Graham near flawless in ’81 Merion triumph

By Rex HoggardJune 8, 2013, 1:00 pm

Golf, particularly the version played at U.S. Opens, is not a game of perfect. The national championship presents a type of controlled chaos that is endured, not subdued.

Consider it damage control – bogeys are mitigated, pars are coveted and birdies are celebrated. It’s a generalization that makes David Graham’s final round in 1981, the last time the Open was played on Merion’s venerable East Course, historic, even if the 67-year-old now seems immune to the hyperbole of his accomplishment.

“I could roll the ball pretty good on fast greens and didn’t have any flaws in my game,” Graham recently figured.

If Graham’s misplaced modesty seems curious in the context of the ’81 championship, he’s come by it honestly. Consider that Graham defied his father when he turned pro at 16 and embraced his craft with a workmanlike effort that was not lost on his contemporaries.

“David was sort of a ... I don't know what you call it, almost like a club guru or something,” Jack Nicklaus said. “He loved to fiddle with clubs and did a good job. I had great respect for David's ability to work with golf clubs and to play them. From his background, he came from a very meager background in Australia. I thought he did a great job in life and a great job on Tour. I thought he was a great player.”

It was that perfectionist who set out for the final turn in ’81 trailing George Burns by three strokes on a golf course that, even three decades ago, was short by modern standards (6,544 yards).

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As a result, the powers that be at the USGA had tweaked the mercurial gem along Philadelphia’s Main Line into a battle of attrition with narrow fairways, deep and inconsistent rough and tucked pins that only the fearless and foolish would attack (sound familiar?).

Just behind Graham for that final lap in ’81 was Nicklaus, who was tied for fourth and five strokes off the pace through 54 holes, and second-year Tour player John Cook, who was in a group at 1 under.

“You look at the scorecard and think I can shoot 65 easy and the next thing you know you walk off with a 75,” Cook recalled.

It was the former score that Graham had in mind when he set out for the final round some three decades ago. The Australian birdied the first and second and other than a three-putt bogey at the fifth, his only blemish of the day, it was a textbook closing card.

For the round, Graham hit all 18 greens in regulation and missed just a single fairway for a walk-off 67, one of just seven rounds in the 60s on Sunday, and a three-stroke victory.

“I’ve had rounds that were close to it, every top player has rounds like that,” Graham said. “Some are on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. To do it on a Sunday at an Open it gets more recognition or notice.”

Forgive Graham, who became the first Australian to win the U.S. Open, if three decades have softened his ability to buy into the hyperbole of his major masterpiece. For those who were trying to keep pace with him, however, the feat has not been dulled by time.

“I was right there until David decided he wasn’t going to miss a green,” laughed Cook, who tied for fourth at 1 under par. “It was hard to pick up shots. I was just kind of holding my spot and all of a sudden David got to 6 or 7 under and you realized you were playing for second.”

That Graham crafted that flawless card with Nicklaus looming only added to the degree of difficulty. At the time, Nicklaus’ name on the leaderboard was worth a stroke a side on a Grand Slam Sunday and when that final round began the Golden Bear loomed larger than life, just two shots behind Graham.

“The minute they put Nicklaus’ name on the leaderboard everybody made bogey,” Graham said. “It’s like when they put Tiger’s name up now and they think, ‘Here we go again.’”

But Graham didn’t give Nicklaus or anyone else much of a chance in ’81.

As good as Graham’s start may have seemed at the time, it was the way he negotiated Merion’s demanding closing stretch that sets his round apart from other great finishes.

Graham played the 14th hole with a driver, 7-iron for a tap-in birdie followed by an 8-iron to 2 feet for another birdie at the 15th hole. Three stress-free pars to close his round sealed his fate, and some say that of Merion.

Graham’s 7-under 273 card, which came within one stroke of Nicklaus’ 72-hole championship record, was the first under-par total for an Open winner at Merion. If Graham’s flawless finish sealed his fate as one of his generation’s best – it was his second major title in two years – conventional wisdom suggested his dismantling of the East Course also relegated the historic layout to relic status.

It took 32 years and some creative tinkering to convince the USGA to return to Merion, and Graham concedes, depending on the weather, the modern game may be too much for the classic course.

