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One year after 59, Thomas a more confident champion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 11, 2018, 12:56 am

HONOLULU – In some sports, it’s called "the zone," that mode where the mind lets go and the artist takes over.

At last year’s Sony Open, Justin Thomas spent four days fearlessly rewriting the record books on his way to a commanding victory that completed the Aloha Slam following his triumph at the year’s first event in Maui.

Thomas’ statistical line from the ’17 Sony Open is filthy. He became the eighth player to shoot a sub-60 round on the PGA Tour on Day 1, then set 36- and 72-hole Tour scoring records (he only tied the circuit’s 54-hole record). He went wire-to-wire and won by seven strokes.

It was effortless, flawless and, yes, maybe even a little mindless, particularly for a player who freely admits that there are weeks on Tour when his mind is consumed by all the things sports psychologists say are performance killers.

Weeks like last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where Thomas finished 22nd out of 34 players.

“When I was in 30th place last week, I wasn't exactly feeling great. I'm being perfectly honest. It's such a weird game. I was embarrassed,” he admitted on Wednesday at Waialae Country Club. “I was just in a very emotional state last week, and there's weeks that I'm like that, and there's weeks that I'm not. Obviously, I want to get rid of it, but just every little thing really just pissed me off.”

Thomas would never be considered stoic, and he is one of the circuit’s most out-going players on social media; it stands to reason that there is a correlation between his play and the natural ebb and flow of his emotions.

Last year’s opening round in Honolulu is perhaps the most obvious example.

Thomas began his day with an eagle at the par-4 10th hole and made the turn at 6 under par. He added birdies at Nos. 1 and 2 and arrived at the par-5 ninth, his last hole of the day, needing an eagle to shoot 59.

From 14 feet, Thomas calmly rolled in the eagle attempt and then froze.

Sony Open in Hawaii: Articles, photos and videos

“I didn't really know what to do because I've never had a putt on Thursday that meant that much,” he said. “I didn't know how to react, and I didn't know what to do. I was more worried about trying to make the putt than anything.”

By comparison, Jordan Spieth, who was paired with Thomas for that historic round, began jumping around the green and high-fiving everyone in the group, which included Daniel Berger.

“I might have fist pumped harder than he did,” Spieth said. “I think he was kind of in the zone. I don't think he knew where he was at the time.”

To the point, it’s telling that Thomas’ recollections of that round are largely generalized, with his highlights limited to his eagle putt at the ninth and the celebration that followed. Spieth, who shot 65 that day, can offer a slightly more detailed analysis.

“The most surprising thing was that I was like a stroke and a half or something better tee to green than he was that round, and I got beat by like seven shots,” Spieth laughed.

For the record, Spieth’s proximity to the hole for the first round at Waialae last year was 18 feet, 4 inches, compared to Thomas’ 25 feet, 7 inches.

But that’s left-brain stuff, and that’s not Thomas. When he’s playing his best, like he did for the vast majority of last season, Thomas is more artist than alchemist.

In many ways, his learning about what produces his best golf was a big part of his breakthrough in 2017, when he won his first major at the PGA Championship and collected both the Player of the Year Award and FedExCup.

Thomas can be intense, and after watching players like Spieth, his contemporary growing up, enjoy early success at the highest level, Thomas had a tendency to press the issue. Last season, however, he emerged a more patient player.

“I know that I don't have to go out and play this perfect round,” he said. “I know that if I go shoot 1 under the first round at this tournament, that I still have a chance to win. I know that I'm not going to win every tournament.”

Thomas is hardly unique on this front. Most young players not named Spieth go through a learning process, but few emerge with as much momentum as JT did last year following his Hawaiian sweep.

It’s not a stretch to consider Thomas’ Sony Open victory a pivotal point in his development into a quieter and more confident champion.

“It was a new way of winning for me,” he said. “It was playing with that big of a lead, just having the opportunity to break records like this. It really was just kind of a week of almost being unconscious.”

Some would call that the zone.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.

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Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 12:10 am

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

(Note: Group winners are highlighted; * equals won in playoff)

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-3-0 (2) J. Thomas: 3-0-0 (3) J. Rahm: 0-2-1 (4) J. Spieth: 2-1-0
(32) K. Kisner: 2-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 2-1-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat: 3-0-0 (19) P. Reed: 3-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 1-0-2
(48) P. Kizzire: 1-2-0 (43) C. Reavie: 1-1-1 (34) H. Li: 0-3-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-1-1
(60) L. List: 0-3-0 (63) K. Bradley: 0-1-2 (49) C. Schwartzel: 1-2-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-2-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 1-2-0 (7) S. Garcia: 3-0-0 (8) J. Day: 1-2-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 2-1-0
(18) B. Harman: 2-0-1 (20) X. Schauffele: 2-1-0 (25) L. Oosthuizen: 2-1-0
(46) C. Smith: 2-0-1 (44) J. Vegas: 0-2-1 (41) D. Frittelli: 1-2-0 (42) J. Dufner: 2-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-2-1 (51) P. Uihlein: 2-1-0 (62) S. Sharma: 0-3-0 (56) J. Hahn: 1-2-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 2-1-0 (10) P. Casey: 2-1-0 (11) M. Leishman: 0-2-1 (12) T. Hatton: 2-1-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-3-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick: 1-2-0 (23) B. Grace: 1-1-1 (22) C. Hoffman: 1-2-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-2-0 (45) K. Stanley: 2-1-0 (35) B. Watson: 2-0-1 (36) B. Steele: 2-1-0
(58) I. Poulter: 3-0-0 (51) R. Henley: 1-2-0 (64) J. Suri: 1-1-1 (55) A. Levy: 1-2-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 3-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 2-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-2-1 (16) M. Kuchar: 2-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 2-1-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello: 1-2-0 (24) G. Woodland: 1-1-1 (27) R. Fisher: 1-2-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-2-1 (40) S. Kodaira: 0-3-0 (37) W. Simpson: 1-1-1 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-1-1
(61) K. Na: 0-2-1 (59) C. Howell III: 3-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 2-0-1 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-1-2
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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 3

