Els Schwartzel hold 54-hole lead at Doral

By Doug FergusonMarch 14, 2010, 4:21 am

2010 WGC-CA ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. – Charl Schwartzel finally has a chance to show off his game on a world stage. The next step is to take on Ernie Els, a familiar face from his native South Africa.

Schwartzel ran off four birdies in the opening six holes to catch up, then stayed in the game with three big par putts on the back nine for a 5-under 67 at Doral and a share of the lead with Els going into the final round of the CA Championship.

Els was in front for most of the sunny, blustery day on the Blue Monster until he started missing birdie opportunities. He had to settle for a 2-under 70 to join the 25-year-old Schwartzel at 12-under 204.

It will be an all-South African final pairing, three weeks after another WGC produced an all-England pairing in the final of the Match Play Championship.

Only this time, there are loads of other possibilities.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who had downplayed his chances most of the week, ran off four birdies on the back nine only to have his streak of 26 holes without a bogey end with a three-putt on the 18th. He still had a 67 and was one shot behind.

Robert Allenby, somehow, remains in the mix.

The Australian missed eight putts from inside 15 feet and was falling out of contention until two late birdies allowed him to salvage a 1-under 71, leaving him only two shots behind.

Bob Hope Classic champion Bill Haas nearly holed his final shot on the 18th for a tap-in birdie and a 70. He was three shots behind.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson failed to make up any ground with a 72, which put him eight shots behind. He suffered a stinger in his left elbow hitting off the firm turf on the 18th hole, and while he said it was tender, did not expect it to be a problem.

Schwartzel is the least accomplished among the top four players, although he has one advantage – the recent experience of winning.

Els has not won on any of the major tours since the Honda Classic two years ago, and last year failed to win anywhere in the world for the first time since his first full year as a pro in 1990. Harrington hasn’t won since his the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

Schwartzel, who stayed with Els last week after failing to qualify for the Honda Classic, qualified for this elite event by winning consecutive weeks in South Africa to move into the top 50 in the world.

He didn’t win against a strong field. But he won.

“It doesn’t matter what you win,” Schwartzel said. “To win is difficult. You’ve still got to play all 72 holes and make that putt on the last hole. It gives you a lot of confidence to win. And as I sit here, I’m very positive. I feel like I can play with the best. And to me, that’s a step in the right direction.”

It’s a big step for Els, too.

He won on the Blue Monster in 2002, when he took an eight-shot lead into the final round and survived a frenetic rally by Tiger Woods to win by two. Els now has a chance to join Woods as the only multiple winners of this WGC event, having won in Ireland when it was the American Express Championship in 2004.

Els showed so much confidence in his swing that he took his drive over the left bunkers on No. 5, about a 285-yard carry with the wind blowing across and slightly helping, which left him a flip wedge to a few week for birdie. That started a stretch of three birdies in four holes, only Schwartzel stayed with him.

Schwartzel tied him briefly three times on the front nine, but what kept the 25-year-old in the game was a series of pars on the back. He holed an 8-foot par putt on the 11th, and one from about the same distance on the 13th after a dreadful tee shot that was so far to the right that it clipped a tree and tumbled into the rough.

Then came the 14th, when his tee shot hung up in the shaggy collar of a bunker, forcing him to place his left foot on a mound and his right foot in the sand, no shot at reaching the green. He hit wedge to 18 feet and made that for par.

Els started missing short putts, which cost him a birdie on the par-5 12th and a par on the 13th when his 4-foot putt spun 270 degrees around the cup. He also missed from about 3 feet on the 16th, which played downwind and allowed most players to drive around the green.

Els is closing in on legendary status in South Africa, a three-time major champion who has played and won around the world. It can be intimidating for a young South African, although Schwartzel has been around him a long time.

How long?

“I’ve played golf with his dad. That’s how far back we go,” Els said earlier in the week, referring to a team event played when Schwartzel was barely walking.

Els has been touting him for years, and Schwartzel is just now starting to show what the hype was all about.

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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”