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Sharma leads big names through 36 at WGC-Mexico

By Doug FergusonMarch 3, 2018, 12:27 am

MEXICO CITY - Success has come quickly for Shubhankar Sharma, and the Mexico Championship is no exception.

Sharma hit a 3-wood that landed on the green and settled 2 feet away for an eagle on the opening hole at Chapultepec Golf Club. He finished with three straight birdies for a 5-under 66. And in his first World Golf Championship, he takes a two-shot lead into the weekend.

''I worked all my life to come and play at a high stage like this,'' said Sharma, who turned pro when he was 16. ''You have to expect great things from yourself if you want to play at a high stage. I just try and not think of anything before I start. I just try and concentrate on the success, and just let things go.''

Sharma overcame a pair of three-putt bogeys early in his round and was at 11-under 131.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia had a 65 and was two shots behind, along with Xander Schauffele (66) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (67).

Sharma's greatest asset is stable mind, and he has not shown any moments of being overwhelmed.

Even so, there has been a few surreal moments, such as warming up the range before the second round.

Jordan Spieth, the British Open champion and former No. 1 in the world, was hitting balls behind him. And then when Spieth left, world No. 1 Dustin Johnsontook his place. It was hard for Sharma not to glance at over his shoulder.

''I couldn't ask for anything better,'' he said.

And then it got better.

Sharma had such control over his game that he putted for birdie on every hole except the par-4 eighth, where he escaped from the trees into a bunker, blasted out to 12 feet and saved par. He shot 31 on the back, finishing with a gap wedge he hammered to 10 feet for a final birdie, and he walked off the green to a big ovation.


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Russell Knox is the only other player to win a World Golf Championship in his debut, at the 2015 HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

So much more is at stake.

Sharma, the only two-time winner on the European Tour this season who leads the Race to Dubai, is No. 75 in the world. Still in his sights is a chance to move into the top 64 after next week to get into the Dell Match Play in Texas, and he has an outside chance of getting into the Masters.

And to think that just three months ago, he had yet to win anywhere in the world. Then, he shot 61 in the second round on his way to winning the Joburg Open. Last month, he closed with a 62 to win the Malaysian Open.

Now he's 36 holes away from a World Golf Championship.

''Everything has happened so fast for me,'' Sharma said. ''In the past four months, my life has totally change. Obviously, the final destination for me is the PGA Tour. That's always been my dream. Just playing well here this week will get my closer to my dream.''

And yet he still has a long way to go.

Schauffele, a two-time winner as a rookie last year on the PGA Tour, has managed to go bogey-free at Chapultepec over two rounds, remarkable because the poa greens following a week of rain have been bouncing more than rolling, especially in the afternoon.

Hardly anyone knew much about Schauffele last year before he played well at the U.S. Open, and then won the Greenbrier Classic and Tour Championship. He at least knows a little about the rising star from India.

''He's 21 years old, and he just won a tournament and has a locker right next to mine,'' Schauffele said.

Ten players were within four shots of the lead going into the weekend, a group that includes defending champion Dustin Johnson, who holed a wedge from 112 yards for eagle on the ninth hole and shot a 66. He was in the large group at 7-under 135.

''My favorite thing about that is I didn't have to putt,'' Johnson said.

What made him smile was something he found Thursday night on YouTube, of all places. Johnson saw a video of someone analyzing his swing, and it made him realize his right arm was not in the right position. He tried in on the range with his first shot and suddenly felt everything fall into place.

''I have a lot of confidence going into the weekend,'' Johnson said.

Sharma just wants to be keep in rolling. He missed the cut each of the last two weeks in Oman and Qatar, and then flew 10 time zones to Mexico City. He leaves Sunday night for New York and then to New Delhi, where he plays the Hero Indian Open on his home course.

He wasn't surprised to be playing well. He wasn't expecting much.

''It's my first WGC and I was happy that I'll play four days,'' he said. ''So I just wanted to have fun. And yeah, I've had a lot of fun.''

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Monday Scramble: Flawless Francesco outlasts them all

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 2:00 pm

Francesco Molinari outlasts the rest, Tiger Woods inches closer to an earth-shattering victory, Jordan Spieth lets a successful title defense slip away, Eddie Pepperell toasts his success and more in this week’s Open edition of Monday Scramble:

Forza Italia.

Amid a wild and windy afternoon at Carnoustie, where seemingly no less than a dozen players had a viable shot at the claret jug, it was a steady performance from Francesco Molinari that translated into breakthrough.

