Vega Leads Futures Tour Event
'It's been a really frustrating year because I know how low I can go and how I can play,' said Vega, 23, of North Andover , Mass. 'I think this round has been waiting to happen.'
Indeed it has. After the last two years as the top player at North Carolina State University , Vega has struggled with her professional transition this spring on the Futures Golf Tour. A balky putter has regularly sabotaged her solid ball striking, causing the rookie to miss four of five tournament cuts. But with 23 putts today at the New Innsbrook Country Club and a one-putt green on her first nine holes today, Vega turned a corner in her young professional career.
'I was hitting it like I always do, only today, I was watching it go into the hole,' said Vega, who carded eight birdies and two bogeys. 'I've already learned a lot about staying patient because all of those little missed putts add up. Out here, you have to come out of the gates strong right from the start.'
With her father Alan Vega serving as caddie, the rookie took a different approach on the greens today. After some discussion prior to the round, the two agreed that dad would add a second set of eyes to line up the player on the greens. It was an experiment that proved successful, keeping Vega one shot ahead of fellow New Englander Libby Smith of Essex Junction, Vt. , and veteran pro Kellee Booth of McKinney , Texas -- who both opened with rounds with 68.
Smith was the first on the leaderboard from the morning rounds, grabbing the tournament lead for the first time in her two years as a pro. The Vermonter capitalized on her length, scoring birdies on five of the course's six par-five holes and she used 28 putts to convert on the greens. She surprised even herself after waking up at 4:30 this morning unable to swallow with a sore throat.
'It felt sort of flu-like, so before I went out there today, I tried to get my head into it, knowing that I would have to fight through it,' said Smith, who has one top-10 and one top-20 finish this season. 'The Ibuprofen kicked in around the fourth hole. I knew once I got out there, I'd feel better.'
And following that 'beware of the ailing golfer' mindset was Booth, who banged her head during a fall five days earlier and showed up this week with two stitches in the back of her head. Still fighting 'waves of nausea' -- which showed up during her first two holes, resulting in a pair of bogeys -- Booth scrambled back from her opening 38 on the back nine holes and posted a 6-under-par score of 30 on the front, that included four birdies and an eagle-3 on the par-five eighth hole.
'This is the first time I've broken 70 this year,' said Booth, 29, who has posted three top-20 finishes this season. 'The six par-5s give us a lot of opportunities for birdie.'
The third annual event in Northwest Indiana features an old-fashioned, tree-lined course measuring 6,196 yards, which uses a unique mixture of six par-5s, six par-4sand six par-3 holes. And for players who make the most of the par-5s, it's a chance to go low quickly or to make up lost ground. Former Purdue University player Caroline Goasguen of Montpellier , France , for example, recorded four consecutive 3s on the back nine that included a pair of eagle-3s on holes 15 and 17. She finished at even-par 72.
Vega, on the other hand, was the birdie-maker all day long.
'I'm not surprised at Bri's round today,' said Meaghan Francella of Port Chester , N.Y. , who played college golf against Vega while at the University of North Carolina . She's capable. She needs to know that she belongs out here.'
Chances are good that after today's opening round, Vega proved she's found her groove.
Not DJ, not Poulter: Kisner most proud to take down Kuchar
AUSTIN, Texas – On his way to this week’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Kevin Kisner has beaten world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the European match play ninja Ian Poulter. But neither match could compare to his duel with Matt Kuchar early Saturday.
“I was more jacked to beat [Kuchar], really. Kuch is such a good player and our games are so similar,” said Kisner, who defeated Kuchar in the round of 16, 1 up. “We both made eight birdies this morning and I barely snuck out of there. I thought it was a lot of fun.”
By comparison, his quarterfinal bout against Poulter wasn’t nearly as electric. Kisner won two of the first four holes when the Englishman made bogey (No. 3) and when he was conceded the fourth hole, hecruised to an 8-and-6 victory for the week’s most lopsided win.
“I don't know Ian that well, so I don't really have a history with him, other than watching him kill us in the Ryder Cup,” Kisner laughed.
Things won’t get any easier for Kisner on Sunday when he’ll play Alex Noren in the semifinals. The Swede has been dominant this week and is considered one of Europe’s top players heading into this year’s Ryder Cup.
