Love aces way to Honda lead over McIlroy

By Doug FergusonMarch 1, 2012, 11:23 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Davis Love III looked more like a player than a Ryder Cup captain Thursday at the Honda Classic.

Love made a hole-in-one on the 197-yard fifth hole and tied the course record at PGA National with a 6-under 64, giving him a two-shot lead. He took advantage of soft and relatively calm conditions in the morning.

Rory McIlroy was in the group at 66, needing a win this week to go to No. 1 in the world.

Tiger Woods needs a good round just to have a chance going into the weekend. Playing the Honda Classic for the first time as a pro, Woods twice lost momentum with sloppy bogeys and failed to convert a routine up-and-down on the par-5 18th for a 1-over 71. He was seven shots out of the lead, right on the cut line going into Friday.

But he played in tougher conditions, with stronger wind, in the afternoon and still hit the ball well, as he has been doing.

“I didn’t get a whole lot out of my round,” Woods said. “I hit the ball a lot better than I scored, and I certainly putted well, and I didn’t hardly get anything out of the round. Hopefully, tomorrow it will be better.”

Woods missed only three greens, but took 34 putts.

The 47-year-old Love has been around long enough to know that one round is nothing more than a good start, and he was happy to have that after a 5-iron to 18 feet for birdie on the 17th and a bunker shot to tap-in range for birdie on the par-5 18th.

He hasn’t won since Disney at the end of 2008, and the last time he was atop the leaderboard after one round was at Bay Hill in 2010.

“If I had not birdied the last two holes, it still would have been a good start,” Love said. “It’s fun to tie the course record. And it’s fun to shoot low scores.”

Nine other players have shot 64 at PGA National, the most recent Graeme McDowell a year ago.

McIlroy also got off to a good start, only this held much more promise.

The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland is looking like the world’s best player with each tournament he plays. He won an unofficial event in Shanghai in October, the Hong Kong Open a week later and only once has finished outside the top 10 since the PGA Championship.

A week ago, he lost in the final of the Match Play Championship.

As even more attention shifts to the U.S. Open champion, McIlroy seems to embrace it. He made his opening round at PGA National look easy, rarely putting pressure on any part of his game.

He birdied the last two holes of the back nine, made the turn and picked up another birdie on the par-4 second by smartly playing short of the bunkers and firing his approach into a breeze to about 18 feet from a back pin. His final birdie came on the par-3 seventh, when caddie J.P. Fitzgerald talked him into a hard 6-iron that stopped 12 feet short of the cup.

“It was pretty stress-free out there,” McIlroy said. “I hit quite a few fairways and a lot of greens and gave myself a lot of chances, and that’s sort of what you need to do around this golf course.”

Love opened with four pars until he reached the par-5 fifth, where he hit a hard 5-iron that drew gently toward the flag, and the next thing he heard was wild cheering from around the green.

“I knew when we were on the range this morning that early scores were going to be better, and you’d better get off to a good start,” Love said. “I was parring along there, had not made a birdie yet then all of a sudden was 2 under. So that was a big boost.”

It helped that PGA National was more benign than usual.

Because of rain Wednesday and the possibility of some afternoon showers, players were able to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway, which always helps. The greens were smooth in the morning, another advantage. And there wasn’t much wind.

Ryan Palmer, Justin Rose, Martin Flores, Kevin Stadler and Dicky Pride, whose top 10 in Mexico last week got him into the Honda Classic, joined McIlroy at 66. PGA champion Keegan Bradley was among those at 67.

Bradley played with McIlroy and Phoenix Open winner Kyle Stanley. Their games are so similar that after their opening tee shots at No. 10, their tee shots landed in a line next to each other, separated by no more than five paces.

Stanley struggled to a 75, brought on by three consecutive three-putts early in the round.

Bradley and McIlroy surged ahead, and Bradley looked forward to more occasions like that.

“I love playing with Rory for a lot of reasons,” he said. “We’re both very competitive, and I like the kid. He’s just a good kid, a good Irish kid.”

The 25-year-old Bradley was reminded that the kid was only three years younger.

But there seems to be an appreciation that McIlroy soon could be the guy against whom players measure themselves. Bradley was a two-time winner last year as a rookie, and his work on the short game – particularly his chipping – appears to be paying off. There were several holes where Bradley turned potential trouble into an easy par.

“There’s nothing more in the game of golf that makes me feel good than chipping up close,” he said. “It’s better than making a 50-foot bomb or hitting a 300-yard drive. It’s been the different between being in the middle of the pack and contending.”

McIlroy is contending just about every time he plays, and this is an important stretch. He has two tournaments left before he takes his three-week break to prepare for the Masters.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”