Many Losses One Mans Gain

By John HawkinsJune 21, 2010, 8:36 pm
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – If every major championship has a personality, the 2010 U.S. Open would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The good was very good, the bad about as bad as bad gets, most of which was impossible to see coming. When a final round full of backpedaling finally shook itself out, the leaderboard almost seemed dysfunctional. It made more sense if you looked at it upside-down.

Nothing against Graeme McDowell, who clearly emerged as the most consistent player from start to finish and did everything a U.S. Open champion is supposed to do. At the beginning of the week, I said that anybody with designs on winning would have to make a vast majority of their 8-footers, and McDowell made more than anyone. He kept his golf ball in front of him, stayed away from the cliffs and high grass, and relied on his solid iron play to navigate Pebble Beach in its most resistant state.

As for the Dude in the Red Shirt, you need a vivid imagination to figure out how Tiger Woods had even half a chance heading into Sunday. Other than on Saturday’s back nine, Woods looked no better than average. He clearly resolved issues with his golf swing after hitting it so poorly at the Memorial, but his chipping and putting, which are requisites to any level of success at Pebble Beach, cost him repeatedly in the first two rounds.

It was strange to see Tiger, the king of stroke economization, fritter away so many on a course where he has produced a sizeable amount of history. The guy has proven to be nearly unbeatable on three or four PGA Tour venues, and Pebble Beach would have been on that list if he’d continued to play in the Tour’s winter hit-and-giggle. Woods griped about the bumpy Poa-annua after his late round Thursday, yet he didn’t bother to practice there in the afternoon.

In 2000, he was on the practice green until the night before the U.S. Open started. Nowadays, he’s off the grounds and doing whatever he does well before noon.

He spent Sunday two or three strokes outside serious contention, beginning his day with an utterly inexcusable three-putt on the first hole, and when the time came when he had to make a move, Woods wasn’t sharp enough to make something happen. It all added up to a misleading tie for fourth with Phil Mickelson, who basically had the same kind of week – one good round, a couple of mediocre ones, not nearly enough firepower come Sunday.

When Dustin Johnson began impersonating a 12 handicap on the second green, his big third-round lead vanishing like that golf ball he smashed into the junk left of the third fairway, Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els all had been handed the break they needed. Els was the only one to gain any real ground on the lead, but when things tightened up on the final nine, he committed a series of blunders you rarely, if ever, see from one of the game’s best tough-course golfers.

If the Big Easy wasn’t despondent over this loss, it was only because he departed the grounds before anybody had a chance to detect his anguish. This was an agonizing defeat for a guy with a closet full of competitive skeletons, maybe even tougher to stomach than the buzzer-beater Mickelson threw at him in the 2004 Masters or the playoff loss to Todd Hamilton at the British Open three months later. At least Mickelson played extraordinary golf and grabbed that tournament by the throat. At least Hamilton played mistake-free golf on a course where trouble was easy to find.

This U.S. Open was hanging off a low-lying branch, just waiting to be plucked. McDowell trailed by three going into Sunday, shot 74 and won despite playing the final 10 holes in four over par, despite making just one birdie all day – at the par-3 fifth. The top three players of this generation, a trio with a combined 21 major titles, all sat within semi-striking distance, yet none came close to chasing down a guy with zero victories and five top-10s in 57 career starts on the U.S. tour.

McDowell claimed our national championship with a final-round score three strokes higher than any of his other 18-hole totals. He did it without so much as having to make a putt, which is what happens when your only pursuer, in this case Gregory Havret, is 391st in the world ranking. More than any golf tournament on earth, the outcome of a U.S. Open is determined largely by the failure of those who fall short, but the 110th edition stretched every rule in the book on matters involving winning and losing, how it all came about and who ended up where.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

It was not pro golf’s finest hour. When I saw USGA setup man Mike Davis afterward, he looked he’d just spent four days on a worry bender – the first words out of his mouth were, “Well, it’s over.” Davis did a good job with what he had, but Pebble Beach should undergo some changes before it hosts the 2019 U.S. Open. You can start with the 14th green complex, a combination of too small, too contoured and too penal when you factor in the speed of today’s putting surfaces. When the world’s best players are afraid to hit sand wedges at a target, the situation calls for further examination.

I’m all for a little blood, but I’d prefer the players draw it by virtue of their own doing. The cost of a mistake at the 14th is outrageously disproportionate to crime itself, but then, everything seemed hyperbolized last week. On a beautiful piece of land, we were treated to a rather unsightly version of the competitive element.
A few hours after landing in San Francisco to cover a 1992 playoff game between the 49ers and Washington Redskins, my sports editor at the Washington Times called with a new command. “Drive down to the Monterey Peninsula and play Pebble Beach,” he ordered. It sounded a lot better than spending an afternoon listening to George Seifert or officiating the Joe Montana-Steve Young debate in Ghirardelli Square.

