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Playoff loss could get Rose over Masters hump

By Rex HoggardApril 2, 2018, 10:15 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Justin Rose sat in the twilight watching the celebration, a forced smile spread across his face and a freight train of emotions running through his body.

He’d just lost a thrilling duel to Sergio Garcia on the first extra hole at the 2017 Masters. It hurt. But he also understood the moment.

It’s the way of sports and particularly when the sport is played on what is widely considered hallowed grounds in golf circles, now was not the time for self-examination or wallowing, there would be plenty of that down the road.

It was a celebration and Rose was going to respect that.

“I hit a lot of great shots. I didn’t feel like it was a tournament that anybody lost, really,” Rose recalled on Monday. “It was great to be a part of a Sunday exciting back nine with birdies and eagles. It was just one of those situations where one guy was going to lose.”

Every loss stings, particularly when you’ve spent the days since you first picked up a golf club dreaming of slipping that coveted green jacket over your shoulders. For those that know the Englishman, his decision to applaud Garcia’s victory, and not lament his own loss, was no surprise.

Part of that reaction can be attributed to Rose’s demeanor. He’s intense, meticulous and wildly competitive, but he also understands what it means to be a Masters champion.

That he’s also pieced together a resume at Augusta National that is unrivaled over the last decade may have also softened the sting of that loss, however temporarily.

Rose is a perfect 12-for-12 in cuts made in his Masters career - which is currently the longest active cuts-made streak - has finished runner-up twice in the last three years and completed his week at the year’s first major outside the top 25 just twice.

“He’s a great ball-striker and he’s extremely inspired that week. It’s all a culmination of how good physically he is feeling that week and his absolute love for the place. Love is pretty freeing,” said Sean Foley, Rose’s long-time swing coach. “He drives down Magnolia Lane and he’s just in love with it.”

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Rose’s bond with Augusta National is evident. He’s smiling from tee to green and walking with a relaxed demeanor that often isn’t the case at other major championships, but then even requited love only partially explains his track record around the hills and through the pines.

If Augusta National is, as the lore goes, a second-shot golf course, Rose is uniquely equipped to handle the challenge. Widely considered one of the game’s best ball-strikers, Rose has hit 160 of 216 greens in regulation during the last three Masters, that’s 20 more greens than the next best threesome combined over that span. He also has the most eagles (109), the lowest par-4 scoring average (4.02) and the highest GIR percentage (71.7 percent) in the last five Masters.

“Where’s my jacket?” Rose smiled on Monday when told about his statistical dominance around the old fruit nursery.

But if Rose seems at ease with his plight now, that wasn’t the case in the days following last year’s loss to Garcia. It would be only human for his mind to race back to that Sunday and the moment he stood in the 13th fairway with the green jacket seemingly just a 6-iron away.

Garcia had pulled his drive left into the trees, and Rose, who was leading the Spaniard by two shots, was perfectly positioned in the fairway. It would be only natural to allow yourself to consider the possibilities.

Rose’s 6-iron sailed long and he was unable to get up and down for birdie, while Garcia – who would name his newborn daughter Azalea, which is what they call No. 13 at Augusta National – would find his wayward tee shot amid the flora and fauna and scramble for par.

The rest is Masters lore.

Garcia eagled the 15th hole to move to 9 under and Rose would bogey No. 17 to set up a tie and eventual playoff.

“The two weeks after [the Masters] I didn’t really want to play golf,” Rose said. “I kind of was licking my wounds a little bit. It took me a month to kind of find that motivation again.”

But slowly, the analytical side of Rose - that part of his personality that makes him something of a Renaissance man who in another life could just have easily been a world-class engineer or scientist - reasserted itself. It’s the same methodical approach he’s applied to hone a motion that is, by definition, violent and unpredictable.

Since the 2017 PGA Championship, Rose has three victories, eight top-5 finishes and a 68.52 scoring average, so it's not a surprise he begins this week among a long list of potential favorites. Or, as he explained, he has “high confidence, but low expectations,” which is exactly what one would expect from an analytical, Type A player like Rose.

But what makes Rose such a formidable contender at the Masters is his ability to transition from mechanic to artist so effortlessly.

“He can go from [Albert] Einstein to [Pablo] Picasso pretty quick,” Foley said.

Superior ball-striking may be Rose’s calling card, but it’s his putting, which has been something of his Achilles Heel for much of his career, and short game that have also fueled his performances at Augusta National.

Last year he ranked fourth in the field in putts per GIR and in 2015, when he finished runner-up to Jordan Spieth, he was 17th for the week in total putts.

“The last couple of years now I would say that I’ve simplified my putting a lot,” Rose said. “That can only help when you’re playing under pressure, is to have less thoughts going on in your mind or on the greens.”

