Fever Pitch

By Rex HoggardSeptember 5, 2011, 10:53 pm

NORTON, Mass. – “Fever Pitch,” the 2005 tome to the end of Boston’s curse, it wasn’t, not with two playoff events, four Fall Series tilts, a Presidents Cup and more silly stops than one season can stomach. But as a litmus test for the game’s ever-evolving postseason Deutsche Bank Championship, Monday was a sign of progress.

The FedEx Cup playoffs may never resonate like postseasons in other sports, a concept complicated by the intricacies of a game dominated by independent contractors and a history written at the majors, but on Monday the Tour’s experiment took a step forward, if not with the masses then with the men who vie for the Cup. Or maybe it’s the $10 million jackpot waiting at the end of the road in Atlanta.

Not that it mattered to Ernie Els, who has used these end-of-days playoffs to rekindle a competitive fire that had been missing; or Chez Reavie, a Tour outcast of sorts that wasn’t just playing for his playoff future but his year. And certainly not for Webb Simpson, who in three short weeks has vaulted from prospect to prohibitive FedEx Cup favorite.

Cynics will dismiss the playoffs as a money grab – millionaires playing for millions, and, essentially, the postseason has amounted to little more than that for four seasons. But on Monday at TPC Boston, the cash dash delivered a product that was well, playoff-like.

The money may bring the players calling, but it is the thrill of the hunt that the collective savors.

“The joy I get from what I do is not from money. It’s about getting into playoffs and the thrill of trying to win,” said Simpson, who closed with an eventful 65 and laid two birdies in extra frames on Reavie to take his second Tour title in three weeks.

That the dramatic finish put Simpson in line to win the Cup filled with $10 million was of less interest to him than a pair of clutch birdie putts in overtime to clip Reavie.

Let the record show that although TPC Boston is often maligned with the title “bomber’s paradise,” the layout served as an equal opportunity scoring-fest, rewarding the plodders as well as the ponders on Monday.

Two-way traffic is the sign of any good championship, but on Monday at TPC Boston the flow resembled that of Interstate-495, deadlocked on the northbound side with vacationers returning from Cape Cod following a holiday weekend, but nearly abandoned headed south.

No fewer than five players held a share of the lead through a windswept afternoon, and that didn’t include Bubba Watson who began the day with a one-stroke advantage but quickly became an afterthought as the traffic ahead picked apart TPC Boston.

Even before Watson teed off he’d fallen behind Brandt Snedeker, who played his first five holes in 4 under. By the turn the top spot was shared by world No. 1 Luke Donald, Snedeker and Simpson.

But as the wind and pressure picked up on the back side, players fell away. Donald airmailed the green at the 12th, caught his third shot heavy, his fourth thin and penciled in a double bogey-6, while Snedeker was undone by three late bogeys. Leaving just Reavie, who birdied four of his last eight holes and was nursing a one-stroke lead before he flew the final green and failed to convert his 12 footer for par.

It was about the only thing Reavie missed all day.

TPC Boston may be a bomber’s course, but the playoff came down to the week’s top two putters. Simpson – who had 13 one-putt greens on Monday, including the playoff – finished tied for third in putting and first in “putts made distance,” tied with Reavie.

For Simpson, his putting epiphany occurred during his opening round at the PGA Championship when he noticed on the 15th green that his routine to line up putts was much faster during the round than it was when he practiced. Since he’s adjusted, he’s 2-for-3, adding the Deutsche Bank to his Wyndham Championship title.

“It was a big turning point that we worked on and trusted it,” said Simpson, who carded all four rounds in the 60s (69-68-67-65) to finish at 15 under.

Yet playoff pressure transcended the leaderboard. There was Els, who has now played his last three events facing FedEx Cup elimination, grinding down the stretch to crack the top 70 and advance to the BMW Championship in two weeks. He birdied the last to finish 68th.