Molinari is no stranger to the big stage, and five years ago he played the final round alongside Phil Mickelson as Lefty stormed from behind to win at Muirfield. But this time, this day, it was his turn to shine as he put forth a ball-striking and scrambling clinic that yielded 16 pars and two birdies while the other leaders struggled around him.

It's the cap of an impressive heater for Molinari, who is now the first Italian to ever win a major. He outlasted Rory McIlroy at the BMW PGA Championship in May, won the Quicken Loans National by eight shots last month and now has finished first or second in five of his last six worldwide starts.

The soft-spoken veteran played the final two rounds without making a bogey, and he is a worthy champion. Expect the jug to receive a few refills of wine - and perhaps a little coffee - over the next year.


1. For about a 90-minute stretch Sunday, it seemed like Tiger Woods would finally find a way to silence the critics once and for all.

Playing alongside Molinari, Woods displayed the same tactical brilliance on the opening nine, carding two birdies while others struggled out of the gates and, at one point, taking the lead alone. But an errant approach and a poor flop shot led to a double bogey on No. 11, and his bid for the jug was diverted soon thereafter.

But man, what a ride it was through that opening stretch. For months the questions have lingered about exactly how and when Tiger might put all the pieces together, and after an early exit at Shinnecock it was easy to write him off. But his inner tactician shined for much of the week on a toasty layout, and he was steady in all facets over the weekend.

Just as Woods' five-win season in 2013 has been used as a recent example of just how high his ceiling reaches, so too this performance will be viewed like manna from heaven for Tiger apologists. He didn't quite pull it off, but there's every reason to expect that he can do so the next time around.

2. While he came up three shots short of catching Molinari, even Woods appeared to savor the final leg of a T-6 finish that serves as his best result in a major in five years and becomes the new high water mark for an already impressive season.

"It was a blast," Woods told reporters. "I was saying earlier that I need to try and keep it in perspective because, beginning of the year, if they'd have said you're playing the Open Championship, I would have said I'd be very lucky to do that."



3. A bit more on Molinari, the newest Champion Golfer of the Year who has turned into a weekend assassin over the last three months. 

Between his stirring victory at Wentworth, his rout at TPC Potomac and his comeback at Carnoustie, Molinari has now played six weekend rounds while making only a single bogey. One!

That includes 36 bogey-free holes over the last two days in Scotland, as Molinari methodically took apart the demanding links layout while turning in the only bogey-free scorecard out of the entire field on Sunday.

"To go the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest," Molinari said. "But I felt really good this morning. When I came here, I felt ready for the challenge."

4 While many players would quiver at the thought of a final-round tee time alongside Woods with a major on the line, Molinari didn't blink. Perhaps because he's been in similar situations before.

In addition to his supporting role during Mickelson's win in 2013, Molinari has twice faced off with Woods in the Ryder Cup - including a 2012 singles' draw that remains Woods' most recent Ryder Cup match. So stepping to the tee Sunday, Molinari was fazed neither by his playing partner nor by the three co-leaders that sat three shots ahead of him.

"Clearly in my group, the attention wasn't really on me, let's put it that way," Molinari said. "If someone was expecting a charge, probably they weren't expecting it from me, but it's been the same the whole of my career."

5. How times change. Just a few weeks ago, Molinari opted to tee it up at the Quicken Loans National instead of the French Open at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National. The reason? He was concerned about his FedExCup standing.

Molinari hadn't done much in the States this year, and he was 123rd in points with his 2019 status very much in limbo. Fast forward a few weeks - including two wins and a runner-up - and Molinari can safely book travel plans on both sides of the Atlantic for years to come.



6. It was a week of what might have been for Jordan Spieth.

Spieth started his stint in Scotland by handing back the claret jug in a ceremony he admitted was more bitter than sweet. But through 54 holes, he was the betting favorite as one of three co-leaders, equipped with a great chance to go back-to-back and end a victory drought that extended back to Royal Birkdale.

Amid a disappointing campaign, it was the first time he started the final round closer than four shots to the lead.

But Spieth apparently used up his magic last year in Southport, as he seemed out of sorts from the start and quickly faded. Spieth didn't make a birdie all day, and he found a gorse bush at an inopportune time en route to a double bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course.

It added up to a 76 and a tie for ninth, another disappointing finish in a year of mixed results. Now he'll have to wait another year for a potential reunion with the jug.

