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Déjà vu all over again: Fowler back in major hunt

By Rex HoggardAugust 9, 2018, 7:50 pm

ST. LOUIS – It’s like Grand Slam clockwork. Rickie Fowler goes out and does Rickie Fowler things, moves into the hunt at a major, and then waits patiently for the inevitable.

Question: Are you aware of how many majors it took Phil Mickelson to win [his first] major and, if so, does that inspire you and give you hope?

Answer: I always have hope.

If that sounds prepared, maybe even rehearsed, Fowler should be forgiven. He’s fielded the same give-and-take for the better part of his career.

In 2014, when he completed the Top 5 Slam with top-5 finishes in each of the year’s four majors, Fowler endured the ever-present slings and arrows of a public that celebrates victories, not near-misses.

In 2017, when he entered the final round of the U.S. Open just two strokes off the lead, his long-awaited Grand Slam tilt seemed like a fait accompli, a foregone conclusion. It was all there, the talent, the determination, the experience, every piece of the complicated major puzzle dropping neatly into the proper order.

“Yes, but he still has to do it,” warned Fowler’s swing coach, Butch Harmon, at the time.

Fowler would tie for fifth at Erin Hills.

Fowler’s most recent brush with the Grand Slam ceiling came in April at the Masters, when he closed his week with a birdie at the last hole to move to within a stroke of Patrick Reed.

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The PGA Championship is Fowler’s 36th major start and he remains winless in the game’s biggest events. In his defense, sometimes you lose a major and sometimes you get beat; this year’s Masters qualifies as the latter for Fowler, after Reed played flawlessly down the stretch for victory.

“It wasn't something that I needed to get over, it was definitely a great week, I left everything out there on the golf course so it wasn't necessarily like, ‘Oh, man, what if I would have hit this shot instead of this shot,’” Fowler explained on Thursday at Bellerive. “The back nine I executed nearly perfect. After I birdied 12, I really thought I could birdie in.”

Fowler is back at it this week at the PGA Championship, opening the year’s final major with a ball-striking clinic, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation for a 5-under 65.

Fowler was two strokes clear of the field when he walked off a steamy golf course [he finished the day one back of Gary Woodland] and his lone bogey was a testament to how well played. For nearly any other player, that kind of round to begin a major would be a reason to celebrate. For Fowler, it was a reason to answer those all-too-familiar parade of questions.

Question: Are there times when you sit back and wonder to yourself, when is my time going to come?

Answer: You can't force the issue. It relates to some of our game plan and how we're going about this week as far as just trying to play within ourselves and not do anything extra special. I don't have to play special to win.

Fowler’s plight is a curious one. His four PGA Tour victories are a tribute to his talent, and his triumph at the 2015 Players Championship would qualify in many circles as a “major light.” But when compared to his celebrity, however unfair that might be, there is a conversation to be had regarding unfulfilled potential.

The 29-year-old is pretty good at building firewalls between himself and the noise. He knows what will be said about his opening 65 and his chances to end his Grand Slam drought, and he’s also learned, through a decade of trial and mostly error, that nothing good comes from those types of goal-based expectations.

“I'm looking forward to the days to come and like I mentioned a few times, really all we can do is take care of each day,” he said. “It sounds cliché, hole by hole, shot by shot, but Thursday you can check the success box and move on to Friday.”

Fowler isn’t hiding behind the platitudes, he’s living by them. He may still be unsure exactly what it takes to clear the Grand Slam hurdle, but fixating on the outcome certainly isn’t the answer.

Fowler explained he still hasn’t watched the highlights of the final round from this year’s Masters, whether if that’s by design or accident is unclear, but he has a general idea of what transpired on that Sunday.

“Jordan [Spieth] told me Patrick had a long putt on 17 from off the green, it hit the pin to kind of stay on the green type of thing. Saying that's a good break or not, don't know,” said Fowler, whose 65 on Day 1 matched his lowest round in a major. “Sometimes that's something you need to get over the hump to get the job done that week.”

Perhaps that kind of break is exactly what Fowler needs to summit the only mountain in golf that remains for him, maybe this is the week he gets his break. Of all the predictable questions that come his way at majors, it’s the one answer that continues to elude him.

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Even with broken driver, Salinda beats Hagestad at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2018, 2:52 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – With a trip to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals on the line, and with the Pacific Ocean staring him in the face, Isaiah Salinda piped a 330-yard drive down Pebble Beach’s 18th hole.

