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25 years later, Azinger looks back at only major

By Doug FergusonAugust 8, 2018, 12:34 am

ST. LOUIS - Even with ample reason to think about what might have been, Paul Azinger prefers to wonder what's next.

This was one time he reluctantly agreed to celebrate the past.

He returned to Inverness Club over the weekend, his first time at the Ohio club since he reached the pinnacle of his career 25 years ago. He never imagined then that his golf would never be better.

Azinger won his only major at the 1993 PGA Championship with four birdies over the last seven holes for a 30 on the back nine, eliminating the likes of Nick Faldo and Vijay Singh, Tom Watson and Hale Irwin, and then beating Greg Norman on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.

All five are in the Hall of Fame.

''I loved being back there,'' Azinger said. ''It's nice to reminisce, and I remembered a lot about that week. It's not like me to celebrate, but I did it.''

The celebration 25 years ago didn't last long.

His right shoulder had been bothering him that year. Orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe called him Friday night during that PGA Championship to say results from a bone scan were in and it didn't look good. Azinger asked if it could wait until after the Ryder Cup.

Finding calm in a storm, he won the PGA Championship.

Finding the fight that enabled him to win 12 times on the PGA and twice more in Europe, he battled Faldo to a draw in Ryder Cup singles during a U.S. victory in England.

And then he was told he had cancer.

The diagnosis was non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which required six months of chemotherapy and radiation.

''You don't ever try to imagine what would have happened without getting sick,'' Azinger said. ''As you get older, you start to think more about it. I was a pretty confident player. I might not have been No. 1, but in my brain I was. I had a ridiculous run.''

How long would it have lasted? He'll never know.

''There's two ways to look at it,'' said Curtis Strange, the two-time U.S. Open champion who picked Azinger for his Ryder Cup team in 2002. ''Yes, his golf career was cut short. He really was a special player. He did it his way. He believed in his way, and that's all that matters. On the other hand, you look at what he had to overcome. His life was different. But he came back and won, he played well, and he's done a tremendous job in the TV world.''

Even with his best golf behind him, cut short by the invasion of cancer at 33, Azinger still managed to leave a mark in golf.

He still does. He always wonders what's next.

Azinger won for the last time in 2000, a seven-shot victory at the Sony Open that was best remembered for the long putter he stuck into his belly. That was what first brought attention to a new way of putting. A generation later, when Keegan Bradley at the PGA Championship and Webb Simpson at the U.S. Open won majors with the belly putter, the governing bodies decided to ban the anchored stroke.

He also made it back to another Ryder Cup team, primarily off the strength of that victory in Hawaii. Even though he was No. 22 in the standings, Strange picked him. And then the matches were moved back a year because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Azinger had fallen outside the top 50 in the world.

He went 0-1-1 for the week, yet both matches were memorable.

Azinger and Tiger Woods combined for a 63 and still lost when Thomas Bjorn, after Azinger had hit 7-iron to 5 inches on the 18th hole, made a 20-foot birdie. In singles, with the Ryder Cup very much undecided, Azinger was 1 down to Niclas Fasth and in the bunker left of the 18th green.

''I said to my caddie, 'I've got to hole this, don't I?' And he didn't say one word,'' Azinger said. ''And then I holed it. That was a moment I'll never forget.''

Europe wound up winning when Paul McGinley made the winning putt against Jim Furyk. That started a run of European dominance that was stopped by Azinger, who brought a maverick way of thinking to the matches when he was appointed captain.

Azinger demanded an overhaul of the points system and asked for four captain's picks instead of two, a model now in place. He also broke his team into three units and, using personality models, allowed players who qualified for the team to choose the wild-card selections.

The U.S. won that year at Valhalla in 2008, and Azinger's model was cited by Phil Mickelson when he criticized Tom Watson after the 2014 loss at Gleneagles, which led to players having more control. The Americans won the next Ryder Cup, and the U.S. team now looks strong as ever.

If it's not Azinger's system, his fingerprints are all over it.

Does he get enough credit for it? Maybe in some corners. Azinger really doesn't care.

Twenty-five years ago, he had reason to believe he would have won a lot more, even more majors. He might be in the Hall of Fame now, just like the players he beat that day at Inverness. The trip to Ohio allowed him to look back, and he found only happy memories.

''I've had an exciting life,'' he said.

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Thompson bounces back from rule violation

By Randall MellAugust 19, 2018, 2:22 am

If Lexi Thompson’s trouble in the sixth fairway brought back any painful memories Saturday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, she shook them off in a hurry.

If the approach of another rules official amid a spirited run of brilliant play rattled her, she didn’t show it.

Thompson posted an 8-under-par 64 in the third round despite another awkward rules infraction.

