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The stars are once again aligning in the playoffs

By Rex HoggardSeptember 3, 2017, 11:39 pm

NORTON, Mass. – A decade in, it’s not as though the PGA Tour’s postseason needs validation, at least not to those who pull the strings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

In May, FedEx re-upped to sponsor the season-long race with a new 10-year deal, and the circuit is well downrange with a plan to condense the season and playoffs in order to finish before football overtakes the sporting landscape.

But in the event a refresher was necessary, Sunday at the Dell Technologies Championship was a testament to what playoff golf can do for the game for those not already lost to the first weekend of meaningful football.

Last week, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth dueled down the stretch at the playoff opener on Long Island, with DJ taking the title in overtime.

This week is shaping up to be a similar clash of the game’s biggest and brightest.

Justin Thomas, who closed the major championship season with a victory at the PGA Championship, moved into the lead with an 8-under 63, cruising past second-round leader Jon Rahm and into a familiar position.

What’s next? Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler squaring off at the BMW Championship in two weeks? Mickelson and Rahm head-to-head at the finale? The possibilities are endless.

This is nothing new to 2017. The list of champions at the TPC Boston stop includes Fowler, Mickelson and Rory McIlroy (twice).

While playoff golf has never been a perfect fit for a game that counts the majors above all else, consider Sunday’s third-round leaderboard at TPC Boston. Labor Day will feature a cast that includes Thomas, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 2 Jordan Spieth, Fowler and Mickelson all within five strokes of the lead. And as we learned last week at The Northern Trust, when Spieth squandered the same margin, five shots is akin to a dead heat in the postseason.

“I just think that we treat these four events and Atlanta as a major,” Thomas said. “We are trying to be peaking at this time. We are trying to be peaking come Atlanta. We try to take time off before the majors. I took a week off before the playoffs to try to get my game ready to get rested and kind of get going.”


Dell Technologies Championship: Articles, video and photos

Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


To Thomas’ point, perhaps postseason events wouldn’t hold the same zeal if they were regularly won by little-known players. But that hasn’t happened.

“Look at the winners of these playoff events. Last year, Rory [McIlroy] won here. You see these names, just the names that have won many times, come through and win in these style of events or major championship-type events,” Spieth said. “There is a heightened something to these playoff events that bring out certain champions, for the most part.”

That trend doesn’t appear to be in danger of ending this year.

Thomas – who would likely secure the Tour’s Player of the Year Award with a victory on Monday for his fifth title this season – will begin the final round tied with Marc Leishman at 12 under par. They're followed by Paul Casey a stroke back. From there, it’s a who’s who of Tour winners this season, with Johnson tied for seventh with Rahm.

Another made-for-the-highlight-reel shootout among the game’s biggest names isn’t guaranteed. Rookie Grayson Murray is tied at 10 under with third-year Tour player Adam Hadwin. Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the circuit this season after being slowed in recent years by a back injury, is at 8 under and could crash what is poised to be a heavyweight title bout.

But there’s no denying the stars are aligned, just as they were last week when Spieth and Johnson set out in the day’s final group.

“It's going to be a throw-down tomorrow,” said Spieth, who climbed into contention with a third-round 66. “It's going to be a completely different style of golf than we saw last week on Sunday.”

Although the names remain largely the same, this week’s venue, even with the controversial redesign of the 12th hole, is not Glen Oaks, the monster that hosted last week’s playoff opener.

Even Sunday’s blustery conditions that included periodic downpours and swirling winds, did little to slow scoring, with just one player (Rahm) within the top 10 failing to break 70.

“The scores were great today,” said Casey, who finished fifth last week in New York. “With the rain we had, it probably sets up for a complete shootout tomorrow with a soft golf course, which could be fun.”

Thomas made the most of the softer course, posting a playoff record 12 threes on Day 3 on his way to the week’s best round despite not making birdie on any of TPC Boston’s three par 5s.

“It's crazy to think I did that and parred all the par 5s. Played them even par,” Thomas said. “That's a little bit of a bummer, if I could somehow have a downside to the day.”

Although his ball-striking was solid on Sunday (16 of 18 greens in regulation), it was Thomas’ putter that allowed him to move into a share of the lead. He rolled in three putts of 25 feet or more, including a 49-footer at the 12th to record one of just six birdies on the hole Sunday. Thomas needed just 26 putts in total.

He’ll likely need a similar performance on Monday to hold off the star-studded pack that looms, but then history has proven that’s simply playoff golf.

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.