TPC Sawgrass continues its unpredictability

By Doug FergusonMay 14, 2012, 10:26 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After combing through some of golf's meaningless statistics, this might be the best explanation for how Matt Kuchar won The Players Championship:

He didn't empty all of his golf balls into the water when he played the island-green 17th hole in the final round.

He was really on his game last week.

He shot the lowest score.

Golf is impossible to predict as it is. Throw in the mystery that is the TPC Sawgrass, and there's no telling who beats the strongest and deepest field in golf. You've heard the line about there being horses for courses? This is more like predicting the dot race on video screens at a baseball game.

''There's no other course that less people have worked out than this one,'' Geoff Ogilvy said, who is still trying to do just that. He closed with a 69 on Sunday. It was only his third round in the 60s in 11 years at The Players Championship. This from a guy who has won a U.S. Open and two World Golf Championships. He's got a little bit of game.

Perhaps more startling is Tiger Woods.

By now, everyone knows that Sawgrass is not as friendly as Firestone or Torrey Pines for the 14-time major champion. When he tied for 40th last week, it was the fifth time he has finished out of the top 30. Woods has never finished out of the top 30 more than twice at any other tournament.

Now consider this: Despite a level of consistency unseen in this generation - 72 wins over 15 years and finishing among the top three in 44 percent of his tournaments - he has only seriously contended twice at Sawgrass. He was runner-up to Hal Sutton in 2000 and picked up his only win the next year.

Throw in the other three players from the ''Big Four'' of that generation - Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh - and it doesn't get much better. Mickelson had a chance to win only once at Sawgrass, the year he won in 2007. Singh's only good chance was in 2001, when he was runner-up to Woods. Els never has come close.

''Everyone who has played here, they have never really been that consistent here,'' Woods said. ''I mean, everyone. Going from the time Jerry Pate won, no one has really contended here or been in contention 70, 80 percent of the time. Some golf courses, you get certain guys playing well there no matter what.''

Rory McIlroy is not off to a roaring start at Sawgrass. In his three times at The Players Championship, he has yet to make par or make it to the weekend. This year, he became the first No. 1 player in the world to miss the cut at Sawgrass since Greg Norman in 1996. McIlroy is only 23, and he'll figure it out one of these days - maybe even next year.

Think of Sawgrass, and the image of Fred Couples comes to mind as a two-time winner. The first two times Couples was at Sawgrass, he missed the cut. The next year, he won. And the following year, he made the cut with one shot to spare. Davis Love III, another two-time winner, captured his first Players Championship in his seventh try. He missed the cut three times and was disqualified once before then.

Steve Stricker and David Toms, both reliable customers, have missed as many cuts as they have made at Sawgrass.

It should come as no surprise that of the PGA Tour events that have been around for at least 30 years, The Players Championship is the only one without a back-to-back winner.

''It doesn't seem like the same names come to the top there,'' Stewart Cink said. ''And since you mentioned Tiger, maybe the opposite applies. It's not 'horses for courses.' There are some people who just dread playing here.''

Unlike other courses - particularly those used at the four majors - a phrase seldom heard at Sawgrass is, ''It really fits my eye.'' Far more common are words like ''awkward'' and ''uncomfortable.''

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

''You go through the history of winners we've had,'' Rod Pampling said. ''Big hitters, short hitters ... everyone has a chance. It's one of the very few tournaments open to anyone. If you're on, you can say it's your kind of course. But if you're not on, my God. I found that out. I was just a touch off with my driver, and I was thinking, 'How am I going to make par?' Never mind birdie. That's the thing about this golf course.

''Every shot, you've got to play well,'' he said. ''When you're on and hitting those shots, you play well.''

Kuchar was on. The best player won last week. There should be no disputing that.

It's the lack of the usual suspects atop the leaderboard that is confounding.

Mickelson has shown up at Augusta National with little game and even less confidence, and the light comes on. He loves the Masters because he doesn't have to play perfect to score. That doesn't work at Sawgrass. So when someone brought up local knowledge, it was all Mickelson could do to keep from laughing.

''I'm not sure how much local knowledge is required here,'' he said. ''You just have to execute. There's really not a way to miss your way around this course, like Augusta, where you can miss in the right spots and still salvage pars. Here, if you miss shots, even if you're in the right spot, you're most likely not going to salvage par.''