When asked if he could compare the pressure he felt on Monday to that of trying to actually win a tournament, Els’ response was telling: “It’s worse. You screw up on 18 to win a tournament you still get second place and $600,000. Screw up here and you’re going home.”

Chris Stroud could relate. Following a double bogey at No. 14 he figured his playoffs were over. “I knew I’d blew myself out there,” he said.

It is a measure of the playoff’s growing appeal, however,  it was Stroud that drew a media crowd following his round – not playing partner Hunter Mahan, whose closing 66 gave him a however-fleeting clubhouse lead at 10 under.

“I saw I was 76 (in FedEx Cup points) on 15 green (following a double bogey-bogey stretch) and figured I needed to birdie the last three to have a chance,” Stroud said. There was no birdie-birdie-birdie finish. Instead, he nearly holed his second shot from 232 yards at the par-5 closing hole for a tap-in eagle to advance to the third round of the playoffs.

Geoff Ogilvy, however, may have been the ultimate playoff poster child. Following bogeys at Nos. 14 and 16 he also assumed his postseason days were numbered, but a birdie at the last lifted him into, and Kevin Na out of, the top 70.

“I get rewarded with a trip to Cog Hill,” said Ogilvy, a back-handed comment considering the Australian’s antipathy toward the Rees Jones redesign in Chicago, but compelling stuff none the less.

What the playoffs lack in “curb appeal,” they seem to be making up for at the grass-roots level with the rank and file. Just ask Reavie, who just days earlier had cut short an explanation on his limited Tour status – essentially he currently is not qualified to play the Fall Series but he is in the Tour Championship – for an impromptu moment of show-and-tell.

As he rolled up his right pant leg to expose a 6-inch scar, the byproduct of ACL surgery last June that sent him to an extended stay on the “DL” and a questionable Tour future, he allowed himself a moment of self-indulgence: “I just want to win,” he said after Friday’s round. Four days and 56 holes later he was still overwhelmed by the thought.

“It's unbelievable,” an emotional Reavie allowed. “Starting the year on a medical (exemption) and not knowing what's going to happen, to be able to go to the Tour Championship is a goal. It's what I wanted to do.”

No, the Tour’s postseason is not quite “Fever Pitch,” but it’s getting there.

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(Not that) Jutanugarn shares lead with (not that) Ko

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 1:58 am

LOS ANGELES - A player eager for her first win and a rookie top the leaderboard at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Lurking two shots back is a Hall of Famer.

Winless Moriya Jutanugarn overcame a poor start and birdied the 18th for a hard-earned 1-under 70 to tie rookie Jin Young Ko at 9 under on Saturday at Wilshire Country Club.

Ko shot a 66 in her bid to become the year's first two-time LPGA winner. She won the Women's Australian Open in February, her first victory as an official tour member after a successful run on the Korean LPGA circuit.

''I'm ready for win or top 10, so maybe tomorrow I will really focus on shot by shot,'' said Ko, who added an exclamation point to her golf bag for each of her wins on the KLPGA. ''I won 11 times, so if I win tomorrow, maybe I change to 12. I need more, I need every time motivation.''

Jutanugarn is trying to match younger sister Ariya as a tour champion. Seven-time winner Ariya was tied for 27th after a 72 in the third round.

Usually when one of the Thai sisters is in the lead, the other will watch when her round is finished.

''If she's not too lazy, she is probably going to come out,'' Moriya said about Ariya.

Playing in an all-Korean threesome, Hall of Famer Inbee Park was two shots back in third after a 69. Her birdie putt for a share of the lead on 18 slid just by the hole. The group drew a large contingent of Korean fans.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

''I kind of started off a little bad. I was able to come back strong, so I'm really happy with that,'' Park said. ''I left a few putts out there. The greens around this golf course are just really tough. You just don't know what's going to happen.''

Moriya Jutanugarn's round included a double bogey on the par-4 first hole and a bogey on the par-4 sixth. She eagled the par-4 14th after holing out from the fairway 93 feet away. The ball took once bounce and went in, eliciting a stunned look from Jutanugarn before she high-fived her caddie.

