Despite drama, Guthrie leads Honda Classic

By Doug FergusonMarch 2, 2013, 12:48 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy left before his round was even over. Tiger Woods had to rally just to stick around.

And with all that drama Friday in the Honda Classic, hardly anyone noticed that Luke Guthrie showed off his potential in a big way with a 7-under 63 to take a one-shot lead going into the weekend at PGA National.

Guthrie, pegged by many of his peers as a rookie worth watching going into the year, played bogey-free on another cool, cloudy day.

Of his seven birdies, perhaps the most impressive for the Big Ten champion from Illinois came on the sixth hole when he had mud on the side of his ball and was able to work the shot in from the right to about 10 feet.

After finishing his round, he walked into an interview room when someone mentioned that McIlroy walked off the course after being 7-over par through eight holes.

''I had no clue,'' Guthrie said. ''I was just kind of going about my business out there.''

He was at 9-under 131 and had a one-shot lead over Michael Thompson.

McIlroy, who missed the cut in Abu Dhabi and lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship in his previous two starts, made a double bogey on his second hole and rinsed two balls in the water on the 16th hole on his way to a triple bogey.

He hit his approach to the 18th in the water and never finished the hole.

He shook hands with Ernie Els and Mark Wilson and was on his way, but not before conflicting messages.

McIlroy told three reporters who followed him to his car that it was nothing physical but that he was ''not in a good place mentally.''

An hour later, he released a statement through his management company that he couldn't concentrate because of a sore wisdom tooth.

Woods looked as if he might join him. After mixing birdies with bogeys, Woods went bunker-to-bunker, over the green, short of the green and wound up with a double bogey on the 13th hole that put him one shot under the cut line with five holes to play.

Instead of the second straight week when No. 1 and No. 2 were gone early, Woods answered with a shot into 5 feet for birdie, a 6-foot par putt on the 16th hole, a par save from the back bunker on the 17th that was easier than it looked, and a par save from near the grandstand by the 18th green that was harder than it looked.

He wound up with another 70 to make the cut on the number, nine shots out of the lead.

''I didn't quite have my game like I did yesterday,'' Woods said. ''I hit it much better yesterday, but I putted better today, so it all evened out.''

Also having a tough time was tennis star Serena Williams, following in Woods' large gallery. She took a picture of the 14-time major champion after his tee shot on the 17th and was scolded by security. The PGA Tour does not allow photos on competition days.

''Apparently u can't take pics. This security ... yelled at me,'' she tweeted.

A few minutes later, she posted the photo. And she finished with one last tweet: ''In my Defense peeps always take pics of tennis players.''

There was no reason to get a snapshot of Camilo Villegas, who joined a dubious list of PGA Tour players who went from first-to-worst. Villegas, playing primarily on sponsor exemptions this year because he lost his full status, opened with a 64 for his best start in more than a year.

The Colombian was 13 shots worse on Friday in a round of 77 that caused him to miss the cut. The last player to do that was Jim Renner at the Travelers Championship in 2011.

Thompson had a 65 and will play in the final group with Guthrie, the first time all year the PGA Tour will have twosomes on the weekend.

Boo Weekley held it together for another day and shot 67 to finish two shots behind at 133, along with Graham DeLaet of Canada.

Behind them was an impressive collection of players.

Geoff Ogilvy finally began holing some putts and shot 66 to go into the weekend three shots behind, along with Lee Westwood (68), Charles Howell III (67), Sean O'Hair (68) and Justin Rose (66). Ogilvy had not made a cut in his past four tournaments, dating to his season opener in the California desert.

''The worst I've hit the ball was today,'' he said. ''You chip in, hole a couple of long putts ... it's amazing how different it is when you hole good putts.''

This is a big weekend for the likes of Ogilvy and Howell, neither of whom is in The Masters. They have to win or move into the top 50 by the end of the month.

For players such as Guthrie, Thompson, DeLaet and Weekley, they are so far down in the ranking that only a win would get them down Magnolia Lane.

The road to the Masters suddenly looks like an uphill climb for McIlroy.

Nike introduced him with blaring music and a laser show in Abu Dhabi, but it's been all downhill from there.

In three tournaments, he has missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship and withdrew after 26 holes at PGA National.

''His demeanor looks a little different,'' said Graeme McDowell, one of his best friends. ''I felt like he was a little off with his golf swing on the range. There were a few moans and groans coming from the bay next to me. It's normally a display. It's normally a clinic. It's superlatives coming from the coach and the caddie. That's the sign of a guy who's lacking a little technique in his swing and a little belief in his game.''

In the parking lot, McIlroy was asked three times if anything was wrong physically and he said no. Golfweek magazine reported he was near tears.

''There's not really much I can say, guys,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm not in a good place mentally, you know?''

Then came the statement that it was his wisdom tooth, an apology to the Honda Classic for withdrawing, and hope that his game is about to turn the corner.

McIlroy, whose manners have been as impeccable as his swing since turning pro, faced criticism for his behavior for the first time in his career.

And while he couldn't wait to get off the course, this much probably didn't cross his mind. By quitting in the middle of a round, he is ineligible for the Vardon Trophy he won last year for having the lowest scoring average of the PGA Tour.

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After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray


On the difference between this week and last week ...

There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard


On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

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Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

“Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

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Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

“Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

“I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

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Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

On the other side was art.

Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts in Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

“His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

“Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

“I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

But regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

“Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

“The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”