jacket.

A little unseasonable weather isn’t taking away from his return to PGA National.

“Even though it’s very chilly outside,” Yang said later, “it feels very warm to me.”

As well it should.

The 2009 Honda Classic started what in many ways was a breakthrough year for Yang, the Korean player who, until this week a year ago, was best known for holding off Tiger Woods at the HSBC Masters at Shanghai in 2006 and snapping a streak of six straight stroke-play wins by the world’s No. 1 player.

Then he handled the field at PGA National in 2009, holding off John Rollins by a shot. A bit more than five months later, he took down Woods again, that time for the PGA Championship. And now Yang is back in South Florida, looking to defend his Honda Classic title against a field that includes a slew of top international players like Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington.

“This place is very dear to me,” Yang said. “It’s given me my first victory on the PGA Tour. So it’s always going to have a special place in my heart.”

Y.E. Yang after winning the 2009 US Open
Y.E. Yang after winning the 2009 US Open (Getty Images)
The field has a distinctly European feel; the top American teeing off when the tournament opens the tour’s Florida swing on Thursday is Anthony Kim, currently No. 30 in the World Golf Ranking. One of the top up-and-coming Americans, Rickie Fowler, is in the field, looking not only for a strong follow-up to finishing second last week at the Phoenix Open, but possibly qualify for next week’s CA Championship at Doral as well.

And the weather, it too has a touch of the European Tour.

Temperatures across South Florida are supposed to be 10 degrees or more below normal throughout the remainder of the week. Those with early morning tee times might wake up to the mercury below 50, downright frosty for this section of the country. Jackets were everywhere on Wednesday, and Steve Marino even broke out a ski cap.

“We are ready to start sweating,” said Casey, who also endured a big chill while finishing as the runner-up for the second straight year at Match Play two weeks ago, when Arizona also had unseasonable cold.

Weather, though, seems to be the least of everyone’s concerns.

Narrow fairways, thick rough and testy greens make PGA National tough enough.

“It’s one of the toughest courses,” Harrington said. “If you don’t like this golf course, your game isn’t good enough. That’s it. That’s the reality of this course.”

Then there’s the wind.

Forecasters say it could blow out of the west and northwest throughout the weekend, with gusts Thursday and Friday exceeding 20 mph, then slowing a bit for the weekend.

It could make holes 15, 16 and 17 – the Bear Trap, a nod to course redesigner Jack Nicklaus – downright diabolical.

The 15th is a par-3 to a diagonally shaped green that slopes toward water, followed by a par-4 to an elevated green with an approach over water, followed by another par-3 over water with a noticeably tight green.

In calm conditions, par is a great score at any of them. In wind, good luck.

“Really when we did the holes, the two water holes, we made them very short par 3s,” Nicklaus said. “We didn’t realize the wind was going to play such a difficult situation and play havoc with everything they do. But it turned out that way and you know, it got nicknamed the Bear Trap after that. So I guess I got famous for that.”

Yang got famous for taming them.

A year later, he’s telling the secret, that there was a very specific reason why he was able to win at PGA National a year ago.

That reason: Somewhere along the way, he stopped trying to win the tournament.

One shot to the next, that was Yang’s only focus last year at PGA National, when the Honda became his first PGA Tour win and pushed him along the path toward becoming a major champion.

“During the Honda Classic last year, I tried to strategize each hole,” Yang said. “I didn’t really think beyond every hole. And I think by playing each hole to the utmost of my abilities, that’s what really changed my game, and that’s the same that happened afterwards, as well, in every other tournament.”

At least, until last week.

He was in position to win at Phoenix before a tee shot went into the water at No. 17, and he wound up two shots back of Hunter Mahan.

“Looking back on last week, I think it was some good medicine for me,” Yang said. “If I can bring back what I’ve learned last year over here at PGA National, I think I can fare quite well through the remainder of this season.”

Funny. He left PGA National last year saying the same thing.

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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.”

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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.