Major pressure at season's final major

By Rex HoggardAugust 7, 2013, 4:51 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – If every major has its own personality – from Augusta National’s first-day-of-school feel to the Open Championship’s wind-whipped simplicity – the PGA Championship has a distinct 2-minute drill persona.

Although officials have ditched “Glory’s Last Shot” for the more obtuse “The Season’s Last Major,” the PGA, by definition, is the metaphorical last call for those in search of Grand Slam glory. No one knows that better than Tiger Woods.

He lapped the field last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by a touchdown for his fifth victory this season and his 18th World Golf Championship. But 18 WGC trophies hasn’t been the mission since he set out on his historic quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

The symmetry of Woods’ major slump dovetails with the urgency normally associated with the season’s final title bout. If the world No. 1 comes up short at Oak Hill he will move to 0-for-18 since his last major victory.

PGA Championship: Articles, videos and photos

For Woods, 14 is starting to feel like the loneliest number.

“It's been probably the longest spell that I've had since I hadn't won a major championship,” Woods said. “I came out here very early and got my first one back in ’97. I've had, certainly, my share of chances to win. I've had my opportunities there on the back nine on probably half of those Sundays for the last five years where I've had a chance, and just haven't won it.”

As Woods has matured, he’s become adept at taking the long view. The underlying theme when he and swing coach Sean Foley began working together wasn’t to create a swing that could win four more majors, but one that would allow him to play in 40 more, and since he beat Rocco Mediate in ’08 at Torrey Pines he has finished in the top 10 (nine times) more often than not in his major starts.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Sunday’s finish at Oak Hill is very much a hard deadline that is followed by eight long months before the game motors down Magnolia Lane for the next Grand Slam gathering.

By comparison, sleeping on a 54-hole lead is a slumber party.

In fairness, Woods is hardly the only player in this week’s field on a major deadline.

Following one of his best major seasons, Lee Westwood spent the better part of Tuesday at Oak Hill working with Foley. It is a curious twist when the Englishman spends the hours before a major working on his ball-striking and not his short game, but such is the state of his game and his desire to shed the label of best player without a major.

“A win is the pinnacle of results,” Westwood said. “You can't really go into tournaments with that as a goal. You're going to end up disappointed a lot. So the idea is to play the best you can and give yourself a chance on Sunday going into the back nine and just see what happens.”

Rory McIlroy, the defending PGA champion, is also on the clock. The golf world has waited for the Ulsterman to wrest himself out of his competitive doldrums for the lion’s share of the season and for many reasons Oak Hill may be his last chance to salvage what has otherwise been a lost year.

While there is still meaningful golf to be played – the FedEx Cup playoffs begin in a fortnight and Europe’s playoff run gets underway later this year – Oak Hill is very much a last stand, with unique pressures that the rest of golf’s marquee are largely immune to.

World No. 2 Phil Mickelson, for example, is two weeks removed from arguably his greatest competitive moment at Muirfield, where he collected the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Ditto for world No. 4 Justin Rose (U.S. Open) and No. 5 Adam Scott (Masters), who both got on the Grand Slam board in 2013.

As Woods explained on Tuesday, “winning one major championship automatically means you had a great year. Even if you miss the cut in every tournament you play in; you win one, you're part of history.”

Conversely, collecting five titles – particularly the quality wins Woods has piled up – is hardly a reason to hit the panic button, but when you’ve won 14 majors the bar tends to rest unreasonably high.

Oak Hill, of course, is the great unknown. In 2003, the last time the PGA was played on the upstate gem, Shaun Micheel stunned the golf world, clipping Chad Campbell with one of the greatest walk-off shots in golf (a 7-iron to inches at the 72nd hole).

On this history is not on Woods or Westwood’s side. At the ’03 PGA, Woods missed nearly as many fairways as he hit for the week (26 of 56), never broke 72 and tied for 39th, while Westwood managed just one birdie in 36 holes and missed the cut.

“It just puts a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway and hitting the ball on the greens, because there aren't a whole lot of opportunities out there to make birdie, but there's certainly a lot of opportunities to go the other way,” said Woods, who tied for 11th in fairways hit and second in greens in regulation last week at Firestone.

Nor do things seem to be trending statistically in Woods and McIlroy’s favor at the majors. Eighteen of the last 20 major champions were first-time Grand Slam winners, and as Micheel proved a decade ago Oak Hill is not adverse to surprise champions.

