Castrale Wins Second Consecutive Futures Tour Title

By Futures Tour MediaJune 5, 2005, 4:00 pm
Futures TourSAINT ANNE, Ill. -- A storm named Nicole Castrale ripped through the Kankakee Valley today, blowing away her competition by four shots to win her second tournament in as many weeks at the $70,000 Quality Concepts Kankakee Futures Golf Classic.
And for 54 holes, the Californian was even more electrifying than the lightning bolts that cracked over her head this afternoon as she stood in the 18th fairway, preparing to hit into the final green. But by day's end, she was safe and dry with a crystal trophy in her arms and a new No. 1 position on the Futures Tour Money List for her wire-to-wire finish.
'I heard a huge crack while I was over my shot and it felt like the lightning was right on top of me,' said Castrale of Palm Desert, Calif., who fired rounds of 66-72-71 for a 7-under-par total of 209 at the Kankakee Elks Country Club.
Funny, but that's kind of how the field felt all week when Castrale tore into a difficult layout with a 6-under-par score of 66 in the first round. On the 6,257-yard course that featured severely undulating greens that required exact approach shots and a steady hand on the putter, Castrale's patience and course management kept the rest of the 144-player field in chase mode all week. In today's final round, she hit 14 greens in regulation and stayed out of reach all day.
'You've got to hit it inside 10 feet to make the putts here,' said runner-up Alena Sharp of Hamilton , Ontario , who posted an even-par 72 today to finish at 3-under 213 in her best finish on the Futures Golf Tour. 'I needed to shoot a 66 today to beat her.'
Seon-Hwa Lee of Chonan, Korea and Christine Boucher of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec each posted a final-round score of 69 and tied for third at 214 (-2), but there was no catching the former University of Southern California player. Not before the lightning and hailstones roared in and suspended play at 2:10 pm CST, and not after play resumed at 3:36 p.m., with bright sunshine bathing the well-wishing gallery in the first-year event.
'It was kind of hard because when we came in during the storm delay, everybody was congratulating me,' said Castrale, 26. 'But I knew it wasn't done. It seemed like the longest hour or whatever it was. I knew when I went back out, I still had to execute my shots.'
And that was her mindset even after the sizzling 66 in the first round that included a 29 on the front nine -- a number that tied the Tour's record low score for nine holes shared by such Futures Tour alums as Lorena Ochoa and Sue Ginter-Brooker.
Castrale was uncharacteristically slow-starting today with a bogey on the first hole when she missed a 6-foot putt for par. Sharp, still looking for her first win, saw the opportunity, but wasn't able to convert her 10-footer for birdie after Castrale suffered the early hiccup.
'If I could have made my putt, that could have changed things,' said Sharp, who won the 2004 Canadian PGA Championship. 'She started out a little shaky, but once she made a birdie, she settled down.'
That didn't take long. Castrale rolled in her first birdie on the fourth hole from 5 feet and after making the turn, she added another birdie from 25 feet on the 10th and another from 3 feet on the 12th to build a four-shot lead over Sharp. Her final stumble came on the 17th hole when she pulled her tee shot, punched out of trouble, and failed to get up and down for par from 20 feet.
But even after she returned to the par-5 18th fairway, stroked a 9-iron to 106 yards, then coaxed her gap wedge to 12 feet, Castrale remained focused on closing out her second career win. Her first putt burned the right edge, leaving only a tap-in par.
'To tell you the truth, I'm surprised she didn't win like this earlier,' said Futures Tour rookie Becky Lucidi of Poway , Calif. , who roomed with Castrale at Southern Cal. 'If you look at her swing, you won't find a flaw. She's so solid and she has such good fundamentals. I really think Nicole is starting to blossom now and I don't think she's going away anytime soon.'
And for a player who has undergone three rotator-cuff surgeries and a start-stop pro career riddled with rehabs and self-doubt, today's win was perhaps even sweeter than last week's inaugural victory in Indiana .
'She's been fighting through a lot of injuries and I think she's been told she's a good player for a long time,' said caddie/husband Craig Castrale. 'This just solidifies all the hard work.'
But even after storming through Kankakee and leaving the field behind to play for second, Castrale is the first to admit there's no resting.
'It's awesome to win back-to-back, but we still have 11 weeks to go and there's a lot of golf to play,' she said. 'I have to keep playing good golf because nothing is going to be handed to me. I can't relax now. It's almost like I have to work even harder.'
Which is a scary thought to anybody who was chased by the storm today in Kankakee.
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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.”