Her round was impressively bogey free but not mistake free, and so her work will be a little harder Sunday chasing Lizette Salas.

After incurring a one-shot penalty for violating a local rule in effect for preferred lies, Thompson will start the final round five shots back instead of four.

She knows she’s fortunate she isn’t six back.

If a rules official hadn’t witnessed Thompson in the middle of committing the infraction, she could have been assessed an additional penalty shot for playing from the wrong spot.

Thompson got the penalty after stepping on the 10th tee and blowing her drive right, into the sixth fairway. She got it after picking up her ball over there and lifting, cleaning and placing it. She got it because she wasn’t allowed to do that in any other fairway except for the fairway of the hole she was playing.

The preferred-lie rule was distributed to players earlier in the week.

The story here isn’t really the penalty.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


It’s Thompson’s reaction to it, because she opened this week in such heartfelt fashion. After skipping the Ricoh Women’s British Open to take a month-long “mental break,” Thompson revealed this week that she has been struggling emotionally in the wake of last year’s highs and lows. She opened up about how trying to “hide” her pain and show strength through it all finally became too much to bear. She needed a break. She also candidly shared how the challenges of being a prodigy who has poured herself into the game have led her to seek therapists’ help in building a life about more than golf.

That’s a lot for a 23-year-old to unload publicly.

Last year may have been the best and the worst of Thompson’s career. She said dealing with that controversial four-shot penalty that cost her the ANA Inspiration title, watching her mother battle cancer and losing a grandmother were cumulatively more difficult to deal with than she ever let on. There was also that short missed putt at year’s end that could have vaulted her to Rolex world No. 1 for the first time and led to her winning the Rolex Player of the Year title. She still won twice, won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and was the Golf Writers Association of America Player of the Year.

That’s a lot of peaks and valleys for a young soul.

That’s the kind of year that can make you feel like an old soul in a hurry.

So seeing a rules official approach her on Saturday, you wondered about Thompson gathering herself so quickly. You wondered what she was thinking stepping up and ripping her next shot 215 majestic yards, about her hitting the green and saving par. You wondered about how she  bounced back to birdie 13 and 14 and finish bogey free.

With this week’s soul bearing, you wondered a lot about what rebounding like that meant to her.

We’re left to wonder from afar, though, because she wasn’t asked any of those questions by local reporters afterward. The transcript showed three brief answers to three short questions, none about the penalty or the challenge she met.

Of course, there were other questions to be asked, because local rules have been an issue this year. Did she read the local notes with the preferred lies explanation? She got hit with another local rules issue in Thailand this year, when she hit her ball near an advertising sign and moved the sign, not realizing a local rule made the sign a temporary immovable obstruction.

Of course, there were other good stories in Indy, too, with Sung Hyun Park poised to overtake Ariya Jutanugarn and return to Rolex world No. 1, with Salas holding off Park so brilliantly down the stretch Saturday.

Thompson, though, is the highest ranked American in the world. She’s the face of American women’s golf now. A face more tender, resolute and vulnerable than we have ever seen it.

Folks along the ropes watching her on the back nine in Indy Saturday got to see that better than any of us.

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Salas capitalizes on Park gaffe to take Indy lead

By Associated PressAugust 19, 2018, 2:07 am

INDIANAPOLIS – Lizette Salas waited patiently for Sung Hyun Park to make a rare mistake Saturday.

When the South Korean mishit her approach shot into the water on the par-4 16th, Salas capitalized quickly.

She rolled in her birdie putt then watched Park make double bogey – a three-shot swing that gave Salas the lead and the momentum heading into the final round of the Indy Women in Tech Championship. Salas closed out her 8-under 64 with a birdie on No. 18 to reach 21 under – two shots ahead of Park and Amy Yang.

“I have been striking the ball really well, and I just had to stay patient,” Salas said. “And yeah, putts dropped for sure. I just really felt comfortable.”

If she keeps it up one more day, Salas could be celebrating her first tour win since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship and her second overall. With five of the next six players on the leader board ranked in the world’s top 30, Salas knows it won’t be easy.

The changing weather conditions weather might not help, either. If the forecast for mostly sunny conditions Sunday holds, the soft greens that have kept scores at near record-lows through the first three rounds could suddenly become quicker and less forgiving.

But the 29-year-old Californian seems to have the perfect touch for this course, which weaves around and inside the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

She shot three sub-par rounds and finished tied for fifth last year here. This year, she has three more sub-par rounds including a course record-tying 62 on Thursday and has been atop the leader board each of the first three days.

“I have been so confident the whole year,” Salas said. “I have a different mentality, I’m a different player. So I’m just going to go out and play as if I’m behind.”