Not a bad poke with a replacement driver.

Salinda’s Round of 16 match against Stewart Hagestad got off to a rocky start Thursday afternoon with an awkward tee shot on the second hole.

“The ball came out weird, with no spin,” said Salinda’s caddie and former Stanford teammate, Bradley Knox. “He said, ‘Yeah, that felt weird.’”

Salinda looked at the bottom of his Callaway Epic driver and noticed a crack.

Worried that they'd have to play the rest of the round with only a 3-wood, Knox called a Callaway equipment rep, told him the issue, and was relieved to hear he'd meet them at the back of the third tee. Salinda teed off the next hole with a 3-wood – he’d taken driver there all week – and wound up in a tricky spot, on the side of a mound, leading to a bogey.

“Then they came over and cranked the driver,” Knox said. “It was like a NASCAR pit crew.”

The replacement driver was nearly identical – same head, same loft, same weighting – except for the lie angle. The new one was a degree flatter than his gamer, which led to a few more pulled shots than usual.

“It took a little while to recover the mindset that we’d had the rest of the week,” Knox said.

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

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Salinda downplayed the equipment malfunction – “I just had to adjust, and it wasn’t really a problem” – but he didn’t play well early. After trailing for just one hole during his first two matches, he was 4 over par and 2 down through 10 holes against Hagestad, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who’d finally made match play after eight previous failed attempts.

On 11, Salinda finally got going, stuffing a wedge shot to 10 feet and recording his first birdie. He followed with three clutch pars before another good approach on 15, leading to a conceded birdie to square the match.

On the home hole, Salinda bombed his drive about 30 yards past Hagestad and had 220 yards to the flag. It was a perfect 4-iron distance, and he sent a rocket into a blinding sunset.

“I never saw it,” Salinda said. “I told my caddie: ‘Where is that? I have no idea.’ But it felt good.”

A lone voice shrieked as the ball landed on the green. They knew the shot had to be tight. Years ago, Stanford senior Chris Meyers had made an albatross on 18 for a walkoff victory with Lee Janzen at the PGA Tour Champions’ First Tee Open. Knox thought they’d come close to duplicating the feat.

“Probably almost had a Chris Meyers,” Knox said, chuckling, as they walked up the fairway.

The shot never had a chance to drop – turns out the spectator was well-lubricated – but it still was only 35 feet away, for eagle. Salinda cozied his putt to a few feet and could only watch as Hagestad’s last-ditch 25-footer stopped a rotation short of the cup.

The Round of 16 victory continued a breakout summer for Salinda. His 15th-place showing at the NCAA Championship kick-started a three-month stretch in which he’s finally taken his game to the next level.

“He’s shown flashes of brilliance before,” Knox said, “and he’s had the game. But now he has the consistency and the confidence that it’ll come back time and time again.”

Salinda shot 62 in the third round and won the Pacific Coast Amateur, which boasts one of the strongest fields of the summer. Then he finished third in stroke play at the Western Amateur before a quarterfinal loss in match play.

Now he’s one step closer to his biggest victory yet – even with a backup driver.

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Salas (62) leads LPGA's Indy Women in Tech

By Associated PressAugust 17, 2018, 12:50 am

INDIANAPOLIS - Lizette Salas' waited 77 minutes to line up her 4-foot putt to take the lead Thursday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

She refused to let the weather delay get to her.

When the 29-year-old California player returned to the course, she quickly rolled in the birdie putt, finished her round with another birdie at No. 18 and took a two-shot lead over Angel Yin and Nasa Hataoka with a course record-tying 10-under 62.

''I didn't even think about it the entire time,'' Salas said. ''I was hanging out with Danielle (Kang) and she was giving me her silly dad jokes. So it definitely kept my mind off of it. I was really excited to be back and to finish off with a birdie, from off the green, was the icing on the cake.''

It's the lowest score by a female player at the Brickyard Crossing.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson opened last year's inaugural tournament with a 63, one shot off of Mike McCullough's 62 in the PGA Champions Tour's 1999 Comfort Classic.

But the way the saturated 6,456-yard course played Thursday, Salas needed virtually every putt of her career-best round to reach the top of the leaderboard.

The morning starters took advantage of overnight rain by shooting right at the pins.

