Fairytale ends and continues

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: In Backspin, the GolfChannel.com editorial staff takes a look back on the biggest stories from the past week in golf -- with a spin.
PADDY'S ENCORE: Padraig Harrington cemented his legacy Sunday by joining some of the legends of the game by repeating as the winner of the Open Championship. Harrington eagled the 71st hole after an all-time approach shot, thus being able to enjoy his walk up the 18th fairway - as opposed to his meltdown finish in regulation last year at Carnoustie.
BackspinIt's amazing to think that Harrington almost didn't even play last week at Royal Birkdale because of a sprained wrist, making his performance all the more noteworthy. The Irishman battled high winds and a resurgent Greg Norman and is now - again - the 'Champion Golfer of the Year.' And isn't that one of the coolest labels in all of sport? It's certainly up there.

SHARK WEEK: Greg Norman came to the Open Championship after enjoying a wedding and a honeymoon with tennis legend Chris Evert, and, well, played like the legend he is. After 54 holes, he held the lead - as he did with nine holes to play - but couldn't overcome Harrington's late heroics, eventually finishing in a tie for fourth.
Backspin Wow, wow and wow. This was - and will remain - one of the greatest all-time golf stories. The book on Norman is well known: the majors won, the majors - many in heartbreaking fashion - lost. The private helicopter, the wine, the swashbuckling, go-for-broke style. Before there was a Tiger, there was a Shark that was the most feared of animals. And in the end, the Shark, unfortunately, ran out of air.

SAY IT AIN'T SO: Michelle Wie was disqualified from the State Farm Classic after she failed to sign her scorecard before leaving the scorer's tent after her second round. The 18-year-old had just finished her third round, carding a 67 to sit just one shot off the lead, before being notified of her DQ.
Backspin Just when Wie seemed poised to capture her first career victory, this slip up cost her the chance at a major breakthrough. But signing your scorecard is one of the basic rules that every professional knows. That was a mistake that cost Wie dearly, one you can be assured she won't make again. But it also highlights some of the game's incredibly stupid rules. At some point, the USGA will enter into the 21st century and do away will some of the most outdated rules known to man. Even Major League Baseball thinks the USGA is behind the times.

U-N-C-L-E!: The 1985 Open champion, Sandy Lyle, and Rich Beem walked off the course halfway through their first rounds after being 11 and 12 over par, respectively. It was something R&A Secretary Peter Dawson did not appreciate saying, 'I think professional golfers should complete the round.'
BackspinBeem's scorecard through nine holes: six bogeys, a double, and a quadruple; and Lyle's was no better. Still, you can understand why the R&A was unhappy with their decisions. Beem and Lyle knew what the conditions were before they teed off. If they didn't think they could compete, letting an alternate have a chance at it might have been the right play. Add yet another double bogey to their scorecards.

LUCK OF THE DRAW: Mother Nature played her usual role in last week's Open Championship, as a player's first round tee time determined their round's outcome as much as their performance. Driving rain and a gusting breeze from the Irish Sea greeted early starters, while those teeing off in the afternoon faced far more timid conditions.
Backspin As always, a little serendipity is needed to succeed at golf's oldest championship. How much easier were conditions in the afternoon? The average score was three strokes higher in the morning, as only four early starters ended the first round in the top 27.

THE UNLUCKY FEW:Some of the pre-tournament favorites were unfortunate enough to draw an early tee time on Thursday. Ernie Els and Vijay Singh each carded an 80 in the opening round, while Phil Mickelson shot a 9-over 79.
Backspin Without Thursday's 80, Els actually had a good championship, finishing in a tie for seventh with two rounds under par. On the other hand, Mickelson's struggles at the Open continued, and he now has only one top-10 in his 16 trips across the pond ' dreadful for the world's second best player. Perhaps he'll join Kenny Perry next year at the John Deere instead?

OUT OF GAS: Perry came into the John Deere as the big story - for several reasons. He finished, however, almost as an afterthought, completing the event in a - ho-hum - tie for sixth. Richard S. Johnson won the event, his first career win on the PGA TOUR.
Backspin A soon-to-be 48-year-old, three-time winner on this year's schedule, the always low-key Perry drew harsh criticism from many in and outside of golf for his decision to bypass a major. That debate will never end. But what did end was his two-event winning streak. He admitted that all the outside stress - and the stress that comes with winning - had finally taken its toll. Said a suddenly somewhat perturbed Perry, I dont know. I mean, Im doing what Im going to do. Im not listening to nobody else. Period.' OK, Kenny, roger that. See you at Valhalla. Oops, we mean Oakland Hills. We think.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:Colt Knost captured his second victory on the Nationwide Tour with a four-stroke win at the Price Cutters Championship; Michigan St. junior Jack Newman defeated John Chin, 5 and 3, Saturday to win the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship; Jack Nicklaus made headlines after saying that today's players make too much money, and in turn do not have enough desire; Kim Welch, winner of the most recent Big Break, captured her first career professional title on the Nationwide Tour.
Backspin If Knost wouldn't have turned professional he would have been playing at Birkdale, but to each his own. Oops - and he probably wouldn't have just tied up his PGA TOUR card for next season; With the win, Newman has earned his way into next year's Masters, something he called, 'a dream since I was a little kid.'; Even though Jack probably has a good point - especially since Paddy Harrington earned about $1.5 million, more than 25 percent of Nicklaus career, some will certainly think sour grapes; Welch has plenty of game to go along with those good looks.
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    Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

    By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

    ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

    Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

    Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

    For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

    ''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''

    Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

    Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

    Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

    Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

    Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

    Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

    After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

    Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

    ''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

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    Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

    Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

    “Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

    Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

    “The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

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    10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

    Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

    Was it a birdie, or a par?

    According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

    According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    “Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

    Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

    “The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

    While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

    His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

    “I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

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    Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

    By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

    The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

    The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

    Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

    The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

    While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

    Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

    “It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

    Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

    But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

    “Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

    After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

    The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

    But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

    Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

    It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

    “All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”