Westwood playing well, but isn't getting younger

By Jason SobelMay 3, 2013, 6:46 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Lee Westwood turned 40 last week. If he’d been born a few years earlier, it may have been a milestone celebrated privately, with photographs and memories shared only amongst his closest friends and relatives.

Instead, Westwood had the fortune – or is it misfortune? – of entering his fifth decade here in the Social Media Age. And so in the next morning’s aftermath of his birthday bash, the public was treated to evidence of his celebration in a series of Twitter posts that would have made the guys from The Hangover trilogy proud.

It started with: “OMG!” Continued with: “Hangover from hell!” Then: “Life begins at 40! It must do cos I feel like I died last night!” And finally: “Who invented vodka!”

As if that doesn’t help piece together the puzzle of the previous night, there was a photo tweeted by Luke Donald depicting a bright-eyed Westwood in a shiny purple hat that appears a few sizes too small for his noggin.

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Asked about that birthday bash on Friday, he replied, “It was good. We had a good party from what I can remember and people keep telling me.”

Those hangovers may have a little more staying power at 40, but Westwood’s sense of humor is still very much intact.

Apparently, so is his golf game. Opening scores of 70-68 have him right in the thick of contention entering the weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I've always played well here,” Westwood explained after his second round. “I played nicely last year and finished fifth. I guess you get rewarded for hitting it straight and penalized for missing it off line. Normally the greens are very firm. You have to think your way around and position the ball. This week you can be a little more aggressive because it is softer.”

Never confused for the world’s best putter, there was some conjecture before the tournament that on greens as inconsistent as any we’ll see all year on the PGA Tour, Westwood may actually make more of 'em than usual. Two wrongs making a right, so to speak. So far that’s been the case, as Westwood has needed just 27 and 28 putts, respectively, in his first two rounds.

While the birthday hangover is long gone, he’s hardly 100 percent this week. Playing with what he called a chest infection – “I'm not a doctor,” he explained. “Well, I am a doctor, actually, but not a medical doctor.” – Westwood didn’t seem his usual cheeky self after Friday morning’s round.

When asked whether it would be enough to keep him bedridden had he not been playing, he maintained, “No, it’s not too bad,” before allowing, “I just won't do too much practice this afternoon. I'll just go back to the room and lie down, really.”

Perhaps the old adage, “Beware the injured golfer!” should be expanded to include those suffering from illness, as well.

In fact, as part of his series of post-party tweets last week, Westwood answered one fan’s questions about what score he would shoot at Augusta National in that condition by simply responding, “69.”

Any mention of a major championship venue and his name should serve as a reminder that he famously has never won one, living the second half of his career as one of those so-called best players without a major – golf’s ultimate version of the backhanded compliment.

With his strong play so far this week, Westwood should be excited not only for the upcoming weekend, but next month’s U.S. Open, too. On short, tight Merion Golf Club, his ball-striking skills may finally be enough to erase that omnipresent label.

This comes despite the fact that while his window is still wide open, it may have inched a bit more closed last week. That’s because since 1980, only three players – Tom Kite, Mark O’Meara and Darren Clarke – have earned their maiden major title after the age of 40.

It may be true, that old saying Westwood quoted during the morning after his 40th. “Life begins at 40.” If so, he may be on the verge of even bigger and better things very soon.

When asked if he believes that saying to be true, he left those possibilities open. “I hope so,” he said. “I'll tell you in a few years.”

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Kim's missing clubs show up at sporting goods store

By Will GrayMarch 22, 2018, 1:58 pm

More than a month after they were lost on an American Airlines flight, the clubs I.K. Kim used to win last year's Ricoh Women's British Open turned up on the sale rack of a California sporting goods store.

Kim's clubs became lost in late January when she flew from Miami to San Diego, with the airline suggesting she simply rent a new set. A few weeks later, Kim shot a "What's in the bag" television segment which according to a Golfweek report caught the eye of three good samaritans in the San Diego area.

The three men recognized Kim's clubs for sale at a local Play It Again Sports, with the major winner's tools listed at $60 each. The store even had Kim's tour bag, complete with her LPGA player badge. Kim filmed the reunion with her bag - containing wedges and a few hybrids, minus the head covers - at the Carlsbad police station:

Kim was back in southern California this week for the Kia Classic, where she'll begin play Thursday morning at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad.

