Els, Scott, Woods rise from the professional ashes

By Rex HoggardJuly 23, 2012, 3:25 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Sunday’s epic collapse aside, the final tally from the 141st Open Championship offered a cautionary tale stripped across the top of the marquee.

Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the final Lytham leaderboard – Ernie Els, Adam Scott and Tiger Woods, respectively – had all been written off to varying degrees over the past three years – left for dead by an on-demand society that requires results and eschews the long view. Yet there they were on Sunday as the wind and pressure grew.

Els, at 42 a Hall of Famer with a rebuilt left knee and a frightening aversion to 4-footers, won Sunday’s show, while Scott may have lost the claret jug but he may have gained a final measure of recognition for a competitive U-turn few figured he could pull off not long ago. As for Woods, his tie for third probably ranks somewhere just north of a wasted week – remember, second sucks – but it is, by any definition, progress.

Sobel: Els' epic journey

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But if Sunday’s finish proves anything – beyond the worn-out axiom that anything can happen in major championship golf – it is that golf defies instant analysis and premature judgment. How else could one explain the trifecta of reclamation projects atop the card?

In our collective rush to judgment, some in the golf world had figured all three either finished or rapidly closing on their sell-by dates, and yet there they were vying for Open glory. It is equal parts a testament to each player’s gumption and the evergreen nature of golf.

Putting, specifically the addition of a long putter, has been the tonic for Els and Scott, while Woods’ resurgence is a combination of a healthy body and an increasing level of comfort with his Sean Foley-inspired swing.

It was only fitting that Els would collect his fourth major and second claret jug thanks to the long stick, charging in a 15-footer for birdie at the last that would turn out to be the surprise winner.

Lost in the post-championship glow was how far the Big Easy had fallen in recent years.

He needed a late-season rally (T-30 at the Wyndham Championship) just to make the FedEx Cup playoffs and spiraled to 68th in the world ranking earlier this season to miss the Masters for the first time since 1993.

We weren’t talking about Els winning majors anymore, we were talking about whether he’d even qualify.

But if the golf world had given up on Els, the South African was clearly not ready for his golden years.

“For some reason I've got some belief this week,” Els warned on the eve of the final round at Lytham. “I feel something special can happen. I've put in a lot of work the last couple of years, especially the last couple of months. So something good is bound to happen.”

Until this season, message boards across cyberspace have been filled with debates about whether there was anything good in Woods’ game. The scandal of 2009 begat two injury-riddled seasons and a swing change that, like his three previous changes, was slow coming.

Late last season, Woods swooned to 58th in the world, he needed not one but two captain’s picks to make the 2010 Ryder Cup and last year’s President Cup team and he finished outside the top 25 in earnings on limited starts in both 2010 and ’11 for the first time in his Hall-of-Fame career.

Is he finished? Is he back? The debate raged, but throughout it all Woods, at least publically, never questioned the fact that there is an ebb and flow to even historic careers.

“It's part of golf,” Woods said on Sunday. “We all go through these phases. Some people it lasts entire careers. Others are a little bit shorter. Even the greatest players to ever play have all gone through little stretches like this. When your playing careers last 40 and 50 years, you're going to have stretches like this.”

But if Woods’ slump, be it real or perceived, can be dismissed as media-driven drivel, Scott’s slide was palpably real.

It wasn’t that long ago that everyone in the golf world not named Greg Norman had written off Scott, the one-time prodigy turned project.

In 2009, the Australian slumped to 65th in the world ranking, finished 108th on the PGA Tour money and Norman was questioned for making him a pick for the Presidents Cup.

Since being plucked from mediocrity by Norman in ’09, the ultimate toxic asset has enjoyed a slow yet steady climb back to relevancy. In order, he changed caddies (Steve Williams), putters (long) and his schedule in an attempt be better prepared for the majors, where his pedestrian performance was glaring.

In his first 39 majors, Scott posted just four top-10s and never seriously contended. Since 2011, when he embarked on his grand plan, he’s matched that top-10 total (four) and finished second twice (2011 Masters and last week’s Open).

“He’s working harder than anyone would have imagined on his golf game,” said Geoff Ogilvy late Sunday as he watched his friend at Lytham. “Something lit a fire in him a couple years ago. Maybe it was that bad batch of play in ’08 and ’09.”

Unlike any other sport golf defies declaratives, the realities of longevity won’t allow it. As Sunday’s final leaderboard proved, when it comes to careers it’s almost always too early to call.

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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.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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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.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

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.”

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Garnett's six-shot lead dwindles to two in Punta Cana

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 10:57 pm

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic - Brice Garnett took a six-stroke lead into the wind Saturday in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He came out with a two-stroke advantage.

Garnett bogeyed three of the final six holes in the wind and rain for a 3-under 69 and a 16-under 200 total.

''Once we made the turn coming back, all those holes coming in toward the north, it was all we wanted and then some,'' Garnett said. ''I kind of took advantage of some holes going out, some holes downwind, some par 5s, and then we were just trying to leave it in the right spot those last four or five holes. Pars are pretty good scores on those holes.''

Canadian Corey Conners was second after a 67, and Tyler McCumber also had a 67 to get to 12 under. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped out Friday, finishing last in the 132-man field in his PGA Tour debut. He shot 77-82 playing as an amateur on a sponsor exemption.

A stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, Garnett opened with a bogey, birdied Nos. 2, 4 and 6, eagled the par-5 seventh, and made two more birdies on the par-3 ninth and par-5 12th. He bogeyed the par-4 13th, par-5 15th and par-3 17th.

Full-field scores from the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship

''I looked once and the lead was a little bigger than what it is now,'' Garnett said. ''The eagle was huge, kind of gave me that confidence that I can push it on out and stretch it a little bit more. That wind was tough and I'll take a two-shot lead into tomorrow.''

The 34-year-old Garnett is winless on the PGA Tour. He won twice last year on the Web.com Tour.

''You've got another 18 holes. So much can happen,'' Garnett said. ''Just going to try to keep the golf ball in front of me. I have that self-belief this week and that's what I had last year when I won, so I'll just keep my head down and just keep going.''

Conners had five birdies and a bogey on the front nine and added a birdie on No. 12.

''Really happy with the round,'' Conners said. ''I got off to a nice start, made a bunch of birdies on the front nine and kind of held it together on the back nine. It was playing really difficult. The wind was really blowing out there, made things challenging.''

McCumber, the son of 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber, has played his last 39 holes with a bogey.

''Second shots have been pretty solid,'' McCumber said. ''Putting pretty well, short game is pretty good. Just really being in the right areas and staying below the hole.''

Tom Lovelady was fourth at 11 under after a 68. Seamus Power (71), Denny McCarthy (71) and Seungsu Han (72) were 10 under.