Bunker Shots Mojo and Magic

By Randall MellNovember 10, 2009, 11:01 pm
Blasting into the week ahead, from Australia to Mexico and beyond ...

Woods looks for his mojo Down Under

Here we go again.

Tiger Woods has gone two stroke-play events without winning, and you know what that means. It’s time again to wonder what’s wrong with him.

Whatever it is – he’s human, perhaps – it’s nothing his first trip to Australia since 1998 shouldn’t cure.

Woods arrived in Melbourne Monday morning with security preparations equivalent to a head of state, just as he did in China last week for the WGC-HSBC Champions. Woods was photographed by Australian AP getting off his private jet. Three media helicopters were reported to have followed his transport into the city.

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Woods leads the field at the JBWere Masters at Kingston Heath, where he’s the only player among the top 10 in the world rankings. He and No. 12 Geoff Ogilvy are the only players among the top 50 in the world in the 144-player field. If he doesn’t beat that field, speculation he’s lost his mojo will ratchet up.

Woods, according to news reports, is receiving a $3 million appearance fee this week. Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley, Michael Campbell, Craig Parry, Rod Pampling, Adam Scott and Michael Sim are among the biggest names there.

Stance: In the last three months, Woods has blown his first final-round lead in a major, finished second to Phil Mickelson at the Tour Championship and watched Mickelson beat him in the final round of the HSBC Champions. The fact that this has come in a year in which Woods failed to win a major is, of course, fuel for folks who see his powers shrinking.

Takeaway: Lest we forget, Woods went more than eight months without playing a tournament after reconstructive knee surgery when he started this season at the end of February at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He’s managed to win six of his 18 starts this season with 15 top-10 finishes.

Bunker shot: Woods isn’t slumping, but Mickelson is suddenly soaring and that’s what all the fuss over the state of Woods’ game should really be about this fall. Mickelson’s work with Butch Harmon is making a difference in his full swing. His recent work with Dave Stockton is making a difference with his putter. It’s a formidable combination that makes Mickelson as dangerous as he’s ever been. Mickelson has never looked more prepared to challenge Woods, who’s had a response every time he’s been challenged in his career. If Mickelson can keep this up, he might be favored over Woods going into the Masters next spring. Mickelson, who turns 40 next June, has the ability to make it a lot tougher for Woods in Woods’ push to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 professional major championship titles.

Look who’s on the bubble at Disney

It’s all about the top 125 this week at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic.

What really catches your attention is how many PGA Tour winners are on and around the bubble at Disney World.

David Duval’s spot on the bubble at No. 125 adds to the intrigue. Duval, a 13-time PGA Tour winner who turned 38 on Monday, has used up his top-25 and top-50 career money exemptions. He’s signed up for the final stage of Q-School should he fall out of the top 125 this week. Rich Beem is 124th, Chris Riley 126th, Jeff Maggert 127th and Tim Herron 128th. The players ranked Nos. 124-128 have combined to win 24 PGA Tour events and two majors.

Duval won at Disney in ’97, when he was just coming into his prime. It was his second PGA Tour victory.

Stance: The focus may be on the money list, but the Disney event has a history of rewarding world-class ball strikers as its winners. Davis Love III is the defending champion. He arrives having posted 15 consecutive rounds in the 60s in the event, more than any other player, including Woods, who won this event twice. Lucas Glover, Joe Durant, Stephen Ames and Love won the last four events here. They’re all marvelous ball strikers.

Takeaway: Erik Compton, pursuing a PGA Tour card after two heart transplants, got the final sponsor’s exemption to the final PGA Tour event of the year. He turns 30 the day before the tournament begins. He easily made it through the first stage of Q-School last month and is the most inspiring story in golf.

Bunker shot: After his near victory at the U.S. Open this summer, Duval’s story is more compelling than ever. Though he is no longer the best player in the world, he remains one of the most fascinating characters in the game. With his marriage, his devotion to a growing family, Duval is a different man who wishes he weren’t such a different player from his days as the world’s No. 1. That’s what makes his story so compelling. He has spoken more than once about wanting to win for his wife and family. Seeing his children race onto a green to hug him in a trophy presentation would rank among golf’s great images.

Ochoa vs. Shin in Ochoa’s backyard

You would think you would have an advantage playing on your home course in an event with your name on it, but golf is different.

The LPGA’s top player has had some difficulty balancing the demands in her homeland against her need to focus on her game.

That helps make the Lorena Ochoa Invitational worth watching with Thursday’s start at Guadalajara Country Club.

In the inaugural event a year ago, Ochoa tied for 14th, nine shots behind the winner, Angela Stanford. It equaled the second worst finish for Ochoa in a non-major last year. Ochoa figures to have a lot on her mind again. Her wedding to AeroMexico CEO Andres Conesa is planned for next month.

There’s a $1.1 million purse up for grabs for the smallish 36-player field. The top 16 players in the world rankings will be there, including Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng, Paula Creamer, defending champ Stanford, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb and Michelle Wie. Count Se Ri Pak, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis in the mix, too.

Stance: It’s a big week in the competition for Rolex Player of the Year with Shin holding a small four-point lead on Ochoa. Shin’s bidding to become the first South Korean to win the award. Ochoa’s bidding to win the award for a fourth consecutive year. Thirty points go to this week’s winner with next week’s LPGA Tour Championship the season’s final event.

Takeway: No American has won the Player of the Year award since Beth Daniel in 1994, but Kerr can move alone atop the points list with a victory this week should Shin not finish among the top 10 and Ochoa not finish among the top six.

