Laird takes Bay Hill lead Tiger still in picture

By Doug FergusonMarch 25, 2011, 10:08 pm
Arnold Palmer InvitationalORLANDO, Fla. – Martin Laird didn’t split up with his coaches. It just sounds that way.

And it’s not because he was playing poorly. Quite the opposite.

A playoff loss at the opening FedEx Cup playoff event all but assured him a spot in the majors this year. Then came a trip home to Scotland and a tie for fifth in the Dunhill Links, followed by a return to America and a playoff loss to Jonathan Byrd’s hole-in-one in the dark of Las Vegas. Laird then went to Malaysia and tied for third.

One similarity to that stretch was that Laird didn’t practice. He showed up and played.

“It showed me that I’ve always been more of a grinder,” he said Friday after a 7-under 65 for a one-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “It was funny to me that when I really just turned up at tournaments and let it happen, I played better. My coach and I decided this offseason to see a lot less of each other.”

The idea was to get together every half-dozen tournaments to check positions, because Laird is doing something right.

“And it’s paying off,” he said.

He did get together with coach Mark McCann at the start of Bay Hill, only because he felt he hit the ball poorly at Innisbrook last week, when he chipped and putted to a tie for fifth. They worked on one swing key, and Laird was on his way.

Nine holes into his practice round, it all came back to him.

Thirty-six holes into the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Laird was at 9-under 135 and had a one-shot lead over Spencer Levin, who struggled to a 70 in the morning, and K.J. Choi, who had a tournament-best 64 in the afternoon.

Staying atop the leaderboard will be the tricky part.

There were 16 players separated by six shots going into the weekend at Bay Hill, a group that included – barely – six-time Bay Hill champion Tiger Woods.

Woods played a clean round Friday, the only big mistake coming on the third hole when he made solid contact out of the rough but turned the ball over enough to twice bounce off the rocks framing the green and staying in the hazard. He still pitched up to 2 feet and did no worse than bogey, his only dropped shot in a round of 68 that put him six shots behind.

For Woods, that constitutes progress these days.

“I had a hard time getting the ball to the hole today,” Woods said. “That was probably the main thing. I left five putts that were dead center short, and this could have been a pretty special round if I had hit it a little harder.”

Even so, he was still in the picture. That wasn’t the case at Doral or the Match Play Championship, where he was beaten in the first round. Bay Hill takes on more significance because it’s his last tournament before the Masters.

“We’re trying to build toward the first major, and that’s kind of how my game is,” he said. “It’s building and it’s coming.”

The same could be said for a couple of other players far closer to the lead.

Levin has been feeling more comfortable on the PGA Tour and contending more often. He didn’t play his best Friday in the slightly easier morning conditions, but leaned on his belly putter – all four of his birdies were longer than 15 feet.

The group at 6-under 136 included Steve Marino, who some consider the best player over the last year to have never won on the PGA Tour. Marino has given himself two shots this year, at the Sony Open and Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and is back for another chance.

“Every time I put myself in a position like that, it gives me more confidence,” Marino said. “If I have the game to do what it takes to get to that point, it’s just a matter of time for me until I just keep doing the same things and finish one off.”

Also at 136 was Charles Howell and Vaughn Taylor. Both have won on the PGA Tour, and both are desperate for win right about now, especially since it’s the only way they can play in their hometown tournament in a few weeks at the Masters.

Rickie Fowler also is looking for his first win. He was making his way up the leaderboard until bogeys on his last two holes for a 71. He was at 4-under 140, along with Jason Dufner.

Laird didn’t talk about the swing key McCann gave him, but he couldn’t be happier with his driver.

He reached three of the par 5s in two shots, converted one of them into an eagle, and played the longest holes in 5 under. And it wasn’t just the par 5s. Even without any wind in the afternoon, Laird hit driver on the 384-yard fifth hole to set up a simple pitch and another birdie. He closed his round with a 321-yard tee shot on the ninth and a 12-foot birdie.

“I’m driving the ball really well and putting really well,” Laird said. “Ask any pro – that’s a pretty good combination to have, especially on a golf course this long where you have to drive the ball in the fairway.”

Choi put in three hybrids to go with his driver and two fairway metals, all to get ready for the Masters. It paid dividends at Bay Hill with a tournament-best 64. Levin didn’t play his best in the morning, but his putting carried him to a 70. Levin made all four of his birdie putts outside 15 feet to stay atop the leaderboard until Laird’s late surge.

“I would never have thought that I would score 8 under today on a course like this,” Choi said. “I’m just happy that I’ve done that, and I just want to keep this rhythm going on for the last two days.”

Getty Images

Bjorn adds four Ryder Cup veterans as vice captains

By Will GrayMay 22, 2018, 1:05 pm

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has added a quartet of vice captains for the biennial matches this fall in Paris.

Bjorn had already named Robert Karlsson as his first assistant, and he announced Tuesday at the BMW PGA Championship that his group of advisors will also include major champions Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, and former world No. 1s Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

Westwood is among Europe's most decorated Ryder Cup players, and his addition in this role signals he likely won't participate as a player in the matches for the first time since 1995. The Englishman has spoken openly about his desire to captain the European squad at Whistling Straits in 2020, but he's been quiet on the course in recent months, with a missed secondary cut at the Houston Open his only start since mid-February.

Harrington is seen as another possible captain for the 2020 matches, and he'll don an earpiece for the third straight Ryder Cup, having represented Europe as a player on six straight teams from 1999-2010.

Donald played on four Ryder Cup teams from 2004-12, with the Europeans winning each time he was on the roster. This will mark his first stint as a vice captain, as Donald announced last month that he would be sidelined indefinitely while recovering from a back injury.

At age 38, McDowell will be the youngest vice captain in the room, having holed the winning putt eight years ago at Celtic Manor. He won the French Open in both 2013 and 2014 at Le Golf National, site of this year's matches, and will also be making his debut as a vice captain.

Getty Images

Bidder pays $50,000 to caddie for Woods

By Grill Room TeamMay 22, 2018, 12:28 pm

Someone has paid $50,000 to caddie for Tiger Woods at this year’s Hero World Challenge.

An unnamed bidder paid for the opportunity at an auction Saturday night at Tiger Jam, where monies are raised to support the Tiger Woods Foundation.

The Hero World Challenge will be contested Nov. 29-Dec. in Albany, Bahamas. The pro-am is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28.

Getty Images

NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:28 am

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams have advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals will be contested on Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

11AM-conclusion: Match-play quarterfinals (Click here to watch live)
4-8PM: Match-play semifinals

4-8PM: Match-play finals

Getty Images

Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.