Mickelson, Watney co-lead at Quail Hollow

By Doug FergusonMay 4, 2013, 10:17 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Phil Mickelson's ball was just above the edge of the cart path, slightly below his feet, when he decided to hit a hard fade around the trees toward the green. The shot went out of bounds and cost him the outright lead Saturday in the Wells Fargo Championship, and Mickelson was angry about his decision.

He felt he should have hit driver instead of 3-wood.

In the group ahead of him, new leader Nick Watney hit a semi-shank with a 6-iron on the par-3 17th, the ball flying toward a hospitality tent. He made double bogey, and pulled his cap over his face when the round was over to hide a mixture of anger and embarrassment.

And these were the co-leaders going into the final round at Quail Hollow.

A series of blunders in the last hour of the third round shook up the Wells Fargo Championship, and the only consolation for Mickelson and Watney is that they were atop the leaderboard going into a final round that features a forecast of rain.

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Video: Lefty stumbles down stretch

''Every shot is critical. You just can't throw a bunch of shots away like I did coming down the stretch,'' said Mickelson, who also plunked a spectator on the head with his approach on the 16th and made bogey. ''I'm fortunate to still be on top.''

Mickelson had a 1-over 73, while Watney squandered a solid round with his shank that led to a 71. They were at 8-under 208, one shot ahead of George McNeill, who also dropped two shots over the last four holes for a 72.

''I can't remember the last time I did that in a tournament, so it was a bit unsettling,'' Watney said about his shank. ''The big picture? I'm tied for the lead, and I would have taken that on Thursday morning.''

Even so, what had been shaping up as duel now looks more like a shootout, with a dozen players within three shots of the lead.

One of them was Rory McIlroy, who celebrated his 24th birthday by missing seven putts in the 5-foot range or closer. He had a 73 and didn't lose any ground on the lead.

''I think they may have given me a little bit of a birthday present right there,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm only three back heading into tomorrow, and that's as good as I could ask for.''

John Senden completed his round of 67 some three hours before the leaders finished. Ryan Moore was right behind him with a 68. They were among six players who were tied for fourth, two shots behind. That group included Lee Westwood, who made two birdies and two bogeys in his otherwise boring round of 72.

The starting time for Sunday has been moved up because of rain in the forecast, with the final round starting at 6:45 a.m. Given the forecast, Mickelson treated Saturday like the final round in case Sunday – and perhaps even Monday – is a wash and the tournament is reduced to 54 holes. He made a 7-foot par putt on the 18th to tie Watney.

''It was some poor play coming down the stretch,'' Mickelson said.

McIlroy didn't need to be reminded that it was his birthday. Fans serenaded or shouted to him on just about every hole. If all he wanted was to make some putts, Boy Wonder didn't get his wish. At times, it became a cruel joke.

He stuffed his shot into just inside 3 feet on the third hole and missed the birdie, and that was just the start of it. He missed another putt inside 3 feet that gave him a double bogey on the ninth hole. Add it up and McIlroy missed seven putts from the 5-foot range, along with a 7-foot putt on the eighth.

After all that, he's still in the mix.

''I just couldn't hole anything today,'' McIlroy said. ''I think when you miss a few putts on these greens, you sort of lose confidence in your stroke and then it's just sort of hard to commit fully to what you want to do. If I want to hole some putts tomorrow, I need to do a better job of that.''

Mickelson was sailing right along after a 10-foot birdie putt on the 14th to reach 11 under for the outright lead. And it all changed so quickly. He pulled his tee shot on the par-5 15th well right of the fairway, just above a cart path. This 3-wood went straight instead of fading and went out of bounds.

''I got lucky on the tee shot that that didn't go out of bounds, I missed it so bad,'' Mickelson said. ''But the second shot should not have been a problem. I probably pulled the wrong club. I hit it the second time with the driver to get it to cut. I should have done that the first time.''