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


Salas’ toughest challenge still could from Park, who spent most of Saturday flirting with a 54-hole scoring record.

She birdied the last four holes on the front side and made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to reach 21 under with a chance to become the sixth LPGA player to ever finish three rounds at 23 under.

The miscue at No. 16 changed everything.

She never really recovered after dropping two shots, settling for par on the final two holes for a 66 after shooting 68 and 63 the first two days. Yang finished with a 65 after going 68 and 64.

“I was a little weary with right-to-left wind,” Park said. “I think a little bit of weariness got to me, but overall, it’s OK.”

Defending champion Lexi Thompson was five shots back after completing the final nine of the second round in 2 under 34 and shooting 64 in the afternoon.

She made up ground despite being assessed a one-stroke penalty after hitting her tee shot on No. 10 into the sixth fairway and lifting the ball without authority. Rules officials had implemented the preferred lies rule because more than an inch of rain had doused the course.

Thompson still made her par on the hole though it temporarily broke her momentum after making six birdies on the front nine in her first appearance since taking a monthlong break to recover from physical and mental exhaustion.

“Twenty-seven holes, I definitely had a few tired swings toward the end,” said Thompson, who finished each of the first two rounds with 68s. “But overall, a lot of positives. I hit it great. I made some really good putts.”

Three players – Nasa Hataoka of Japan, Jin Young Ko of South Korea and Mina Harigae – were tied at 15 under. Ko started the third round with a share of the lead but had three bogeys in a round of 70.

Now, all Salas has to do is cash in one more time.

“I’ve been knocking on the door quite a bit in the last four years, haven’t been able to get it done,” Salas said. “I’ve got good players behind me, I’ve just got to play my game.”

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Bradley leads Dick's Sporting Goods Open into final round

By Associated PressAugust 19, 2018, 12:28 am

ENDICOTT, N.Y. - Michael Bradley shot a 4-under 68 on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead into the final round of the PGA Tour Champions' Dick's Sporting Goods Open.

The 52-year-old Bradley had five birdies and a bogey in the rain-delayed round to reach 11-under 133 at En-Joie Golf Club. A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, he's seeking his first victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Bart Bryant and Marco Dawson were tied for second. Bryant, the 2013 winner at En-Joie for his lone Champions title, had a 67. Dawson shot 70.


Full-field scores from the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open


Wes Short Jr. (65), Clark Dennis (70) and Tom Gillis (69) were 9 under, and Kenny Perry (69) was 7 under with first-round leader Doug Garwood (73), Mark Calcavecchia (69), Woody Austin (71), Jerry Haas (68) and Scott Parel (68). Perry won the 3M Championship two weeks ago in Minnesota.

Bernard Langer, the 2014 winner, was 5 under after a 69. Defending champion Scott McCarron had a 71 to get to 1 under. John Daly, the winner of the PGA Tour's 1992 B.C. Open at En-Joie, was 6 over after rounds of 73 and 77.

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Snedeker still in front on Day 3 of suspended Wyndham

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 11:21 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Brandt Snedeker held a three-stroke lead Saturday in the Wyndham Championship when the third round was suspended because of severe weather.

Snedeker was 16 under for the tournament with 11 holes left in the round at the final event of the PGA Tour's regular season.

Brian Gay was 13 under through 12 holes, and Trey Mullinax, Keith Mitchell, C.T. Pan and D.A. Points were another stroke back at varying stages of their rounds.

Thirty players were still on the course when play was halted during the mid-afternoon with thunder booming and a threat of lightning. After a 3-hour, 23-minute delay, organizers chose to hold things up overnight and resume the round at 8 a.m. Sunday.

When things resume, Snedeker - who opened with a 59 to become the first Tour player this year and just the 10th ever to break 60 - will look to keep himself in position to contend for his ninth victory on Tour and his first since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.


Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Current FedExCup points list


The 2012 FedEx Cup champion won the tournament in 2007, the year before it moved across town to par-70 Sedgefield Country Club.

Snedeker's final 11 holes of the round could wind up being telling: In seven of the 10 previous years since the tournament's move to this course, the third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win.

And every leader who finished the third round here at 16 under or better has wound up winning, including Henrik Stenson (16 under) last year and Si Woo Kim (18 under) in 2016.

Snedeker started the day off strong, rolling in a 60-foot chip for birdie on the par-4 second hole, then pushed his lead to three strokes with a birdie on No. 5 that moved him to 16 under. But after he sank a short par putt on the seventh, thunder boomed and the horn sounded to stop play.

Gay was 12 holes into a second consecutive strong round when the delay struck. After shooting a 63 in the second round, he had four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. He placed his 200-yard second shot 10 feet from the flagstick and sank the putt.