What I got 18 years ago was fairly typical of the Pebble Beach experience: a glorious day, a 5 ½-hour round, the jaw-dropping beauty that begins at the par-4 fourth—and the long stretch of underrated holes, the Pebble nobody talks about. What makes this course one of America’s best isn’t its proximity to the Pacific, the sea lions or Clint Eastwood. From a strategic standpoint, original architects Jack Neville and Douglas Grant created a subtle masterpiece, a place where the exceptionally small greens can feel like moving targets in a two- or three-club breeze.

When prepared with a certain amount of discretion, Pebble Beach is the ideal U.S. Open venue, and USGA setup man Mike Davis has all the dials in all the right places this week. The concept of “graduated rough” has been advanced to include a greater variance of length—some spots six or seven yards off the fairway will be much more difficult than others. Davis has also mandated that the greens not be mowed to as low a level as possible. Longer grass should mean fewer bumps, and in placing additional emphasis on rolling the greens, Pebble’s putting surfaces will still be played at near-frightening speeds.

After watching Zach Johnson toil on the practice green for about 10 minutes Tuesday, I’m more convinced than ever that this year’s U.S. Open champion will hole more than his share of 10- and 15-footers. Four days of clear skies and zero percent chance of rain (10 percent on Saturday) guarantee us firm fairways, so shorter hitters such as Johnson and Jim Furyk have a far better chance than, say, last year at Bethpage. Mega-bomber Dustin Johnson has won back-to-back tournaments at Pebble on the PGA Tour’s dead-of-winter visit, but the tour doesn’t roll the greens in early February, nor is the texture of the grounds even remotely similar to that of mid-June.

Instead of the aerial contest we see at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the competitive balance of this U.S. Open will evolve largely around the ground game. Five or six of the driving alleys, most notably at the par-5 sixth and par-4 ninth, require a shot of viable shape, not only to hit a decent approach, but to keep the ball in play. “I’m probably going to hit just a handful of drivers out there,” says three-time champion Tiger Woods, for whom the longest club in the bag has caused the biggest headaches.

“When I got here last Sunday, No. 6 was into the wind and driver was a perfect club,” Woods adds. “It was just a little 3-wood [Tuesday] and I still had an iron in. The wind has a lot to do with it, but more than anything, these fairways are starting to get really quick.”

All of which takes us back to those tiny greens. “I don’t want to play aggressive off the tee,” says Phil Mickelson, who has downplayed the importance of distance this week. “I want to play aggressive at the pins.”

At an average of 3,300 square feet, Pebble’s greens are about one-third the size of those at many modern venues. Short-side misses will almost certainly lead to bogeys. Those with mediocre short games have little chance of contending—Lee Westwood and Hunter Mahan, two superb ballstrikers who chip poorly, come to mind. Mickelson, Woods and Ernie Els, all terrific around the greens, are likely to factor, but by Sunday evening, a player who best combines accuracy off the tee with the ability to economize strokes close to the hole will hoist the grand prize Sunday night.

Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker—at least two of those three guys will be in the mix entering the final nine.
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McIlroy battles back into tie for BMW PGA lead

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 4:09 pm

Rory McIlroy got off to a rocky start on Saturday in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, including hitting a spectator and making a double bogey. But after that incident on the sixth hole, he didn't drop another shot, birdieing the final hole to shoot a 1-under 71 and tie for the lead.

McIlroy had gone into Moving Day with a three-shot lead, but Francesco Molinari had the round of the day, a 6-under 66. "It was nice keep a clean scorecard," said Molinari, who hasn't made a bogey since the 10th hole on Friday.

McIlroy and Molinari will be paired in Sunday's final round. They are tied at 13 under par, four shots clear of Ross Fisher, Branden Grace, Sam Horsfield and Alexander Noren.

 

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Watch: McIlroy hits spectator on hand

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 2:58 pm

We never cease to wonder at how close fans crowd in to the intended line of some shots, and just how skilled Tour players are in not hitting someone.

But every once in a while, golf ball and spectator intersect, with painful results. It happened to Rory McIlroy during the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, after he had hit a wayward drive on the sixth hole. Attempting to hack out his second shot from under a bush, McIlroy struck a female spectator on her right hand. There was no official word on her condition, but she was clearly - and understandably - in pain.

McIlroy went on to make double bogey but was able to put the incident behind him, as he promptly birdied the next hole.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.


Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship


McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''