Wheatcroft leads Shell Houston at halfway point

By Doug FergusonMarch 30, 2013, 1:22 am

HUMBLE, Texas – Steve Wheatcroft hates going to Monday qualifiers. He was reminded Friday why they can be worth it.

Wheatcroft, who narrowly qualified for the Houston Open at the start of the week, ran off three straight birdies early in his round and kept bogeys off his card for a second straight 5-under 67. That gave him a one-shot lead over D.A. Points and Jason Kokrak going into the weekend at Redstone Golf Club.

Rory McIlroy also will be around for two more days, but just barely.

In only his 10th full round of the year, McIlroy walked onto the seventh green – his 16th hole of the day – and saw that he was tied for 77th. He two-putted from 85 feet on the fringe for birdie on his next hole, and then safely found the green at the par-3 ninth for a 70. By the end of the day, McIlroy made the cut on the number.

''It’s a weekend where I can have a couple more rounds and try and get confidence in what I'm doing,'' McIlroy.


Shell Houston Open: Articles, videos and photos

Highlights: Wheatcroft leads; McIlroy, Mickelson make cut


His big surprise came later. McIlroy, feeling as though he needs more rounds to get ready for the Masters, decided to enter the Texas Open next week.

Phil Mickelson also made the cut on the number after a bogey on the last hole for a 71. Mickelson, who has played the Masters with two drivers in the bag, decided to play Redstone on Friday with two 3-woods in the bag, though one of them is so strong it acts like a driver.

''If I can play like I did the back nine, I'm going to give myself a lot of birdie chances,'' Mickelson said.

Wheatcroft can't bank on anything.

Not only does he have no status on the PGA Tour, he has only conditional status in the minor leagues. After missing out on a Web.com Tour event last week in Louisiana, he figured he might as well enter the Houston Open qualifier Monday.

''Monday qualifiers are terrible. They're just not fun, plain and simple,'' Wheatcroft said. ''I was on the PGA Tour in '07, played terribly. I had no status. So I had to be back to Monday qualifiers and pre-qualifiers the next year. I hate them.''

Wheatcroft had some good sessions with swing coach Matt Killen, felt his game was getting better in the last month, and figured it was all about timing. He made it by one shot into the field, and he's playing well against a strong field at Redstone.

He was at 10-under 134, the first time he has ever been atop the leaderboard on the PGA Tour. The tournament is only halfway over, and Wheatcroft has been around long enough to not look too far ahead. Even so, this has Cinderella ramifications.

Wheatcroft can become the first Monday qualifier to win on the PGA Tour since Arjun Atwal at the Wyndham Championship in August 2010. A win would put him into the Masters for the first time, and perhaps more importantly, give him a two-year exemption.

A pair of 67s has given him confidence. A career bouncing around tours has given him perspective that it can all change.

''If I can be on top of the leaderboard at this point, I know I can keep playing well,'' he said. ''There's no reason to think I can't. I've never won on the PGA Tour. I've won on the Web.com Tour – I've won by 12. I know I can keep going forward. Who knows? I could shoot 61 tomorrow. I could shoot 81 tomorrow. I really don't know. I'm not going to sit here and think about it too much. I'm going to think about the first tee ball and we'll go from there.''

Points had a 71 with 17 pars and one birdie. He didn't make anything on the greens, which he attributed to his putting stroke and firm, afternoon greens instead of the old putter he once borrowed from his mother.

''I made everything yesterday and made nothing today,'' Points said. ''To be one shot back and be right in the mix is huge.''

Kokrak at a 69 and will play in the final group with Wheatcroft, whom he knows well.

''I'm happy for him,'' Kokrak said. ''I'm happy he's doing well. Hopefully, I can go out there and overtake the lead. Hopefully, I overtake him late Sunday.''

