Merion stifling cheers at U.S. Open

By Rex HoggardJune 16, 2013, 1:52 am

ARDMORE, Pa. – The USGA must be saving all the roars for Sunday, or maybe golf used up its allotted cheers at April’s Masters.

This much is certain: Through three grinding days at the U.S. Open Merion has proved every bit the grande dame she was 32 years ago when the national championship was last played along Philadelphia’s main line. Or maybe she’s a mercurial librarian considering the hush that fell over the East Course late on a sun-splashed afternoon.

Late Friday, USGA executive director Mike Davis said he imagined Saturday’s delayed third round would bring lower scores. Imagine if Davis & Co. had put Saturday’s pins in the hard spots?

While Merion’s “easy” stretch, Nos. 10-13, played the part, backing up an already congested leaderboard, the winding finish that starts at the 14th proved to be every bit the equalizer, culling the top of the marquee at every turn.

U.S. Open: Articles, videos and photos

When the trailing groups cleared the 13th hole, three players were tied for the lead at 2 under – Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel and Hunter Mahan. By the time dusk settled in over the historic layout just Phil Mickelson remained in red figures. But even Lefty, long love-crossed at his national championship, didn’t feel like celebrating after a bogey at the final hole.

“I need a good score tomorrow. I don't know what number that is, but I do believe I've got an under-par round in me tomorrow even with the difficult pins and the possibly firmer conditions,” said Mickelson, who turns 43 on Sunday.

Mickelson was hardly the only player who stumbled into the scoring trailer. Five of the top six players on the leaderboard made bogey or worse on the final hole, including Donald’s double bogey from a particularly nasty lie short of the green. In fact, the top 15 players played the closer in 14 over par, a foreboding finish for any would-be U.S. Open champion and a harbinger of things to come.

For Schwartzel and Mahan things came apart long before they stepped to the 530-yard 18th. Both bogeyed the final two holes, while Donald suffered a two-stroke swing when Mickelson rolled in a 13-footer at the penultimate hole and the Englishman made bogey.

The USGA says par is of little concern, which would make this week’s grind a happy coincidence of timeless architecture and a retro setup by Davis. A perfect fit for a suddenly subdued Lefty.

A five-time runner-up at the Open, Mickelson arrived in Philly with a game plan that was very un-Mickelson-like. He abandoned his driver – or what passes for a driver in his world – for a 64-degree wedge because, he figured, he could save more strokes with the wedge than with the driver.

The blueprint has worked to perfection through three days.

“He likes this place and he has a good game plan that he could work on in Memphis (at the Fedex St. Jude Classic),” said Mickelson’s swing coach Butch Harmon. “The thing I liked the most is I knew he wasn’t going to try to hit a driver, which, for Phil, is a good thing because you know he isn’t going to try and bomb the thing and hit it 400 yards. He’s had a very good game plan and stuck to that plan.”

In practical terms, that plan was tested early Saturday when he bogeyed two of his first five holes, but he played his closing nine in 3 under before his miscue at the 18th on his way to a third-round 70 and perhaps his best chance to make up for all those Open heartbreaks from Pinehurst to Bethpage.

Mickelson was nearly perfect on the closing loop before his most recent no-driver experiment backfired at the 18th when he hit his 3-wood just 265 yards, some 47 yards short of the iconic Ben Hogan plaque, and 260 yards to the green. He rifled a fairway wood through the green but couldn’t save his par.

That’s not to say the Mickelsons should start planning a combination birthday-Father’s Day-U.S. Open party for Sunday night. Fourteen players are within five strokes of Mickelson, well within the margin of error at this U.S. Open, including part-time player Steve Stricker (T-2), Donald (T-5) and Justin Rose (T-5).

Following Saturday, when Merion played nearly 4 1/2 strokes over par and just six players posted rounds in the 60s, a one-stroke – or even five-stroke – advantage is a statistical dead heat, a competitive reality that somewhat mitigated the sting of Donald’s closing double bogey.

“Through 16 holes, I could have been 4 or 5 under and really was playing as good a golf as I played for a while,” said Donald, who closed with a 71 and was in a three-way tie for fifth at 1 over. “I was pretty much in control of my ball and I'll forget about those two holes and carry on tomorrow.”

Two high-profile players who likely won’t be in that mix on Sunday are world Nos. 1 and 2, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who struggled  to rounds of 76 and 75, respectively, and will tee off on Sunday more than two hours before Mickelson.

For Woods, the problem has been too many missed putts; while McIlroy has had to play too many shots from the hay.

“It is certainly frustrating because I was feeling like I was playing well this week and I just didn't make the putts I needed to make,” Woods said. “The first two days, I had like three three-putts and I was four shots off the lead, and I missed a boatload of putts within 10 feet. So I really wasn't that far off.”

At Merion, being not “that far off” is all it takes, which explains the subdued masses that flocked to the East Course for Round 3 and sets the stage for what will likely be a silent Sunday.

At this U.S. Open they don’t cheer pars, only champions.

Getty Images

Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

Getty Images

Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.

Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.

''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''

The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.

''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''

Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''

Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.

''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''

The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.

''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 move on to the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Getty Images

After Further Review: American success stories

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 8:35 pm

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

On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...

Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.

After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.

Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray

On the resurgence of American women  ...

American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.

The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell

Getty Images

In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.




Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

Kang did.

“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”