Stricker leads TOC by 5 after 36 holes

By Doug FergusonJanuary 8, 2012, 3:00 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Steve Stricker, considered the best putter on the PGA Tour, felt as though he couldn’t miss Saturday at Kapalua. That meant big trouble for the rest of the field at the Tournament of Champions.

Stricker made even some of the longer putts look like tap-ins on his way to a 10-under 63, giving him a five-shot lead over Webb Simpson halfway through the PGA Tour’s season opener.

Stricker played the final five holes in 5 under, which included a 3-wood up the hill and into a blazing sun that settled about 12 feet away for eagle. That allowed Stricker to get some separation from Simpson, and from the amazing eagle-eagle finish by Kevin Na.

Stricker was at 15-under 131, two shots off the 36-hole record that Ernie Els set in 2003.

Na, six strokes back at 9 under, wasn’t even part of the picture until he holed a 5-iron from 221 yards for eagle on the 554-yard 17th hole, then hit 3-wood down the hill on the par-5 18th to about 10 feet for another eagle.

“I think it’ll be the best finish of my life,” Na said.

It turned a good round into a 64, and it at least kept Na in the hunt against a 27-man field that suddenly felt much smaller when Stricker put together a strong finish of his own.

Only eight players were within 10 shots of Stricker.

As much as he loves starting his year in Kapalua – this is his third straight trip, the longest streak of anyone in the field – Stricker has yet to hoist a trophy with a lei draped around his neck. He took a big step toward that on another day of glorious sunshine.

Starting with a simple up-and-down on the par-5 ninth, Stricker was 7 under over the last 10 holes.

“I felt like I was going to make every putt I looked at for a while,” Stricker said.

His big run began with a wedge against the wind that landed softly 7 feet below the hole on No. 14. After his eagle on the 15th, Stricker holed a 15-foot birdie from the front of the green on the 17th, and finished with a long two-putt birdie from just off the 18th.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under for the week.

“I’ve had some good success here,” said Stricker, who has lost in a playoff and tied for fourth over the last four years. “The more times you can play it, the better off you are. I’d sure like to get off to a good start this year.”

Rory Sabbatini has been here before, though that didn’t keep him from a two-shot penalty at the start of his round for being late to the first tee. It was a bizarre penalty, only because the putting green is about 25 yards below the first tee.

His caddie, Mick Doran, took the blame. Instead of looking at the group ahead tee off, he was checking his watch – and his watch was four minutes slow. They rushed to the tee, but it was too late.

Sabbatini had a 70 – including the two-shot penalty – and was 12 shots behind.

“It’s the first time ever for me on Tour. I know it’s the first time for Mick,” Sabbatini said. “I guess neither of us were really paying attention. Just one of those goofy moments.”

Last year, Doran was on the bag for Camilo Villegas, who was disqualified for tapping down grass as his ball was rolling back toward him.

Martin Laird had a birdie putt on No. 13 to get within one shot of Stricker, his playing partner. Four holes later, he was seven shots behind, hurt mostly by missing two short birdie putts and by hitting his tee shot into the trees on the 17th. A search party found more than a dozen balls, none belonging to Laird.

The Scot had a 70 and was at 8-under 138, along with first-round leader Jonathan Byrd, who had a 71. Chris Kirk was among the early starters and shot 66, though that turned out to be ordinary by the end of the day.

The trade wind has been strong enough to get players’ attention, yet gentle enough to allow for good scoring. The key is to keep the ball out of trouble, to be in the right spots on the greens and to make a few putts.

It’s that final area where Stricker has few peers.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that when he arrived in Hawaii from a short winter break in Wisconsin – with a three-day detour to Phoenix to play some golf – he focused primarily on his putting.

The closest he came to make a bogey came on the par-4 sixth, when he found a bunker at the top of the hill, failed to reach the green and chipped 8 feet by the hole. He poured in the par putt, rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the seventh and was on his way.

“I kind of ran with it,” Stricker said. “I felt good. I started making some birdies, and I was patient when I wasn’t making some. So it was good, and that’s what you have to do when you get it going, it just kind of keep it going.”

Even so, Stricker was quick to point that while a five-shot lead usually comes in handy on Saturday, this is only the halfway point for an experimental Monday finish. Besides, Stricker doesn’t always make it easy on himself with a big lead.

In his most recent win, he had a four-shot lead at the turn at the Memorial and hung on to win by one shot.

Simpson, playing in the group ahead of Stricker, birdied three of his last four holes to get into the final group. He had made only two birdies until that point, but wasn’t about to fret.

“It’s the kind of course where you’re going to have plenty of birdie opportunities,” Simpson said. “So if you can keep your ball in play, you’ll probably make a few.”

He might need a few more to put pressure on Stricker, who came to Hawaii to see what kind of shape his game was in, and got a pretty good idea after the first two rounds of the year.

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Wise: 'No hard feelings' over Nelson missed kiss

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 10:18 pm

Aaron Wise left the AT&T Byron Nelson with his first PGA Tour trophy and a seven-figure paycheck. But lost in the shuffle of closing out his breakthrough victory, he missed out on a celebratory kiss with his girlfriend on the 18th green.

Wise appeared to go in for a peck after his family joined him on the putting surface, but instead he and his girlfriend simply laughed and hugged. After the moment gained a bit of online notoriety, Wise told reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the young couple simply laughed it off.

