Harbour Master

By Mercer BaggsApril 21, 2002, 4:00 pm
If last weeks final round was one of the most disappointing in recent memory, this weeks was certainly one of the most tedious.
Justin Leonard won in spite of himself Sunday at Hilton Head, S.C., making nary a birdie in capturing the WorldCom Classic.
Leonard made 16 pars and two bogeys in a round of 2-over 73. Still, he finished at 14-under-par 268, one shot clear of Heath Slocum (70). He also matched his largest career paycheck with a first-place prize of $720,000.
'I didn't feel like I've been (among the top players) the last couple of years,' said Leonard, who started the week 40th in the Official World Golf Ranking. 'This is certianly a step in the right direction.'
The win was particularly surprising considering Leonard had never finished inside the top 30 in six prior starts in this event.
'It means quite a bit - the changes I've made with my golf game are beginning to payoff,' he said.
A week removed from Tiger Woods baffling victory over five of top-ranked players in the world at the Masters Tournament, Leonard took a three-stroke lead into the final round at the Harbour Town Golf Links.
Cameron Beckman was his closest pursuer, with Slocum and Phil Mickelson four back.
Mickelson made only one birdie and three bogeys over his first nine holes Sunday. And thanks to a couple of late birdies, he was able to sneak into solo third place, at 12-under, with a round of even-par 71. It marked the fourth time in his last five starts that the left-hander has finished third.
Beckman fared far worse, recording two double bogeys and a triple. He finished with a 78 and plummeted into a tie for 19th.
Sunday proved to be a two-man race; actually, it was more like a two-man power walk.
Leonard, who, incidentally, completed a marathon late last year, parred each of his first 12 holes to maintain a three-stroke advantage. And though it was monotonous on the scorecard, it became more adventurous as the round extended.
The Texan made a 10-foot par putt at the seventh, a 12-footer for par at the 10th and a 30-foot save at the 11th. After making the bomb at No. 11, Leonard tipped his cap, looked skyward and mouthed, Thank you.
It was even more appreciated as Slocum stuffed his approach shot on the par-4 12th to six inches and tapped in for birdie to get within two shots, at 14-under.
Following a 12th successive par, Leonard found trouble off the tee at the par-4 13th. He clubbed a 3-wood way right, and was forced to pitch out. His third shot landed pin high, but in the second cut of greenside fringe. He failed to chip in, thus snapping himself out of pardom.
Leonards dropped shot, plus a 25-foot birdie by Slocum from off the green at the par-3 14th, equaled a tie at the top of the leaderboard, at 15-under-par.
Slocum then found himself in sole possession of the lead after an inexplicable hiccup by Leonard at No. 14. Having missed the green left with a 6-iron, Leonard lipped out a 70-foot chip shot. A foot and a half from another par save, he never so much as touched the hole.
'I was mad at myself when I missed that putt,' Leonard said.
Leonard snapped his two-hole bogey streak with a successful up-and-down at the par-5 15th ' after missing the green on his third shot from just 93 yards.
The next hole, however, resolved the tournament.
Slocum hit his tee shot at the 395-yard par-4 16th into the left waste bunker. His second shot landed in the greenside sand, 15 yards short of the putting surface. With little green to work with, he blasted his bunker shot some 50 feet past the flag, from where he three-putted for a double-bogey-6.
'Except for one hole, on 16, I played extremely well,' Slocum said after his career best PGA Tour finish. 'I'm pleased with how I played.'
Leonard, watching Slocum disintegrate from the fairway, had a chance to take a two-shot advantage with two holes to play, but failed to post his first birdie of the day when he missed a 10-foot putt at 16.
It didnt matter.
Leonard parred his final two holes to win his first tour title since his successful defense of the Texas Open a year ago.
Not that it was easy, of course. After a routine, two-putt par at the par-3 17th, he missed the green right at the par-4 finishing hole. Using his putter from the fringe, he nestled his first putt a couple of feet from the hole, and found the bottom of the cup with his second.
For the round, Leonard hit only six greens and took 25 putts.
'I'll learn more from today from shooting a 73 and winning by one stroke than by shooting a 68 and winning,' he said. 'I'll take more positives out of the win, that I gutted it out. I played some ugly golf and got it done.'
Full-field scores from the WorldCom Classic
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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.”

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Day (66) only star to shine Saturday at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:01 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – With an early rain softening an already vulnerable course, there were plenty of birdies to be had during the third round of the Travelers Championship. They were few and far between, however, for some of the biggest names in the field.

On the same TPC River Highlands layout where Paul Casey took control of the tournament with an 8-under 62, the decorated quartet of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka combined to shoot 1 under with no single score better than a 1-under 69.

Spieth’s dim hopes of back-to-back titles were effectively ended with a 1-over 71, while McIlroy’s second straight 69 dropped him from three shots off the lead to outside the top 10.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas (70) and Koepka (69) are now 11 and 12 shots back, respectively.

Among the top-ranked contenders, the only player to make a modicum of a move was Jason Day, who shot a 4-under 66 and heads into the final round in a tie for sixth, six shots behind Casey. The Aussie made four birdies over his first nine holes, but he stalled out on the more gettable inward half.

“I’m happy with the way I’m playing right now. I played well today from tee to green,” Day said. “Tomorrow it all depends on how Paul plays.”

Day has won twice already this season, but facing a significant deficit against a seasoned veteran he realizes that a quick start will be necessary to retain any hopes for a third title.

“This course can yield some birdies, which is quite nice,” Day said. “Get through tomorrow in a couple under on the front side, and then try to let things go a little bit on the back side if you can.”

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Monkey off his back, Casey freed up to win again

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 10:49 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Paul Casey is flushing his irons, rolling in putts and no longer fielding questions about a lengthy victory drought. For the remaining players looking to chase him down at the Travelers Championship, it adds up to a terrifying combination.

