Glory, Glory, Hallelujah

By Rex HoggardAugust 15, 2011, 2:20 am

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Without the benefit of a Tiger Woods, who still appears four cylinders shy of a full block, and a Phil Mickelson, whose golf has appeared more recreational of late, the year’s final major championship received an unexpected boost late into Sunday afternoon via an eclectic combo of fire and ice tea, with an assist from a hard-as-nails golf course that doled out pleasure and pain with equal abandon.

Fire, the golf world is rapidly learning, was the excitable Keegan Bradley; while Jason Dufner gamely played the part of flatliner until the bitter end at the 93rd PGA Championship.

And it all unfolded in 1 hour, 55 minutes. That’s how long it took for Bradley to make up five shots in just three holes and mow down decades of tradition. In order, the Tour rookie became the first player to hoist Grand Slam gold with a belly putter, a breakthrough that promises to send rules types into a tizzy, the first player since Ben Curtis to join the major club in his first Grand Slam start and the first to win a major the year after graduating from the Nationwide Tour.

“It seems like a dream and I'm afraid I'm going to wake up here in the next five minutes and it's not going to be real,” said Bradley, who closed with a 68 to tie Dufner at 8-under 272 and force overtime.

As he tapped in his clinching par putt at the 18th to clip Dufner by one stroke in a three-hole aggregate playoff Bradley smiled widely into the setting sun. It was a celebration that seemed so unlikely just two hours earlier.

Trailing Dufner by two strokes, Bradley’s 4-iron tee shot at the par-3 15th hole settled into the deep Bermuda grass rough and as his chip raced across the green and into the pond he appeared on his way to also-ran status.

“We got to the 16th tee and I told him to keep fighting,” said Bradley’s caddie, Steven “Pepsi” Hale. “But this guy is the gutsiest player I’ve ever worked for. I can’t teach heart and heart won this golf tournament.”

Well, heart and a steady putter that drained putts from 8 feet at No. 16 and 35 feet at the par-3 17th hole. Dufner took care of the rest.

How hard was Atlanta Athletic Club playing? When Dufner stepped to the 15th tee he was leading by four strokes and proceeded to fan his hybrid tee shot into the water behind Bradley. Before he took his drop he was leading by five, courtesy of a late bogey by Anders Hansen. Dufner scrambled for bogey at the 15th, wilted from a greenside bunker at the 16th, and three-putted the 17th to drop back into a tie with Bradley.

“The course is so tough that no lead is safe,” Bradley said. “I kept trying to tell myself that because I knew that that was the case, especially if you got a big lead, you might get a little tight coming down the end.”

That both players managed to par the closing hole showed an astonishing level of grit, but in the Hotlanta heat “Fire” was too much for the Auburn iceman. Bradley birdied the first extra hole and when Dufner three-putted the 17th green for the second time in 30 minutes not even the feared closer could change the outcome.

“I was thinking about trying to win the thing,” said Dufner (69) of his miscues at Nos. 15, 16 and 17. “They are tough holes. Everybody has struggled on them. It’s disappointing, (No.) 16, being in the middle of the fairway. I should hit that green. Didn’t. Probably one of the worst iron shots I hit all week.”

But then the frenzied playoff, the second consecutive overtime at the PGA, was almost a foregone conclusion considering how the day unfolded. Sunday’s final turn was a free-for-all in major championship clothing, with a dozen players within six strokes of the lead at the turn, including Robert Karlsson who teed off 40 minutes and five strokes outside the lead but closed with a 3 under front nine and a 10 footer for eagle at the 12th hole.

For 68 holes uncertainty ruled with the Wanamaker Trophy earmarked for cash compensations and a player to be named later, until the last four, “Calamity Lane” as one announcer dubbed the diabolical stretch, began dispatching all comers with ease. First it was Karlsson, who finished bogey-bogey-bogey, then Hansen, who bogeyed the 16th and finished alone in third place at 7 under.

Coming into Sunday Dufner was 3 under on the last four, Bradley was even par, but that changed dramatically as the rookie played the stretch in even par counting the three-hole playoff and Dufner limped home in 3 over.

The only thing missing was Woods.

On Wednesday Woods’ swing coach Sean Foley was cautiously optimistic, “What we have now is Tiger’s blueprint and getting his swing in the position where he can be himself – a creative artist, a feel player.”

Thursday morning Woods played his first five in 3 under, his last 13 in 10 over and hit the same number of bunkers (14) as he did fairways and greens combined. It was all enough to likely make Bryon Bell relieved his status on Woods’ bag was interim.

“I just thought, this is a major, and you peak for these events. And once you get to a major championship, you just let it fly, let it go. And I did and it cost me,” a frustrated Woods said.

The next time Woods resurfaces remains almost as much of a mystery as his game. His early exit from AAC guaranteed he’d miss the FedEx Cup playoffs and he offered a vague “I might” when asked if he’d play a Fall Series or European Tour event before November’s Australian Open, his next scheduled start.

The uncertainty doesn’t stop there, thanks to Rory McIlroy’s youthful actions adjacent the third fairway on Thursday. The injury the Ulsterman sustained when his 8-iron powered into a root seemed innocent enough, but as he closed with rounds of 70-73-74-74 and bolted Atlanta to spend time with his physical trainer there was a measure of concern.

In hindsight, Rory vs. the root probably wasn’t a risk worth taking, and the 22-year-old acknowledged as much. “Looking back on it, it probably wasn't the right thing to do.”

But even the specter of the game’s two biggest needle movers on equally uncertain paths wasn’t enough to rob “Glory’s Last Shot” of a dramatic finale thanks to Bradley.

The victory assured the 25-year-old membership in the game’s “young guns” club, if his victory earlier this year at the Byron Nelson Championship didn’t already gain him status. And his emotions on Sunday made him an instant classic with the sweet-stained masses. Not that Bradley has ever had a hard time showing his emotions.

“We’ve tried to temper that a little bit. It’s part of the learning curve. That was part of the dialogue this week after what happened at Firestone,” said Hale of Bradley’s tie for 15th following a closing 74 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “I told everybody that we are going to find out how much we learned last week.”

The answer surprised everyone, maybe even Bradley, and wrenched the PGA Championship out of a frenzied funk – just in time.

Getty Images

Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

Getty Images

Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

Getty Images

Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

Getty Images

Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.