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Reed overcomes all challengers to capture green jacket

By Doug FergusonApril 9, 2018, 12:05 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Patrick Reed became famous playing for his country. He won for himself Sunday and became a Masters champion.

It was never easy, just the way Reed likes it.

Rory McIlroy came after him early. Jordan Spieth roared to life with a final-round charge and briefly caught Reed with a 35-foot birdie putt. The last challenge came from Rickie Fowler, who birdied the last hole to leave Reed no room for error.

Reed never flinched throughout a raucous afternoon at Augusta National.

Clinging to a one-shot lead, his 25-foot putt down the slippery slope on the 18th green ran 3 feet by the hole as Reed pressed down both hands, begging it to stop. From there, the 27-year-old Texan calmly rolled in the par putt for a 1-under 71 and a one-shot victory.

''To have to par the last hole to win my first major, it definitely felt right,'' Reed said from Butler Cabin, right before Sergio Garcia helped him into a green jacket.

The loudest cheers were for everyone else. Reed earned their respect with two big birdie putts on the back nine, one crucial par putt and plenty of grit. He also had a little luck when his 80-foot putt across the 17th green hit the hole, keeping it only 6 feet away. He made that for par to stay in control.

Reed won for the sixth time in his PGA Tour career, though he was best known for the trophies he shared at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He is ferocious in match play, especially the team variety, and his singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine in the 2016 Ryder Cup led to the nickname of Captain America.

Captain America is now the Masters champion.

''He's not scared. I think you guys have seen that previous from the Ryder Cups and the way he plays,'' said Fowler, who closed with a 67. ''He won't back down. I don't necessarily see him as someone that backs up and will let you come back into the tournament. You have to go catch him.''


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Fowler did his best with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, and an 8-foot birdie on the final hole. It still wasn't enough. Fowler was runner-up for the third time in a major. He left the scoring cabin when Reed tapped in for par.

''Glad I at least made the last one, make him earn it,'' Fowler said with a grin as he waited to greet the newest major champion.

''You had to do it didn't you?'' Reed told him as they exchanged a hug. ''You had to birdie the last.''

Spieth put up the most unlikely fight and was on the verge of the greatest comeback in Masters history. He started nine shots behind going into the final round, and was inches away on two shots from a chance at another green jacket.

His tee shot on the 18th clipped the last branch in his way, dropping his ball some 267 yards from the green. His 8-foot par putt for a record-tying 63 narrowly missed on the right. He had to settle for a 64.

''I think I've proven to myself and to others that you never give up,'' Spieth said. ''I started the round nine shots back and I came out with the idea of just playing the golf course and having a lot of fun doing it and try to shoot a low round and finish the tournament strong and see what happens, if something crazy happens.''

McIlroy, meanwhile, will have to wait another year for a shot at the career Grand Slam.

Trailing by three shots to start the final round, he closed to within one shot after two holes. That was as close as he came. McIlroy's putter betrayed him, and he was never a factor on the back nine. He closed with a 74 and tied for fifth.

The gallery was clearly behind McIlroy, even though Reed led Augusta State to a pair of NCAA titles and briefly lived in Augusta.

He was met with polite applause on the first tee. The throaty cheer was for McIlroy, and it looked as though the 28-year-old from Northern Ireland would redeem himself after shooting 80 in the final round and losing a four-shot lead.

Reed scrambled for a bogey on the opening hole. He failed to get up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 second as McIlroy had a 4-foot eagle putt to tie for the lead. McIlroy missed badly, a sign of what was to come. He missed four putts inside 10 feet on the front nine, and he missed a 3-foot par on the 14th.

Different about this victory for Reed was the fuchsia shirt he wore as part of a Nike script. Reed always wears black pants and a red shirt because that's what Tiger Woods does, and Reed has long modeled his mental game after Woods. ''Be stubborn,'' he once said about learning by watching Woods.

Reed went to the back nine with a four-shot lead over four players, and they all had their chances. That included Jon Rahm, the 23-year-old from Spain, whose chances ended when he went after the flag on the par-5 15th and came up short in the water. He shot 69 and finished fourth.

