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International stars fail to shine on Day 1

By Rex HoggardSeptember 29, 2017, 12:01 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Officials rerouted Liberty National for this week’s Presidents Cup, moving the picturesque closing hole up in the lineup to No. 14 in order to assure matches reached the signature par 4.

At the rate things are going for the International team, just making it to the re-designated 14th will be a challenge. The day’s opening foursomes match ended on No. 14, a 6-and-4 rout for the American tandem of Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas over Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel.

Moments later, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed finished off the wildly over matched pair of Si Woo Kim and Emiliano Grillo, 5 and 4, at the 14th hole.

It wasn’t the start International captain Nick Price envisioned, but it’s not as though he hasn’t been here before.

The U.S. has now won its 27th consecutive session, a streak that stretches back to Day 3 of the 2005 matches, and will take a 3 ½-to-1 ½-point lead into Friday’s fourball matches.

After those two early blowouts, things got better for Price’s crew, but only slightly.

Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas at least pushed the U.S. duo of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar to the 18th hole only to drop a 1-up decision.

It’s as regular as the Staten Island ferry at the PGA Tour’s biennial member-member; captains and competitors talk of how evenly matched the two teams are and yet as soon as meaningful shots start to fly it’s largely only American flags that find their way to the leaderboard.

Foursomes isn’t the International team’s forte, observers note. The format, which features 30 available points, doesn’t favor the Rest of the World’s top-heavy lineup, the reasoning goes.

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Valid concerns, to be sure, but it ignores the central elephant in the International team room.

For the last decade the Rest of the World’s best and brightest have largely been a bust at the biennial event.

On Thursday at blustery Liberty National, the International side needed better from their big guns. All told, Matsuyama, Jason Day and Marc Leishman – the team’s top three ranked players – went winless on Day 1, with the two Australians halving a sloppy duel with Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this - the International team, which is mired in a 1-9-1 slump, struggles from the top down – with the notable exception of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, who are 5-0-0 in the last two Presidents Cup as partners.

Matsuyama, the side’s top-ranked player, is now 3-5-2 in the matches and managed to make just two birdies on Day 1 on his way to the session’s most lopsided loss.

“I think he still may be reeling a little bit from the PGA [where Matsuyama tied for fifth place] and that. And also he's had such a huge year,” Price said of his Japanese star. “I think he's probably a little tired but he played so well in the practice rounds.”

To be fair, Thomas and Fowler were a combined 4 under par through 14 holes against Matsuyama and Schwartzel, which was the alternate-shot equivalent of a format haymaker; but tired or not it just wasn’t enough for a team that has proven incapable of coming from behind.

Scott wasn’t any better.

The Australian has seven cups etched into his bag this week, one for each match he’s played and the most of any active player, and they are all half empty and hopelessly beyond the benefit of perspective.

Scott, who endured perhaps his most inconsistent season on Tour in 2017 and has a 13-18-5 record in the matches, has lost with Stuart Appleby as a partner, Retief Goosen, K.J. Choi, Geoff Ogilvy and Ernie Els. On Thursday, it was Vegas, a Presidents Cup rookie, along for the walk; but it was Scott who looked like the first-year player with shots like the one he hit on No. 10, a chippie 7-iron that sailed long and into a hazard that led to the U.S. team tying the match.

Although Day and Leishman, ranked seventh and 16th in the world, respectively, appeared to be Price’s strongest duo, they failed to play like it down the stretch.

Day found the water with his tee shot at the 12th hole, missed an 8-footer for par at the 17th hole that would have won the match, mis-hit his tee shot short of the 18th green and didn’t touch the hole with his 18-footer for par at the last for the halve.

Some might say the Australians ran into the better team, but that ignores the fact that Kisner and Mickelson failed to make a birdie on the closing nine. Some might say the International core simply got beat by better play, but that ignores years of history.

Earlier this week Ernie Els, one of Price’s four assistants, was asked what it would take for the International team to do what they haven’t done since Bill Clinton occupied the White House – win.

“There’s always a core of guys that have to play well, there’s always quality guys on the team, I would say five guys and we need points from those guys and they are going to have the toughest matches,” Els said. “We need points from our star players.”

Els, a lock to captain his own International team someday, wasn’t calling anyone out, but we all know who those stars are and they know what they must do on Friday to keep this from being another blowout.

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Minjee Lee birdies 18 to win on her birthday

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:59 pm

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Minjee Lee birdied the 18th hole Sunday for a one-stroke victory over In-Kyung Kim at the LPGA Volvik Championship.

Lee, who turned 22 on Sunday, three-putted for a bogey on No. 17, dropping into a tie with Kim, who finished her round around the same time. So Lee needed a birdie to win on 18, a reachable par 5. Her second shot landed a few feet to the right of the green, and she calmly chipped to about 3 feet

She made the putt to finish at 4-under 68 and 16 under for the tournament. It was the Australian standout's fourth career victory and first since 2016.

Kim (67) shot a 32 on the back nine and birdied No. 18, but it wasn't enough to force a playoff at Travis Pointe Country Club.

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Spieth: Improvement is 'right around the corner'

By Al TaysMay 27, 2018, 10:50 pm

Not that Dallas native Jordan Spieth didn't enjoy the two-week home game that is the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Fort Worth Invitational - he certainly did. But he's eager to get out of town, too.

"It was a great showing these last couple weeks by the fans," Spieth said after closing with a 2-under 68, a 5-under total and a T-32 finish. "Obviously extremely appreciative here in DFW. Wish I could do more. These couple weeks can be a bit taxing, and it's awesome to kind of have that support to carry you through.

