Stories Galore in Final Chapter

By Brian HewittNovember 10, 2008, 5:00 pm
There were more compelling story lines at the PGA Tours season-ending event than there were buses at Disney World, the theme park that hosted the Childrens Miracle Network Classic.
To wit, there was:
  • Davis Love III looking for his 20th Tour win and, perhaps a Comeback Player of the Year award, which could propel him to a berth on captain Fred Couples 2009 Presidents Cup team.
  • Jeff Overton, who underwent an emergency appendectomy late last month, trying to protect his No. 125 spot on the money list and secure his playing privileges for 2009.
  • Erik Compton, who underwent his second heart transplant ' just last May ' making the cut and trying to move up the leaderboard Sunday in the Land of the Mouse as he prepares for the grueling pressure cooker of Q-Schools second stage this week in nearby Brooksville, Fla.
  • Big Break alum Tommy Two Gloves Gainey, No. 228 on the money list, charging up that same leaderboard Sunday hunting an upset victory that would make him exempt on Tour through 2010 and an instant media darling.
    Just to name a few.
    And, actually, the one that caught my attention was Scott Verplank. Putting like the player that built a 4-1-0 record in Ryder Cup play, the 44-year-old Verplank cruised to a three-shot lead after 36 holes on the strength of a pair of opening 64s.
    A lot of people thought Verplank should have been one of U.S. captain Paul Azingers four discretionary picks for the team that would go on to thrash the Euros at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky earlier this year. But when I caught up to Verplank at Disney, he was having none of it.
    I would have liked to have been on that team, he said. And if I had putted better this year, I would have been on that team. No excuses.
    Interestingly, Verplank said his improved putting at Disney was a direct result of work he has been doing with one of his best friends, Bob Tway. Tway, who once won a PGA Championship, is leading the PGA Tour in putts per greens in regulation this year at the advanced age of 49. Verplank entered the week ranked an uncharacteristically low 72nd in the same category.
    Hes very analytical, Verplank said of Tway. And hes going to kick a lot of Champions Tour tail when he gets out there next year.
    Verplank burst onto golfs big stage way back in 1985 when he won the Western Open as an amateur at the difficult Butler National near Chicago. Verplank was the hot kid at the time. His future appeared limitless. But injuries and the burden of being a diabetic slowed his progress.
    Sunday at Disney Verplank began the day tied for the lead with Steve Marino, who cant help but remind you of a young Mark Calcavecchia, and found himself in the last grouping of the day with Marino and Love. He dropped three shots off the lead because he made the turn in a bloated 2-over 38. Birdies on 10 and 11 only matched the scores posted on those holes by both Marino and Love.
    The 2009 version of Scott Verplank is a little flintier than the confident kid who wowed everybody at the Western 23 years ago. But you will rarely hear him complain about all the physical setbacks he has had to fight through. And when his putter is right, he is positively fearless.
    Verplank birdied 12 and 13 to pull within two shots of Loves lead. But thats when DL III turned on the after-burners, finishing at 25 under after a second consecutive 64. He is now exempt for life on the PGA Tour because of his 20 wins.
    Gaineys matching final-round 64 shot him all the way up to sole second-place money and left him No. 148 in final money. That gets him conditional status on the Tour next year and entry into approximately 20 events.
    Overtons Sunday 69 produced a tie for 21st and moved him all the way up to No. 118 on the money list. Erik Comptons final round 72 earned a tie for 60th. He said he will seek an equipment guy to bend his irons more upright and lighten the weight in his driver before the 72 holes of second stage Q-School that begin Wednesday.
    Verplank and Marino tied for third, Marino bogeying two of his last six and Verplank bogeying No. 17 after missing a 5-footer on 14 that would have been his fifth straight birdie. The Fall Series is over now. Scott Verplank, and a lot of others will take time off.
    Verplank wound up a comfortable No. 77 on the money list. And the opinion here is he hasnt finished kicking some regular Tour tail.
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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.”