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 11:58 pm

Here is how things played out on Day 3 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Click here for Day 2 match results:

Group 1: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Dustin Johnson (1), 4 and 3: Already eliminated, the defending champion went 0-3 this week after yet another an uninspiring performance, this time against Kisner. DJ did turn heads, however, with a 489-yard drive on the 12th hole that would have been a Tour record (by 13 yards!) if statistics counted at the Match Play.

Group 1: Adam Hadwin (38) vs. Bernd Wiesberger (52), halved: After Hadwin buried a 20-footer on 17, he was stunned on the final hole. Wiesberger drew a nasty lie off the 18th fairway, but he pitched to 15 feet and then sank the putt. Hadwin’s chance to force a playoff against Kisner never had a chance, resulting in a halve and leaving him a half-point short of Kisner.

Group winner: Kevin Kisner

Group 2: Justin Thomas (2) def. Francesco Molinari (21), 7 and 5: Looking like the man to beat, Thomas put Molinari in an early 3-down hole and kept applying pressure, putting him away with seven birdies in one of the most lopsided results of the week – and in a battle of two unbeatens. Thomas can become world No. 1 by reaching the final this week.

Group 2: Patton Kizzire (48) def. Luke List (60), 4 and 2: One down through seven holes, Kizzire won four consecutive holes around the turn and coasted to his first win of the week.

Group winner: Justin Thomas

Group 3: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Jon Rahm, 4 and 3: Unbeaten through two days, Aphibarnrat put the hammer down on Rahm, last year’s finalist. Barnrat needed only three birdies to secure the group win, while Rahm dropped to 0-2-1 for the week.

Group 3: Chez Reavie (43) vs. Keegan Bradley (63), halved: With the group already decided as they played the closing stretch, Bradley coughed up a late lead for the third consecutive round, halving the match on 18 and finishing the week with a 0-1-2 record that could (and should) have been so much better.  

Group winner: Kiradech Aphibarnrat

Group 4: Patrick Reed (19) def. Jordan Spieth (4), 2 and 1: In a match that failed to live up to the pre-tournament hype, Reed built an early lead, survived a Spieth rally and then won four holes on the back nine, including a 40-footer for birdie on 17, to advance. Spieth was all out of sorts, pumping his first tee shot out of bounds, but managed four birdies to push the match late.  

Group 4: Charl Schwartzel (49) def. Haotong Li (34), 3 and 2: In a match pitting two players at 0-2, Schwartzel rode an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch on the back nine to put away Li and earn his first point.

Group winner: Patrick Reed

Group 5: Patrick Cantlay (30) def. Hideki Matsuyama (5), 4 and 3: Cantlay jumped out of the gates, making birdie on four of his first six holes and burying the top seed in the group. With two points, he could have forced a playoff with Smith, but the Aussie rallied late to advance.

Group 5: Cameron Smith (46) vs. Yusaku Miyazato (53), halved: Trying to claw into the deficit, Smith missed short looks at 15 and 17 before coming to the last. Needing only a halve to win the group, Smith sank a 6-footer to earn the half-point he needed to advance.

Group winner: Cameron Smith

Group 6: Brian Harman (18) def. Rory McIlroy (6), 5 and 3: Harman took advantage of McIlroy’s missed putts and uncharacteristic mistakes to build a 3-up advantage on the front nine, then cruised to a lopsided victory. At 2-0-1, Harman wins the group, while McIlroy can begin his prep for Augusta.

Group 6: Jhonattan Vegas (44) vs. Peter Uihlein (57) def. Jhonattan Vegas (44), 4 and 3: Even though Uihlein won the first two holes on his way to routing Vegas, it wasn’t enough for the former U.S. Amateur champion to advance. He finished the week 2-1.

Group winner: Brian Harman

Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) def. Xander Schauffele (20), 3 and 1: Two down with seven to play in this battle of unbeatens, Garcia birdied the 12th and 13th holes to square the match, then pulled ahead with a pair of birdies on 15 and 16 and a conceded birdie on 17, after Schauffele tugged his tee shot into the hazard.