"So, you know, I had a great time these couple weeks on and off the golf course as I always do, but I'm also really excited to kind of get out of town and kind of be able to just go back to the room and have nothing to do at night except for get ready to play the next day."

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Spieth will have that experience this coming week in Dublin, Ohio, site of the Memorial. He's hopeful of improving on his T-21, T-32 finishes the past two weeks, and he thinks the main thing holding him back - his putting - is ready for a turnaround.

"I think good things are about to come," he said. "I feel a good run coming for the second half of the season. Today was - each day I've felt better and better with the wedges and the putter and the short game; today was no different. My only bogey being just kind of trying to do too much on a par-5; 3-wood into the hazard.

"So, you know, I'm getting into where I'm not making bogeys, and then soon - the not making bogeys is great, and soon I'll get back to the five, six birdies around and shoot some low rounds.

"So I know it's right around the corner."

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Broadhurst fires 63 to easily win Senior PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:45 pm

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Paul Broadhurst shot an 8-under 63 on Sunday to win the Senior PGA Championship by four strokes and match the best 72-hole score in tournament history.

The 52-year-old Englishman finished at 19-under 265 at Harbor Shores for his second senior major victory. The 63 was the best fourth-round score by a winner. Rocco Mediate also shot 19 under at Harbor Shores in 2016.

Also the 2016 British Senior Open winner, Broadhurst led the field with 26 birdies and passed third-round Tim Petrovic and Mark McCarron with a 4-under 31 on the back nine.

Petrovic was second after a 69. McCarron had a 70 to tie for third at 14 under with Jerry Kelly (65).

Broadhurst earned a career-high $585,000 for his fourth PGA Tour Champions victory. He won six times on the European Tour and has three European Senior Tour victories.

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Sunday rule proves no advantage for BYU at NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerMay 27, 2018, 10:06 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – For all the kvetching about the advantage BYU would gain by not playing on Sunday with the other teams at the NCAA Championship, one small thing was conveniently forgotten.

What happens if the Cougars were actually disadvantaged?

That’s what appears to have happened here at Karsten Creek.

Because the Mormon-run school prohibits athletics on Sunday, the NCAA accommodated BYU using its “Sunday Play” rule for the first time in the match-play era. (It was the team’s first NCAA berth since 2006.) That meant that BYU played its practice round last Wednesday, before the start of the final match of the NCAA Women’s Championship. The next day, the Cougars played their Sunday round – the third round of stroke-play qualifying – a half hour after the other 29 teams completed their practice round.

Some coaches grumbled about the issue of competitive fairness: What if BYU played in calm conditions for its third round on Thursday, while everybody else competed in rain and 30-mph winds come Sunday?

BYU coach Bruce Brockbank has been on the NCAA competition committee for the past four years, but even he was curious about how it would all play out.

For the practice round, the NCAA informed the Cougars that they needed to be off the course by 1:30 p.m. local time, a little more than a half hour before the start of the women’s final between Arizona and Alabama. All six players got a look at the course in 5 hours and 30 minutes – or an hour and 15 minutes less than the official Thursday practice round – and needed to run between shots on the 17th and 18th holes to finish on time.

Brockbank tried to prepare his players for what they would face Thursday. It’s a different experience without a playing marker – not seeing another shot affected by the wind, not watching another ball break on the greens, not falling into a rhythm with pace – but perhaps no amount of simulated rounds would have helped.

Playing as singles, with only a rules official and a walking scorer by its side, BYU began its NCAA Championship at 4 p.m. local time Thursday. The Cougars got in only a few holes before the horn sounded to suspend play. It turned out to be a two-hour weather delay, and players slapped it around a sloppy, soggy course until dark, with their last single on the 11th hole.

They returned the next morning, at 6:55, and wrapped up their round in an hour and a half before turning around for another 18.

Their final tally? They shot 24-over 312 – easily the worst third-round score of any team.

“We obviously didn’t handle it very well,” Brockbank said, “but it definitely wasn’t an advantage.”

BYU rebounded the next two rounds, with scores of 298-286, putting the team squarely inside the top-15 cut line.

“And six or seven hours,” he said, “we were right there with the best teams in the country.”

But then the third-round scores got posted, and it was clear that they had no chance of advancing past the 54-hole cut.

“It was pretty frustrating to watch our guys,” he said. “We just didn’t handle it very well.”

The same was true for the team’s best player, senior Patrick Fishburn. With just the first and second round counting, Fishburn (67-72) was in a tie for second, one shot off the individual lead, heading into Sunday. Then his third-round 78 from Thursday was posted, and he tumbled down the leaderboard, needing help just to advance to the final round of stroke-play qualifying.

“I’d rather have it this way,” Brockbank said. “If we had shot 5 under par and everyone else is over par, I don’t want to hear that wrath. The coaches wouldn’t put up with that. The fact that we’re not a factor, it’ll go away. But if the day did go well, it would have been a different story.”

Still, it was a strange dynamic Sunday, as a team competing in the NCAA Championship never even made it to the course – Brockbank preferred that the guys stay away from Karsten Creek, if only for appearances.

They went to a local church for three hours, then ate lunch and retired to the team hotel, where they watched TV and studied and played chess. Fishburn has another round to play Monday, but he didn’t even hit balls.

“I don’t think he’s even concerned about that – it’s just a nice, quiet Sabbath day,” Brockbank said. “But as a coach, it’s definitely a little odd.”