7. Of course, Spieth wasn't the only player who watched a share of the 54-hole lead slip away.

Kevin Kisner held at least a share of the lead after each of the first three days, but his bid for a maiden major went sideways in a bunker on the second hole Sunday. Xander Schauffele's bid lasted significantly longer, as he kept pace with Molinari until the 17th hole.

But in the end, it was a 3-over 74 and a share of second place for both men, who now find themselves firmly in the Ryder Cup mix heading into the homestretch of the selection process.



8. For the first time in his career, Rory McIlroy has a runner-up finish in a major championship. But good luck making sense of his week at Carnoustie years from now.

McIlroy was barely a factor over the weekend, having seemingly forfeited his shot at a second Open title during benign third-round conditions. But when his lengthy eagle putt fell on the 14th hole Sunday and sparked a celebration reminiscent of Hazeltine, hope was once again alive.

Ultimately, it was too little too late for the Ulsterman, who couldn't convert a lengthy birdie putt on the 72nd hole that could have putt pressure on the leaders behind him. He'll leave Scotland with a healthy check, but without the feeling that he ever got both feet planted in his quest for the claret jug.

"I just ran out of holes," McIlroy said.

9. If McIlroy's runner-up felt like somewhat of a disappointment, Justin Rose's T-2 finish was nothing short of found money.

Rose needed to birdie the difficult 18th on Friday simply to make the cut on the number, and he rebounded with a third-round 64. The Englishman added a Sunday 69 to lend credence to the notion that, despite only two top-10s in the tournament as a pro, Rose might still have an Open title in him after all.

"I just think having made the cut number, it's a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday," Rose said.

The weekend close continues a recent run of solid form for Rose, who won a few weeks back at Colonial and now has reached a career-best No. 2 in the world rankings.


So the Champion Golfer of the Year walks into a coffee shop...

Sadly, it seems we may not see these creative retirement plans come to fruition - at least not for a few years. But credit to Molinari for thinking outside the box, and credit to Wesley Bryan for a timely share.

This week's award winners ... 


Hair of the Dog: Eddie Pepperell. The 27-year-old Englishman admitted he was "a little hungover" during the final round, but he still put up the day's best score with a 4-under 67 that gave him a share of sixth and his first ever top-10 finish in a major. Drinks all around.

Paris Bound?: Webb Simpson. The Players champ tied for 12th to move past Bryson DeChambeau at No. 8 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically. Schauffele moved to 11th, while Kisner moved to 13th.

Quiet Consistency: Tony Finau. Finau tied for ninth at Carnoustie and has now cracked the top 10 in each of the three majors this year. In fact, six of his 10 career major starts have gone for T-18 or better. Perhaps something for Captain Furyk to consider.

Quietly Slumping: Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard is barely a year removed from his watershed win, but he has now missed the cut in four straight majors and has missed six of nine cuts overall dating back to the Masters.

Role Reversal: Molinari, who won The Open while playing alongside Tiger 12 years after he caddied for his brother, Edoardo, in a group with Woods at the 2006 Masters. Woods was the defending champ, and Edoardo was the reigning U.S. Amateur winner:

King of Yelp: To the Carnoustie barber that gave Spieth a trim before the third round that set social media ablaze. While Spieth admitted it was a little "high and tight," it became the most famous £9 haircut in years.

Make Your Own Bed: To the frat house of American stars that has become something of an Open annual tradition. While Spieth, Kisner and Zach Johnson fell short of winning the jug for the house, hopefully they all got a few good shots in on all-time goalie Jason Dufner during intra-squad soccer scrimmages.

Kick Him Out: To the obnoxious fan that nearly derailed Tiger's final tee shot. One-upsmanship has become somewhat of a plague among American crowds, but Sunday showed that even the revered Scottish faithful have a few bad eggs in the bunch.

Place Your Bets: With only 17 days until the opening round of the PGA Championship, the Westgate Las Vegas installed Dustin Johnson as a 12/1 co-favorite alongside Spieth and McIlroy. Woods headlines the group next in line at 16/1.


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. For the second year in a row, Thomas' Open chances fell apart during a rainy second round. It was 67-80 at Birkdale, and this time 69-77 to miss the cut by a shot at Carnoustie. Watching what Rose did after finishing only one shot better through 36 holes only adds salt to the wound.

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DJ, McIlroy, Spieth listed as PGA betting favorites

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 1:38 pm

Three majors are in the books, but there's still one more trophy up for grabs in two weeks' time.