But it’s thoughts of another kind, of those final frenzied moments at last year’s edition, that he now must contend with. Losing last year’s Masters hurt, but it also provided Rose another valuable experience at a place he affectionately calls his “happy hunting ground.”

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U.S. Amateur final comes down to Devon vs. Goliath

By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – On his family’s happiest day in years, Nick Bling stood off to the side of the 18th green, trying to collect himself.

His oldest son, Devon, had just advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, and he surely knew that, at some point, the question was coming. Of the many members in the family’s boisterous cheering section that came here to Pebble Beach – a clan that includes Nick’s brothers and sisters, his in-laws and the teaching professionals of his hometown club – one person was conspicuously absent.

So for 22 seconds, Nick couldn’t utter a word.

“She’s watching,” he said, finally, wiping under his sunglasses.

His wife, Sara, died in February 2013 after suffering a sudden blood clot that went to her brain. She was only 45, the mother of two young boys.

The news took everyone by surprise – that day Nick and Devon were together at a junior tournament in southwest California, while Sara was at home with her youngest son, Dillon.

“That was bad. Unexpected,” said Dillon, now 16. “I don’t even want to think about that. That was a rough year.”

Sara was a fixture at all of the boys’ junior tournaments. She organized their schedules, packed their lunches and frequently shuttled them to and from China Lake, the only course in their small hometown of Ridgecrest, about two hours north of Los Angeles, where they’ve lived since 1990.

An engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station, Nick picked up the game at age 27, and though he had no formal training (at his best he was a high-80s shooter), he was the boys’ primary swing coach until high school, when Devon was passed off to PGA instructor Chris Mason.

“Devon has world-class raw talent, and there’s a lot of things you can’t teach, and he’s got a lot of that,” said UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin. “But his dad looked at the game very analytically. He was able to break down the golf swing from a technical standpoint, and I think that has helped him. His dad is a brilliant man.”

Devon watched his dad hit balls in the garage and, at 18 months, began taking full swings with a plastic club, whacking shots against the back of the couch. Once his son was bigger, Nick put down a mat and built a hole in the dirt on the family’s property.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Once it was time for the next step, there was only one option in town. China Lake is more than 300 miles from Pebble Beach, but in many ways they’re worlds apart. The course is dead in the winter, picked over by the birds in the spring and baked out in the summer, with 110-degree temperatures and winds that occasionally gust to 60 mph. Devon still blossomed into a well-known prospect.

“Growing up in Ridgecrest,” Devon said, “some could say that it’s a disadvantage. But I could use the course and take a shag bag and go out and practice. So I used it to my advantage, and if it weren’t for that golf course, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

Nor would he be here without the support of his family.

Asked how they survived the tragedy of losing Sara so suddenly, Nick Bling said: “Brothers. Kids. Friends. Half of Ridgecrest. The town. They all came together. What do they say, that it takes a village to raise a boy? It did. Two boys.”

Devon carried a 4.2 GPA in high school and played well enough to draw interest from UCLA. He played on the team last season as a freshman, winning a tournament and posting three other top-10s. The consistency in his game has been lacking, but the time spent around the Bruins’ coaches is starting to pay off, as he’s developed into more than just a swashbuckling power hitter. He has refined his aggression, though he’s offered more than a few reminders of his firepower. Last fall, the team held a Red Tee Challenge at TPC Valencia, where they all teed off from the red markers. Bling shot 28 on the back nine.

In addition to his awesome game, Larkin said that Bling was one of the team’s most mature players – even after arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.

“I think his mannerisms and his charisma really come from his mom,” Larkin said. “It was a super hard time in his life, but I think it helped him grow and mature at an early age. He’s such a good big brother, and he took a lot of that responsibility.

“There’s a blessing in everything that happens, and I think it made him grow a little young. I think he’s the man he is today because of her.”

In his player profile, Bling wrote that his mom always wanted him to play in USGA championships, because of their prestige, and she would have loved to watch him maneuver his way through his first U.S. Amateur appearance.

After earning the No. 41 seed in stroke play, Bling knocked off two of the top amateurs in the country (Shintaro Ban and Noah Goodwin), edged one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects (Davis Riley) and on Saturday traded birdies with Pacific Coast Amateur champion Isaiah Salinda.

In one of the most well-played matches of the week, Bling made six birdies in a seven-hole span around the turn and shot the stroke-play equivalent of a 65 to Salinda’s 66.

The match came down to 18, where Bling bludgeoned a drive over the tree in the middle of the fairway, knocked it on the green in two shots and forced Salinda to make birdie from the greenside bunker, which he couldn’t.

Bling was a 1-up winner, clinching his spot in the finals (and the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open), and setting off a raucous celebration behind the rope line.

