Big Four Head for Collision

By George WhiteMarch 15, 2005, 5:00 pm
Oh no ' now Vijays smack-dab in the mix, too. Tiger, Phil and Ernie have all had periods of brilliance in this young season. With all four on the verge of heading to The Players Championship in two weeks, then the Masters in less than a month, something has just got to give.
Singh lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington at Honda when he blew a putt of 2 feet. But he looks like he finally has gotten adjusted to the shafts he put into his clubs just this season. He won the Sony, remember, and then when the tour got to his adopted state of Florida, he promptly put together a tie for third at Doral to go with his almost at Honda. He looks awfully scary heading into this week at Bay Hill.
Woods? All he has done is win twice, at the Buick Invitational and at Doral. He at last put graphite in his driver to get a little extra distance ' he now clubs it 306 yards per measured drive, third on the rankings. But equally as important, he is putting the ball brilliantly. Hes cut his average per-hole strokes down to 1.68, while last year he was at 1.724.
Mickelson might have had the most impressive season over-all. His wins at Phoenix (FBR), Pebble Beach (AT&T) and his battle down to the wire against Woods at Doral would seem to indicate as much. Mickelson also has taken a giant step in his putting, standing second on tour this year, as compared to 43rd last year.
However, Woods still seems to have Mickelsons number. Mickelson had some untimely short-putt misses against Tiger in the closing holes at Doral. And he did likewise in the final holes at the U.S. Open last year against Reteif Goosen. He won a close one over Els last year at the Masters, but until he can do it consistently in the big tournaments, he still cant be considered Woods equal yet.
Incidentally, its worth taking a second look at Els. He finished second to Singh at Sony, remember, and the last two weeks has notched wins in the Middle East (Dubai and Qatar). Qatar was against a weak field and he had to come from a five-stroke deficit the final day. But Dubai was against some fairly strong competition. He now comes to Bay Hill and his American home of Orlando. Is he getting ready for something big?
David Toms has shown flashes of brilliance this year, also. He won the Match Play and was fifth at both Doral and Honda. A sure, steady player, he bears watching closely. The Masters would appear to be a little too long for him, but if Mike Weir can do it, then Toms can, too.
Adam Scott won the Nissan, but his victory was derided by just about everyone because it was rain-delayed and just over 36 holes. But come on, people, he played the best of anyone who showed up. And just to prove that he is worthy of some consideration, he came back the next week and went all the way to the quarterfinals of the Match Play before he ran into a sizzling Toms.
Geoff Ogilvy won the alternate event in Tucson while the Match Play was going on. Ogilvy is an interesting character. An Australian, he is now in his fifth year on the American tour. He is now 27, just about to enter the prime years of a golfers career, and he battled tenaciously at Honda. He was tied for the lead on the back nine at Honda and shot a 64 and 67 in the second and third rounds, respectively. Hmmm
Justin Leonard won the Bob Hope, but what to make of him he has missed three cuts this year. He, too, probably doesnt have enough length to seriously contend at most venues. But every year he will pull a real surprise ' dont forget hes won nine times and got into playoffs another four.
Oh yes ' Harrington. Hes already proven hes the best player on the European Tour. Hes playing a full PGA Tour schedule this year for the first time, and it really came as no surprise that hes won for the first time in America now. Harrington always takes an extended time off around New Years and usually takes awhile to get tuned up. This year, he served notice that he is jumping out of to an early start, in only his third start.
They head to Bay Hill now, the Big Four minus Mickelson, all on a collision course with the victory circle. And in two weeks, all four will be at The Players. Is this the year and the big guns will all be on top of their games at the same time?
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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

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Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.