“Length isn’t an issue today,” said Graham, who will co-host a dinner with Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on Tuesday at Merion. “No one of my era is even familiar with the game these kids play.”

After a few rounds this week the “kids” may say the same of Graham’s final turn. There may be rounds better than his 67 next week at the 113th U.S. Open, but none as flawless. It was, by any measure, as close as Open golf gets to a perfect game.

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M. Jutanugarn finally joins sister in LPGA winner's circle

By Associated PressApril 23, 2018, 1:42 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn won the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open by two shots for her first victory in six years on the LPGA Tour, joining sister Ariya as the second siblings to win on the tour.

The 23-year-old from Thailand shot a 3-under 68 for a 12-under 272 total Sunday at Wilshire Country Club in the tour's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Jutanugarn won in her 156th start after three career runner-up finishes, including at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February. She had 21 top-10 finishes before winning.

Seven-time winner Ariya tied for 24th after a 70. She joined the predominantly Asian crowd to follow her older sister's final holes, crying as Moriya two-putted to close out the win.

Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam were the first sisters to win on the LPGA Tour.

Hall of Famer Inbee Park shot a 68 to tie for second with Jin Young Ko (70).

Park had opportunities, but she wasn't able to put pressure on Jutanugarn playing in the final threesome. However, Park will return to No. 1 in the world when the rankings come out Monday, knocking off top-ranked Shenshen Fang, who tied for 12th.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Jutanugarn began the final round with a two-shot lead and never wavered in fulfilling the potential she first displayed as the LPGA Rookie of the Year in 2013. After a birdie at the second hole, she reeled off nine consecutive pars before sinking birdie putts at 12 and 13.

She overcame a tee shot that narrowly missed going out of bounds for another birdie at 15 to lead by three.

Jutanugarn ran into trouble on the par-4 16th. Her approach landed on the green and rolled off it, stopping inches from dropping into a bunker. Her chip shot ran well past the hole and her par putt just missed catching the edge of the cup. That left her with a short putt for bogey, her first in her previous 28 holes, trimming her lead to two shots.

Ko's tee shot on 18 landed about 4 feet from the hole, giving her a chance to cut Jutanugarn's lead to one shot with the Thai facing a long birdie attempt.

But Ko missed, leaving Jutanugarn room to maneuver. Her birdie putt came up a couple feet short, but she calmly parred the hole to win. Ariya rushed onto the green and joined others in emptying water bottles on her sister before they embraced.

So Yeon Ryu (68) finished fourth at 7 under. American Emma Talley (67) and Eun-Hee Ji (71) tied for fifth at 6 under, making Ji one of four South Koreans to place in the top five.

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After Further Review: Tour players embracing new ideas

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 1:26 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On players embracing new ideas on the PGA Tour ...

PGA Tour players are trying to tell commissioner Jay Monahan something: They like new.

In the second year of the two-man team format at the Zurich Classic, 10 of the top 14 players in the world have signed up, including all four reigning major champions. It’s the first time all four have been in the same field since the Tour Championship. If the laid-back event offered world-ranking points – it doesn’t, and that’s part of the appeal – the winner would have received 62 points. That’s the same as the Genesis Open.

Sure, some sponsor obligations are involved in boosting the field here, but there’s no other way to look at this: Today’s PGA Tour players are not only willing to play events that are a departure from the 72-hole, stroke-play norm. They’re encouraging it. - Ryan Lavner

On Moriya Jutanugarn's breakthrough win ...

As much love as there is between the Jutanugarn sisters, it couldn’t have been easy for Moriya, watching her baby sister, Ariya, soar past her as one of the LPGA’s dominant stars the last few years. Mo, though, never betrayed an inkling of frustration or envy.

That’s what made Mo’s breakthrough LPGA victory Sunday at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open especially meaningful for everyone who has admired Mo’s devotion to her sister. Mo was always a fixture, waiting in the wings to celebrate whenever Ariya hoisted a trophy.