Reed's only bogey on the back nine was at No. 11 from a tee shot into the trees. He answered with a 25-foot birdie on the 12th, and a shot to 8 feet at No. 14 for a birdie that broke the tie with Spieth. He made all pars from there. That's all he needed.

He became the fourth straight Masters champion to capture his first major.

Reed once claimed after winning a World Golf Championship at Doral that he was a top 5 player in the world, which subjected him to ridicule. This victory moves him to No. 11. It also comes with a green jacket, which earns far more respect and notoriety.

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Airlines lose two sets of Olesen's clubs in 10 days

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 7:50 pm

Commercial airlines losing the golf clubs of a professional golfer is not exactly a groundbreaking story. It happens.

But European Tour pro Thorbjorn Olesen is on quite the roll, losing two sets of clubs and five suitcases in the span of 10 days.

Olesen, the reigning Italian Open champ, claimed his primary set of golf clubs were lost last week. Having little faith they'd be found before this week's Nordea Masters, he decided to bring his backup set for the event in Sweden.

A veteran move by the 28-year-old, unless, of course, those clubs were lost too. And wouldn't you know it:

After pestering the airlines with some A+ GIFs, Olesen was reunited with at least one of his sets and was back in action on Wednesday.

He also still plans on giving his golf bag away to some lucky follower, provided it's not lost again in transit. Something he's no longer taking for granted.

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Podcast: Brandel compares Tiger and Hogan's comebacks

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 15, 2018, 6:48 pm

Tiger Woods on Sunday at Bellerive recorded his seventh runner-up finish in a major and his first in nine years.

A favorite guest of the Golf Channel Podcast, Brandel Chamblee joins host Will Gray to compare and contrast Tiger's return to competitive golf with that of Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the 1950s.

Chamblee also discusses Brooks Koepka's major dominance, Bellerive as a major venue, Tiger and Phil as Ryder Cup locks, and who else might be in line to receive Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn's remaining captain's picks.

Finally, Brandel shares what it was it was like to qualify for the Senior Open Championship and compete for a major title on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Listen here:

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Lexi: I need to figure out who I am away from golf

By Randall MellAugust 15, 2018, 5:56 pm

Lexi Thompson says her month-long “mental break” from golf was not triggered by any new event, but it was a respite she needed to deal with the cumulative struggle that came from trying to show strength and “hide” the emotional pain she felt in the challenges she faced last year.

Thompson opened up in a heartfelt fashion Wednesday in her return to the game at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, where she is the defending champion.

“It was honestly just a buildup,” Thompson said. “The last year and a half, I have honestly been struggling a lot, emotionally, and it's hard because I can't really show it.

“It was just so much to deal with, and I had to show that I was still OK and still play golf. And I don't even know how I played that well, honestly. And I think it just kind of all hit me coming into this year.”

Thompson, 23, was candid about the challenges she has faced as a golf prodigy, telling reporters she spent some of her break from the game speaking to therapists about building a life that isn’t all about her golf.

“I would say it's just figuring out what really makes me happy off the golf course, as well, figuring myself out,” Thompson said. “I have transformed myself around this game for such a long time, ever since I was 5 years old.”

Thompson said she has always poured herself into the game, into practice and training.

“That's what I grew up knowing,” she said. “Didn't know much different.

“I was always a very determined person, and coming to this age, a little older, I realize I do need to make time for myself and enjoy life, because not a lot of 23-year-old girls are doing what I am. People need to realize that. I'm not just a robot out here. I need to have a life.”

Thompson qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12, the youngest player at the time to do so. She won the U.S. Girls’ Junior at 13, won her first LPGA title at 16 and her first major at 19.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


Last year might have been the best and worst of Thompson’s career. She endured a wave of emotional highs and lows.

At the start of 2017, she lost the ANA Inspiration in a playoff after being controversially hit with a four-shot penalty in the final round. She watched her mother wage a second battle with cancer, and she dealt with the death of a grandmother.