Bunker shot: With South Korea’s rise to dominance on tour, it’s just a matter of time before a player from that nation wins the LPGA Player of the Year award.  When it happens, it will serve as an exclamation point on the nation’s rise to dominance in women’s golf. Shin’s the best South Korean who seems destined to be the world’s best player.

Race to Dubai nears finish line

European Tour members get one last chance to jockey for position in the Race to Dubai.

Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy lead the field at the UBS Hong Kong Open this week. Westwood’s No. 1 and McIlroy No. 2 in the Race to Dubai standings. The top 60 in the standings earn spots at the Dubai World Championship next week, where a total purse of $15 million will be at stake, with $1.25 million going to the tournament winner and $1.5 million to the Race to Dubai overall winner.

Stance:
Despite all the early season speculation about what Americans might choose to participate in the Race to Dubai, Anthony Kim is the only American among the top 60 in points (35th) and he said last week he won’t be playing next week. Ben Curtis is 75th and with a good week in Hong Kong could play himself into Dubai.

Takeaway: The fall has been filled with good golf and that should continue next week at Dubai. McIlroy, Westwood, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Geoff Ogilvy, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, Ian Poulter, Camilo Villegas, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Adam Scott have all secured spots at the Dubai World Championship.

Bunker shot: Rickie Fowler and Jamie Lovemark have been the best storylines in American golf this fall. Golf can use a jolt of fresh, young faces in its winner’s circles and McIlroy, 20, is poised to further separate himself in that regard on the European Tour’s side. If he manages to wrestle the top spot from Lee Westwood in the Race to Dubai standings this week, he’ll be the big story going to Dubai next week. If he wins the big prize at Dubai, he’ll create significant momentum as the game’s most promising young star going into next season, whether he ends up playing the PGA Tour full time or not. He’s bidding to become the youngest winner of the European Tour’s Order of Merit since Seve Ballesteros won it at 19 in 1976.
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USC's Gaston leaves to become head coach at A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.


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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.

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Just like last year, Spieth in desperate need of a spark

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Jordan Spieth has arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a turnaround. Again.

Spieth’s playoff victory last year over Daniel Berger, complete with a bunker hole-out and raucous celebration, went down as one of the most electrifying moments of 2017. It also propelled Spieth to some more major glory, as he won The Open in his very next start.

So it’s easy to forget the state of Spieth’s game when he first stepped foot on the grounds of TPC River Highlands a year ago. Things were, quite plainly, not going well.

He was struggling on the greens, even going so far as to switch putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He then failed to contend at Erin Hills, only netting a T-35 finish thanks to a final-round 69 that came hours before the leaders teed off.

So here we are again, with Spieth in search of a spark after a series of underwhelming performances that included last week’s effort at Shinnecock Hills, where he bogeyed the last two holes of his second round to miss the cut by a shot. Except this time, the climb back to the top may be even steeper than it was a year ago.

“I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now,” Spieth said. “If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming. But the last couple weeks I’ve played Muirfield and then the (U.S.) Open, and I hit the ball really poorly and didn’t give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work.”

While many big names play sporadically in the time between the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth remained as busy as ever thanks to the Tour’s swing through Texas. So even after failing to contend much in the spring outside of a memorable finale in Augusta, and even after struggling for much of his week at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth looked out at his schedule and saw a myriad of possible turning points.

There was the AT&T Byron Nelson, played in his hometown and at a venue on which he was one of only a handful with any experience (T-21). Then a trip across town to Colonial, where he had beaten all but two players in a three-year stretch (T-32).


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Throw in the missed cuts at Muirfield Village and Shinnecock Hills, and Spieth has made it to the last leg of a six-event stretch that has included only one off week and, to date, zero chances to contend come Sunday.

“I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and try not to do too much,” Spieth said. “I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournaments the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I’ve had too much to do from here on.”

That was certainly the case last week on Long Island, where Spieth’s hopes for a fourth major title evaporated well before course conditions became a focal point over the weekend. He was 4 over through his first two holes and spent much of the next 34 stuck in a fit of frustration. He gave himself a glimmer of hope with four late birdies Friday followed by a pair of bogeys that snuffed it out with equal speed.

Spieth has continued to preach patience throughout the year, but there’s no getting around some eye-popping stats; he's 188th on Tour this year in strokes gained: putting and 93rd in fairways hit. It can foster a pressure to find a cure-all in any given week, especially given how quickly he got a middling summer back on track last year.

“It’s something that you fight, sure,” Spieth said. “It’s been that way just about every tournament except Muirfield, because then you go to the U.S. Open and think you don’t even have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament. So as much as that kind of comes into your head, it’s not bothering me this time. I’m going to try and have fun, and make progress.”

After this week, Spieth will have some down time with family before making the trip overseas to Carnoustie. He plans to have a few private dinners accompanied by the claret jug, one last toast to last year’s success before turning the trophy back over to the R&A.

But even Spieth admitted that as it pertains to his chances to follow in Brooks Koepka’s footsteps by successfully defending a major title, he’ll be greatly aided by working his way into the mix this weekend. It represents the last chance in this early-summer swing to get his name back on the leaderboard, an opportunity to light fire to a pedestrian campaign like he did a year ago.

No pressure.

“It’s your basic stuff that sometimes gets off, that the harder you try to get them back on sometimes, the worse it gets,” Spieth said. “It can be frustrating, or you can just kind of wait for it to come to you. I think I’m OK with where things are, whether it’s the rest of this year or next year. I feel like there are good scores coming.”