Something was missing
Sunday in Ohio was a day the PGA TOUR surely wishes had been left on the cutting room floor.
It was such a short time ago that we were all singing the praises of golf at its highest level because the Open Championship at Birkdale gave us Greg Norman, Padraig Harrington, a pinch of David Duval and more Rocco Mediate. It gave us a challenging and fixating backdrop of weather you wouldnt put your cat out in.
And we realized our game was safe even from the absence of Tiger Woods.
Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone we realized that maybe it isnt.
The winner, Vijay Singh, limped to victory and showed once again that he cant be trusted with a putter in his hands no matter what its size or grip. Singh is NOT the favorite for this weeks PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
Bridgestone also showed us that Phil Mickelson, who bogeyed three of his last four holes Sunday to drop into fourth place, isnt to be trusted with a driver in his hands down the stretch in the final round.
He, too, is NOT the favorite at Oakland Hills.
So who is?
The answer is
Thats right. There is not a clear-cut pre-championship favorite for the years final major.
Which, actually, will make for a pretty good story line.
Meanwhile, last week was one of those embarrassment-of-riches weeks in golf. Its that time of year when the schedule is chock full. Everywhere you wanted to look there were compelling angles.
Here was Michelle Wie tantalizing all her fans Thursday in Lake Tahoe with a first round, 1-over par 73 in the PGA TOUR event there. Unfortunately for the rapidly dwindling group of people who still believe she should be trying her luck on the mens side, Wie skied to a Friday 80 low-lighted by another quintuple-bogey 9 that matched the number she carded at the par-4 ninth at the U.S. Womens Open in late June.
There was Singh making a mile of putts Friday in Akron and finding himself in the last group Saturday at the WGC-Bridgestone with his old foe Mickelson.
Think Woods was watching that with interest from home back in Florida?
There was Annika Sorenstam having to hustle to make the cut at the Womens British Open at storied Sunningdale in England. Laura Diaz startled everybody with three eagles in her second round. And Lorena Ochoa, who would tie for seventh, struggled to regain the dominant momentum she had built early in the year when, after capturing the Kraft Nabisco, she had generated talk about a womens Grand Slam.
Finally, there was Fred Funk fighting off neck problems at the U.S. Senior Open where the most watched golfer was Norman. Norman had reminded us just last month that almost anything is possible when, with nine holes remaining Sunday, he led the Open Championship by a shot over eventual winner Harrington.
Norman didnt factor in the Sunday mix at the Broadmoor in Colorado, but wound up fourth. Funk was runner-up to winner Eduardo Romero.
As for Annika, well, she fired a final-round 68 and tied for 24th in what will probably be her last major championship for a long time. She is engaged to be married next year and starting a family, she says, is a high priority.
But Sorenstam left the big stage in style in England. She hit all 18 greens in her final round and she was a bigger story than the winner, Ji-Yai Shin, who had managed to keep it a pretty good secret that shes the No. 10 ranked player in the world.
I wish I had the hunger in me to stay motivated, Sorenstam said after her round. Because I can still play.
She birdied her last hole and called it my last putt.
Ive dedicated my life to golf, she added.
Quietly, Asian women won three of four majors in 2008.
And over in Tahoe another Hawaiian, Parker McLachlin, won on a Wie-less weekend.
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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.
Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.
''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''
The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.
Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.
Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.
''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''
Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.
Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.
First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.
Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round
CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.
Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.
Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.
“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”
Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.
“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”
Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win
CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.
Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.
“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.
“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”
Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.
Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey
CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.
This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.
Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.
Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.
“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”
Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.
“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”