Ogilvy grew up playing courses in Melbourne where there was a good place to miss the green to secure par or a bad side to miss the green and pay for it. He contends that even at Augusta, it's relatively easy to make par on every hole by playing it safe.

Augusta is no Sawgrass, with or without an island.

''There's no way to play safe and guarantee no damage,'' Ogilvy said.

Still, nothing intrigued him quite like Woods' record at Sawgrass, how a guy could play so consistently well and suddenly become unpredictable.''It's a tournament Tiger played 15 times and only contended twice. There's something odd there,'' Ogilvy said. ''Maybe that's the genius of the golf course. Or maybe that's the flaw.''

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Runner-up McIlroy: 'I should have closed it out'

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 5:18 pm

After taking the 36-hole lead by three and taking a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round, Rory McIlroy failed to keep pace with Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.

Struggling with a two-way miss throughout the weekend, McIlroy fell four down to Molinari through 10 holes.

The Ulsterman attempted to mount a late charge, with birdies at 12 and 17, but when his eagle putt at the 72nd hole came up inches short, and when Molinari's ball opted not to spin back into the water, the comeback bid came to an end.

His final round of 2-under 70 left him in solo second, two shots behind the champion.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

"I’m just disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was in a great position after two days and struggled yesterday and sort struggled today again, as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead of me, and I couldn’t claw that back.

“I played some good golf coming down the back nine, hit some better shots, but I need to work on a few things going forward."

McIlroy ended an 18-month worldwide winless drought earlier this year with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but hasn't claimed victory on the European Tour in two years, since the Irish Open in May of 2016.

"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week," McIlroy said. "But that’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win, I need to do a little more work, and I’m looking to forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."

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Molinari holds off McIlroy to win BMW PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 3:20 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England - Francesco Molinari's path to the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship was drama-free until he sized up his approach to the 72nd hole.

Rory McIlroy, his closest rival three strokes back, had just hit to 20 feet to set up an eagle chance. Molinari was between clubs for his third shot and faced a delicate wedge over the water protecting Wentworth's pretty 18th green.

His ball landed short of the pin and span back toward the water. The spectators held their collective breath - so did Molinari - but it came to rest on the fringe, just short of trouble.

''Just a bit of luck at the right time,'' Molinari said, with a smile.

After McIlroy came up inches short with his eagle putt, Molinari rolled in for par from 6 feet for a 4-under 68 that secured a two-stroke victory at Wentworth on Sunday. It was the fifth win of his career, and his most satisfying.

''If I could pick one tournament to win in my career, it would be this one,'' the Italian said at the prizegiving ceremony.

A Sunday shootout between Molinari and McIlroy at the European Tour's flagship event never really materialized.

They entered the final round tied for the lead on 13 under but while McIlroy sprayed his drives left and right, Molinari was the model of consistency and established a three-shot cushion by the turn after birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8.

From there on, it was a clinic in front-running from Molinari, who laid up when he needed to and picked up his only shot on the back nine with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 12th.

McIlroy birdied the par 5s at Nos. 17 and 18 but mounted his victory charge too late.

''I didn't feel intimidated at all,'' Molinari said of his head-to-head with the former world No. 1. ''It's just the last couple of holes, he's basically thinking eagle, eagle. I'm thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.

''Sometimes I just get too drawn on what the other guy is doing, and I was really good today, hitting good shots and focusing on my process and not worrying about anything else.''

Molinari played his final 44 holes bogey-free. He only dropped two shots all week, one of them coming on his first hole.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

He will likely climb into the world's top 20 on Monday and has moved into the automatic qualifying places for the European team for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn't played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called ''Miracle at Medinah.''

''I'm playing well enough that I shouldn't really worry too much about that,'' Molinari said. ''I should just keep doing my own thing and hopefully things will take care of themselves.''

Molinari previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Alex Noren last year.

On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.

It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.

With a 67, Noren was tied for third with Lucas Bjerregaard (65), a stroke back from McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 2014 winner at Wentworth, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him with a three-shot lead.

He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par 5s coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.

''With a 36-hole lead,'' McIlroy said, ''I should have closed it out this week.''

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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”