Verplank Still Scoring at Byron Nelson
Verplank tied his career low round of 62 at the par-70 Cottonwood Valley Course in Irving, TX. At 8-under-par, Verplank is two shots clear of his nearest competitors, David Duval, Tim Herron and Chris Riley, all of whom shot 64.
Tiger Woods, making his first start since winning his fourth straight major at the Masters, is four off the pace after opening in 4-under-par 66.
All of the leaders took advantage of the easier of the two courses in rotation this week. In fact, 20 of the top 21 names on the leaderboard played Cottonwood Valley on Thursday.
Friday, theyll get a taste of the host course, the TPC at Las Colinas, which is the sole course in play over the third and final rounds.
Youve got to play well on this course with the soft conditions, said Woods, who owns a share of the Cottonwood course record ' a 61 in the first round in 1999.
The wind seems to blow a little bit more on the other course. Here, hills and houses shelter and block the wind.
Though he got off to a good start with a pair of birdies over his first three holes, Woods was still just trying to shake off the rust from a four-week layoff.
It took a little while to get into a competitive flow, Woods said.
Two-under through seven holes, Woods blocked his tee shot on the par-4 8th into the right trees. He then failed to reach the fairway on his second shot and eventually carded a double bogey 6.
However, Tiger responded by birdieing the par-3 9th.
For good measure, the 1997 Nelson champion carded three more birdies on his inward half for a round of 66.
I was pleased with the way I hit it, Woods said. I hit a lot of good shots. I was really surprised with my touch around the green. Usually when youre off for a while, thats the toughest thing to get back ' your touch.
While thousands flocked and climbed trees to watch Woods, the unassuming Verplank climbed his way to the top of the leaderboard.
The 36-year-old has yet to win in 2001, though he does have three top-4 finishes and ranks 27th on the tour in earnings with over $750,000.
Verplank is coming off a career-best season a year ago; one in which he won the Reno-Tahoe Open and over $1.7 million.
Friday, he made his way around Cottonwood Valley sans bogey. His day included eight birdies, two of which came courtesy of 25-foot putts and one from a holed bunker shot.
Obviously, I played very well, said Verplank. I got lucky a couple of times, made a couple of long putts. You know, the conditions kind of got a little tougher as the day went on because the wind was picking up, but the greens are pretty soft and not very fast, so you can take advantage of it.
Born in nearby Dallas, Verplank has a history with the tournament and its host.
Verplank was a standard bearer before carrying scoring signs was fashionable. He worked the event in his early teens when it was held at Preston Trail Golf Club, where he is now a member.
While Verplank toted the sign, his mom kept group scores. It was through his mom, and the fact that he was one of the areas top junior players, that Verplank was first introduced to Byron Nelson.
He called me and asked me if Id like to help ' him help me a little bit. Well yeah. Sure, Verplank recalled.
I probably got to play with him a dozen times when I was in high school and college. It was great.
Great would aptly describe Rileys finish on Thursday. The third-year tour member birdied his final three holes at Cottonwood Valley to match his career-low round on tour.
I feel good about everything. Im driving it good. Im hitting my irons good. The only thing Im a little shaky on is my putting, Riley said. I know its there. I just gotta go work it out.
Putting didnt appear to be a problem down the stretch. Riley rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on 17 and a 15-footer on 18.
Putting caused Duval problems earlier in the season, and then injuries took over. An ailing back and tendinitis in his right wrist have teamed to help keep Duval out of the 2001 winners circle.
Like Riley, Duval made his way around Cottonwood Valley to the tune of six birdies and no bogeys. Of those six birdies, none were longer than eight feet.
It was just like last week, Duval said. I hit it close today and that makes a big difference. I didnt make a long putt all day, didnt have to.
News, Notes and Numbers
*David Peoples was the only player inside the top-20 after the first round who played on the TPC at Las Colinas. Peoples shot 4-under-par 66 to tie for 9th place.
*The par-70 Cottonwood Valley Course played to an overall average of 69.179. The par-70 TPC at Las Colinas first-round scoring average was 70.987.
*Australian Geoff Ogilvy was disqualified for continuing to use a putter that was damaged other than in the normal course of play (Rule 4-3b). Ogilvy could not be reached for comment, but it was assumed the damage inflicted on his putter happened shortly after No. 3, where he took a triple bogey.
Full-field scores from the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic
Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'
AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.
Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.
“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”
Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”
Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16
Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:
Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.
Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.
Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.
Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.
Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.
Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.
Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.
Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.
JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking
AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.
Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.
“It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.
Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.
Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.
But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.
“He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”
Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.
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.”