And nobody made a bigger early splash than Yin, the 19-year-old Californian who finished second in last year's rookie of the year race.

She opened with five straight birdies and shot 8-under 28 on the front nine. Only a par on No. 6 prevented her from becoming the sixth LPGA player to shoot 27 on nine holes. South Korea's Mi Hyang Lee did it most recently at the 2016 JTBC Founders Cup.

Yin also tied the third-lowest nine-hole score in relation to par in tour history.

Her only bobble came with a bogey on No. 13 and she closed out her best career round with a birdie on No. 18.

Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship

''I have never done that before,'' she said. ''I had nine putts, I think, on the front nine, which is incredible. I've never had that many little putts. But it just felt good. Everything was working.''

Last year's runner-up for rookie of the year has never won an LPGA Tour title in her home country though she did win in a playoff at Dubai on the Ladies European Tour.

Everybody seemed to find their groove Thursday.

Eighty-eight of the 143 players shot under par and 54 were 3-under or better.

And with more rain in the forecast Thursday night and Friday, the scores could go even lower as a star-studded cast chases down Salas, Yin and Hataoka.

Four players, including Kang and Jane Park, are three shots behind.

Seven players, including last year's tournament runner-up Lydia Ko, are four shots back. Ko was tied with Yin for the lead - until she knocked her tee shot on the par-4, 16th into the water. She wound up with a double bogey and birdied the final hole to finish with 66.

After taking a monthlong break to recover from physical and mental exhaustion, Thompson looked relaxed and comfortable in her return to the course. She shot 68.

''It was hard for me to take the break because I didn't want to show weakness,'' she said. ''But at the same time, it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge that you need that kind of break and just take time for yourself, especially when you're in the spotlight like this.''

Salas, meanwhile, started fast with an eagle on the par-5 second and finished with a flurry.

She birdied three straight holes on the front side to get to 5-under, added birdies at Nos. 12 and 14 to get to 7-under and then birdied the final three holes - around the approaching storm - to put herself in contention for her first title since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.

''I have been just striking the ball really well this entire year, and just glad some more putts dropped today,'' she said. ''I was really refreshed. I didn't practice at all last week, and I was just really eager and excited to be back.''

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Sordet opens with 62 to grab lead at Nordea Masters

By Associated PressAugust 16, 2018, 11:23 pm

GOTHENBURG, Sweden - Clement Sordet opened with four straight birdies to shoot 8-under 62 and take the first-round lead of the Nordea Masters on Thursday.

Sordet says ''I wasn't really focusing on the score, I was just enjoying it.''

The Frenchman, who shot his lowest European Tour round, has a two-stroke lead over Scott Jamieson of Scotland and Lee Slattery of England.

Hunter Stewart is the highest-placed American after a 5-under 65 left him on a four-way tie for fourth with Christofer Blomstrand, Tapio Pulkkanen and Richard Green.

Defending champion Renato Paratore's hopes of becoming the first player to successfully retain the title look in doubt after the Italian shot 9-over 79 at Hills Golf Club.

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Peterson confirms plans to play Finals

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 9:17 pm

After flirting with retirement for much of the summer, John Peterson confirmed that he will give it one more shot in the upcoming Tour Finals.

Peterson, 29, had planned to walk away from the game and begin a career in real estate in his native Texas if he failed to secure PGA Tour status before his medical extension expired. His T-13 finish last month at The Greenbrier appeared to be enough to net the former NCAA champ at least conditional status, but a closer look at the numbers revealed he missed out by 0.58 points in his last available start.

Full-field scores from Wyndham Championship

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But Peterson was buoyed by the support he received from his peers at The Greenbrier, and when he got into the Barbasol Championship as a late alternate he decided to make the trip to the tournament. He tied for 21st that week in Kentucky, clinching enough non-member FedExCup points to grant him a spot in the four-event Finals.

Last month Peterson hinted that he would consider playing in the Finals, where 25 PGA Tour cards for the 2018-19 season will be up for grabs, and Thursday he confirmed in an Instagram post that he will give his pro career "one last push."

The Finals kick off next week in Ohio with the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship and will conclude Sept. 20-23 with the Tour Championship. Peterson will be looking to rekindle his results from 2013, when he finished T-5 or better at each of the four Finals events while earning fully-exempt status as the top money earner.