While next year The Open will signal the end of the 2019 major season amid a revamped calendar, this is the final year that the PGA Championship will be held in August. The tournament returns next month to Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis, which last hosted the PGA when Nick Price won in 1992 and hasn't hosted a PGA Tour event since Camilo Villegas won the 2008 BMW Championship.

Oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published PGA betting odds shortly after the final putt dropped at Carnoustie and Francesco Molinari left with the claret jug. Topping the board are a trio of major champions: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, all listed at 12/1.

McIlroy won the PGA in both 2012 and 2014, while Spieth needs only the Wanamaker Trophy to round out the career Grand Slam. Johnson has recorded four top-10s in the PGA, notably a T-5 finish at Whistling Straits in 2010 when a few grains of sand kept him out of a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Fresh off a T-6 finish in Scotland, Tiger Woods headlines the group listed at 16/1, behind only the three co-favorites as he looks to win a 15th career major.

Here's a look at the betting odds for a number of contenders, with the opening round of the PGA just 17 days away:

12/1: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth

16/1: Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Justin Rose

20/1: Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Jason Day

30/1: Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, Paul Casey

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson

80/1: Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner

100/1: Ian Poulter, Thomas Pieters, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell, Brian Harman, Brandt Snedeker, Charley Hoffman

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Molinari moves to No. 6 in world with Open win

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:31 pm

After breaking through for his first career major title, Francesco Molinari reached some rarified air in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Rankings.

The Italian's two-shot win at Carnoustie moved him up nine spots to No. 6 in the world, not surprisingly a new career high. But it's also a quick ascent for Molinari, who has now won three of his last six worldwide starts and was ranked No. 33 in the world after missing the cut at The Players Championship two months ago.

A share of second place helped Xander Schauffele jump from No. 24 to No. 18 in the updated standings, while the same result meant Kevin Kisner went from No. 33 to No. 25. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy both went up one spot after T-2 finishes to No. 2 and No. 7, respectively - a new career high for Rose.

The drama in the rankings unfolded at No. 50, as Tiger Woods moved up 21 spots to exactly No. 50 following his T-6 finish. While some projections had him moving to 51st, Woods was able to sneak into the top 50 just in time to qualify for a return to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, as the top 50 in the rankings both this week and next qualify for Akron.

That includes Zach Johnson, last year's runner-up who was not yet qualified but moved from No. 52 to No. 49 this week. It also includes Kevin Chappell, who went from 61st to 47th with a T-6 finish in Scotland.

Despite missing the cut at Carnoustie, Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for another week followed by Rose, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Molinari is now at No. 6, with McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day rounding out the top 10.

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Simpson overtakes DeChambeau in Ryder Cup race

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:09 pm

A T-12 finish at The Open allowed Webb Simpson to move past Bryson DeChambeau into the eighth and final automatic qualifying spot in the U.S. Ryder Cup points race with just three weeks to go.

Simpson finished the week at 3 under, five shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. Adding another strong result to his win at TPC Sawgrass and T-10 finish at the U.S. Open, he's now edged in front of DeChambeau by less than 41 points. But with players earning one point per $1,000 each of the next two weeks and 1.5 points per $1,000 at the PGA Championship, the race is far from over.

Jordan Spieth's T-9 finish strengthened his position at No. 6, as the top six players are essentially assured of qualifying automatically. Rickie Fowler held onto his spot at No. 7, while Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner both moved onto the bubble following T-2 finishes at Carnoustie. After a T-6 finish, Tiger Woods jumped from 31st to 20th.

Here's a look at the updated American standings, with the top eight after the PGA qualifying automatically and captain Jim Furyk adding four picks in September:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Bubba Watson

6. Jordan Spieth

7. Rickie Fowler

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Xander Schauffele

12. Matt Kuchar

13. Kevin Kisner

14. Tony Finau

15. Brian Harman

On the European side, Molinari was already in position to qualify automatically but is now assured of a spot on Thomas Bjorn's roster this fall. Fellow major champs Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy also solidified their footing with runner-up performances.

Here's a look at how things look for the Europeans, with the top four from each list after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

European Points

1. Francesco Molinari

2. Justin Rose

3. Tyrrell Hatton

4. Tommy Fleetwood

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Thorbjorn Olesen

Russell Knox

Eddie Pepperell

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Alex Noren

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Paul Casey

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Matthew Fitzpatrick

Sergio Garcia

Ian Poulter