Hahn: 'My fault for not expecting the worst from fans'
Fan behavior has made headlines all year long on the PGA Tour, and the topic of conversation doesn't look like it’s going away anytime soon.
The latest example came on Friday at the WGC-Dell Technologies March Play, when James Hahn took to Twitter to complain that a fan deliberately yelled in his backswing on the 15th hole during his match with Jason Dufner, which he lost 3 and 2.
“Whether we like it or not, this is where the game is going,” he tweeted. “My fault for not expecting the worst from fans. Just sucks to lose a match that way.”
Fought hard today after a bad start. 2 down, 4 to go, guy yells purposely on my back swing. Whether we like it or not, this is where the game is going. My fault for not expecting the worst from fans. Just sucks to lose a match that way.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) March 24, 2018
The two-time PGA Tour winner followed up his original tweet, clarifying that he can expect bad behavior from all golf fans while still loving and respecting them.
Edit to previous tweet. I respect and love all golf fans but I can expect bad behavior from them. And I'm not blaming the fan for losing the match. Just disappointed I lost the deciding hole in that fashion.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) March 24, 2018
He also pointed out a major difference in comparing golf to other sports, saying some PGA Tour players go to far greater lengths than the typical NFL star to engage with fans on a daily basis.
I'm all good with fans having fun but here's the difference. You want to treat golf like every other major sport. When's the last time Tom Brady signed autographs and took pictures with your kids after every game. Rickie and Phil do this 2 hours a day. Have cake and eat it too. https://t.co/5G3YTNKGyk— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) March 24, 2018
Thanks for the support! Take the good with the bad, golf fans are still the best. https://t.co/v8Fg2AK4r3— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) March 24, 2018
The incident comes on the heels of several recent player run-ins with fans, including Justin Thomas at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Sergio Garcia earlier this week at Austin Country Club.
On Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that inappropriate fan behavior related to alcohol sales is something his staff is monitoring.
Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Elite Eight
Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:
Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.
Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.
Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.
Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.
Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.
Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.
Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.
Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.
Match 105: Bubba Watson (35) def. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28), 5 and 3. This was a tight match until Aphibarnrat’s short game failed him on the back nine, with a chunked chip at the 10th, a clumsy pitch at the 12th and a heavy heavy pitch at the 13th helping Watson win four consecutive holes. Watson played his way into the semifinals of this event for the second time in his career. He ended up fourth in 2011. Watson will meet the Justin Thomas in the semifinals.
Match 106: Justin Thomas (2) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 2 and 1. Thomas moved into position to win more than the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. He moved into position to take the world No. 1 ranking from Dustin Johnson. All that stands between Thomas and the top ranking now is Bubba Watson. If Thomas beats Watson in the semifinals, he is assured of going to No. 1. Thomas started slowly against Stanley, missing a 3-footer for par to lose the second hole. It marked the first time Thomas trailed in a match all week. All square making the turn, Thomas won the 10th, 11th and 12th holes and then held off Stanley the rest of the way. Thomas will meet Bubba Watson in the semifinals.
Match 107: Alex Noren (13) def. Cameron Smith (46), 4 and 2. With birdies at three of the first six holes, Noren took an early 3-up lead. Noren, however, made it more interesting than he would have liked the rest of the way. Noren lost the seventh hole with a three-putt bogey and lost the eighth failing to get up and down for par. Smith, though, never pressed Noren after getting that opening. He failed to make a birdie the entire round. Noren, who has won six European Tour events since the summer of 2015, has been knocking on the door to his first PGA Tour title this year. He lost the Farmers Insurance Open in a playoff in January and finished third at the Honda Classic last month. Noren will meet Kisner in the semifinals.
Match 108: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Ian Poulter (58), 8 and 6. Poulter gift wrapped Kisner an early 2-up lead, and Kisner pounced after that. Poulter, who was on such a torrid run until meeting Kisner, three-putted to lose the third hole with a bogey and then pulled his tee shot deep in a hazard to lose the fourth hole. Kisner birdied the fifth and sixth holes to race to a 4-up lead. Poulter had no answers. After making eight birdies in the morning Round of 16 , Poulter didn’t make a birdie against Kisner, who will face Noren in the semifinals.
Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'
AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.
Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.
“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”
Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”