Wittenberg Earns Card at Canadian Q-School
Casey Wittenberg of Memphis, Tenn., who owns the distinction of being the only player besides Tiger Woods to be ranked the top amateur in the United States prior to beginning college, nailed down Canadian Tour playing privileges Friday by posting a final-round 2-under 70 at Black Bear GC. The 20-year-old finished the four-day event at 5-under 283 and was one of four players that tied for third, six shots behind medallist Chris Cureton of McKinney, Tex.
Taking a one-shot cushion into the final round, Cureton closed out with a 3-under 69 and wound up two shots clear of runner-up Scott McNeil of Calgary.
McNeil was one of three Canadians to earn a Tour card Friday. Glenn Collins of Winnipeg grabbed the final exempt spot by finishing at minus-4, while Edmontons Danny Sahl (-2) took one of the seven non-exempt cards handed out.
The Canadian Tour now moves west for next weeks second Q-School, which gets underway Tuesday at Los Serranos G&CC in Chino Hills, Calif.
The 20-year-old Wittenberg had a magical Sunday afternoon at The Masters last April. Wittenberg fired a back-nine 31 in the final round, the lowest inbound nine total by an amateur in history, en route to a 13-th place finish at Augusta National. Playing with the top players on the planet, the former U.S. Walker and Palmer Cup team member was the only player in the starting field to improve on his score each day (76-72-71-67). The 2003 U.S. Amateur runner-up also had strong showings at the U.S. Open (36th) and Bell Canadian Open (24th) last summer.
I was able to accomplish what I came here for, said Wittenberg, who began the day in fourth spot. I just tried to go out there and get the job done. There is no holding back at any level. I was in pretty good shape, so I just wanted to take it one shot at a time.
On Friday, he earned his first professional Tour card and is chomping at the bit as the Canadian Tour gets set to lift the curtain on the 2005 season two weeks from now in Austin, Tex.
Its going to be a learning process, but I am excited about the opportunity, he added. Ive played some good golf up in Canada, I love the country, and everyone knows there are a lot of doors that can open on this Tour. This is almost like a gateway to the big Tour (PGA), and I cant wait to get started.
For McNeil, gaining his Tour card Friday wiped out the memory of failing in his first attempt in Whitby, Ont. last September, just days after he turned pro. McNeil, who played amateur golf with Sahl, birdied his first hole and was 3-under as he turned for home.
I pretty much went into today wanting to play the golf course the same way I have all week, said the 23-year-old. I really didnt want to think about what the others were doing. I knew I was in pretty decent position.
This was a big week for me. Now I will get to experience the life of a professional. There have been a lot of great players to come off this Tour, and I know I am going to learn a lot.
Cureton had an early bogey on his third hole of the day but righted the ship from there on, knocking in a pair of birdie putts just before the turn. On the back nine, the only question left to answer was whether or not he would capture medallist honours.
I didnt have my great golf swing today, but it was a good week, admitted Cureton. I was trying to stay focused, but I didnt want to press it. I just wanted to play as smart as possible, although I started pushing a bit over the final few holes. I wanted to win this thing.
If Cureton was playing without any pressure Friday, the opposite held true for the 37-year-old Collins. In a seemingly comfortable third-place position as he stepped up to the first tee, Collins reeled off three bogeys in a row beginning on the seventh hole and was in danger of letting a Tour card slip from his grasp.
He found his touch just when he needed to.
On the 213-yard, par-3 11th, Collins dumped his tee shot into a bunker before blasting out to within three feet to save par. He followed that up with clutch birdie putts on 13 and 16 and ended up earning the final exempt card by one shot.
For Collins, Friday marked the end of a long road back to the pro ranks. He returned to the game a year and a half ago after a seven-year hiatus, mostly due to an arm injury that required surgery in 1996.
Man, oh man, I cant believe it, said a relieved Collins. That was an unbelievable day. At one point, I didnt know what to do. That bunker shot on 11 changed everything.
The hard work has paid off. Its been a long journey, but the real work is just starting.'
Sahl, a Canadian Tour member back in 2002, was the first-round leader but slipped off the tracks Thursday with four three-putts on his way to a 5-over 77. He rebounded Friday with a 2-under 70 to play his way back on Tour.