“He played as good as I’ve ever seen,” Larkin said. “The talent has always been there, and I’m glad it’s coming out this week.”

Another difficult opponent awaits in the championship match. It’s a mismatch on paper, a 36-hole final between Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, ranked fifth in the world, and the No. 302-ranked Bling. Hovland had won each of his previous two matches by a 7-and-6 margin – the first time that’s happened since 1978 – and then dropped eight birdies on Cole Hammer on Saturday afternoon.

But he’s likely never faced a player with Bling’s resolve – or a cheering section as supportive as his family’s.

“This means a lot to us,” Dillon said. “It was finally Devon’s time, and I knew one day it’d come down to the finals. He’s been playing awesome. Mom is probably really happy right now.”

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Report: Fan hit by broken club at event

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 9:12 pm

A fan was hit by a broken club and required stiches Friday at the Tour's WinCo Foods Portland Open.

According to, Kevin Stadler slammed his club in frustration causing his clubhead to break and it struck a fan in the head.

The fan required six stiches and was released from the hospital.

Orlando Pope, a Tour rules official, spoke with

"It was a very freakish accident. Kevin is devastated. He had trouble trying to finish the round. He was quite worried and felt so bad.''

Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel was in Stadler's group and posted this message on Facebook:

"One of my playing partners played a poor shot with a 7 iron on the par 3 fifteenth hole this morning. In a fit of anger he slammed his club against the ground and the side of his foot which caused the club to break about 6” from the bottom. I had my head down but the clubhead flew behind me and hit a spectator to my right. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much blood. We stayed with him for about 15 minutes before the EMT’s arrived. The last I heard was that he had a possible skull fracture but that he was doing ok otherwise. [Stadler] was absolutely shattered and we did our best to keep his spirits up. This was not done on purpose and we were astounded at the way the club was directed but it shows you just how dangerous it is to throw or break clubs. Each of us in the group learned something today!"

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Furyk remains coy about Ryder Cup picks

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk sounds like a man champing at the bit to officially fill out his American team and accelerate final plans for the matches in Paris next month.

With eight automatic qualifiers secured last Sunday, all that’s left are his four captain’s picks.

“At times it felt like it was dragging on,” Furyk told Amanda Balionis during CBS TV’s rain delay Saturday at the Wyndham Championship. “I’m excited to get to this point.”

But still in no hurry to commit to naming Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as two of his captain’s picks.

“We have some great choices and certainly Tiger and Phil look like they are in great form,” Furyk said.

Furyk, when specifically asked about Tiger’s chances as a pick:

“He’s played great,” Furyk said. “I’m in such a great position right now with so many players playing well and so many great players to choose from. The difficult part is going to be, `How do we pluck four guys out of there?’ Certainly, Tiger is in great form and has put himself in a great position.”

And on Mickelson’s chances:

“Phil does provide a lot of veteran leadership,” Furyk said. “He hasn’t missed one of these in a long time. He’s had a good season, and he’s putting extremely well. I want to say he’s second in putting stats right now. All good stuff, and we’ll see how the next few weeks kind of play themselves out.”

Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Current FedExCup points list

Furyk doesn’t have to make his first three picks official until Sept. 4, with the final pick to be named six days later. While Woods and Mickelson may be locks, Furyk won’t be rushed.

“There’s still time.” Furyk said. “We are in an exciting part. We have eight guys. I’m still talking to them, gathering some information. The vice captains have been talking a lot. It’s been fun seeing the banter and the texts going back and forth.

“We’ll see how the next few weeks play themselves out.”

Furyk, by the way, is in contention at the Wyndham Championship. He was tied for 11th, six shots off the lead when interviewed in the weather delay.

So, if he wins, would he resurrect talk of being a playing captain?

“The odds are about zero right now,” Furyk said. “Now that I’m kind of knee deep, and we’re getting that close to the Ryder Cup, I really don’t think it’s possible to do both, be a player and a captain. The duties would be too great. And my game, I haven’t played well the last couple years. I’ve been battling injuries and battling myself. I’m excited, I have been feeling a lot better here the last few months and I’ve started playing some good golf.”

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Aiken, Waring tied at Nordea; Olesen three back

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 5:45 pm

MOLNDAL, Sweden – Paul Waring of England and Thomas Aiken of South Africa share the lead, three shots clear of their rivals, after the third round of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour on Saturday.

Waring was tied for first place with Scott Jamieson after the second round and shot a 1-under 69.

While Jamieson (75) slipped down the leaderboard, Aiken caught up Waring after shooting 67 - despite three straight bogeys from No. 15. He bounced back by making birdie at the last.

Thorbjorn Olesen (67) and Marc Warren (66) are tied for third.