Donald, Simpson are life of the party

By Jason SobelOctober 20, 2011, 8:19 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Let’s say there’s a big game on TV tonight. Let’s say you invite a few buddies over to your place. Let’s say you’re all enjoying some adult beverages while intently watching the action in your mandated man-cave.

And let’s say the entire night is interrupted when a pair of supermodels come barging through the door.

Hey, it happens.

So, what do you do? Kick ‘em out and post a “No Girls Allowed” sign on the entrance? Or welcome the unexpected surprise with open arms – literally – and crack open a few cold ones for the bewitching beauties?

It’s a conundrum every man should have the pleasure of dealing with at least once in his life, but more importantly in this case, it’s an analogy for what’s taking place at this week’s PGA Tour season finale.

You and your buddies represent the rank and file of the game’s most elite tour. The journeymen. The rookies. The tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. You are the players who don’t want to play well at this event; you need to play well here.

Maybe it’s to jump into the top 30 on the final money list and gain entry into next year’s Masters. Or the top 70 to qualify for invitationals. Or even – gulp – the dreaded top 125, ensuring status for next season and a week of vacation when others are sweating it out at Q-School.

The players who need to play well at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic are accustomed to enjoying the festivities with like-minded competitors. You know, just a bunch of guys in their man-cave.

This week, though, their shindig has been interrupted by a pair of supermodels in Webb Simpson and Luke Donald – although in reality, they’re simply super models of consistency.

The top two players on the money list crashed the party on Thursday and it doesn’t appear anybody is going to kick them out anytime soon. Paired together, Donald posted a 6-under 66 to grab an early share of the opening-round lead while Simpson was only two strokes further back as the playing partners combined for a bogey-free morning at the Magic Kingdom.

At stake between them is the season-long money title. Once thought to be the most prestigious statistical honor for a PGA Tour pro, its importance has been diluted since the implementation of the FedEx Cup. Just ask the Tour, which has chosen to focus its efforts more on the points race than the money.

Until now. With the annual playoffs already a month over, the battle for greenback supremacy has once again taken priority, which is a little like NFL teams still vying for the Lombardi Trophy long after the Super Bowl has been decided.

With his runner-up finish at last week’s McGladrey Classic, Simpson leapfrogged Donald on the list, taking a $363,029 advantage entering the finale. It means that in order to claim the title, Donald needs to win if Simpson finishes tied for second; he needs to finish solo second if Simpson is tied for eighth; or he needs a two-way tie for second if Simpson is inside the top 21.

It also means the two men had plenty to discuss while spending 18 holes together on Thursday.

“We joked around earlier on about it,” Simpson said with a smile. “He shook my hand and told me it was great to see me. We went back and forth a little bit.”

“He asked when I was having my offseason,” Donald revealed. “I said, ‘Well, it was going to be this week. Thanks for playing the last two weeks.’ But, yeah, just some lighthearted banter out there.”

As well there should be. While the money title and, potentially, the Player of the Year award remain up for grabs, it’s not as if a poor week from either player would tarnish his accomplishments.

Exactly a year ago, Simpson was ranked outside the top 200 in the world and had yet to even secure his playing privileges for this season, needing a few strong Fall Series results in order to clinch a card. Now he’s No. 12 on the Official World Golf Ranking and a two-time champion with three other runner-up finishes.

Donald, meanwhile, has parlayed doubts as a career-long underachiever into a turn as the top-ranked player and clearly the most consistent performer in the world. His low opening round at Disney not only shouldn’t be considered a surprise, at this point it should be expected.

All of which accentuates their presence at the year-end event. Simpson and Donald have gone from party crashers to the life of the party. This isn’t their bash, but they’re hardly being bashed for showing up.

You know, just like those supermodels barging into your place tonight.

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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.”