Among the growing list of players destined for that maiden major would be Brandt Snedeker, who tied for 11th at Muirfield and won the next week in Canada; Matt Kuchar, who has quietly become the United States’ most consistent player; and Henrik Stenson, who has climbed from 230th to 11th in the world thanks to consecutive runner-up finishes at the Open Championship and last week’s World Golf Championship.

Those would-be contenders, however, are not subjected to the urgency-of-now pressures that come with unrealistic expectations. The kind of expectations that Woods, Westwood and McIlroy now face as the clock winds down on the major championship season.

All three still have time to make their major mark in 2013, but as Yankees great Yogi Berra once opined, “It’s getting late early.”

Getty Images

Chamblee comments on Choi's unique step-through swing

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 24, 2018, 3:55 pm

The golf world found itself enamored with a largely unknown journeyman this weekend.

Ho-sung Choi went from 554th in the world to No. 1 in the hearts of all those who swing the golf club just a little bit differently thanks to his run at the Korean Open.

The 44-year-old with the exaggerated step through impact found himself two off the pace through 54 holes and in contention for one of two available invitations to this year's Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Choi fell out of the hunt for tournament title and the Open exemption with a final-round 74, but nonetheless left an impression with his tie for fifth.

Asked about Choi's swing Saturday night, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee offered the following:

"If Chi Chi Rodriguez and Gary Player had a golf school, what would their first professional golfer swing like? Voila," Chamblee said.

"Both those legends had walk through finishes, but Ho Sung has taken this move to a new level with a borderline pirouette to keep from hanging back.

"In an era when professional golfers get accused of having golf swings that all look alike, I’ve never seen anyone swing quite like Ho Sung Choi.

"I can’t wait to try this on the range tomorrow."

Getty Images

Wallace holds off Olesen to win BMW International

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 3:43 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - England's Matt Wallace shot a 7-under 65 to hold off a record-breaking charge from Thorbjorn Olesen and win the BMW International Open on Sunday.

Wallace finished on 10-under 278 - just ahead of Olesen, Mikko Korhonen and 2008 winner Martin Kaymer, whose chances took a blow with a bogey on the 17th hole.

''I want to keep building on this,'' Wallace said after his third European Tour win. ''Obviously this gives me a lot of confidence to go on and play well and I want to kick on and hopefully do this in the bigger events from now on.''

Full-field scores from the BMW International Open

Olesen had played himself into contention with the lowest round in tournament history, with nine birdies and an eagle for an 11-under 61. It was the lowest round of his European Tour career and it gave the Dane a three-shot lead before the final group had even teed off.

''I was just trying today to go out there and build on my game, see if I could shoot a low score,'' Olesen said. ''Obviously as the round progressed I kept on thinking birdies and trying to make the round better. Finishing with four birdies was pretty nice.''

Wallace turned in 34 but then made five birdies in seven holes from the turn to edge a shot past Olesen. He waited as Kaymer and Korhonen went close with rounds of 68 and 67, respectively.

England's Aaron Rai and Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard finished joint-fifth with rounds of 69.

Sunghyun Park (left) and Minchel Choi (right). Getty Images

Choi, Park qualify for Carnoustie from Korean Open

By Nick MentaJune 24, 2018, 2:54 pm

Two players - Minchel Choi and Sanghyun Park - qualified for next month's Open Championship at Carnoustie via the Open Qualifying Series on Sunday.

Choi (69) held off Park (66) to win the Korean Open by two shots.

This was the Qualifying Series debut for the Korean Open, whiched awarded Open Championship exemptions to the tournament's top two finishers inside the top eight and ties who were not already qualified.

Choi, the 532nd-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, punched his ticket in his first professional win.

Park, the 146th in the world, is a six-time Korean Tour champion who has already won twice this season. 

Both players will be making their first ever major starts.

“I am absolutely honored to be playing in The Open and I wanted to win this championship to give me [that] opportunity," Choi said. "I cannot believe that I have won today. I am so happy and excited."

“It is a great honor to have qualified for The Open and make my first appearance in the championship," Park added. "I’ve watched The Open on television every single year and I can’t really believe that I have qualified, it is amazing."

The Open Qualifying Series continues next week at the Open de France, where as many as three exemptions will be awarded to the three leading players inside the top 10 and ties who are not already qualified.

The 147th Open will be held at Carnoustie from July 19-22.

Getty Images

Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.