So emotions were high late Sunday, with Ariya waiting in the wings this time, with Ariya sobbing in Mo’s arms after the victory was secured. It was heartwarming for more than Apple, the mother who raised these talented, loving sisters. As always, Apple was there, too, soaking both her daughters in tears of joy. – Randall Mell

On the tough scheduling decisions facing the PGA Tour ...

According to multiple sources, officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation on Monday.

While this is good news for the folks in Fort Worth, Texas, who were in danger of finding themselves on the wrong side of timing, there remain some tough decisions to be made in the next few weeks.

If the PGA Tour’s plan is to end its season before Labor Day beginning in 2019, something must give. Currently, the Houston Open, a staple on Tour since 1946, and The National are without sponsors. When the music stops in a few weeks and the circuit announces the ’19 schedule, there’s a good chance one, or both, of those events will be the victims of bad timing. – Rex Hoggard

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Triplett hole-out wins Legends of Golf playoff

By Associated PressApril 23, 2018, 12:12 am

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Kirk Triplett holed out from a bunker for birdie on the first playoff hole Sunday in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf to lift himself and partner Paul Broadhurst past Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman.

''Well, you're trying to make it, but you know realistically it doesn't go in very often,'' Triplett said. ''You're trying to give your partner a free run at it. You don't want to hit it up there 20 feet past or do something silly. I'm just trying to hit it the right distance and get it on the right line.''

Langer and Lehman took it in stride.

''You kind of learn to expect it,'' Lehman said. ''These guys out here are so good and Kirk Triplett is a magician around the greens. The odds of making that shot are probably not good, but you certainly expect him to hit a great shot and he did and it went in.''

Lehman and Langer missed birdie putts after Triplett holed out.

''I kind of felt like we both hit pretty good putts, misread them, both of them,'' Lehman said. ''I hit mine probably too hard and Bernhard's was too soft, but you have to hand it to the guys who hit the shot when they have to hit it.''

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

Broadhurst and Triplett closed with a 6-under 48 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to match Langer and Lehman at 24 under. Langer and Lehman had a 47, playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

The 56-year-old Triplett won his sixth PGA Tour Champions title.

''That's a big roller-coaster - three good shots and mine, right?'' Triplett said. ''I'm feeling a little dejected walking down that fairway there, a little sheepish. To knock it in it just reminds you, this game, you know, crazy stuff.''

Broadhurst claimed his third senior victory.

''I don't get too emotional, but that was something special,'' the 52-year-old Englishman said.

Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal had a 48 to tie for third with 2017 winners Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco. Singh and Franco, the third-round leaders, shot 50.

Mark Calcavecchia-Woody Austin (48), John Daly-Michael Allen (49), Steve Stricker-Jerry Kelly (50) and David Toms-Steve Flesch (52) tied for fifth at 20 under.

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Mullinax (T-2) comes up short of maiden win

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:06 am

The Valero Texas Open saw an unheralded player break through to earn a maiden victory, but unfortunately for Trey Mullinax his day will have to wait.

Mullinax started the final round within a shot of the lead, having fired a course-record 62 during the final round. He trailed Andrew Landry by one shot for much of the final round while racking up six birdies over his first 11 holes, but a pair of late miscues meant the former Alabama standout had to settle for a share of second place, two shots behind Landry.

A final-round 69 marked a career-best finish for Mullinax, who is playing this season on conditional status and whose lone prior top-10 this season came after he Monday qualified for the Valspar Championship.

"I know my game's there, I'm playing really well," Mullinax told reporters. "Give all credit to Andrew, he played really well today, rocksteady. He was putting great, hitting great shots."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Given time to reflect, the 26-year-old will likely look back on the final two holes where nerves appeared to get the best of him. Looking to put some pressure on Landry, Mullinax chunked his pitch on the short 17th hole into a greenside bunker, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course.

Then Mullinax was unable to convert a 9-foot birdie putt on the final green, which would have forced Landry to make his 8-foot par putt to avoid a playoff. Afforded the luxury of two putts for the win, Landry rolled in his par save to cement a two-shot win.

"Made a bad bogey on 17, but just you've got to hit some bad shots," Mullinax said. "Would have liked to have got the putt on 18 to fall to put a little bit of heat on him, but this experience that I'm gaining right now is just going to help me down the road."