Im back on the circuit, and that is what I came here to do, he said. My goal was to get status back out here. I had a rough third round and caught some bad breaks. When that happens, you start to grind your way around the course. Ive just got to go out, play well in the first event and Ill be fine (getting into tournaments) the rest of the way.
Marc Savard of the Atlanta Thrashers had his struggles all week long at Black Bear, closing out with a final-round 77. The fourth-round pick of the New York Rangers ended up at 24-over (78-79-78-77).
Six months ago, Cureton travelled to Whitby for the Tours Fall Q-School, only to see it end before it began when he missed his morning wake up call and was disqualified before the opening round.
He was not about to let it happen again.
That wasnt going to be a problem today, he laughed. We woke up about three hours early.
Scores Friday after the final round of the Canadian Tours Winter Qualifying School held at the 7,000-yard, par-72 Black Bear GC (A-denotes amateur):
1. Cureton, Chris McKinney, TX 72 67 69 69 277
2. McNeil, Scott Calgary, AB 71 68 70 70 279
3. Davis, Brien Las Vegas, NV 72 73 69 69 283
3. Heinen, Eddie Las Vegas, NV 70 71 73 69 283
3. Humphries, John Baton Rouge, LA 70 70 74 69 283
3. Wittenberg, Casey Memphis, TN 73 66 74 70 283
7. Collins, Glenn Winnipeg, MB 70 68 74 72 284
8. Horowitz, Joe Long Beach, N.Y. 70 75 72 69 286
8. Lydiatt, Chad Omaha, NE 73 71 72 70 286
8. Sahl, Danny Twinsburg, OH 69 70 77 70 286
8. Seki, Jim Palo Alto, CA 74 68 72 72 286
12. Smith, Jesse Barrington, NH 74 67 75 71 287
13. Mulder, Brock Dallas, TX 72 71 74 71 288
14. Snelling, Justin Boise, ID 71 72 75 71 289
15. Ferlic, Gavin South Bend, IN 73 72 76 69 290
15. Meierling, Jan Germany 72 71 74 73 290
17. McLeod, Mac Winnipeg, MB 73 72 76 71 292
18. Kings, Ryan Kitchener, ON 72 73 73 75 293
18. Zihala, Billy Little Rock, AR 70 71 77 75 293
20. Hibler, Jesse Boise, ID 75 68 78 73 294
21. Makino, Yuji Japan 76 70 75 74 295
22. Guetz, Bret Scottsdale, AZ 81 71 72 72 296
22. Kennedy, Robert Phoenix, AZ 78 73 76 69 296
22. Peterson, Brett Mesa, AZ 79 69 78 70 296
25. Hospodar, Michael Brantford, ON 76 72 71 78 297
25. Kilduff, Lynn Dallas, TX 75 73 80 69 297
27. Parker, Adrian Jupiter, FL 77 74 74 73 298
28. Brown, Michael Cheltenham, PA 81 74 70 74 299
28. Yopchick, Scott Chicago, IL 79 77 70 73 299
30. Martin, Greg Austin, TX 72 77 78 73 300
31. Hoenig, Ron Hobe Sound, FL 78 76 77 70 301
32. Dickenson, Billy Haines City, FL 74 77 76 76 303
33. Noble, Scott Cartersville, GA 77 76 81 72 306
34. Cook, Dan Charleston, SC 79 74 77 78 308
34. Johnstone, Evan Orinda, CA 78 76 77 77 308
34. Sherriff, Justin London, ON 75 79 73 81 308
34. Williams, JJ Palm Beach Gardens, FL 75 75 77 81 308
38. Deschaine, Matt Bay Minette, AL 74 74 82 79 309
39. Savard, Marc (A) Peterborough, ON 78 79 78 77 312
39. Sitterley, Rob Orlando, FL 78 78 75 81 312
41. Ryan, Jeffery Key West, FL 76 84 77 77 314
42. Petrie, Michael Inverary, ON 78 79 79 86 322
Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond
Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.
She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.
Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.
After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.
“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.
Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).
It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.
“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”
Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.
“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”
Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.
It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.
“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”
Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic
CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.
The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.
''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''
She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.
''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''
Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.
''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.
Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.
Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.
Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.
Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.
''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''
She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.
''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''
Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.
DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history
AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.
Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.
“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”
Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.
The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.
It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.
Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi
BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.
Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.
''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''
He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.
''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''
Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida
''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''
Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.
''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''
Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.
Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.
Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.