Garcia, Woods to put an epic show Saturday at Players

By Randall MellMay 10, 2013, 8:24 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Sergio Garcia marched into the TPC Sawgrass locker room Friday after a particularly satisfying day of work.

Behind him, you could hear the fast approaching click-clack of golf cleats.

Tiger Woods was right on his heels literally and figuratively at The Players Championship.

Woods followed Garcia through the double doors of the locker room after nearly catching him on the leaderboard.

“Nice playing, Sergio,” Woods said with a pat on the back.

“Thanks, Tiger,” Garcia said.

To the delight of so many fans here at the Stadium Course, these old foes will be seeing a lot of each other this weekend.

With a 7-under-par 65, Garcia leaped to the top of the leaderboard in the second round.

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At 11-under 133, Garcia is one shot ahead of Woods through 36 holes. They will play together in the final pairing off Saturday afternoon.

That promises to straighten up the backs of all those folks packed into the grandstand around the first tee.

There is some colorful history between these two, though it so lopsidedly favors Woods. Of course, that puts Garcia in some good company. Woods’ history lopsidedly favors him over everyone.

Garcia was asked if he was eager to measure himself against Woods again.

“We’ll see what happens,” said Garcia. “But, no, no, I don’t have to measure myself against anybody. I know what I want to try to do. Any given day, I can shoot a round like this, and any other day he can shoot a good round and beat me.

“There are going to be good days and not-so good days, so you’ve just got to enjoy the good ones as much as possible.”

As maddening as Pete Dye’s Stadium Course design can be, Garcia looks surprisingly comfortable on it. It’s surprising because nobody seems to get comfortable around all the trouble that lurks here. It’s also surprising because Dye likes to aggravate and infuriate, and we’ve seen how Garcia’s emotions can sometimes get the best of him, for better or worse.

Still, Garcia won here in ’08. He finished second here in ’07. As one of the game’s best ball-strikers, Garcia navigates around the trouble here as well as anyone.

He was asked if it’s one of his favorite PGA Tour courses.

“Probably,” Garcia said. “I like Westchester, too. I’ve always liked those kind of courses, with small greens, not particularly long, but with doglegs and things like that, courses that ask you to maneuver the ball and stuff like that. This is no different than that.”

Garcia’s putter, often a liability, seems to work better here on Dye’s smallish greens.

Back when Garcia won The Players five years ago, he walked off the final green planting a kiss on the face of his putter. Given the fits his flat stick has given him over the years, it was a kiss to remember.

Garcia has his putter working again this week. It’s a Taylormade Ghost Tour model that he has been using for two years. This one was slightly altered two months ago, with the hosel more angular now. With that claw grip of his feeling good, Garcia took just 10 putts Friday on his second nine. He needed just 25 putts for the round.

“If you would have seen me on the front nine, I played better,” Garcia said. “I hit every single green, gave myself birdie chances everywhere.”

On his second nine, the ball started diving into the hole. Garcia, who started his round on the 10th tee, made five consecutive birdies on his second nine, six over seven holes.

“I started rolling the putts in,” Garcia said. “I just got in a good rhythm on the greens. It seemed like I had a good feel for it, and every putt just wanted to drop.”

Woods has his putter working, too. Woods is in the running with a pair of 67s. This is as comfortable as he has looked on the Stadium Course in a long time, but he has an even better history here than Garcia. Woods also has won The Players Championship, back in 2001, but he also won a U.S. Amateur here in ’94.

“Even though I haven’t played well here in the past, I’ve still won here,” Woods said. “I know how to get around this golf course. This course, more than most, really tests every facet of your game.”

If they’re both at their best this weekend, it could be fun.

There was that first spark of promise that these two might be something special together when a 19-year-old Garcia pushed Woods in a strong challenge at the PGA Championship at Medinah back in ’99. A real rivalry didn’t follow because Woods has trumped Garcia on so many big stages.

At the British Open in ’06 at Royal Liverpool, Garcia was in the final Sunday pairing with Woods. Garcia trailed by a shot, but he couldn’t get past Woods.

At the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in '02, Garcia and Woods were in the final Sunday pairing again, with Garcia chasing again. Woods ended up hoisting the trophy again.

While it’s not a major, The Players gives Garcia a chance to trump Woods on a big stage. The challenge escalates Saturday.

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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”