Karlsson inspired by fellow Swede Stenson

By Randall MellSeptember 26, 2013, 10:47 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Robert Karlsson can’t help but be inspired by his fellow Swede.

As Karlsson makes his way out of an abyss of his own making, there’s hope and motivation in seeing how Henrik Stenson is flourishing after he re-emerged twice from deep, dark places.

Karlsson shot a 6-under-par 64 Thursday to get himself into contention in the first round of the Web.com Tour Championship. He’s tied for second with Mark Anderson, a shot behind Ashley Hall. At 72nd on the Web.com Tour Finals money list, Karlsson needs a good week to win back exempt status on the PGA Tour. He probably needs a finish of T-15 or better to win back his Tour card.

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At 44, Karlsson is a long way from where he imagined he would be two years ago when he took up PGA Tour membership with 11 European Tour victories, five T-8s or better in major championships and two Ryder Cup appearances on his resume.

Back in 2011, Karlsson racked up $1.7 million in PGA Tour earnings and tied for fourth at the PGA Championship. He looked headed toward bigger things.

But then the abyss opened last year, slowly swallowing Karlsson’s game until it devoured his confidence.

He lost his Tour card last year and had to go back to Q-School to get it. He lost his card again this year.

“You miss being on the stage when you see what other Swedes are doing,” Karlsson said.

Stenson won two FedEx Cup playoff events this year and claimed the FedEx Cup in a torrid late-summer run. Stenson twice worked his way out of miserable slumps in his career.

There’s hope in that for Karlsson. There was hope, too, in talking to Sergio Garcia, who struggled a few years back to rid himself of a maddening habit of constantly re-gripping his golf club over shots. Karlsson said Garcia shared with him what he did to break his habit back when Karlsson withdrew from the British Open.

“Sergio had a good point,” Karlsson said. “He said when you get into those kind of problems, what you need is time. It’s not physically difficult to break the habit, but you need time. You need time and repetition. Do we have that time in July? Can we take three or four weeks off? No. That’s what Sergio said. He said, `I just didn’t have the time, and it got worse and worse until I had to take time.’”

Karlsson’s downward spiral began sometime before last year’s British Open.

Something started going haywire with his pre-shot routine, worsening to the point that he was freezing over the ball, struggling to take the club back to begin his swing. Before he knew it, he had the full-swing yips.

It got so bad in his practice rounds at the 2011 British Open that he withdrew on the eve of the championship.

Karlsson left the British Open unsure what the future held.

“I didn’t want to put a foot on the golf course,” Karlsson said of his struggles.

Karlsson shut down his game. He closed quarters and re-grouped. He asked himself hard questions

“When you are where I was, you have to sit down and see first of all, 'Do I want to do this?’” Karlsson said. “It starts with a decision, then the work.”

Karlsson decided he would do the work it took to get rid of the yips.

“I couldn’t get the ball away,” Karlsson said. “I had to start from the beginning. I went to the range, put the ball on the tee peg and said. 'OK, if I hit a thousand shanks in a row, it doesn’t matter. It’s going away. I’m going to look up once, and I’m going to look down, and I’m going to hit it. And that’s how I started.”

It was no instant fix.

Karlsson took a month away from Tour events to work on a new pre-shot routine to help him take the club back without hesitation. He came back at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and actually got off to a strong start, getting himself in contention over the first 27 holes.

“I still had the problem getting the ball away,” Karlsson said. “When the pressure came on, I fell apart.”

Karlsson kept at it on the range, kept forcing himself to take the club away no matter how much he feared hitting a bad shot. He said it took six to eight months to finally rid himself completely of the yips.

“I don’t even think about it anymore,” he said.

Karlsson’s focus is back on ball-striking and scoring.

“If I look at the bigger picture, I’ve had a great career, but it’s not over yet,” Karlsson said. “I just want to build it up again. In the back of my mind, I definitely want to come back to play really good golf again.”

This week offers a chance to accelerate the comeback.

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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.”