Nirapathpongporn Wins Futures Tour Event
But NP3, as she is often called for expediency, earned her first professional title today at the $70,000 Jalapeno Futures Golf Classic. And she did it by firing a four-under-par 68 in the final round at Palm View Golf Course, holding off Becky Lucidi of Poway, Calif., who finished second with a closing round of six-under 66. For 54 holes, Nirapathpongporn toured Palm View at 12-under-par 204, edging Lucidi at 205 (-11).
And while many have wondered why the player with the most decorated golf resume on the Futures Golf Tour has taken so long to win her first pro title, the former NCAA champion and U.S. Women's Amateur champion has a simple explanation.
'I don't like to skip a step in anything,' said the native of Bangkok, Thailand. 'As frustrated as I might have seemed last year, I wasn't quite ready to be there yet. Everybody was like, 'You've won on every level, so why haven't you won?' But maybe I wasn't ready. I think I needed all of that time to get ready for the next level.'
Nirapathpongporn came into the week with more than a golf tournament on her mind. Earlier this month, she went home to compete in the Thailand Ladies Open outside of Bangkok. The local favorite finished tied for seventh and enjoyed a week in which her likeness was splashed on posters throughout the city.
'She's kind of like a rock star over there,' said fellow Futures Tour member Libby Smith of Essex Junction, Vt., who also played in the Thailand Ladies Open. 'Her face was everywhere.'
But two days later, the golf pro found herself at home with her family, gripping the cruel reality of leukemia. Her father, Dr. Apichart Nirapathpongporn, a retired surgeon, succumbed to the disease on April 5. Stunned, the young pro spent the next week with her family about as far from golf as she could get.
Word slowly spread among her Futures Tour peers that the popular player's father was gone and many were surprised to see Nirapathpongporn arrive in Texas three weeks later. On Wednesday, as tough as she is, the wave of pain swept over her. Her voice quivered and she had tears in her eyes as she tried to wear the necessary game face and yet deal with an aching desire to be with her family so far away.
'We were trying to balance between letting her heal, letting her grieve and trying to play tournament golf,' said caddie Chris McCalmont, who celebrated the same birthday as his player last Thursday. 'On Wednesday, she cried for an hour, and then she said she was ready to play. For her to win today says a lot about how strong she is.'
Nirapathpongporn must have drawn deep from something bigger than sheer human will when she carded a first-round 66 on Friday to charge into second behind frontrunner Nicole Castrale of Palm Desert, Calif., who set the pace on the par-72, 6,381-yard course with an opening 65. By Saturday, NP3 had moved to the top of the leaderboard at eight-under 136 with a 70 in the second round.
'I don't know how I did it,' Nirapathpongporn said. 'I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to focus. On Friday, I felt like I could burst at any time. So whenever I had a thought about my dad, I wouldn't let myself think it. I felt it would do no one any good. I knew this was going to be a different kind of preparation this week, but I said, 'I'm going to play.''
And that, she did.
The heady four-time All-American from Duke University started today's final round with a two-shot lead and gradually put three shots between herself, Castrale and Lucidi. Nirapathpongporn was the center of a University of Southern California sandwich against the former Trojan college roommates, but she didn't get rattled even when Lucidi, herself a former U.S. Women's Amateur champion (2002), rammed in consecutive 12-foot birdies on holes six and seven.
A distant chaser, Sun Young Yoo of Seoul, Korea, fired a career-low final-round score of 65 to charge into third place at 207 (-9). The 18-year-old rookie hit 16 greens and rolled in 28 putts to move within three shots of Nirapathpongporn.
But while putts wouldnt fall for Castrale, the afternoon had largely turned into a nose-to-nose competition between Lucidi and Nirapathpongporn.
Lucidi never backed down, cranking her drive on the par-5, 488-yard 10th hole, cutting a 3-wood to 12 feet, then holing another 12-footer for an eagle-3 to catch the leader. But the Thai player calmly pitched to 1 feet on the 10th hole and carded a birdie to stay one shot ahead. With six holes to play, she birdied Nos. 13 and 16, stumbling only on the par-three 17th hole when she pushed her 4-iron tee shot pin-high right and didn't get up and down for par.