Group 7: Dylan Frittelli (41) def. Shubhankar Sharma (62), 1 up: In a match with nothing at stake but a little extra cash and some world-ranking points, Frittelli shot 4 under and held off Sharma throughout to earn his first point of the week.

Group winner: Sergio Garcia

Group 8: Louis Oosthuizen (25) def. Jason Day (8), 2 up: In a tight match that didn’t feature a 2-up advantage until the end, Oosthuizen’s tee shot on 17, to 10 feet, proved to be the different. He faced Dufner in a playoff to advance, then made par on the first playoff hole to reach the Round of 16.

Group 8: Jason Dufner (42) def. James Hahn (56), 3 and 2: In a match he needed to stay alive in his group, Dufner won his first four holes and never looked back, crushing Hahn and setting up a sudden-death playoff to advance.

Group winner: Louis Oosthuizen

Group 9: Tommy Fleetwood (9) def. Daniel Berger (26), 2 and 1: Fleetwood made easy work of Berger (who went 0-3) by making six birdies on the day. Despite a 2-1 record, Fleetwood couldn’t overcome his loss to Poulter.

Group 9: Ian Poulter (58) def. Kevin Chappell, conceded: Poulter waltzed into the Round of 16 after Chappell conceded on the ninth hole because of back issues. Poulter was 3-0 in pool play.

Group winner: Ian Poulter

Group 10: Matthew Fitzpatrick (31) def. Paul Casey (10), 3 and 2: After looking unstoppable over the first two days of pool play, Casey never led against his fellow Englishman, going 3 down after five holes. It was Fitzpatrick’s first point of the week, and Casey lost on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Group 10: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Russell Henley (51), 1 up: Stanley flipped an early 2-down deficit and rolled in a 10-footer birdie putt on the final hole to beat Henley and earn a full point to force the sudden-death playoff with Casey. On the second playoff hole, Stanley poured in a 5-footer for birdie to advance.

Group winner: Kyle Stanley

Group 11: Marc Leishman (11) vs. Branden Grace (23), halved: Already eliminated, Leishman kept Grace from reaching the pool-play playoff by never trailing in the match. Though the South African holed a 25-footer on 17 to extend it, both players halved the 18th hole with birdies, including a 6-footer from Leishman, to earn a half-point.

Group 11: Bubba Watson (35) vs. Julian Suri (64), halved: Needing just a half-point to advance, but two down with two to go, Bubba stuffed his tee shot on 17, then hit his driver pin-high on the home hole. After Suri couldn’t get up-and-down for birdie, Watson sank his 8-footer for the halve. It's the second consecutive year in which Watson has won his group.

Group winner: Bubba Watson

Group 12: Charley Hoffman (22) def. Tyrrell Hatton (12), 3 and 2: After playing poorly for the first two days, Hoffman finally found his form against the previously unbeaten Hatton, making five birdies en route to a stress-free victory. Hatton won on the first playoff hole over Steele, however, after stiffing his approach to 3 feet.  

Group 12: Brendan Steele (36) def. Alexander Levy (55), 3 and 1: Steele did what he needed to give himself a chance, leading the whole way and making birdie on the last three holes to force the playoff with Hatton.

Group winner: Tyrrell Hatton

Group 13: Alex Noren (13) def. Tony Finau (29), 1 up: In a battle of undefeated players, Noren broke out of a tie with a 10-foot birdie on 17, then overcame a pulled tee shot left on 18 by holing a 15-footer for par to advance.   

Group 13: Thomas Pieters (39) vs. Kevin Na (61), halved: Pieters managed to birdie the last and secure a half-point among two 0-2 players.

Group winner: Alex Noren

Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Rafa Cabrera Bello (17), 1 up: Mickelson needed help to advance, but he took care of Cabrera Bello, making birdie on the last two holes to edge the Spaniard. The group was already decided, however, with Howell closing out his match while the other group played the 18th hole.

Group 14: Charles Howell III (59) def. Satoshi Kodaira (40), 2 and 1: Needing just a halve to advance, Howell won the 14th and 16th holes with par to gain a 2-up advantage and complete a perfect week in pool play. It’s the second year in a row that Howell has won his group.

Group winner: Charles Howell III

Group 15: Gary Woodland (24) def. Pat Perez, 1 up: Though the group was already decided, Woodland surrendered a 2-up lead but made a birdie when it mattered most, on the final green, to secure his first full point of the week.

Group 15: Si Woo Kim (50) def. Webb Simpson (37), 2 up: Kim led 4 up after seven holes, but he played only 2 under the rest of the way and, fortunately for him, ran out of holes. He won the group with 2 ½ points.  

Group winner: Si Woo Kim

Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) def. Ross Fisher (27), 6 and 4: Just like Wednesday, Kuchar was one of the best players on the course, playing his round in 6 under, including the usual match-play concessions. That includes an ace on the seventh hole, as Kuchar wins his group.

Group 16: Yuta Ikeda (47) vs. Zach Johnson (54), halved: In a meaningless match, Ikeda made back-to-back bogeys on 16 and 17, then halved the 18th with a birdie to earn a half-point.

Group winner: Matt Kuchar