At year’s end, Thompson missed a short putt that could have led to her ascending to world No. 1 for the first time and being named player of the year. Amid all of that, she won twice and finished second six times, prompting the Golf Writers Association of America to give her its female player of the year award.

“You can only stay strong for so long and hide it,” Thompson said. “I am a very strong person, but at times you just need a break.”

Thompson was asked what she has figured out about the life she wants outside golf.

“It's still a work in progress,” she said. “I truly love being home and around my family and friends. I really enjoy that time. Even if it's two days, I get the most of it. Just being home and being a regular person, it's nice.”

Thompson announced after the Marathon Classic in mid-July that she was skipping the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England. It is the first major she has missed since joining the LPGA.

“It was definitely a hard decision for me,” Thompson said. “The British Open, I never want to skip that event. It's just a very prestigious event. But with how I was, just mentally and emotionally, I wasn't ready to compete there. I was struggling with my game. Besides that, I was just struggling with myself.”

Thompson said she has been dealing with a hand injury, and it flared up during the Marathon Classic, but it wasn’t a factor in her decision to take a break. She said she is feeling fine now. She begins defense of her Indy title this week ranked No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She is winless in 13 starts this year, but she has given herself chances, with five top-10 finishes.

“I think overall I have had a little bit of an up-and-down year,” Thompson said. “I have had some great tournaments, but obviously haven't won yet. But you just have to take the positive out of everything, realize that I have had a great year. I haven't won, but I'm trying my best in every tournament, that's all I can do.”

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Tiger's major goal: Tame the driver

By Jaime DiazAugust 15, 2018, 5:26 pm

We’ve seen it before. Especially in the late summer, at PGA Championships in humid Middle American locales like Chicago, Louisville and Tulsa. Last Sunday in St. Louis, there was Tiger Woods glistening with sweat, his mental gears meshing, the body flowing. In the hunt, and in the zone.

Amid the steam rising from Bellerive’s zoysia fairways, it seemed something that had been stuck within Woods loosened and fell back into place. Through some mix of remembering and discovering, he made a breakthrough toward the goal of solving the most prolonged and perplexing puzzle of his career – the way back to being a major championship closer.

Woods reached a longed for and special mindset in the final round of the 100th PGA. He hadn’t had it at Bay Hill in March, where after climbing to within one stroke, a drive pulled out of bounds on the 70th hole ended his challenge. He came closer at Carnoustie last month, putting together a near flawless front nine that got him tied for the lead, only to almost immediately make the kind of killing mistakes he never made in his prime.

Many began to wonder whether what Nick Faldo calls the 15th club – nerve – had left Woods forever. But on Sunday at Bellerive, he proved that his mastery under pressure is still accessible.

First, a scrambling, lemonade-out-of-lemons front-nine 32 got him within a stroke of a temporarily faltering Brooks Koepka, who Woods began the day trailing by four. “I was hanging in there with my mind, basically,” he later said. “And it got me through.”



Then on the back nine, Woods figured out his swing and homed in on the flags, immersed in a fierce focus that amid the thick humidity revived memories of his four previous PGA victories.

Revived, but reprised. For all of the brilliance Woods exhibited down the stretch, he made two crucial errors. On the par-4 14th, a pushed iron off the tee and an indifferent chip led to a bogey. And, most fatally, the pushed drive into the hazard on the reachable par-5 17th, when he had to have birdie to answer a resurgent Koepka.

Woods, whose sheer fight in his 42nd year might even exceed what it was in his 21st, bounced back from both holes with birdies. When he holed a 20-footer on the 18th for 64, his celebratory uppercut was partly about getting within two of Koepka. But mostly it was the deep satisfaction of confirming that his golfing head – the biggest key to all his success and most of his struggles – is healthy again.

Of course, Woods won’t truly be back until he wins. Which means his latest breakthrough at Bellerive will have to be followed by one more. Which will have to come in the part of the game where Woods has most declined – the tee shot, especially with the driver.