''Today was kind of a pretty rough day for me with not a very good start and like trying to come back,'' Jutanugarn said. ''I just try to play my game and be patient out there I think is the key.''

Jutanugarn, the second-round leader, read the break perfectly on a long putt to make birdie on 18 and share the lead with Ko.

Playing two groups ahead of Jutanugarn, Caroline Inglis also eagled the 14th from 180 yards. She briefly jumped up and down and smiled after three bogeys and a double bogey. She shot a 69 and was four shots back in a tie for sixth with Minjee Lee.

''It was like one bounce and then it like trickled in,'' Inglis said.

Aditi Ashok eagled 14 early in the round.

Ko did some scrambling of her own. Her ball found a sandy hazard on the 17th with a scoreboard and a winding creek in between her and the green 190 yards away. Her approach landed just off the green and she made par. Her round included six birdies and a bogey on 16.

Eun-Hee Ji (70) and American Marina Alex (72) were tied for fourth at 6 under.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng shot a 70 and was in a six-way tie for 12th at 2 under.

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Defending champs Singh, Franco take senior lead

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 12:15 am

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco took the third-round lead Saturday in the windy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Singh and Franco shot a 7-under 47 in wind gusting to 20 mph on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to get to 19-under 145, a stroke ahead of the teams of David Toms-Steve Flesch and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett.

''It was a tough day,'' Singh said. ''The wind was swirling, have to get the club right and we made some putts. Carlos played really well on the back nine and I played really well on the front nine, so we ham-and-egged it a little.''

Toms and Flesch also shot 47, and Broadhurst and Triplett had a 33 on the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course.

''We just paired well together,'' Toms said. ''I don't think either one of us played great. We picked each other up out there.''

Wind and rain is expected Sunday when the teams finish at Top of the Rock, again playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

''Make as many birdies as possible and see what happens,'' Singh said. ''That's all we can do.''

Singh and Franco are trying to become the first to successfully defend a title since Jim Colbert and Andy North in 2001. Singh won the Toshiba Classic in March for his first individual senior title.

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week in Georgia for his first senior victory.

Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer had a 34 at Mountain Top to join Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal at 17 under. Jimenez and Olazabal had a 33 at Mountain Top.

''It's great for me to be able to play with him as a team member,'' Olazabal said. ''We do have great memories from the Ryder Cup and other events, and it's always a great pleasure to play with a great player and a friend.''

Langer took the final-round forecast in stride.

''We've done it hundreds of times before and we'll probably do it again,'' Langer said. ''We'll make the best of it. We both have a good attitude. We're known to play in all sorts of weather and I just look forward to playing one more day with my partner here.''

Wisconsin neighbors Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were 16 under after a 48 at Top of the Rock.

John Daly and Michael Allen, the second-round leaders after a 46 at Top of the Rock, had a 37 at Mountain Top to drop into a tie for seventh at 15 under.

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Landry shares Valero lead, eyes first career win

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 11:15 pm

After coming up just short of a breakthrough win earlier this season, Andrew Landry has another chance to earn his maiden victory at the Valero Texas Open.

Landry came within inches of winning the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, ultimately losing to Jon Rahm in a four-hole playoff. He struggled to find form in the wake of his close call, missing the cut in each of his four starts following his runner-up finish in Palm Springs.

But Landry took some time off to welcome his first child, Brooks, last month and he made it to the weekend in his first start back last week at the RBC Heritage, where he finished T-42. He made a move up the standings Saturday at TPC San Antonio with a bogey-free 67, and at 13 under shares the lead with Zach Johnson heading into the final round.

