Irish Eyes Are Smiling

By Brian HewittMarch 14, 2005, 5:00 pm
My first name is Brian. My middle name is Flannery. My mothers maiden name is McDermott.
And one of my proudest days as a journalist came in 2000 when Dublins Irish Times newspaper asked me to write a piece about the American perspective on the Emerald Isles Darren Clarke the day before he thumped Tiger Woods in the 36-hole final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play at La Costa.
Our job as reporters is to root for the story, not the players. But when the shots are counted, the day is done and the checks are cut, I am never unhappy when an Irishman has left richer than when he arrived.
Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington earned his first PGA Tour victory just four days before St. Patrick's Day.
In fact my experience with Irishmen is that they almost always leave the rest of us richer than we were when they arrived.
Im not talking about leprechauns and potato jokes and green beer and clichs. Im talking about the lyrical quality of being Irish; the lilt in an Irishmans voice; the twinkle in the eyes of so many of them.
Irishmen somehow seem to know, earlier than most, that life is short. And the Irishmen I know arent about to be cheated by that realization.
Sunday at the Honda Classic in Florida, Padraig Harrington, a Dubliner, crafted a final round 63 to become the first man from the Republic of Ireland to win on the PGA Tour.
Im sure, Harrington said after his round, I kept a few pubs open tonight.
I will never forget interviewing Harrington on the practice tee at San Franciscos Olympic Club during the U.S. Open back in 1998. The subject was Irish golf patriarch Christy OConnor Sr., Harringtons boyhood idol.
Harrington told me about watching OConnor hitting knockdown 6-irons into the wind at Royal Dublin in weather I wouldnt put me cat out in.
Sunday in California, The republic of Irelands Des Smyth won on the Champions Tour for the first time. Smyth is the pride of a wonderful little links course called Baltray in County Louth just over from Drogheda and up the road from Royal Dublin.
I will never forget interviewing Smyth in 2000 near the scorers tent after Smyths unsuccessful qualifying round for the Open Championship in Scotland. Smyth was in his late 40s at the time. His eyes were bright and his smile was joyous. He would keep trying to qualify, he promised, until he couldnt play the game anymore. Then a friend swept by and ushered him off for a pint.
I could go on and on, something the Irish do very well. I could tell you stories about John Byrne, who knows as much about Irish golf courses as Joyce did about writing; I could tell you about a man called P. J. Crotty who played the flute like a distant dream and remains, to me, the soul of the west of Ireland, even more so after his recent passing in Lahinch. I could tell you about Dermott Gilleece, my favorite Irish golf writer who reports when he should report and writes when he should write and is never too busy for a question.
I could tell you about the late John Robert McDermott, my mothers brother, (Harrington would say: me mudders brudder) who sponsored me at confirmation and also wrote penetratingly about golf for much of his career.
And I could even tell you about the chilly, gray day on a Dublin beach near where the River Liffey pours into the Irish Sea. That was where I found OConnor Sr., the great man himself, walking his dog and glad for the company.
Earlier, OConnor had told me why he turned down all those invitations to play in the Masters. The price of a round trip plane ticket back then, he said sternly, was very dear. And the national economy back then, he reminded, was not the Irish Tiger it is today.
There is, of course, a dark side to the Irish, too. And OConnor, Gilleece told me, was not a man you crossed lightly after a night on the tiles.
Drinkers and brawlers are labels the rest of the world is comfortable with when it comes to characterizing the Irish. More often than not, the Irish at least see the humor in it.
At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Spain an Irishman reached the gold medal round in boxing for the first time in more than 30 years. Why, a reporter from the Boston Globe asked the Irish coach, had it taken so long?
We fight better, the coach replied, when there are more stools around.
Anyway, Harrington will be playing in the 2005 Masters in less than a month. He will be one of the favorites.
You can be sure they will be talking and dreaming of this Thursday in Ireland. They will be rooting for Harrington at Augusta. And they will be rooting for the story.
Thursday is, after all, St. Patricks Day.
And the Irish are, after all, the Irish.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”