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New dad Garcia removes shoes, wins match

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:48 am

AUSTIN, Texas – In one of the day’s most explosive matches, Sergio Garcia rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to defeat Shubhankar Sharma, 1 up, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The duo halved just nine holes on Day 1 at Austin Country Club, with Garcia going from 2 up through four holes to 1 down with five holes to play.

But the Spaniard rallied with five birdies over his final eight holes and pushed his record to 20-17-1 in the Match Play. He also gave himself his best chance to advance out of pool play since the format began in 2015.

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The victory continued what has already been a memorable week for Garcia, whose wife, Angela, gave birth to the couple’s first child last Wednesday.

“I already feel like I’m a winner after what happened on Wednesday,” Garcia said. “Obviously, it's something that we're so, so happy and proud of and enjoying it as much as possible.”

The highlight of Garcia’s round on Wednesday came at the 12th hole when he took a drop on a cart path. After considering his options, he removed his shoes and hit his approach from 212 yards to 29 feet for a two-putt birdie to halve the hole.

“I have spikes. So if I don't take my shoes off, I'm going to slip. It's not the kind of shot that you want to slip,” Garcia said. “I had tried it a couple of times on practice swings and I was already slipping a little bit. So I thought I would just take my shoes off, try to get a little bit in front of the hole and it came out great.”

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On a wild Wednesday, DJ, Rory, Phil saved by the pool

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:39 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Call it black Wednesday, but then the one-and-done aspect of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was dulled three years ago with the introduction of round-robin play that assures every player at least three matches in pool play.

Otherwise Wednesday at Austin Country Club would go down as one of the championship’s darkest hours for the top of the dance card. In order, world No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson dropped his Day 1 match, 3 and 1, to world No. 56 Bernd Wiesberger; last week’s winner Rory McIlroy lost to PGA Tour rookie Peter Uihlein, 2 and 1, and Phil Mickelson, the winner of the last WGC in Mexico, dropped a 3-and-2 decision to Charles Howell III.

All told, 11 lower-seeded players pulled off “upsets” on Wednesday, although it’s widely held that the Match Play is more prone to these types of underdog performances than the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

But if it wasn’t March Madness, it was at the least March Mayhem, particularly for those who shuffled around Austin Country Club in a state of mild confusion.

Although there were plenty of matches that went according to plan – with top-seeded players Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Sergio Garcia all winning – it was still a tough day for chalk with three of the top 10 players in the world ranking either losing or halving (world No. 3 Jon Rahm halved his duel with Keegan Bradley) their matches.

At least McIlroy made things interesting after finding himself 5 down through 13 holes. The Northern Irishman played his last six holes in 5 under par to push the match to the 17th hole, but Uihlein closed out the bout with a par.

“If he birdies seven straight on you, hats off to him. It is what it is,” Uihlein said of McIlroy’s late surge. “I felt like if I just kind of kept giving myself a chance, I didn't want to give him any holes. He made me earn it, so hats off to it.”

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Johnson couldn’t say the same thing.

After not trailing in any match on his way to victory at last year’s Match Play, Johnson hit a ball in the water, two out of bounds (on the same hole, no less) and began to fade when he made a double bogey-5 at the 11th hole. Although scoring is always skewed at the Match Play because of conceded putts, Johnson was listed at 9 over through 17 holes before his day came to a merciful end.

“We both didn't have a great day. I think we only made three birdies between us, which is not a lot out here,” Wiesberger said. “Obviously it wasn't his best day. It wasn't the best of my days. I think we both have to do a little bit of work this afternoon.”

Although not as scrappy as Johnson’s round, Mickelson has also seen better days. Lefty made just a single birdie and played 17 holes in even par to lose just his second match in pool play.

But then this event hasn’t exactly been kind to Lefty, who has advanced to the weekend just twice in 13 starts.

“I was fortunate today, obviously, to get past him,” said Howell, who is the second-lowest seeded player to advance out of pool play when he did it in 2017 as the 61st player in the field. “But with this pod play the way it goes now, you never know. You've got to keep playing good. Last WGC we had, he won. So he's never out of it.”

That will be the solace those high-profile players who find themselves on the wrong side of the round-robin ledger now cling to. There is a path back.

Since pool play began, just four players have lost their Day 1 matches and went on to win their group. One of those players is Johnson, who lost to Robert Streb on Wednesday in 2016 but still advanced to the quarterfinals.

But if that helps ease the sting for those who now embrace the Match Play mulligan, it did little to quiet the crowds on what turned out to be a wild Wednesday.