Woods and the big stick have had a volatile relationship. In his early years on the PGA Tour, much of his domination was built on distance. He wasn’t the straightest, but he wasn’t wild. And he had a knack for piping important drives down the middle.

Woods knew as a teenager that being long and straight has always been the most efficient way for a gifted player to separate from the pack. It was Jack Nicklaus’ advantage for much of his reign, why Greg Norman stayed at No. 1 in the world for so long, why Dustin Johnson is No. 1 now, and how Koepka won at Bellerive. Woods in his mid-20s, when he played the most explosive golf of his career, was a devastating driver. In 2000, he led the PGA Tour in total driving, achieving a career best rank of 54th in driving accuracy.

But those numbers started to decline, in part because Woods never really quite felt as comfortable with oversized titanium heads and lightweight shafts as he had with a smaller metal head and heavier steel shaft.

Butch Harmon, as well as the instructor who followed him, Hank Haney, have said that Woods was always preoccupied with distance, ultimately to the detriment of his technique. The goal of producing more speed and having more power from the rough (along with ostensibly preventing injury) is why Woods began intensifying his work in the weight room. Tellingly, both Harmon and Haney both wanted Woods to swing with less force and more control, sacrificing a bit of distance for increased accuracy. But they couldn’t convince Woods.

With age and injury, Tiger gradually lost some distance in his 30s. But while he became a better iron player, he did not get straighter with the driver. Still, even through his embattled last 10 years, he continued to play a power game. At the moment, he ranks 34th in distance on the PGA Tour with an average of 304.7 yards, and an impressive 16th in clubhead speed with an average of 120.46 mph. But he’s 176th in driving accuracy, 120th in total driving, and 127th in strokes gained: off the tee. In the obscure but telling category of consecutive fairways hit, Woods ranks 305th with a best of only nine fairways in a row.

But at Bellerive there was an indication that Woods may be changing his approach. In his post-round interview on Sunday, he twice – unprompted – pointed out that there is a level of drivers above him – not only longer, but straighter.

“He’s a tough guy to beat when he’s hitting it 340 in the air,” Woods said of Koepka. “Three-twenty in the air is like a chip shot. And so that’s the new game … Dustin’s done it now, Rory’s doing it … Those guys, if they’re driving it well, they have such a huge advantage because of the carry.”

It was a rare concession from Woods. In former days, if another player was better than he was at some part of the game – be it distance control with short irons, bunker play, lag putting – he would quietly make that strength a target to match or exceed. After the 2000 season, he only half-kiddingly told driving accuracy leader Fred Funk that he was coming for him. 

The younger Woods may have invested his pride in being one of the longest hitters, but I suspect the 42-year-old version is wise enough to be open to any adjustment that will help him beat people in the time he has left. And he’s too smart to try to beat them at their own game.

The evidence from Carnoustie and Bellerive is too stark (along with his rank of fourth on Tour in strokes gained: approach the green). Woods is now at his best when he plays to his greatest strength – iron play. And though he is still strong enough to make things happen from the rough, there’s a good argument that he is the best in the game with an iron from the fairway. The only thing holding him back are untimely drives like the one on 17 at Bellerive.

Ergo, to use a term Woods favored when he was fresh out of Stanford, put the driver in the fairway. Not the 3-wood or driving iron, which will cost Woods even more distance against the Johnsons and Koepkas of the world. But a slightly dialed down driver. One that he can hit with less psychic “all or nothing” stress that comes from the small margin of error he leaves himself with a hard driver swing. Accepting that he can no longer be among the biggest hitters and adjusting accordingly gives him his greatest chance of still being the best player. In short, take the advice offered by Harmon and Haney.

Now that the major season is over, developing a new, more controlled game for himself in 2019 would be my hope for Tiger Woods. He’s figured out a lot lately, in particular at Bellerive clearing the mental hurdle that was blocking him from performing down the stretch on Sundays. That was a big one, and now it seems like the wind is at his back. Yes, the clock is ticking, but it feels like there’s plenty of time.