Players forecast: Drama, but few marquee names

By Rex HoggardMay 14, 2017, 12:23 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A week that began with so much potential has been transformed into a plodding production that felt more marathon than main event.

With a monsoon of respect to those who have endured three days of relentless winds, new greens that have the consistency of a parking lot and a golf course that magnifies even the slightest error; this probably isn’t the best-case scenario officials envisioned at the new and improved TPC Sawgrass.

Heading into Sunday funday there was no Dustin Johnson, no Rory McIlroy, no Jason Day - Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively - within a touchdown of the lead.

There was no Jordan Spieth or Phil Mickelson to add spice to the Stadium Course sauce. Even Jon Rahm, who has been as dependable as a mailman since winning the Farmers Insurance Open in January, was nowhere to be found on the leaderboard.

Instead, Sunday afternoon’s tee times will feature the likes of Kyle Stanley and J.B. Holmes, who are tied for the lead at 9 under, and Louis Oosthuizen and Si Woo Kim, third and fourth after Round 3.

Combined, the dozen players inside the top 10 after 54 holes have won two majors, and just two players, Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren, rank inside the top 30 in the world ranking.

Yet what the leading men lack in relative star power was somewhat mitigated by inspired play on what may be one of the toughest TPC Sawgrass layouts since the event moved to May.

With a scoring average that rocketed to 74.03 on Saturday, those names that remain played impressive, if not often adventurous golf.

“It’s just this golf course has got some quirks to it, and the wind swirls. Sometimes you just got to get lucky and not get that gust or try to read the gusts,” said Holmes, who has been rather predictable this week with rounds of 68-69-70. “It's a lot of guessing.”

Holmes, who is often typecast as simply a bomber but is proving this week his skill set reaches beyond the long ball, proved to be an impressive plodder after finding just 5 of 14 fairways on Day 3, including just a single fairway on his closing nine.

At the 14th hole his drive sailed so far right it found a water hazard ... on the 12th hole.

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“Wow,” said Holmes, who played more shots from the wrong fairway and pine straw over his last few holes than a 10-handicap.

Wow, indeed.

He’ll be joined on Sunday in the day’s anchor tee time by Stanley, who recovered after three bogeys over his first four holes with a much more consistent game on his way to an even-par 72 and just his second 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.

But if Holmes and Stanley set the Day 3 pace, fans will be forgiven for turning their attention to likes of Garcia. Making his first start since his major breakthrough at the Masters last month, the Spaniard clawed his way back this week after playing his first 15 holes in 4 over.

He made a hole-in-one on Thursday to salvage his round, was steady on Day 2 on his way to a 1-under 71 and was nearly flawless on Saturday on his way to a 67 that included an eagle (No. 16) and six birdies.

“I felt like a little bit in chains on Thursday because of how overwhelming everything has been and you get there, and you are like, come on, you have to play well after winning the Masters, you have to, you have to, you have to, and I kind of probably put a little bit too much pressure on myself,” Garcia said. “I tightened up a little bit and I didn't play as well as I've been playing.”

Since settling in, Garcia has been carefree and calculated and will start the final round four strokes off the lead. It’s worth noting that he began the final round three shots back in 2008 when he beat Paul Goydos in a playoff to win The Players, and that he could become just the second player, along with Tiger Woods, to win the Masters and The Players in the same year.

Ian Poulter, who just two weeks ago didn’t even think he had a Tour card, never mind an invitation to the circuit’s marquee event, could add a measure of intrigue to the final turn, as could Oosthuizen, who stumbled on Saturday to a 73 but has a game built for the toughest courses which is only apropos considering that it is this course that may be the week’s ultimate narrative.

TPC Sea Breeze is an acquired taste under the best of conditions, but with Saturday’s winds blowing 20 mph and gusting at the worst possible moments, the new and improved Stadium Course was particularly harsh.

“It's a hard course. Doesn't fit my eye on almost any shot, like everybody else. That's how it was designed,” said Pat Perez, who had already booked a flight home thinking he’d miss the 54-hole cut before a second-round 66 moved him into a tie for 10th place. “So you know who loves it? Maybe the winner on Sunday? That's about it.”

Spieth and Rahm would probably agree, although neither will be around for the weekend after missing the 36- and 54-hole cut, respectively. McIlroy (T-20 and eight shots back), Johnson (T-44 and 11 back) and Mickelson (T-67 and 13 back) will play on Sunday but it seems wildly unlikely any of them will factor into the final outcome.

TPC Sawgrass will deliver excitement, it almost always has since the event moved to May in 2007, but it just might not be the cast everyone thought would be contending when the week began.

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)