'I tried to swing too easy,' said Nirapathpongporn of the shot that trimmed her lead to only one stroke with one hole to play. 'I told myself, 'Don't worry. Do your thing and you'll be just fine.''
With the chance of a possible playoff looming, Lucidi again striped her drive on the final hole and knocked her pitching wedge approach to 18 feet. But the dimpled Californian, playing in her first Futures Tour event, left her putt short, which also left the door open for Nirapathpongporn to finish off that long-awaited first professional win.
'There were quite a few people following us and it was loud and awesome out there,' said Lucidi. 'Unfortunately, on that last hole, I forgot to hit my putt.'
Nirapathpongporn's walk to the 18th green today must have seemed like a dream to the Thai player, who arrived at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy as a 15-year old. She came to America to follow a dream and the timing coincided with a downturn in Thailand's economy that put a pinch even on the budgets of two parents who were physicians.
'It was difficult then and I put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted to do well for my parents,' she recalled. 'But I worked my way through it. That's me. I struggled with English, with golf, with everything, but it was more rewarding at the end.'
And at the end of today's inaugural Jalapeno Futures Golf Classic, Nirapathpongporn stood over her putt. In the distance, she heard a marshal say, 'Stand please' to the excited gallery inching forward. She told herself she'd better get used to marshals, crowds and noise. And she told herself to stay with her shot, to 'finish the day.'
Perhaps more importantly, Nirapathpongporn finished the week -- a grueling test of emotions that started a day before her 23rd birthday and ended with a new tradition of the champion taking a chomp out of one of the jalapeno peppers stuffed inside her crystal trophy. NP3 gamely took the chomp. NP3 was the champ, moving from 27th to second on the season's money list and putting her into position to move on to another dream on the LPGA Tour.
'I'm coming along just the way I planned,' she said after the awards ceremony. 'Of course, life is not so linear. It comes with a lot of challenges, but I think it's a blessing in disguise.'
Garcia among bubble boys keeping playoff hopes alive
Sergio Garcia gave himself a chance to keep his perfect FedExCup Playoffs record going with his rally Friday at the Wyndham Championship.
D.A. Points moved into position to make a historic leap into the postseason.
And Johnson Wagner dunked his last shot of the day from long range to keep his hopes of making the playoffs alive.
But the day didn’t end nearly as well for Tyrone Van Aswegen’s FedExCup hopes.
Van Aswegen didn’t do himself any favors trying to hold on to the 125th spot on the FedExCup points list. He missed the cut by a shot.
Only the top 125 advance to The Northern Trust and next week’s start to the playoffs.
Van Aswegen wasn’t alone among “bubble boys” missing the cut. No. 122 Jhonattan Vegas, No. 123 Seamus Power, No. 124 Martin Piller, No. 126 Chad Campbell and No. 127 Robert Garrigus all failed to make the weekend.
Garcia is among 13 players who have advanced to the FedExCup Playoffs every year since they began in 2007, but his run was in jeopardy of ending starting the week. He’s 131st on the FedExCup points list
With a 65 Friday following his opening round 66, Garcia is in more than a great position to advance. He’s in position to win the Wyndham. He is tied for fourth, five shots off the lead. The day ended with Garcia projected to move up to 118th on the FedExCup points list.
“I'm just going to try to keep building on the things that I did well these first two days,” Garcia said. “Whatever happens, happens. Like I said at the beginning of the week, if I have a great weekend, then it will be great. If I don't have a great weekend, it will still be great because
I'll get to rest.”
Points started the week 214th on the FedExCup points list. With back-to-back 64s, he trails only Brandt Snedeker going into the weekend. He’s projected to move to 81st in points. Nobody has ever started the Wyndham Championship that far back in points and qualified for the playoffs. Davis Love III was 186th when he won and advanced in 2015.
Wagner, 136th on the FedExCup points list, went to spectacular lengths Friday to keep his playoff hopes alive. He was outside the cut line until holing his 153-yard approach at the last.
Bill Haas, who is among those 13 players to have qualified for the playoffs every year, started the week 150th in points. He can keep his perfect playoff record going with a big weekend. He shot 68 Friday to make the cut. He’s tied for 52nd in the tournament.
Points two back after missing 16 of 17 cuts
What’s the better story come Sunday?