"Yeah, I have been giving her some s--- about that," Wise said. "A lot has been made about it. It's really nothing. Like I was saying, she was just so excited to surprise me. I was kind of ruining the surprise a little bit that she was shocked, and she didn't even see me going in for the kiss."

At age 21, Wise is now one of the youngest winners on Tour. He explained that while both his girlfriend and mother flew in to watch the final round at Trinity Forest Golf Club, where he shared the 54-hole lead and eventually won by three shots, but he took some of the surprise out of their arrival in true millennial fashion - by looking up his girlfriend's location earlier in the day.

Still getting used to his newfound status on Tour, Wise shrugged off any controversy surrounding the kiss that wasn't.

"No hard feelings at all," Wise said. "We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was."

Mmm Visuals / Lancaster Country Club

Giving back: Chun creates education fund at site of Open win

By Randall MellMay 23, 2018, 8:04 pm

South Korea’s In Gee Chun is investing in American youth.

Chun broke through on the largest stage in women’s golf, winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago, and she’s making sure Lancaster, Pa., continues to share in what that brought her.

Chun is preparing for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek outside Birmingham, Ala., but she made a special stop this week. She returned to the site of her breakthrough in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday, launching the In Gee Chun Lancaster Country Club Education Fund. She announced Tuesday that she’s donating $10,000 to seed the fund. She’s expected to raise more than $20,000 for the cause in a fundraising dinner at the club Wednesday evening. The fund will annually award scholarships to Lancaster youth applicants, including Lancaster Country Club caddies and children of club employees.

“I’m excited to be back here,” said Chun, who put on a junior clinic during her stay and also played an outing with club members. “Winning the U.S. Women’s Open here in Lancaster gave me the opportunity to play on the LPGA and make one of my dreams come true.”

Chun also supports a fund in her name at Korea University, where she graduated, a fund for various “social responsibility” projects and for the educational needs of the youth who create them.

“Education is very important to me,” Chun said. “I would like to help others reach their goals.”

Chun made donations to the Lancaster General Health Foundation in 2015 and ’16 and to Pennsylvania’s J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Trust last year. Lancaster Country Club officials estimate she has now made donations in excess of $40,000 to the community.

“We are grateful In Gee’s made such a wonderful connection to our community and club,” said Rory Connaughton, a member of Lancaster Country Club’s board of governors. “She’s a special person.”

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Spieth admits '16 Masters 'kind of haunted me'

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:38 pm

Two years ago, Jordan Spieth arrived at Colonial Country Club and promptly exorcised some demons.

He was only a month removed from blowing the 2016 Masters, turning a five-shot lead with nine holes to play into a shocking runner-up finish behind Danny Willett. Still with lingering questions buzzing about his ability to close, he finished with a back-nine 30 on Sunday, including birdies on Nos. 16-18, to seal his first win since his Augusta National debacle.

Returning this week to the Fort Worth Invitational, Spieth was asked about the highs and lows he's already experienced in his five-year pro career and candidly pointed to the 2016 Masters as a "low point" that had a lingering effect.

"Even though it was still a tremendous week and still was a really good year in 2016, that kind of haunted me and all the questioning and everything," Spieth told reporters. "I let it tear me down a little bit. I kind of lost a little bit of my own freedom, thoughts on who I am as a person and as a golfer."


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Spieth went on to win the Australian Open in the fall of 2016, and last year he added three more victories including a third major title at Royal Birkdale. Given more than two years to reflect - and after nearly nabbing a second green jacket last month - he admitted that the trials and tribulations of 2016 had a lasting impact on how he perceives the daily grind on Tour.

"I guess to sum it up, I've just tried to really be selfish in the way that I think and focus on being as happy as I possibly can playing the game I love. Not getting caught up in the noise, good or bad," Spieth said. "Because what I hear from the outside, the highs are too high from the outside and the lows are too low from the outside from my real experience of them. So trying to stay pretty neutral and just look at the big picture things, and try and wake up every single day loving what I do."

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Spieth offers Owen advice ahead of Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:22 pm

As country music sensation Jake Owen gets set to make his Web.com Tour debut, Jordan Spieth had a few pieces of advice for his former pro-am partner.

Owen played as a 1-handicap alongside Spieth at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and this week he is playing his own ball on a sponsor invite at the Nashville Open. Owen joked with a Web.com Tour reporter that Spieth "shined" him by not answering his text earlier in the week, but Spieth explained to reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the two have since connected.

"We texted a bit yesterday. I was just asking how things were going," Spieth said. "I kind of asked him the state of his game. He said he's been practicing a lot. He said the course is really hard. I mean, going into it with that mindset, maybe he'll kind of play more conservative."

Owen is in the field this week on the same type of unrestricted sponsor exemption that NBA superstar Steph Curry used at the Web.com's Ellie Mae Classic in August. As Owen gets set to make his debut against a field full of professionals, Spieth noted that it might be for the best that he's focused on a tournament a few hundred miles away instead of walking alongside the singer as he does each year on the Monterey Peninsula.

"Fortunately I'm not there with him, because whenever I'm his partner I'm telling him to hit driver everywhere, even though he's talented enough to play the golf course the way it needs to be played," Spieth said. "So I think he'll get some knowledge on the golf course and play it a little better than he plays Pebble Beach. He's certainly got the talent to be able to shoot a good round."