Wells Fargo is anyone's for the taking

By Rex HoggardMay 7, 2017, 12:00 am

WILMINGTON, N.C. – The uncertainty of a new venue this year at the Wells Fargo Championship has given way to an entirely different kind of uncertainty.

After three blustery days at Eagle Point Golf Club, Patrick Reed wrested himself away from the pack thanks to a pair of closing birdies to take a one-stroke lead over Jon Rahm and Alex Noren.

But that’s just the leading edge of the traffic jam that’s formed at the Wells Fargo Championship.

All told, there are 28 players at or within five shots of the lead entering the final round, a group that includes world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.

“Not many,” Reed said when asked if he’d ever played in an event with so much congestion heading into the final frame. “Normally a couple guys separate themselves from the pack, but it’s just going to mean it's going to be more fun on Sunday.”

Fortune plays a role in every event. Sometimes you get the game’s best in a photo finish, sometimes you get a six-hole playoff that ends in the dark between two players your average golf fan couldn’t pick off a tee sheet.

This week’s dynamics, however, feel fortunately contrived considering the tournament’s vagabond existence the last 12 months.

Uprooted from its historic home at Quail Hollow Club, where the tournament had been played since it began in 2003, to make room for the PGA Championship in Charlotte later this summer, there was a general sense of unpredictability to the event’s cameo on the North Carolina coast.

Eagle Point was an unknown element at an event that had made a name for itself by identifying champions from the top of the game’s marquee. From Tiger Woods (2007) to Rory McIlroy (2010 and ’15), Quail Hollow delivered power players whose aura exceeded the sum of their games.

How Eagle Point measures up will ultimately be decided on Sunday, but for 54 holes a clearer, albeit difficult to define, picture has emerged.

Among the front-runners there is an eclectic mix of long and short, calculated and cavalier.

Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, photos and videos

From newcomer Rahm, who is second in the field in driving distance this week with a 304-yard average, to Noren, who ranks 48th off the tee at a 282-yard clip; to Zac Blair, first in strokes gained: putting, to Francesco Molinari, who is second in greens in regulation, there is no rhyme to Eagle Point’s reason.

“We don’t play that many courses out here where we get the conditions like this where the greens are really firm,” said Blair, who is in a large group tied for eighth place at 5 under par. “You have to hit good golf shots. You just can’t hit it right next to the pin and it will stop right next to it. You have to think about it a little bit.”

Blair compared Eagle Point to Harbour Town Golf Links, the cozy confines that hosts the RBC Heritage, and the need to be precise with any shot, be it a full iron or a chip, into the pitched putting surfaces.

But then the most often used comparison this week is Augusta National, which seems grossly unfair but apropos nonetheless.

“When you look from the green back to the tee box, it looks exactly like Augusta,” said Mickelson, who rallied with a 69 on Day 3 to move into a tie for 14th at 4 under. “I mean, Augusta's Augusta, there's nothing like it, but this has a lot of the same visuals and a lot of the same shots.”

Given the ability to dial Augusta National in for dramatic finishes year after year, that’s a good sign for Eagle Point and the overcrowded cast assembled atop the leaderboard.

So far Eagle Point has delivered, bringing together one of the year’s most eclectic leaderboards with the most unique of qualities. While the vast majority of PGA Tour stops reward power over everything else, the Tom Fazio design allows for a more a la carte focus of divergent games.

“I think the biggest thing is a lot of the holes you can hit driver, but for the long hitters it's probably not the smartest play so they're having to kind of play it back to some yardages,” said Reed, whose 67 tied for the low round of the day. “With how the wind's blowing, longer hitters normally hit it higher in the air so the ball's going to be more affected. The guys that don't hit it as far can flight it a little bit.”

Whatever the elements of Eagle Point’s layout that reward equal parts power and precision, it’s certainly proven itself a worthy understudy of Quail Hollow and set the stage for a wildly uncertain Sunday.

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

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JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.

Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.

“It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.

Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.

Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.

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

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

But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.

“He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”

Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.