Brandt Snedeker turning his 59 in the opening round into a victory at the Wyndham Championship?
Or D.A. Points winning after missing 16 cuts in his last 17 starts?
They’re both scripts in the works at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C.
Points, who has been struggling this season with a herniated disc that causes numbness in his fingers, has broken through his season-long funk to shoot back-to-back 64s. He starts the weekend in second place, two shots behind Snedeker.
“It's been difficult,” Points said of his slump. “It's been hard on my family. I was in this position a couple years ago, and I clawed my way back and won in Puerto Rico.
“I had that big downturn, and I clawed my way out of it just to find myself way back down in another deep hole again.”
Points, 41, is a three-time PGA Tour winner. He won his first title playing alongside Bill Murray at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2011 and two years later won the Shell Houston Open. He slipped into a three-year funk after that, before rebuilding his game and winning the Puerto Rico Open last year.
“Hopefully, this is my way of starting to claw back out,” Points said.
New 'Mr. 59' Snedeker needs Day 2 rally to keep Wyndham lead
Brandt Snedeker struggled coming off the emotional high that comes with shooting 59, but it didn’t stop him from rallying Friday to try to turn his historic round into a victory at the Wyndham Championship.
After a sluggish start to the second round, Snedeker caught fire on the back nine at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., to take the lead going into the weekend.
With a 3-under 67, Snedeker moved to 14 under overall, two shots ahead of D.A. Points (64).
“I knew it was going to be tough” Snedeker said. “It wasn't going to be the same way it was yesterday. Kind of battling the emotion of everybody pulling hard for you, wanting to see you do it again. So the front nine was disappointing.”
A day after becoming the ninth player in PGA Tour history to post a sub-60 tournament round, Snedeker opened with three bogeys and two birdies on the front nine. He said it was a struggle to begin anew.
“You hear people telling you every two seconds, `Mr. 59,’ or saying how cool it was to watch it,” Snedeker said. “Phone's still blowing up this morning, guys in the locker room are still talking to me about it. So, yes, totally on your mind. You can't ignore it. You can't try to forget about it. Hardest thing is trying to get back into a rhythm.”
Snedeker did with an eagle and two birdies on the back nine. Rolling in a 30-foot eagle putt at the 15th gave him back the lead he lost earlier in the round.
“To see that go in was huge,” Snedeker said.
Not every player to break 60 on the PGA Tour has gone on to win. In fact, Snedeker is looking to become just the fifth player to do so.
Garwood (64) leads Dick's Sporting Goods Open
ENDICOTT, N.Y. - Doug Garwood birdied the final three holes for an 8-under 64 and the first-round lead Friday in the Dick's Sporting Goods Open.
The 55-year-old Garwood had nine birdies and a bogey, playing his final nine holes - the front nine at En-Joie Golf Club - in 6-under 31.
''Drove it well, hit the irons well, pitched well, putted well, thought well,'' Garwood said. ''I got to a point I was just making birdies and I kind of lost track of how it was going,'' Garwood said. ''That's always a good thing.''
He won the 2016 SAS Championship for his lone PGA Tour Champions title.
"I haven't been playing great this year, but I've been working hard on my game and things I've been working on are paying off,'' Garwood said. ''My golf, I take it a shot at a time, don't think about too far in advance because you really can't control, you know, the 13th hole tomorrow. It's just about the tee shot on No. 1.''
Michael Bradley and Marco Dawson shot 65, Woody Austin and Clark Dennis followed at 66, and Bob Estes and Tom Gillis were at 67.
''It was a good day,'' Bradley said. ''I've traditionally not driven the ball well here and you've got to drive the ball good here to shoot a good score. I drove the ball well and made a few putts, so that was that.''
Kenny Perry, the 3M Championship winner two weeks ago in Minnesota, had a 68. Bernard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez each shot 70. Langer won the 2014 tournament. Jimenez is coming off a victory at St. Andrews in the British Senior Open.
Defending champion Scott McCarron had a 72. Kevin Sutherland also had a 72. He shot the only 59 in PGA Tour Champions history in the 2014 event. John Daly, the winner of the PGA Tour's 1992 B.C. Open at En-Joie, opened with a 73.