Mahan, Wilson, McIlroy, Westwood reach semis

By Doug FergusonFebruary 25, 2012, 9:30 pm

MARANA, Ariz. – A dull day in the desert ended with high anticipation Saturday when Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood won their matches, setting up a semifinal showdown in the Match Play Championship.

At stake for the winner - a chance to go to No. 1 in the world.

McIlroy had another surge on the back nine to put away Bae Sang-moon of South Korean, 3 and 2. Moments later, Westwood finished off Martin Laird of Scotland for a 3-and-2 victory to advance to the semifinals.

Either of them can replace Luke Donald at No. 1 by winning this World Golf Championship.

“It definitely gives the match an extra bit of spice,” McIlroy said.

Hunter Mahan played the shortest quarterfinal match in the 14-year history of the event by beating Matt Kuchar, 6 and 5. His semifinal match will be against Mark Wilson, gaining more respect the deeper he goes in the bracket. Wilson had an easy time in his 4-and-3 win over Peter Hanson of Sweden.

That assures an American will reach the championship match for the first time since Tiger Woods won in 2008.

The semifinal matches will be played Sunday morning, following by the 18-hole championship match in the afternoon.

With a strong breeze, firmer conditions, tough hole locations and only four quarterfinal matches, Saturday at Dove Mountain was lacking excitement. For the first time ever, none of the quarterfinals matches reached the 17th hole.

McIlroy and Westwood saved the day.

For starters, it’s the first time the Match Play Championship semifinals have featured two of the top four seeds since 2004, when Woods and Davis Love III advanced. McIlroy is No. 2, and Westwood is No. 3.

And while they consider themselves friends, there was a testy exchange between them last summer on Twitter, and McIlroy later left the International Sports Management stable.

Westwood already has been No. 1 in the world, and said his priority is picking up his first WGC title. McIlroy already is a major champion, having won at Congressional last summer in the U.S. Open, and would become at 22 the second-youngest player behind Woods to reach No. 1 in the world.

“My priorities were to win major championships and win World Golf Championships because I haven’t ever won any,” Westwood said. “I’ve been at No. 1 couple of times. It would be a different way of thinking to me compared to Rory, who hasn’t been No. 1. He may be thinking about it, but my main goal is to play well - or play as well as I’ve been playing - tomorrow morning and try and win that match.”

Getting to this stage has been relatively easy.

McIlroy had to go to the 18th hole in the opening round, but has had little resistance since then. He took the lead for good over Bae with a birdie on the 11th hole, then stretched his advantage when Bae chopped up the 13th hole and missed the par-4 15th green on the wrong side and had to settle for par.

Westwood had a tougher time Saturday, but not for long.

He had led in 48 of the 49 holes he played through the opening three rounds, and fell behind immediately to Laird. But starting with Laird’s bogey on the sixth, Westwood won four of the next five holes. He holed a 6-foot birdie putt to halve the 13th hole and stay 2 up, then seized command when Laird took three shots to get out of the bunker on the 14th before conceding.

An All-American semifinal is not nearly as surprising as the players in the match.

“I don’t think too many people picked me to win,” Wilson said.

He has a chance to win for the fourth time in 14 months, more than anyone on the PGA Tour in that time, but gets easily overlooked by his medium-length off the tee. Wilson makes up for that with smart play and great putting, a deadly combination in this format. Even on the par 5s he couldn’t reach at Dove Mountain, he played to the right angles and kept pressure on Hanson.

Mahan escaped the opening round in 19 holes over Zach Johnson before bulling his way through the bracket with birdies. He only needed pars against Kuchar, whose belly putter went cold on him.

Mahan, who won a WGC title at Firestone two years ago, won five holes with pars against Kuchar. He holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the ninth to go 5-up at the turn, then won the next hole when Kuchar again missed from 6 feet for par.

“Matt couldn’t find the putter today, which is rare for him, because he’s a great putter,” Mahan said. “I got lucky in that aspect. But I played solid, didn’t make any bogeys and didn’t give many holes - and kept the pressure on him. That was nice to do.”

 

Getty Images

USC's Gaston leaves to become head coach at A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

Getty Images

Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

Getty Images

Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.

Getty Images

Just like last year, Spieth in desperate need of a spark

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Jordan Spieth has arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a turnaround. Again.

Spieth’s playoff victory last year over Daniel Berger, complete with a bunker hole-out and raucous celebration, went down as one of the most electrifying moments of 2017. It also propelled Spieth to some more major glory, as he won The Open in his very next start.

So it’s easy to forget the state of Spieth’s game when he first stepped foot on the grounds of TPC River Highlands a year ago. Things were, quite plainly, not going well.

He was struggling on the greens, even going so far as to switch putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He then failed to contend at Erin Hills, only netting a T-35 finish thanks to a final-round 69 that came hours before the leaders teed off.

So here we are again, with Spieth in search of a spark after a series of underwhelming performances that included last week’s effort at Shinnecock Hills, where he bogeyed the last two holes of his second round to miss the cut by a shot. Except this time, the climb back to the top may be even steeper than it was a year ago.

“I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now,” Spieth said. “If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming. But the last couple weeks I’ve played Muirfield and then the (U.S.) Open, and I hit the ball really poorly and didn’t give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work.”

While many big names play sporadically in the time between the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth remained as busy as ever thanks to the Tour’s swing through Texas. So even after failing to contend much in the spring outside of a memorable finale in Augusta, and even after struggling for much of his week at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth looked out at his schedule and saw a myriad of possible turning points.

There was the AT&T Byron Nelson, played in his hometown and at a venue on which he was one of only a handful with any experience (T-21). Then a trip across town to Colonial, where he had beaten all but two players in a three-year stretch (T-32).


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Throw in the missed cuts at Muirfield Village and Shinnecock Hills, and Spieth has made it to the last leg of a six-event stretch that has included only one off week and, to date, zero chances to contend come Sunday.

“I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and try not to do too much,” Spieth said. “I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournaments the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I’ve had too much to do from here on.”

That was certainly the case last week on Long Island, where Spieth’s hopes for a fourth major title evaporated well before course conditions became a focal point over the weekend. He was 4 over through his first two holes and spent much of the next 34 stuck in a fit of frustration. He gave himself a glimmer of hope with four late birdies Friday followed by a pair of bogeys that snuffed it out with equal speed.

Spieth has continued to preach patience throughout the year, but there’s no getting around some eye-popping stats; he's 188th on Tour this year in strokes gained: putting and 93rd in fairways hit. It can foster a pressure to find a cure-all in any given week, especially given how quickly he got a middling summer back on track last year.

“It’s something that you fight, sure,” Spieth said. “It’s been that way just about every tournament except Muirfield, because then you go to the U.S. Open and think you don’t even have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament. So as much as that kind of comes into your head, it’s not bothering me this time. I’m going to try and have fun, and make progress.”

After this week, Spieth will have some down time with family before making the trip overseas to Carnoustie. He plans to have a few private dinners accompanied by the claret jug, one last toast to last year’s success before turning the trophy back over to the R&A.

But even Spieth admitted that as it pertains to his chances to follow in Brooks Koepka’s footsteps by successfully defending a major title, he’ll be greatly aided by working his way into the mix this weekend. It represents the last chance in this early-summer swing to get his name back on the leaderboard, an opportunity to light fire to a pedestrian campaign like he did a year ago.

No pressure.

“It’s your basic stuff that sometimes gets off, that the harder you try to get them back on sometimes, the worse it gets,” Spieth said. “It can be frustrating, or you can just kind of wait for it to come to you. I think I’m OK with where things are, whether it’s the rest of this year or next year. I feel like there are good scores coming.”