Par 5: Going to the Wells
Will Rory McIlroy make a bold return?
The memory banks are full for McIlroy as he prepares to tee it up for the first time in the United States since his final-round stumble at the Masters.
He’s got those Augusta National memories, the errant shots that cost him the 54-hole lead and a chance to win his first major.
But he’s also got the memories of his final-round 62 that won him the Wells Fargo Championship last year.
Beating that stellar field at Quail Hollow, a major championship-caliber golf course, it felt larger than winning a regular PGA Tour stop.
There’s a lot fighting for McIlroy’s attention in his return to American soil, and it feels like a big week for him, but he’s just turning 22 on Wednesday. There’s plenty of time to learn the lessons Tom Watson learned in major championship disappointment early in his career, lessons that led to major successes. There shouldn’t be a rush. But, contradictory to that, the quicker McIlroy can turn the page to triumphant new memories, the better for him.
Does Bubba Watson have enough gas in the tank to win back-to-back?
Watson tees it up at the Wells Fargo Championship with momentum and confidence going for him.
But he heads to Quail Hollow wrestling with all that comes with winning on the PGA Tour.
There’s the possibility of a letdown, of the emotional high of last week’s finish draining energy needed this week.
Watson, though, isn’t a party guy, and he’s equipped with the temperament it takes to carve away whatever’s getting in the way of what he wants.
That’s the funny thing about Watson. As quirky as he can be, as distracted as he can sometimes seem off the course, he’s found a singular focus on the course that’s helped him win three times in the last year. After appearing to be a guy who fought emotions down the stretch, he looks like a man who’s mastering them now. That gives him a pretty good shot at winning again this week at Quail Hollow, where he tied for second two years ago.
Who will be the next young‘un to make Quail Hollow his playground?
Youth isn’t wasted on the young at the Wells Fargo Championship.
The last three winners have all been baby-faced talents.
McIlroy won at 20 last year, Sean O’Hair at 26 the year before and Anthony Kim at 22 the year before that.
McIlroy will be looking to become the first player in the nine-year history of the tournament to successfully defend his title. But Rickie Fowler, 22, bears watching as he seeks to break through and win his first PGA Tour title. Fowler finished sixth in his debut at Quail Hollow a year ago.
Is Martin Kaymer motivated to take back the No. 1 ranking?
Kaymer seems more motivated by the process, by winning, by mastering what it takes to win.
He doesn’t appear to care as much about being atop the world rankings as he is being atop leaderboards.
But that’s the approach that can get him back to No. 1.
Lee Westwood made a strong statement winning back-to-back events at the Indonesian Masters and the Ballantine’s Championship the last two weeks. His Ballantine’s victory marked the first time a player holding the No. 1 ranking won a European Tour or PGA Tour title in 76 weeks. Westwood seems to want the top ranking more than anyone else in the game today.
Kaymer’s won seven European Tour and PGA Tour events within the two-year rolling period that makes up this week’s Official World Golf Ranking. Nobody’s won more in that span. Kaymer, however, didn’t do much in his eight weeks with the No. 1 ranking. Still, at 26, he got a taste of what comes with it to prepare him for another longer run at the top.
Is Phil Mickelson gearing up for a big summer?
Mickelson put it all together to win at the Shell Houston Open last month, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t build on that this summer.
Mickelson has done just about everything at the Wells Fargo but win.
He was second at Quail Hollow last year and tied for third in ’07. In seven starts there, he’s finished T-7 or better five times. It looks like a record pointing toward a victory.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC
Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.
Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.
''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''
Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.
Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.
Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.
''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.
Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.
''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''
Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.
''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''
Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.
Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.
Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.
''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''
In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.
Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.
''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.
McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.
Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.
''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''
Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.
''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''
Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.
McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.
''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''
McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.
''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''
McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.
McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.
Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.
''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.
Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.
''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''
Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial
The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.
Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.
Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.
Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.
Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).
This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.
Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting
Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.
Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.
“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."
It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC.
Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.
“I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”