"I just did everything really good," Landry told reporters. "I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat, and I had a couple bad putts that I didn't really make. I'm happy with it, it's a good 5-under round. Gets me in the final group tomorrow and we'll see what happens."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Landry started the day one shot off the pace and in the final group with Johnson and Ryan Moore, and at one point he took sole possession of the lead after birdies on three of his first six holes. Now he'll have another chance in the day's final tee time where he's grouped with Johnson and Trey Mullinax, who sits one shot back after firing a course-record 62 in the third round.

For Landry, it's another opportunity to break into the winner's circle, and it's one for which he feels prepared after coming so close three months ago.

"I mean, I don't want to go too deep into it because I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but I just believe in myself. There's no other explanation for it," Landry said. "You can totally get out here and play with Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, two top players in the world, and you can go out there and fold under pressure or you can learn a lot.

"Zach's always been a role model to me the way he plays golf, I feel like we have very similar games, and it's just going to be fun tomorrow getting to play with him again."

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Z. Johnson, Landry share 54-hole Texas Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 10:56 pm

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson birdied the par-5 18th Saturday at the Valero Texas Open for a share of the third-round lead with Andrew Landry, a stroke ahead of record-setting Trey Mullinax.

Johnson shot a 4-under 68, holing a 10-footer on 18 to match Landry at 13-under 203 at TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks. Landry birdied the 16th and 17th in a 67.

Johnson won the event in 2008 and 2009, the last two times it was played at LaCantera. The 42-year-old Iowan is trying to win for the first time since the 2015 British Open.

''I've got 18 holes to get to that point,'' Johnson said. ''I've got to do exactly what I did on the back side and that was give myself opportunities on every hole. I'm putting great, I'm seeing the lines well, my caddie's reading the greens well, so it's just a matter of committing and executing down the stretch.''

The 30-year-old Landry is winless on the tour.

''I'm a good putter and I just need to give myself a lot of opportunities tomorrow like I did today,'' Landry said. ''I'll be looking forward to tomorrow.''

Mullinax had a course-record 62. He played the back nine in 7-under 29, going 6 under on the last five with eagles on the par-5 14th and 18th and birdies on 16 and 17. He also birdied Nos. 10 and 12 and bogeyed 11.

''It's probably one of the best rounds I've ever had,'' Mullinax said. ''To go out there and shoot 62 on a hard golf course is really good.''

Johnson played the front nine in even par with two birdies and two bogeys. He birdied Nos. 11, 14, 15 and 18 on the back nine.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

''Different wind today early on, misjudged some numbers, misjudged some wind, made some bad swings, all of the above,'' Johnson said. ''But truthfully, my short game was actually pretty good, my putting was great. I missed some putts, but I hit some really good ones, hit some lines and I gave myself opportunities especially on the back side.''

Landry had a bogey-free round.

''I just did everything really good,'' Landry said. ''I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat.''

Ryan Moore was two strokes back at 11 under after a 70. Sean O'Hair had a 65 to join 2015 champion Jimmy Walker (67), Chris Kirk (68) and 2013 winner Martin Laird (69) at 9 under.

''I just feel like I'm getting closer and closer to playing better and better golf, more solid golf, putting rounds together,'' Walker said. ''I'm excited for the opportunity tomorrow.''

Mullinax has made 42 of 44 putts from inside 10 feet this week.

''They just kind of remind me of greens from home,'' Mullinax said. ''My caddie, David (Flynn), has been reading them really well. We trusted each other on our reads and I've been hitting good putts. Been working hard on putting on the weeks off that I've had so it's good to see some results.''

The 25-year-old former Alabama player chipped in for the eagle on 14 and the birdie on the par-3 16th.

''It was just a little bit down the hill,'' he said about the 16th. ''All you had to do was just land it just past that little light grass spot. My caddie told me just read it like a putt, so I tried to just read it like a putt and it went in.''

On 18, he hit a 3-iron from 255 yards to 15 feet to set up his eagle putt. He broke the course record of 63 set by Matt Every in 201 and matched by Laird in 2013. The tournament record is 60 at LaCantera, by Bart Bryant in 2004 and Johnson in 2009.