Dufner no longer waiting to exhale at Memorial

By Nick MentaJune 2, 2017, 10:34 pm

DUBLIN Ohio –Jason Dufner’s play thus far at Muirfield Village has largely resembled his performance from four years ago at Oak Hill save for one key difference.

He’s putting better.

Dufner blitzed Muirfield again Friday morning, posting his second consecutive round of 7-under 65 to sit atop the leaderboard at the Memorial (as pictured here.

He’ll head into the weekend five shots ahead of his nearest challenger, Daniel Summerhays, and six clear of Rickie Fowler.

Dufner leads the field in putts per green in regulation and is 30 for 32 on putts holed from inside 10 feet this week.

When he captured his lone major title at the 2013 PGA Championship, he put on a ball-striking clinic that more than made up for his shaky putting, particularly from close range.

But with his putting vastly improved thanks to a new breathing technique, Dufner is feeling freed up to play his best golf.

“When you’re not holing putts, it puts more pressure on every part of your game,” he said. “You feel like you have to get your irons closer, take more chances from time to time. … You feel like your chipping and your pitching has to be perfect so you can make pars when you need to. You feel like your lag putting has to be good if you’re not holing putts. It can manifest itself into something you don’t want out there.”

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Through 36 holes, his success on the greens has made his ball-striking that much more devastating. Dufner has hit 21 of 28 fairways and 31 of 36 greens, including 17 of 18 on Thursday. When he has missed the putting surface, he’s gone 4 for 5 scrambling to save par. He dropped his only shot of the week at the 18th hole Thursday and made up for it with an eagle hole-out there on Friday.

In the process, Dufner set a new 36-hole Memorial scoring record, topping the previous 13-under mark set by Scott Hoch (1987) and Rickie Fowler (2012). It’s been a dominant performance from a guy who at one point cut this event from his schedule.

After missed cuts and four rounds in the 70s in his first two starts at Muirfield Village, Dufner opted to skip the Memorial for three straight years, from 2011-2013.

But he was forced to come back as a member of the victorious 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup team. He went 3-1 that week, pairing with Zach Johnson and winning his singles match over Brendon de Jonge, 4 and 3. It was at the Presidents Cup that Dufner picked the brains of some of his teammates and finally started feeling comfortable on a track that had previously frustrated him.

“How do you play these holes? How do you play these situations?” he would ask. “I played a lot with Zach, Matt Kuchar. Tiger was on the team. He’s pretty good around this track. I think [Jim] Furyk helped me out, Davis Love a little bit.

“I was able to use that and come back and have success. … Now it’s one of the events that don’t really want to miss and feel like I can play well.”

Since returning to the Memorial in 2014, Dufner’s worst finish is a T-33 he posted last year, and his performance through two days is eerily reminiscent of what he did here in 2015.

Two years ago, he hit 17 of 18 greens in Round 1, missing only on 18, just as he did this week. He also held the lead at one point on Friday thanks to an ace at the par-3 16th. This year, it was an eagle at the home hole.

But unlike in 2015, Dufner was up a whopping six shots when he met with the media mid-day Friday. Asked if he’s ever had to protect a lead that large, he flatlined:

“I can’t remember. I haven’t won many tournaments, so probably not.”

The four-time PGA Tour winner is aware he’s unlikely to go another 14 under on the weekend, but he isn’t thinking about it.

“To be honest, tomorrow is another day,” he said. “I’m working on my breathing.”

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

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Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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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.”