In the group ahead of him, Watney faced about a 20-minute wait on the tee at the par-3 17th. When it was his turn to hit, Watney hit a semi-shank toward a hospitality tent that left him nearly 80 yards short on the 207-yard hole. His next shot barely reached the green, and he three-putted for a double bogey.

Asked if he was more embarrassed or angry, Watney said, ''A bit of both.''

''It's a tough hole, and I'm sure guys hit shots they thought were good and it just hooked a little and went in the water and [I] made double,'' he said. ''It just so happened that I'm playing really well and it was on TV, so that's where the embarrassment comes from. But the other thing is you like to put as much distance as you can between you and the other guys, so a bit of anger and definitely some embarrassment.''

He tugged his cap over his face on the 18th green and shouted, not willing to share exactly what he said.

''If I have any chance of playing well tomorrow, I'm going to need to get past it and come out ready to go or else I'm going to get run over,'' Watney said. ''I'm looking forward to tomorrow.''

McNeill was not immune. He sliced his tee shot on the 15th into the middle of a large tree, leaving him no choice but to punch out sideways on a par 5 that he couldn't reach in two, anyway. He wound up reaching this green in four shots, missing a par putt from about 10 feet to drop a shot.

McNeill at least wound up in the final group. And he's not quite sure how he got there.

''Phil looked like he was kind of moving ahead of everyone, and then I don't know what he did on 16, but it looked like either 15 or 16 he had kind of a mess-up,'' McNeill said. ''Then Nick, with the shot that he hit on 17, that actually shook me up probably more than it shook him up. ... Honestly, I didn't even know until I was standing on 18 green, and then I looked and I'm like, 'Oh, wow, I'm tied for the lead.'''

Not for long. He made bogey and fell one shot behind, still in the mix, along with so many others.

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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.”

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Garnett's six-shot lead dwindles to two in Punta Cana

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 10:57 pm

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic - Brice Garnett took a six-stroke lead into the wind Saturday in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He came out with a two-stroke advantage.

Garnett bogeyed three of the final six holes in the wind and rain for a 3-under 69 and a 16-under 200 total.

''Once we made the turn coming back, all those holes coming in toward the north, it was all we wanted and then some,'' Garnett said. ''I kind of took advantage of some holes going out, some holes downwind, some par 5s, and then we were just trying to leave it in the right spot those last four or five holes. Pars are pretty good scores on those holes.''

Canadian Corey Conners was second after a 67, and Tyler McCumber also had a 67 to get to 12 under. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped out Friday, finishing last in the 132-man field in his PGA Tour debut. He shot 77-82 playing as an amateur on a sponsor exemption.

A stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, Garnett opened with a bogey, birdied Nos. 2, 4 and 6, eagled the par-5 seventh, and made two more birdies on the par-3 ninth and par-5 12th. He bogeyed the par-4 13th, par-5 15th and par-3 17th.

Full-field scores from the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship

''I looked once and the lead was a little bigger than what it is now,'' Garnett said. ''The eagle was huge, kind of gave me that confidence that I can push it on out and stretch it a little bit more. That wind was tough and I'll take a two-shot lead into tomorrow.''

The 34-year-old Garnett is winless on the PGA Tour. He won twice last year on the Web.com Tour.

''You've got another 18 holes. So much can happen,'' Garnett said. ''Just going to try to keep the golf ball in front of me. I have that self-belief this week and that's what I had last year when I won, so I'll just keep my head down and just keep going.''

Conners had five birdies and a bogey on the front nine and added a birdie on No. 12.

''Really happy with the round,'' Conners said. ''I got off to a nice start, made a bunch of birdies on the front nine and kind of held it together on the back nine. It was playing really difficult. The wind was really blowing out there, made things challenging.''

McCumber, the son of 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber, has played his last 39 holes with a bogey.

''Second shots have been pretty solid,'' McCumber said. ''Putting pretty well, short game is pretty good. Just really being in the right areas and staying below the hole.''

Tom Lovelady was fourth at 11 under after a 68. Seamus Power (71), Denny McCarthy (71) and Seungsu Han (72) were 10 under.