Watson shelves 'Bubba Golf' at bunker-laden Lytham

By Doug FergusonJuly 16, 2012, 5:55 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Another major championship has Masters champion Bubba Watson feeling a bit perplexed.

Only this time, it's not just because of the golf course.

'I haven't seen the water yet,' Watson said Monday after his first practice round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. 'We're really close to the water. My house is close to the water. But the water seems like it's way away from the shoreline – like miles. Why is the water so far away? Like the beach goes for miles, and then the water is way out there. Can you answer that one?'

In these parts, that's known as the tide.

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This was Bubba having some fun on the first official day of practice, and he did well to escape the water that matters – the rain. Wet weather is in the forecast for much of the week in what has been a miserable summer of rain even by British standards, and Watson managed to get in 18 holes before the first big downpour.

He's really not concerned about finding the water in the Irish Sea. The bigger worry is trying to navigate through 206 bunkers that are littered across Royal Lytham & St. Annes, so many of them that Watson recited a few numbers that showed how much he was paying attention.

'Not that I counted, but there's 17 (bunkers) on 18, and there's nine on No. 1,' he said.

Watson only found two of them Monday, but it shaped his thinking for the week. He said he spent much of the practice round thinking about where to hit the ball, not how far. That pink driver on display at Augusta National didn't come out of the bag that much. In its place were a variety of irons, anything to stay short of the bunkers.

'It looks like we're going to hit a lot of irons off of tees, try to play safer, smarter – whatever you want to call it – and just have a longer shot into some of these holes,' Watson said. 'The par 5, No. 7, I'm going to hit iron off that tee even though I could reach it if I hit it in the fairway with a driver. I have to figure out a way to lay back and just have a longer shot into some of these holes.

'That doesn't mean I'm going to be able to do that,' he added with a smile. 'That's my goal.'

Even with four wins – including his first major in April – and talking about the unique style of play he calls 'Bubba Golf,' Watson feels he has a lot to learn, especially in the majors. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open playing with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, saying even before it started that Olympic Club was too hard for him.

Lytham is hardly a pushover.

The bunkers can be so severe that defending champion Darren Clarke predicted some players might have no choice but to take a penalty drop because there's no way out. Because of the wet spring, the native grass framing the fairways is so tall and thick that spotters have had a hard time finding the golf ball. Even if they do happen to find it, odds are the next shot won't go far.

That's why 'Bubba Golf' this week might look a little conservative.

'I learned a lot at the U.S. Open watching Tiger, watching Phil, learning about strategy,' Watson said. 'You know, the game is a tough game, so you've just got to learn and process this information and move on. I missed the cut there, but I feel good. I finished second the week after the U.S. Open. My game feels where it needs to be, but it's all about executing the right shots at the right time and hitting them in the right place.'

The key is for his head to be in the right spot.

Watson likes to make fun of himself when it comes to his mental game, saying time and again that 'I've got issues.' At home, he's still finishing up the paperwork on the adoption of his son, Caleb, who came into his world right before he won the Masters. Watson gets distracted easily, whether it's deciding what he wants for dinner or what video game he's going to play that night. Part of his charm is that he acts like a kid.

'When I focus right, I play pretty good,' Watson said. 'And when I don't focus right, I miss the cut pretty quick.'

His focus at Lytham is being in the short grass.

There are a few holes, such as the 336-yard 16th hole with the wind from the Irish Sea at the players' back, where they might be tempted to go for the green. Some of them tried on a more pleasant afternoon on Sunday, though the risk is to catch the bunkers short of the green. From there, players might need to two more shots just to get on the green.

Watson was asked if he can overpower the golf course in good weather.

'It's a trick question because yes, I can,' he said. 'But I've got to hit every fairway, and with the driver sometimes I get a little wild, as we know. The high rough – it's not like our rough in the U.S. This is hay that is 15 yards off the fairway, 10 yards off on some of the holes, and you might not find your ball. You have to play smart. This golf course, and the U.S. Open, they make you play to a strategy and have to play a certain way, so you have to do that.

'There could be a day out of four days that I can just beat driver everywhere and play great golf,' he said. 'But four days in a row to get that lucky, to not have a bad lie or find all my balls, that would be tough to do.'

Watson missed the cut at Turnberry and St. Andrews in his first two trips to the Open. A year ago, he improved to a tie for 30th. It's not the best record so far, though his head appears to be in the right place. Unlike Olympic, where he didn't like his chances upon seeing the course with so much slope in the fairways, he loves links golf.

Watson already has played Royal Birkdale and St. Annes Links before showing up at Lytham. He loves the creativity required, the bounces on the turf, the imagination. It's different, but it's fun.

'I think that's why it gets so difficult for me is because there's so many shots you can play,' he said. 'But I love it. I love coming over here. It's sad that it's one week out of the year to play links golf for us from the U.S. But it's fun. You can come over here and create shots that you don't normally do.'

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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”