Muirfield contenders show difficulty in winning majors

By Rex HoggardJuly 24, 2013, 6:00 pm

It’s not easy. Never was. Tiger Woods just lulled the collective into thinking that winning major championships was as natural as slipping on a red golf shirt.

That’s what happens when you win 14 of your first 46 majors, a .304 clip that made surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 major championships a foregone conclusion. Since 2008, however, Woods has posted an 0-for-17 mark in the big events.

Maybe the rank and file around Woods raised its game, maybe it’s a confidence thing – we’ll leave such esoteric questions to the armchair analyst. What is not up for debate is the degree of difficulty involved when a major hangs in the balance – whether you’re vying for your first or 15th.

Look no further than Muirfield and last Sunday’s gloomy final round when the top three players on the leaderboard to begin the final lap carded a closing-round average of 74.6.

Woods three-putted the first and fourth holes to sign for a 74, while Lee Westwood, two shots clear of the field to begin the final round, slipped out of the lead with three bogeys before the turn and sealed his fate with a bogey at the 13th on his way to a 75 and another tie for third.

Or maybe Hunter Mahan is a better case study. Mahan was tied for second place with Woods to begin the last 18 at the Open Championship, only to bogey three of his first six holes on his way to a tie for ninth.

For the second consecutive major Sunday, Mahan set out in the final group only to sign for another 75, the same score he posted on the last day at Merion. Yet where some see disappointment, Mahan embraces development. For the vast majority the road to Grand Slam glory is littered with failure; everyone knows that, even Woods.

“He said it best; when he came off the golf course at the U.S. Open they asked him if this was a letdown? And Hunter said, ‘I came into today knowing I could win and I leave today knowing I can win,’” said Sean Foley, the swing coach for all three Sunday contenders. “The only thing that will ever teach a player that is the experience. Until they see it for themselves it doesn’t really matter.”

No one knows that better than Westwood, who has finished in the top three at all four majors – call it the Show Slam. Through three rounds, however, Muirfield had all the markings of being his time.

About a month ago, Westwood began working with Foley. Nothing dramatic, “it’s not golf swing, it’s been about posture and dynamic loading. I don’t think I will ever do much to change his swing,” Foley said of one of the game’s perennially best ball-strikers.

Westwood also recently teamed with Ian Baker-Finch to improve his putting, a potent combination that lifted him to first in the field in total putts last week.

Maybe even more compelling was how relaxed the Englishman was even as the questions mounted as he inched closer to that elusive first major.

“I'm not in a high-pressure situation, because I'm going to go have dinner, and I'm so good with a knife and fork now that I don't feel any pressure at all,” Westwood smiled on the eve of the final round.

Westwood’s son, Sam, was with him last week on the East Lothian coast. The only other time the 12-year-old joined his father on the road was at the 2012 Nordea Masters, which Westwood won by five strokes.

“It’s helped having Sam along,” said Westwood’s manager with International Sports Management, Chubby Chandler. “Everything is perspective and good balance. It’s the youthful innocence of a 12-year-old.”

In practical terms, there was nothing to suggest this wasn’t Westwood’s time. But then golf, particularly the Grand Slam variety, eschews scripts. If something feels too good to be true, it probably is.

It’s why just one of the last eight 54-hole leaders at a major (Rory McIlroy at last year’s PGA Championship being the lone exception) has gone on to win, and why neither pedigrees nor sense of purpose assures success no matter how perfectly the stars seems aligned.

Late last Saturday an argument could be made that there wasn’t a better time for any of the top three contenders at Muirfield. Woods’ ball-striking and game plan seemed perfectly suited for the brown and bouncy links, Westwood’s putting and perspective made him the sentimental favorite, while Mahan’s resume suggested he’d completed his due diligence and was, well, due.

History, however, is littered with players who were one bad bounce away from Grand Slam glory. The simple truth is, it was never easy, no matter how effortless Woods made it look.

But it’s also a fact that there’s nothing wrong with Woods, Westwood or Mahan that the next major can’t fix.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain fired a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

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Local favorite Yu Liu was in sole possession of seventh place after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

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"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.