Stewart Cink, winless since the British Open in 2009, showed more signs of getting his game on track. Cink contended in the Humana Challenge on late Sunday afternoon, and feels as if he's getting closer. He had a 66 and was tied for fourth with Brian Davis (70). Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, the Argentine who has a home at Redstone, had a 72 and was four shots behind, along with Bill Haas (70) and Cameron Tringale (73).

Also lurking was Dustin Johnson, who threw away careless shots but was still only five shots out of the lead.

McIlroy remains a work in progress. He started slowly, not giving himself many birdie chances and hitting tee shots some 20 and 30 yards short of Johnson and Keegan Bradley. But the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland made birdie on the par-5 15th, followed with an 18-foot birdie on the 16th, and then cut loose with a tee shot that was some 20 yards beyond where Johnson hit his drive.

That wasn't an accident. McIlroy tends to hold back early in his round until he gets more comfortable with his scoring.

''The game is fickle,'' he said. ''You make a couple of birdies, a few good shots, and your confidence goes up. A few bad ones, and it goes down a bit. I hit a couple of drives, and 17 is a good example, when I let it go and it's fine. It gets out there.''

McIlroy said he hasn't played enough tournaments to get into that groove, and he was at least happy to have two more chances at the Houston Open. He headed to the practice range after lunch, and then decided to make sure he played some more by signing up for the Texas Open.

Getty Images

Stricker leads in hometown event; Daly three back

By Associated PressJune 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

MADISON, Wis. – Steve Stricker made himself at home at the top of the leaderboard on a rainy and breezy Friday at the American Family Insurance Championship.

The hometown star and tournament host shot an 8-under 64 at University Ridge to take a one-stroke lead over Brad Bryant in the PGA Tour Champions event. Because of the wet conditions, the players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways.

John Daly, Colin Montgomerie and Steve Flesch shot 67. Daly returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for three events.

Splitting time between the PGA Tour and the 50-and-over circuit, the 51-year-old Stricker had his 30th consecutive Champions round under par, the fourth-longest streak in tour history.

Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. The 12-time PGA Tour winner played the big tour the last two weeks, tying for 18th in Memphis and tying for 20th in the U.S. Open.

Fellow Madison player Jerry Kelly and Illinois coach Mike Small, Stricker's teammate with the Illini, were at 68 with Bernhard Langer, Scott Verplank, Jeff Sluman, Glen Day, Billy Mayfair, Doug Garwood, Jerry Smith and Rocco Mediate. Defending champion Fred Couples had a 69.

Stricker played alongside Vijay Singh and Davis Love III. Singh shot 81, and Love 72.

Getty Images

Aphibarnrat keeps promise to M. Jutanugarn

By Randall MellJune 22, 2018, 9:25 pm

Moriya Jutanugarn was inspired by a special fan Friday who kept a promise to her.

She will be looking to use that boost to make this a memorable new chapter in the Jutanugarn “Sisters Act” story.

Three weeks after Ariya won the U.S. Women’s Open for her second victory in 2018, Mo is in early position in Rogers, Ark., to join her sister as the tour’s only two-time winners this year.

Mo put up a 7-under-par 64 to get into early contention at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She was tied for the lead among the morning wave with Aditi Ashok, who is looking to inspire the entire nation of India by winning a first LPGA title for her homeland. Lizette Salas and Mirim Lee also shot 64s in the early wave.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Moriya got in contention with PGA Tour pro Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the gallery following her. A fellow Thai, Aphibarnrat promised Mo he would come watch her if she won an LPGA title. She broke through for her first victory in April at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open, and Aphribarnrat lived up to his promise showing up this week.

“He's like my brother, and it’s very nice to see him,” Moriya said. “Really happy for him, as well, because he is having a very good year this year.”

At the Masters, Ariya caddied for Aphibarnrat during the Par 3 Contest.

Aphibarnrat said he is a big fan of the Thai sisters and also planned to watch Ariya in the afternoon.

“They inspire me,” Aphibarnrat told LPGA media official Christina Lance after the round.

Getty Images

Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

“Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

“Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

“Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

Getty Images

Only putting is holding McIlroy back

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

“I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”