Three-time winner gets shot at hero Woods

By Doug FergusonAugust 2, 2012, 12:39 am

AKRON, Ohio –  Branden Grace is playing the opening two rounds of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with Tiger Woods, the biggest draw in golf and a seven-time winner at Firestone. It was a clever pairing because they are the only players with three wins this year.

Grace is a powerful South African who won the Joburg Open, the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt and the China Open.

He also is the third African player, who is not well known in America, who be paired with Woods at the start of a World Golf Championship. By the look of things, Grace is in better position than the other two.

It was at Firestone in 2005 when officials decided to put Woods with Marc Cayeux of Zimbabwe, who was making his first trip to America.

Just his luck, Cayeux burned the inside of his left hand on a barbecue the week before, leaving a quarter-sized hole in his hand. Unwilling to miss such a big event, he wore a thick glove and fought through the pain to post a 71. The toughest part of Cayeux was getting to the seventh green, going to mark his ball and seeing the words, ''PRACTICE'' on the side of his Titleist. A range ball somehow got into his bag.

He sheepishly called over Woods and Niclas Fasth, and then a rules official, but was not penalized because he was using the same ball.

Three years later at Doral, officials looking for a rising international star decided to put Woods with a young South African named Louis Oosthuizen. Upon arriving in America, he watched on TV as Woods buried a 25-foot putt to win Bay Hill, and then get a message from South African Airways that his clubs had gone missing. They didn't arrive until the night before the opening round.

About the only thing Grace might have to battle is idol worship.

''He's my role model since I started playing golf,'' Grace said. ''Tomorrow is a little bit of a dream come true.''

Grace has come a long way in a short time. He got his European Tour card through Q-School, then came out roaring. He won in back-to-back weeks in South Africa, winning in a playoff at Fancourt that included Ernie Els.

''I promise you at the end of last year, I would have dreamt of playing with Tiger first two rounds at Bridgestone,'' Grace said. ''But it shows you if you stick your head down and keep grinding and keep playing, you never know what can happen.''


TOMS RETURNS: David Toms didn't plan a six-week break in the middle of the year. He didn't plan to miss the British Open.

After his tie for fourth in the U.S. Open, Toms flew home to Louisiana from San Francisco with plans of taking two weeks off and returning at The Greenbrier. If he felt strong enough, he was going to play the John Deere Classic before going over to England for the British Open.

''I got home Sunday night, and Monday morning I went to tie my shoes and my back went out,'' Toms said. ''I was in bed for 2 1/2 days and didn't move. I couldn't do anything for two weeks.''

He had a cortisone injection and let it heal, but he was not prepared to play Greenbrier or John Deere, and he didn't fancy his chances at the Open. And with hopes of playing seven straight weeks through the FedEx Cup playoffs, he felt rest was in order.

''I'm sure my back was bothering me during the U.S. Open, and then that long flight coming home,'' he said. ''I didn't hit a shot for two weeks. After that, it was chipping and putting. I wasn't ready to play golf. I wasn't going to be competition. And then you've got the long flight over, links golf ... I felt zero percent of zero is zero, right? I wasn't confident I was going to play well.''


LONG PUTTERS: The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient are looking into long putters and belly putters, focusing mainly on anchoring the putter to the body and whether any decision should fall under the rules of golf or an equipment ruling. If it's under the rules, a change would not take place until 2016.

Whatever the case, Keegan Bradley might say he had a hand in any decision.

Bradley became the first player with a belly putter to win a major last year at the PGA Championship. Then, Webb Simpson used a belly putter in winning the U.S. Open, and Ernie Els used a belly putter to win the British Open, by one shot over Adam Scott, who uses a long putter.

''There's been a lot of belly putters winning,'' Bradley said. 'I don't think that's a bad thing. I just think it all happened at once. My generation of golfers have been using these putters for a long time. In the past, I think it was a lot of the older guys who felt they couldn't use anything else. I think this generation is different and a little more willing to try things. You're just starting to see it.''

Bradley had a good stroke with the short putter, but decided to try the belly. So if there's a change, ''I'm not scared at all to have to putt with a short putter,'' he said.

That might be different for someone like Carl Pettersson, who has used a long putter dating to his amateur days, or Tim Clark, who also has used a long putter in playing in the Presidents Cup and winning The Players Championship.

And then there is Ernie Els, who decried the longer putters a few years ago until he switched with the famous line, ''As long as it's legal, I'll keep cheating like the rest of them.'' Now, the Big Easy is trying to work his way back to a short putter.

''By the end of the year or so,'' he said. ''But don't cast that in stone. I think I've still got four years maybe with the long putter, so I've still got a bit of time. But eventually, I want to get to the short putter because I feel back in the day, that was my best method of putting.''

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”