Did not see this coming

By Rex HoggardAugust 14, 2011, 1:03 am

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – A week that began with the promise of colossal comebacks, Chubby Slams and youthful coronations has been reduced to a pop quiz that no one could have prepared for.

In order, Sunday’s second-to-last two-ball will feature a player whose next major will be his second and a 47-year-old miracle of modern medicine; followed 10 minutes later by the day’s final tee time that has collected just a single PGA Tour title, combined.

From the ashes of great expectations comes the unpredictability of obscurity.

If Sunday’s marquee leaves middle America wanting for name tags and thumbnail bios, the uncertainty of it all promises to fill the void with a measure of anticipation.

Your 54-hole front-runners are Auburn’s Jason Dufner, whose most meaningful trip to Atlanta was last year’s Southeastern Conference championship game, and Brendan Steele, who compared Glory’s Last Shot to his victory at last year’s Nationwide Tour Championship – really, he did – and is playing his first major.

In Steele’s defense, you can’t win 18 majors without winning your first.

“You can only want something so much,” the 28-year-old figured. “I really wanted to win the Nationwide Tour Championship and (this year’s Texas Open), so it’s not that different.”

For those in search of more familiarity, or perspective, the leaderboard at the 93rd PGA Championship offers precious few outlets. Keegan Bradley, a rookie like Steele, and veteran Scott Verplank will begin the final round one and two strokes back, respectively; and the top 12 players have a combined two majors.

“It feels great,” said Verplank , who has been slowed this year by a wrist injury. “I don’t feel a day over 100.”

Those who run major championships like to say they identify the week’s best player. Chances are Sunday’s champion will just need to be identified for the general golfing public.

That’s not to say the PGA leaderboard is entirely void of needle movers. Steve Williams . . . eh, Adam Scott begins the final turn five back at 2 under, tied with David Toms, the 2001 champion here at AAC who posted a round-of-the-day 65, and Steve Stricker, the leader in the clubhouse for Player of the Year, is just three behind.

But it is not who remains so as much as it is how they finish. The dearth of major experience combined with the toughest closing stretch of holes this side of Barry Burn make no lead or leader, no matter how nondescript, safe.

Consider Jim Furyk’s misadventures on Saturday. Just two strokes back through 13 holes, the former U.S. Open champion bogeyed No. 14, rinsed his tee shot at the downhill 15th hole and dunked two into the water at the finale. For the record, he played his last four in three splashes.

It is a story that has been told ad nauseam this week on the par-4 18th hole. It’s an old tale by now, boy meets hole, hole dropkicks boy, boy walks off course shaking his head and counting ’em up like an 18 handicap.

“There’s nowhere to hit the ball off the tee and the bunkers are virtually unplayable (at No. 18),” said Stricker, one of the lucky ones who stole a par at the last after hitting his drive into a fairway bunker. “It’s a better par 5 than a par 4 and I play it like that. I don’t mind laying up.”

In many ways it is why this week’s leaderboard looks more like the Atlanta Classic than the PGA Championship. Through three rounds the golf course is the week’s only lasting star, for better or worse.

As a general rule, pros don’t like to putt for pars. They are not fans of three-shot par 4s, driveable par 3s or no-shot bunkers. So it was no surprise that the sweat-stained field has marched off Atlanta Athletic Club with something just short of disdain for the Highlands track.

And this goes well beyond Phil Mickelson’s aversion for Rees Jones’ handiwork on the Hotlanta gem. The field has done more scrambling on the 18th hole this week than a third-string Redskins quarterback, and late Saturday the only safe bet was that whoever emerges from the sizzling scrum will play the closer just like Toms did when he won in 2001.

Just like Steele did on Saturday.

Despite his lack of Grand Slam pedigree the man of Steele showed impressive moxie coming down the stretch on Saturday with two-putt pars from 50 and 60 feet at Nos. 16 and 17, respectively. And when his drive flew into the third bunker down the right side of the finishing hole he calmly laid up, pitched to 20 feet and took his bogey – the way God and Rees Jones intended.

Whether Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner do, as golf writing legend Dan Jenkins once penned, what Brendan Steeles and Jason Dufners do on a Sunday at a major, which is to say wilt like bent grass in the August sun, remains to be seen. What is certain, it will be the golf course that ultimately wins this contest.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."