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Kizzire goes the distance for second win

By Rex HoggardJanuary 15, 2018, 5:49 am

HONOLULU – No matter how talented or determined a player may be, winning is an acquired skill.

Even Tiger Woods needed a few starts (four, actually) after turning pro before he figured out how to win on the PGA Tour. Perhaps a better example would be David Duval, who had played 86 events before he finally broke through at the 1997 Michelob Championship. He would go on to win 13 times, including a major, and ascend to No. 1 in the world.

So when Patton Kizzire broke through after 58 starts in the Big Leagues late last year at the OHL Classic there was always the notion that after two years on Tour as a solid if not somewhat overlooked player he could be poised for something special.

It took him just two more starts to add to his collection, outlasting James Hahn on Sunday at the Sony Open to win the longest playoff in tournament history and end a surreal week that included an erroneous missile threat on Saturday.

Kizzire needed a scrambling par at the final overtime stop, the par-3 17th hole, which seemed about right. In what the champion called a “peculiar week,” it was only apropos that they would need extra frames to crown a winner.

“Today was a battle. I didn't have my best stuff. It was a wild week. It was a wild day,” Kizzire said in his signature southern drawl that didn’t exactly fit in with the hectic final moments.

Full-field scores from the Sony Open in Hawaii

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Kizzire, who became the season’s first two-time winner, could have won the event outright with a 17-footer for birdie at the 72nd hole. He didn’t. He would also miss birdie attempts from 18 feet (75th hole) and 24 feet (77th hole) that would have sealed the victory, before he finally rolled in the game winner.

Hahn had his own list of potential walk-offs he could lament.

Hahn, whose previous two victories both came in playoffs, also failed to convert an 18-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole, an 11-footer at the first playoff hole, a 17-footer at the third and a 9-footer at the ninth. Ultimately, it was a missed 9-footer for par at the sixth playoff hole that sealed his fate and promised to make the next few days an experiment in revisionist history.

“I played good enough to win, but I didn't,” said Hahn, who started the day six strokes off the lead held by Tom Hoge but shot a week’s-best 62 to finish at 17 under and force overtime. “If I'm not coming out of the room with the trophy, it really feels like I was defeated out there. I mean, I had a putt to win it. I'm going to be playing that over and over and over again.”

For players like Hahn, and Kizzire, the pain of losing almost always outweighs the joy of winning. It’s the nature of the game.

“I'd rather lose by 100 than lose by one [stroke]. I'd rather miss the cut than lose in a playoff. It just doesn't sit well with me,” Hahn reasoned.

For Kizzire, however, winning took some time. It always has.

On the Tour in 2015, he endured a pair of runner-up finishes before he finally broke through, in a playoff no less, 20 starts into his career on the secondary circuit.

Although he didn’t need extra holes, Kizzire’s victory in Mexico was just as stressful as his triumph in Hawaii. He took a one-stroke lead over Rickie Fowler into the final round and matched him stroke-for-stroke to win by the same margin.

“That was big for me to come out on top and to know that I can do it and to see myself do it,” said Kizzire, whose closing 68 included nine consecutive pars to begin his day and a hole-out for eagle at the par-4 10th hole to move into the lead. “I used that experience today.”

The flashbacks likely began at the 17th hole in regulation when Kizzire’s tee shot sailed left and he needed to convert from 5 feet to maintain a share of the lead.

There were plenty of moments throughout a hectic day when Kizzire could have succumbed to the pressure, and for all the putts he missed there were just as many crucial attempts he made to keep the playoff going as sunset approached.

For Kizzire, 31, learning how to win was almost as simple as learning that on days like Sunday at Waialae Country Club you don’t always need your best stuff.

“He’d won at every level. He’s just one of those guys who wants to win,” said Todd Anderson, Kizzire’s swing coach. “You can tell the guys who aren’t afraid to say they want it and that’s him.”

And now he wants more after learning, through trial and plenty of error, what it takes to beat the world’s best, even if that means enduring a marathon final round.

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McCarthy wins Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.

Final FedExCup standings

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He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.