Kuchar leads after first day at Cog Hill

By Doug FergusonSeptember 9, 2010, 10:32 pm
BMW Championship

LEMONT, Ill. – Already having his best season, Matt Kuchar got off to his best start of the year Thursday in the BMW Championship. A mystery season for Tiger Woods took another unexpected turn.

Kuchar, who won the opening FedEx Cup playoff event to position himself for the $10 million bonus, wasted no time putting his name atop the leaderboard. He finished with an 18-foot birdie putt for a 7-under 64 and a one-shot lead over Ryan Moore.

Ian Poulter of England, who has finished in the top 10 only once since winning the Match Play Championship in February, had a 66 for the best round of the afternoon despite opening with a double bogey.

Woods also started with a double bogey, but he never got those shots back.

With one last bogey on the 18th hole, he wound up with a 73 to leave himself in a big hole as he tries to advance to the final stage of the playoffs in Atlanta. It was his highest round at Cog Hill since he opened with a 73 in the 2005 Western Open. It also ended a streak of 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s on the public course in the Chicago suburbs where he has won five times. 

Matt Kuchar
Kuchar's 64 is his best opening round of the year. (Getty Images)

Woods should be used to rough starts by now. His scoring average in the first round this year is 71.08, compared with 68.9 a year ago in the same tournaments.

Even so, it was peculiar to hear him discuss how much ground he has to make up – not against Kuchar, but the finish he needs to get into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings and advance to the Tour Championship.

“As of right now, I’m only five shots back out of that spot,” Woods said. “That’s not bad.”

Everything is good with Kuchar at the moment, except his voice. He is playing so well – a winner at The Barclays, a tour-high 10 finishes in the top 10 this year – that there’s really nothing left for him to say.

Not that he had a choice. Kuchar has laryngitis and begged off a series of interviews, letting his score speak for itself. It was the second-best start of his career, and the 21st time in 23 events this year that he broke par in the opening round.

“Just keep playing,” Kuchar said to one question he felt good enough to answer. “I was driving it well. I was actually doing everything well. It felt very good. Last week was a little bit suspect, and this week I kind of figured some stuff out.”

Something clicked for Moore when he least expected it.

Dressed in a black sweater and white golf shirt, with a tie hung loosely around his neck, Moore was 1 over for the round and in a bunker on the 11th. He holed that out for birdie, hit 3-iron to 5 feet for birdie, and after a par, finished with five straight birdies.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting to do that,” Moore said. “I hit a horrible tee shot on 11 with an even worse lay-up, and then I hit a terrible shot from there into a bunker and then holed out. I don’t know. Just got a little positive momentum going from there.”

Poulter had to find some quickly. He hit his opening tee shot to the right on the 10th hole, put his approach into a front bunker and then caught that clean and sent it over the green. He missed a 4-foot putt and took double bogey, although it helped that it’s about a 250-yard walk to the next tee.

“Nice first round,” he said. “Not a very nice first hole, mind you.”

Retief Goosen and Charlie Wi were at 67, while the group at 68 included Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and Justin Rose.

Phil Mickelson, not a fan of Cog Hill, ended with a bogey on the par-5 ninth hole for a 72. Mickelson swapped out playing in the pro-am to do a corporate function, and instead played Butler National on Wednesday, which he raved about.

He was asked if it was harder to play a course for which he has little affection.

“Yes,” he replied.

Woods feels the opposite, although that was hard to tell by the way he played. He began by hitting a poor bunker shot, an even worse chip and a bad putt for a double bogey. He missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the ninth. With an iron into the par-5 15th, he hit it well left into a tree and had to settle for par.

“I just didn’t have much today,” Woods said.

He also was nine shots behind in 2005 when he opened with a 73, and Woods wound up in second place two shots behind. But he was a little more predictable back then. What gave Woods hope is that despite such calm conditions, no one went lower than 64.

“Guys aren’t going low at this place because the greens aren’t good enough to go low,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a couple of players that have played well today, but overall, the guys just aren’t tearing the place apart.”

Woods is No. 51 in the standings, and the top 30 make it to the Tour Championship. He likely needs to finish around fifth place this week to go to East Lake in Atlanta.

The good fortune of Andres Romero appears to have run out. The Argentine birdied four of his last five holes at The Barclays to narrowly advance to the second round, and he tied for 11th in Boston to make it to the third round. He is No. 68 in the standings, but made five bogeys in six holes to start his round and shot 80.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin:

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Azinger 'lobbied' to captain Ryder Cup team a second time

By Rex HoggardOctober 22, 2018, 1:47 pm

In 2008, Paul Azinger became the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain in nearly a decade to lead a team to victory, doing so at Valhalla with his innovative “pod” system and a player-driven approach to leadership.

In the wake of that victory there were many, including the vast majority of his players, who said Azinger deserved a second chance to captain, but at the time the 12-time PGA Tour winner appeared to be undecided and the PGA of America named Corey Pavin the 2010 captain.

On Monday, Azinger was named NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst starting next year and among many revelations during an extended interview on “Morning Drive” he explained how much he wanted a second chance to captain.

“I wanted to do it again, I lobbied to do it again after we won in ’08, but I think I waited a little too long and they had already made a decision,” Azinger said. “The excuse I got was that there are more captains than there are Ryder Cups and I thought that was fair, but then they asked [Tom] Watson to do it again shortly afterward and I was like, ‘What, huh?’”

Watson was named captain of the 2014 U.S. team, which lost by five points and led to the creation of the Ryder Cup task force, which adopted many of Azinger’s ideas including his use of four-player pods.

It’s even more curious that Azinger was never given a second chance considering that Davis Love III was also named a captain twice, first in 2012 and again in ’16.

“I didn’t do it again, I didn’t carry the flag to Europe in 2010, which is fine, and now I’m never going to get to do it again,” he said.

As for who may be named the next U.S. captain after another loss to the Europeans last month in France Azinger could only speculate. “Looks like Wisconsin [site of the 2020 matches at Whistling Straits] and Steve Stricker are going to be a perfect match,” he said.