Notes: Westwood chalks up down year to change

By Doug FergusonDecember 18, 2013, 1:15 am

This has been a season of big change for Lee Westwood, and his debut last week in the Shark Shootout was an example.

He typically is on the other side of the world this time of the year, having won the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa in 2011 and 2012, and the Thailand Golf Championship two years ago. But this marks one year since Westwood moved his family from England to Florida to take it easy on the jet lag and allow for more practice in warm weather.

He ended the year without a win anywhere in the world.

Westwood, a two-time Order of Merit winner on the European Tour, attributed his results to change, though that entails more than location. He also began working with Sean Foley. He had a new caddie for most of the year until reuniting this month with Billy Foster.

Asked what held him back this year, Westwood chalked it up to the ''lack of continuity.''

''So many changes, really,'' he said as he headed into the final month of his season. ''It's impossible to quantify the effect that has. Starting with a new coach, changing tours, changing caddies the end of last year, all of it has an effect.''

He also said there were struggles with consistency in his swing. Westwood had a close call at Quail Hollow, and he had the lead going into the final round of the British Open, which was won by Phil Mickelson more than anyone lost it.

''I haven't been settled in a swing all year,'' Westwood said. ''When you're a professional, you can have good results without hitting it well. I haven't had a week where I hit it properly. I didn't even hit it well in the Open. I just know how to get around and I putted well.''

Westwood turned 40 this year, and while he dropped to No. 25 in the world after starting at No. 7, he believes that will turn. More changes are planned for 2014, but only as it relates to his travel schedule. Instead of starting in Middle East, he doesn't expect to play regular European Tour events until May.

He is thinking of playing Torrey Pines, the Phoenix Open and Riviera on the West Coast swing


FATHER & SON: Except for having the 54-hole lead and contending at the British Open, one of the best moments for Lee Westwood this year was playing with his father in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Graeme McDowell will experience that in February.

McDowell and his father, Kenny, will be partners at Pebble Beach. It's the first time they have been there since 2010, when McDowell won the U.S. Open and his father said to him on the 18th green that Sunday, ''You're something, kid.''

Asked for his favorite memory of his father, McDowell went back to his roots in Northern Ireland when he was too young to play the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush.

''Until you're 15 years old or have a 15-handicap, you play the Valley Course,'' he said. ''I remember sneaking out with my dad on a summer's evening on the Dunluce course when I was not eligible to be out there, sneaking out there for a few holes one summer evening and feeling like I was literally at Augusta National. Those are special times.''


THE GULBIS PRANK: In the January issue of ''Golf Digest,'' Michelle Wie writes a series of tales that includes her first Kraft Nabisco Championship at age 13. And it shows why there's always more to Natalie Gulbis than might appear.

Wie said that on the fifth hole she put a new golf ball into play. She mentioned this to Gulbis on the sixth fairway.

''She stops me and gives me a look of shock,'' Wie wrote. '''You can't do that out here,' she says. 'That's a two-stroke penalty. You need to go back to the tee.' I was speechless, on the verge of tears. Just as I turned to start walking back to the tee, Natalie said, 'Just kidding.'''


OH, BROTHER: Dustin Johnson took his younger brother, Austin, to Scotland twice as his partner in the Dunhill Links Championship. He brought him to China last month for the HSBC Champions as his caddie, and Johnson won his first World Golf Championship.

Now they'll be spending a lot more time together.

Johnson has decided to keep his little brother on the bag for next year, replacing Bobby BrownAustin Johnson played basketball at Charleston Southern before transferring to the College of Charleston to finish his degree.

''I was getting my resume together,'' Austin said.

Big brother jokingly said he never bothered to look at the resume and ''probably wouldn't have believed it, anyway.''

''Having my brother on the bag has been cool. I love it,'' Johnson said. ''He's my brother. I like having him out here. And we do good.''


SNEAD AUCTION: The second part of the Sam Snead Collection at Heritage Auctions brought in more than $750,000 this month in Dallas, with the biggest item his 1949 Masters Trophy that went for $143,400.

Snead's captain's trophy from the 1969 Ryder Cup sold for $131,450, while his Wanamaker Trophy from winning the 1949 PGA Championship and his championship medal from winning the 1946 British Open at St. Andrews went for $101,575 each.

Among the more intriguing items was a collection of 3,545 signed personal checks. That drew $34,058. The first auction in July was held in Chicago by Heritage Auctions and brought in $1.1 million. Those lots included his 1954 Masters trophy and the claret jug from St. Andrews.


DIVOTS: More than a year after Europe's stunning comeback to win the Ryder Cup at Medinah, Graeme McDowell still has not watched video of the final day. ''That might be on my to-do list,'' he said. ''I need to sit down and watch that in real time.'' ... This year wasn't the first time a qualifying tournament was held exclusively for the Web.com Tour. According to the PGA Tour, four weeks before the launch of the Ben Hogan Tour, 132 players competed in Florida over 72 holes with the low 35 players and ties getting cards. The medalist that week? John Daly. ... Kevin Tway received a sponsor's exemption to play in the Phoenix Open. ... Vijay Singh is shopping for a new equipment deal after nearly 15 years with Cleveland Golf. ... Ernie Els has signed an endorsement deal with Ecco. He was wearing the shoes for most of the year without a deal. ... Anthony Kim, who last played in the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, ended last year at No. 300 in the world. He ends this year at No. 1,488.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy were the only players who stayed in the top 10 in the world ranking the entire year.


FINAL WORD: ''The beauty about golf is it takes all shapes and sizes. But it's a hell of a lot more of an athletic game than it used to be 10 years ago.'' - Graeme McDowell.

Getty Images

Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Former Arkansas star Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship.

Lopez, a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks, matched her career best by finishing at 8 under - doing so after missing the cut in her last two tournaments. The Mexican player began the tournament at Pinnacle Country Club ranked 136th in the world but finished just two shots off the course record of 10 under in her third year on the LPGA Tour.

Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok.

Local favorite Stacy Lewis, expecting her first child in early November, had a 66.

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Getty Images

Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

Getty Images

10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

Getty Images

Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”