Notes Even in retirement Nicklaus not a spectator
It is rare for Nicklaus to sit in front of the TV even during the majors unless something grabs his attention, like good friend Tom Watson nearly winning the British Open at Turnberry last year at age 59.
Even when Tiger Woods was winning majors to move closer to Nicklaus’ record 18, the Golden Bear only tuned in for an hour or so.
“It’s not that I don’t watch golf because I don’t enjoy the game,” Nicklaus said Tuesday. “I don’t watch golf because I’m not a spectator. Never have been a spectator in any sport.”
Golf usually is on TV in his house, and there are times when Nicklaus will walk through the room and pause to see who is leading. One tournament that made him stop and watch this year was the Quail Hollow Championship, especially when he saw Rory McIlroy, two days from turning 21, in the lead on the back nine.
Then again, Nicklaus had a vested interest.
When McIlroy was at the Honda Classic in March, he arranged to have lunch with Nicklaus at his Bear’s Club. He later said it was the best two hours he ever spent as he grilled Nicklaus about golf and his preparations. Nicklaus took a liking to the kid from Northern Ireland.
“We talked about how to finish and what to do and what you go through in the game and things like that,” Nicklaus said. “So I kind of took an interest in him. I thought he did all right.”
McIlroy closed with a course-record 62 to win Quail Hollow by four shots over Phil Mickelson. Nicklaus, as he often does with younger players, wrote McIlroy a letter of congratulations.
“I dropped him a note and said, ‘What I told you is to play within yourself, but this is ridiculous,”’ he said.
Nicklaus said he will watch Woods if he in contention at the majors, but even then for no more than the back nine Sunday.
“I was over in the Bahamas fishing during the Masters,” he said. “We came in from fishing to watch the last nine holes of the Masters. I thought that was a pretty big sacrifice for me.”
LPGA HALL OF FAME: Even though Lorena Ochoa is three years short of being eligible for the World Golf Hall of Fame, LPGA vice president Jane Geddes said the Mexican star likely would get in one day through the Veteran’s Committee.
That remains somewhat of a gray area, because according to the committee guidelines, players under consideration should have been an active member for at least 10 years and been retired for five consecutive years.
That could be interpreted more as guideline than a rule.
Either way, Ochoa should probably wait to be considered behind a greater shoo-in – Laura Davies.
The English star who dominated women’s golf in the 1990s remains two points short of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, meaning she needs either two victories or a major. Davies, who turns 47 in October, is determined to get there on her own.
As a global player, she has no peer. Last month, Davies closed with a 68 to win the Ladies German Open for her 40th victory on the Ladies European Tour and her 74th victory around the world. She has played on 11 Solheim Cup teams and won four majors, missing only the Kraft Nabisco for the career Grand Slam.
MEMORIAL SKINS: For the second straight year, the Memorial is replacing its pro-am with a Skins Game featuring tournament host Jack Nicklaus. The difference this time is that Nicklaus will be playing with Phil Mickelson, not Tiger Woods.
Also, it will feature two groups of five players instead of foursomes.
“There were a couple of guys that I thought really played well this year that probably weren’t originally in it,” Nicklaus said. “So I asked the tour, can we expand that to 10 players.”
Nicklaus and Mickelson will be joined by Sean O’Hair, Kenny Perry and Ernie Els. Woods will be in the second group along with Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk.
“I played with Tiger last year,” Nicklaus said. “Phil made a special effort to come back last year. I said I would play with Phil this year. So we just sort of split it up that way.”
PLAYING ALONE: Jim Furyk isn’t often the first player to tee off on Sunday morning at a tournament, much less a major, but such was the case at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open. He played with Tiger Woods the first two days, made the cut, then shot 84 in the third round.
He asked what the first tee time was for Sunday, and upon learning it was about 7:30 a.m., the USGA official asked Furyk if he wanted a non-competing marker to play with him since an odd-number of players had made the cut.
Furyk politely declined.
The official asked him again, which made Furyk wonder if he was required to take a marker. No, it was his option. Furyk declined again. Finally, the USGA official asked him why he wanted to play alone.
“I said, ‘I’ve been in the top 20 in the world for a quite a few years. I just shot 84. I don’t know who you’re going to get to play with me, but if he gets it going bad, I really don’t want to see what he shoots,”’ Furyk recalled.
Furyk doesn’t recall how long it took him to play the final round, only that he birdied the last hole for a 75 and avoided finishing in last place. The other memory?
“I finished in time to have breakfast,” he said with a laugh.
