One Time With Tiger: Zac Blair

By Will GrayNovember 28, 2016, 11:00 am

The first call Zac Blair made was to his dad.

Blair had just finished a second-round 68 at the 2015 Memorial Tournament, and he was sweating the cut line. A few minutes after completing his round, Blair quickly realized two things: he would be sticking around for the weekend, and he had a third-round tee time alongside Tiger Woods.

“I remember we were at lunch or something like that and we were looking through our phones,” Blair said. “We called my dad and I was like, ‘I’m playing with Tiger.’ And he was like, ‘Nah, no you’re not.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ And it ended up working out.”

It’s hard to think of two more disparate playing partners than the men that showed up for the 8:28 a.m. tee time on June 6, 2015 at Muirfield Village. Woods was in the midst of a difficult season, but still only three years removed from the most recent of his five Memorial victories.

Blair, on the other hand, was a baby-faced rookie who was more likely to get carded for an R-rated movie than asked for an autograph. At age 24, Blair had turned pro only one year prior and had made just 22 PGA Tour starts before he and Woods were drawn together.

Little did he know, Blair was about to have a front-row seat for a record-setting round that Woods would just as soon forget.

Like Blair, Woods made the cut on the number but he struggled with a two-way miss all morning Saturday. Consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9 meant Woods made the turn in 6-over 42 – a jarring performance, especially on a course where he was once so dominant. Things didn’t get any better on the inward half, and after chunking a pair of pitch shots Woods closed with a quadruple bogey on the final hole.

It added up to a 13-over 85, the highest round of his professional career and a low point in an already underwhelming stretch.

Blair’s 2-under 70 barely registered as the golf world attempted to come to grips with Woods’ performance, but for Blair the experience of playing with the 14-time major champ still exceeded his expectations.

“After the round, I liked him even more,” Blair said. “He talked to me the whole day, he was a gentleman the whole time. He was having a pretty rough round and he could have thrown in the towel, but he stayed a true professional the whole day.”

Blair shared his perspective on social media after the round, tweeting a note of appreciation to Woods that he closed with #GOAT, for “Greatest of All Time.”

“I just wanted to let people know how awesome he was,” Blair said. “I wasn’t expecting a lot going in. I wasn’t expecting a ton of interaction, as a rookie out there and then the best player to ever play. But he was great. He was just another guy out there, playing golf. It was cool.”

And while Woods likely hasn’t dwelled much on the series of wayward shots he produced that day, Blair has vivid memories of a few that found their target.

“He still hit some shots where you were like, ‘Wow, that’s why he’s the best player to ever play,’” Biair said. “I still remember he hit this shot on No. 15, high 3-iron that I mean, only a few people can hit that shot. Like the sound and everything. He knocked it up there to like 20 feet or something and I’m just thinking, ‘OK, he’s still got it. He’s still the man.’”

Blair first met Woods at the 2000 PGA Championship when he was 9 years old and his father, James, a well-known Utah club pro, was in the field. Blair recalled asking Woods for an autograph, and he went on to win the tournament a few days later.

Fifteen years later, James was the first person Blair wanted to call with the news the two were paired together, and it remains an experience he will cherish despite Woods’ aberrant performance.

“It’s definitely the coolest round I’ve ever played,” Blair said. “It was awesome. He was my idol growing up, and my favorite golfer ever, and to get to play with him – I hope I get another chance, for sure.”

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”