Alls Easy in the Big Easy

By Mercer BaggsMay 3, 2001, 4:00 pm
Some days are better than others, but very few can compare to the one Paul Stankowski had on Thursday in New Orleans, La.
Stankowski birdied 11 of his first 15 holes at the English Turn Golf & Country Club, and then held on for a career-best 11-under-par 61.
Stankowski was the lowest of the low in the first round at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans, as 12 players shot 66 or lower.
I knew I was playing well and all I had to do was get it done, said Stankowski. I feel my game is where it needs to be. The confidence factor was high.
Brian Watts and Kenny Perry each eagled their first holes of the day en route to shooting a pair of 8-under-par 64s. They share second place, one-shot clear of Jim Carter, Brian Wilson and Keith Clearwater, who all opened in 65.
Phil Mickelson is five off the pace following a 6-under-par 66. Native Louisianan Hal Sutton is six back after a 67, as is Ernie Els.
In his eighth full season on tour, the 31-year-old Stankowski is in search of his third career title, and his first since the 1997 Hawaiian Open.
Stankowski has had success in the Bayou State before. In 1996, he captured the Buy.Com Louisiana Open, and then won the BellSouth Classic on the PGA Tour the following week.
He remains the only player to win on both tour in consecutive weeks.
Stankowski is also a proven marksman on the big tour. This year, he played the five-round Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 32-under-par, only to be outdone by Joe Durant, who set a 90-hole tour scoring record at 36-under 324.
Stankowskis round included 20 putts. He also had a pair of chip-ins on the 9th and 13th holes.
Following a birdie at the 14th, Stankowski stood in the 15th fairway with thoughts of 59 running through his mind.
I had 228 [yards] to the hole and thought if I could stiff a 2-iron, I might be able to make eagle and go to 12-under with three holes to play.
Stankowski did stiff his approach shot to eight feet, but missed the eagle effort. Still, he birdied the hole to move to 11-under-par.
However, that's where his run to 59 ended.
Stankowski missed the fairway and the green on the par-4 16th, but successfully got up and down for his 4. Then, after coming up 30 yards short of the green on the par-3 17th, he pitched to within six feet and converted the save.
At the 18th, Stankowski managed to two-putt from 50+ feet.
It was sort of an anti-climatic finish, but it was a good day, Stankowski said. Im kinda glad I didnt shoot 59. Its too big a story for a Thursday.
Watts and Perry held the lead throughout the better part of the opening round.
Watts, who is best known for losing to Mark OMeara in a playoff in the 1998 British Open, was 8-under after his first 11 holes ' aided by his eagle on his first hole, the par-4 10th.
The Canadian-born Watts added one more birdie to his card, but bogeyed the par-3 8th, his 17th of the day, to enter the clubhouse at 8-under.
Watts, 35, has conditional exemption on the 2001 PGA Tour after finishing last year 133rd in earnings. This is only his third stateside start this season; though he finished tied for 12th in last weeks Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic.
Coming back from hip surgery in January, Watts was pleased with his first round; in particular, his stunning eagle at the 1st.
I cant emphasize how important that start was, said Watts. It was a smooth 6-iron [from 181 yards] and it was downwind. Thats a very hard green to hold, so I landed it at the front of the green and let it roll about 12 or 14 yards.
Luckily, the pin was all the way at the back edge of the green and it found the cup. That shot carried the momentum the rest of the day.
Incredibly, Perry also eagled his opening hole, the par-4 1st. Perry, who like Watts is best remembered for his runner-up finish in a major, collected six more birdies to tie his counterpart.
It was a pretty interesting day, I didnt have many good vibes before the start of the round, said Perry, who lost to Mark Brooks in a playoff in the 1996 PGA Championship. Its been about three or four years since I holed one from the fairway.
Full-field scores from the Compaq Classic of New Orleans
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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”