DIVOTS: NBC Sports executive producer Tommy Roy was at Pebble Beach over the weekend and had a frightening scouting report. He said the rough was as tough as he has ever seen. “My pants were soaked up to my knees,” Roy said. The question is how much it gets cut before the U.S. Open in two weeks, although it’s clear that the grass will be dense no more what height. … Charles Howell III is playing his first tournament as a father. His wife gave birth to a daughter last week. … Zach Johnson, 34, was the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event in Texas this year. The other winners were Anthony Kim (24), Adam Scott (29) and Jason Day (22). … Twenty-eight players shot all four rounds in the 60s at Colonial. That includes Heath Slocum, who went 69-69-69-67 and tied for 50th.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Memorial has not had a playoff since 1992, the longest active streak of any PGA Tour event.
FINAL WORD: “The course is in great shape. Some things never change here.” – Robert Allenby on Muirfield Village.
Runner-up McIlroy: 'I should have closed it out'
After taking the 36-hole lead by three and taking a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round, Rory McIlroy failed to keep pace with Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.
Struggling with a two-way miss throughout the weekend, McIlroy fell four down to Molinari through 10 holes.
The Ulsterman attempted to mount a late charge, with birdies at 12 and 17, but when his eagle putt at the 72nd hole came up inches short, and when Molinari's ball opted not to spin back into the water, the comeback bid came to an end.
His final round of 2-under 70 left him in solo second, two shots behind the champion.
"I’m just disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was in a great position after two days and struggled yesterday and sort struggled today again, as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead of me, and I couldn’t claw that back.
“I played some good golf coming down the back nine, hit some better shots, but I need to work on a few things going forward."
McIlroy ended an 18-month worldwide winless drought earlier this year with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but hasn't claimed victory on the European Tour in two years, since the Irish Open in May of 2016.
"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week," McIlroy said. "But that’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win, I need to do a little more work, and I’m looking to forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."
Molinari holds off McIlroy to win BMW PGA
VIRGINIA WATER, England - Francesco Molinari's path to the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship was drama-free until he sized up his approach to the 72nd hole.
Rory McIlroy, his closest rival three strokes back, had just hit to 20 feet to set up an eagle chance. Molinari was between clubs for his third shot and faced a delicate wedge over the water protecting Wentworth's pretty 18th green.
His ball landed short of the pin and span back toward the water. The spectators held their collective breath - so did Molinari - but it came to rest on the fringe, just short of trouble.
''Just a bit of luck at the right time,'' Molinari said, with a smile.
After McIlroy came up inches short with his eagle putt, Molinari rolled in for par from 6 feet for a 4-under 68 that secured a two-stroke victory at Wentworth on Sunday. It was the fifth win of his career, and his most satisfying.
''If I could pick one tournament to win in my career, it would be this one,'' the Italian said at the prizegiving ceremony.
A Sunday shootout between Molinari and McIlroy at the European Tour's flagship event never really materialized.
They entered the final round tied for the lead on 13 under but while McIlroy sprayed his drives left and right, Molinari was the model of consistency and established a three-shot cushion by the turn after birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8.
From there on, it was a clinic in front-running from Molinari, who laid up when he needed to and picked up his only shot on the back nine with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 12th.
McIlroy birdied the par 5s at Nos. 17 and 18 but mounted his victory charge too late.
''I didn't feel intimidated at all,'' Molinari said of his head-to-head with the former world No. 1. ''It's just the last couple of holes, he's basically thinking eagle, eagle. I'm thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.
''Sometimes I just get too drawn on what the other guy is doing, and I was really good today, hitting good shots and focusing on my process and not worrying about anything else.''
Molinari played his final 44 holes bogey-free. He only dropped two shots all week, one of them coming on his first hole.
He will likely climb into the world's top 20 on Monday and has moved into the automatic qualifying places for the European team for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn't played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called ''Miracle at Medinah.''
''I'm playing well enough that I shouldn't really worry too much about that,'' Molinari said. ''I should just keep doing my own thing and hopefully things will take care of themselves.''
Molinari previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Alex Noren last year.
On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.
It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.
With a 67, Noren was tied for third with Lucas Bjerregaard (65), a stroke back from McIlroy.
McIlroy, the 2014 winner at Wentworth, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him with a three-shot lead.
He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par 5s coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.
''With a 36-hole lead,'' McIlroy said, ''I should have closed it out this week.''
Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open
IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.
Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.
Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.
Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.
Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.
Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way
Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.
Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.
And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.
Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.
Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.
Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.
Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.
“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.
Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.
A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.
It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.
There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.
Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.
The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.
Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.
“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”