The Englishman felt right at home on a gray and dreary afternoon at TPC River Highlands, vaulting to the top of the leaderboard with an 8-under 62. It was the lowest round of the week, two shots better than the next best effort Saturday, and it turned a two-shot deficit into a four-shot lead heading into the final round.

After enduring an afternoon logjam, with as many as five players sharing the lead at one point, the tournament is now Casey’s to lose – and he’s not shying away from the burden.

“You’d always rather have a lead,” Casey said. “When you’re behind, there is no room for error. No, I’m excited. I’ve got confidence in my game. I’ve got confidence with the man standing next to me (caddie John McLaren), confidence in the gameplan of how to get around this golf course.”

That approach is undoubtedly aided by the magic act Casey pulled off in March at the Valspar Championship. Teeing off well before the tournament leaders, he shot a final-round 65 and watched as the likes of Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed were unable to match his number.

Without having to field a single question about the weight of the burden he shouldered, about ending a PGA Tour victory drought that extended back to the 2009 Houston Open, Casey launched the monkey off his back and into the trees lining the 18th fairway at Innisbrook.

While Casey has won 13 times on the European Tour, including five times from 2009-14, his dry spell on this side of the Atlantic had become a point of discussion and one that wore on the affable veteran. But one sublime round in Tampa rendered it moot, and it will also grant him an extra sense of calm heading into the final round outside Hartford where only Russell Henley will start the day within five shots of his total.

“If I hadn’t won in a while, then yeah, there would be more pressure. I sit here right now with no nerves,” Casey said. “I’m sure there will be tomorrow, but no nerves now. I’m very happy with what I’ve done. In years past maybe that wouldn’t have been the case because there hadn’t been enough wins.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Granted, this is an event that often doesn’t follow the script. Birdies will be there for the taking on a course softened by light rains, and low scores shouldn’t be hard to find. This is, after all, where Jim Furyk shot a 58 two years ago and where Kevin Streelman ended his comeback victory in 2014 with a run of seven straight birdies.

Trailing by six, Bubba Watson floated the notion of needing a 60 to catch Casey without any hint that the score is out of reach. Jason Day, who like Watson trails by six at 10 under, quickly sniffed out Casey’s long-term track record like a shark seizing on a droplet of blood.

“Tomorrow it all depends on how Paul plays,” Day said. “I know that he in the past hasn’t quite got over the line with some of the wins that he possibly could have won, and that’s kind of a positive in my mind knowing that.”

But the look of calm confidence that emanates from Casey is that of a man who no longer has to answer questions about when The Win will come. His next victory will be just that, the next one. Another trophy to add to the decorated credentials of a player who has re-established himself in the game’s upper echelon over the past three years.

He’s back on a course he has thrived on from the very first time he set foot on the property, losing in a playoff to Watson in 2015 in his tournament debut. He has returned each year since, finishing T-17 and T-5.

His final-round 71 in 2016, carded the same day Furyk shot his 58, is proving more and more to be an aberration since each of his other 14 competitive rounds in Cromwell have ended up in the 60s. That includes three straight this week, capped by Saturday’s effort where he hit every green in regulation and tied his career low score on Tour.

Yes, the tournament is Casey’s to lose. But liberated by a recent win and playing some of his best golf at one of his favorite venues, there’s little reason to expect him to do anything but lift the trophy he barely missed out on three years ago.

“If I go out there tomorrow and I hit it the way I normally hit it, and I putt it well,” Casey said, “then I’m fairly confident.”

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Couples one behind Toledo; Sticker struggles in Wisc.

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 9:51 pm

MADISON, Wis. – Esteban Toledo birdied four of the last six holes for a 6-under 66 and the second-round lead Saturday in the American Family Insurance Championship.

Five strokes behind tournament host Steve Stricker after an opening 69 in rain Friday at University Ridge, Toledo had six birdies in a bogey-free round to reach 9-under 135. The 55-year-old Mexican player won the last of his four PGA Tour Champions titles in 2016.

Defending champion Fred Couples (67), David Toms (66), Kent Jones (67) and Billy Mayfair (68) were a stroke back.

''I'm surprised that someone isn't 11 or 12 under, but the greens picked up a lot of pace today,'' Couples said. ''I think maybe the scoring was a little easier yesterday because we got to clean the ball in the fairways, but it's not easy out there.''

Bernhard Langer (69) was 8 under with Madison player Jerry Kelly (69), Scott McCarron (67), Mark Calcavecchia (68), Paul Goydos (68), Joey Sindelar (68), Glen Day (69) and Brad Bryant (72).

Full-field scores from the American Family Insurance Championship

''The conditions haven't been that easy,'' Kelly said. ''The pins are in some spots where you can't spin it and you have to hit them firm out of these kind of soft fairways, otherwise you could chunk it. It's not that easy even though the course is gettable. There's just a few things going on out there to keep the scoring from going too low like it normally does.''

Stricker followed his opening 64 with a 74, ending his Champions under-par streak at 30 rounds - the fourth-longest streak in tour history.

''It just was one of those days where I didn't have a lot of energy,'' Stricker said. ''Nothing - hit very few good shots, really. The couple that I did hit well, I was in bad spots, and a couple bad shots even got worse.''

He had three bogeys and a birdie - on the final hole.

''That was a big birdie in my mind,'' Stricker said. ''It kept me a little bit closer. No one ran away with this thing today and three shots back, a lot of guys in between me and the lead. It was a good putt to make and finally get a birdie. That was my only one today.''

Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. The 12-time PGA Tour winner played the big tour the last two weeks, tying for 18th in Memphis and tying for 20th in the U.S. Open.

John Daly matched Stricker at 6 under with a 70.