First Contestant Cashes in His Chips

By October 5, 2004, 4:00 pm
Big Break II LogoEditors Note: The Golf Channel aired the second episode of The Big Break II Tuesday night, the networks follow-up to its hit series from last fall where 10 highly skilled golfers compete in a weekly showdown of golf skills challenges. The last man standing after the 11-week season wins the Big Break of his golfing career - an opportunity to compete in four Nationwide Tour events televised on The Golf Channel in 2005.
As the players arose from a wild night at the Treasure Island casino, each one of them was well aware that by the time the sun set in the Nevada desert that evening, one player would be heading home.
Co-hosts Rick Smith and Lesley Swanson met the contestants on the range at the Stallion Mountain Country Club and again reminded them just how big the stakes were 'four Nationwide Tour exemptions, $10,000 in cash and a brand new Ford 500. They also let them in on what was in store for the first day of real competition and how the format was going to be set up.
Each week the players will face three separate challenges ' a skills challenge, a mulligan challenge and then the all-important elimination challenge. The winner of the skills challenge will be done for the day, immune from elimination and safe for another week.
The rest of the players then compete in the Top-Flite Mulligan Challenge were they play for an extra shot in the elimination challenge that would ultimately send someone packing for home.
The Big Break IIIts a pretty comfortable feeling knowing that if you can win the skills challenge you can sit down for the rest of the day, remarked Jay McNair, a schoolteacher from Brandon, Fla.
For the first skills challenge a giant wall was erected in front of were the players were to hit, with the idea to force them to hit both a draw and a fade shot into a green about a 185-yards out. Each players shots were to then be measured as to how far they landed from the flagstick and the lowest total would be finished for the day.
Getting out there and being creative, thats the best part of the game for me, said Mike Foster, Jr. of Savannah, Ga., about his prospects of what it took to win the shows first skills challenge.
O.K., so you have to hit around (this big wall), how hard can that be? Well, its your first challenge of the show and youre very nervous. Very, very nervous, said Sean Daly from San Luis Obispo, Calif. Anybody saying that they werent nervous are lying like dogs.
After a variety of good and bad approach shots, it was Foster who stood alone on top at the end. On the strength of a beautiful shot to 4 9 of the flag, Foster could rest easy knowing hed live to see another day.
It was ridiculous how good 4 9 was. He just wiped us all off the map, quipped Don Donatello about Fosters strong performance.
It was then on to the Top-Flite Mulligan Challenge where an old favorite from the original series was brought back to decide who would get the extra shot in the Elimination Challenge. The competitors were to attempt a knock-down shot while trying to break a small, square plane of glass, sitting on a pole about four-feet high and 30-yards away.
It was the first time I had ever taken a ball and a club and attempted to break glass ' and it was fun, said John Turk from Melbourne, Fla.
There were nine panes of glass with each players name on a separate target. The remaining contestants took turns trying to break the glass of someone other than their own. The last player to keep his glass from being broken would get the extra shot in the days final challenge.
And suddenly without warning, things began to get a little spicy as Donatellos target became the focus of the other players.
I happened to do what I always do which is run my mouth, and my mouth kinda got a shoe, a ball and a piece of glass stuck in there, said a chuckling Donatello following his early exit in the mulligan challenge.
After a good amount of trash talking, near misses and glass shattering, the 23-year-old Daly was fortunate enough to win the mulligan as his glass somehow withstood the barrage of knock down shots.
Its such a fun competition to win, said Daly, who now enjoyed the thought of strategically using a mulligan in the days final event.
And finally the moment had arrived ' the Elimination Challenge.
All of sudden the reality of guess what somebodys going home here, said Turk on the serious tone the competition had quickly taken. You could hear a pin drop.
Faced with a long par-3 over water, the players took aim at a green marked for scoring purposes. A 15-foot circle around the flagstick was worth 3 points, a circle outside that worth 2 points and anything on the green and not inside either of the inner circles was to be worth a single point.
The players would each hit a shot from three different locations ' one from 180-yards, one from 146-yards and then the last shot being a wedge from 119-yards.
After the first series of approach shots only three of the contestants managed to score any points, the other six coming up with blanks.
I was feeling good but I was very nervous, said Donatello, who was one of the three to score two points during round 1 of the elimination challenge. I mean, Im telling you my heart was pounding so hard, like I was back at Q-School trying to get my (PGA Tour) card.
Through the completion of the second round of the challenge, two more players managed to get on the scoreboard but still four had yet to tally a single point. It would come down to the final shot of the day.
Daly, Turk, David Gunas Jr. from Amston, Conn., and McNair all now faced a simple wedge shot to a green from just over 100-yards.
The Big Break IIThird shot. Im second to last to go. Everyone has points except for me and Jay. If I dont hit this green Im basically thinking Im going to be going home, said Gunas Jr., who then deftly landed his final shot on the green to earn his first point and put the pressure solely on McNair.
So with the wind swirling, the pressure mounting and a bit of indecision in his club selection, McNair let fly his last attempt only to watch it come up short and with it his dreams of playing with the big boys on tour.
You gotta learn how to lose before you can win, said an obviously disappointed McNair. Its not going to be the end of it, hopefully it will be just the beginning. I just wish it would have lasted a little longer.
Be sure to tune in to The Golf Channel next Tuesday at 9:00PM (ET) as the group takes in some Las Vegas shows and face another round of tough challenges to see who will survive, and who will follow McNair off the show.
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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.”