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Thomas hoping little things lead to more big success

By Rex HoggardJanuary 4, 2018, 1:30 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – At this juncture last year, Justin Thomas was ranked 22nd in the world, he was a winner on the PGA Tour and widely considered one of the game’s promising up-and-coming players.

He could quietly go about his business without great distraction and was probably just as focused on the impending NCAA championship game between his beloved Alabama and Clemson as he was his place in the PGA Tour hierarchy.

That all began to change on the windswept bluffs of Kapalua.

He outdueled Hideki Matsuyama – at the time arguably the hottest player in golf – with back-to-back birdies to close his week and followed that performance with an opening 59 at the Sony Open on his way to his second consecutive Tour victory.

He will tell you things didn’t go as planned from there. That his consistency dropped off, which is understandable considering his blistering start and the inevitability of a natural lull. He missed the cut in three of his next five starts.

“I want to stop missing cuts, which just irritates the crap out of me,” he said on Wednesday as he prepared for his title defense on Maui.

At one point in 2017, Thomas missed three consecutive weekends, which dropped him all the way to fourth on the season-long points list. It was all part of what he called a “weird year.” But then “weird” is a relative term.

He did, after all, add two more tilts to his trophy case before the season was finished, won his first major and claimed the lucrative FedExCup. But in terms of how the 24-year-old has been able to reflect on his historic campaign, there doesn’t seem to have been much self-realization since he ended his year at the Tour Championship.

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“It was obviously a great year and really enjoyable, but I think the timing of all the wins were just odd,” Thomas said. “You want to enjoy the victories, you want to celebrate, but I swear I celebrate my friends' victories more than I do my own. It's bizarre but it's like, when you win, I'm exhausted, I'm tired, I want to keep doing it.”

His encore begins this week in Maui.

Just like last year, and every year since he began playing competitive golf, Thomas created a specific set of goals for 2018, ranging from the straightforward (such as winning a major) to the esoteric (like finishing with a certain average in a specific statistical category).

Although he declined to give his specific goals, after joining an elite club in 2017 it’s clear Thomas has the general formula for success figured out.

“You look at Rickie [Fowler] out of the bunker, I would love to have his sand save percentage,” Thomas said. “I just felt that the goals that I had written down specifically were the ones that I really needed to improve on to have a year like I did last year.”

But that’s the specifics of his game, perhaps the biggest hurdle coming into this year’s campaign will be the expectations, be they external or otherwise, that a season like 2017 can create.

Winning five times and a major can, in all reality, be an unrealistically high benchmark even for the game’s best players. Although Thomas has already won once this season - at October’s CJ Club in South Korea - as the Tour begins to enter the meat of its schedule, there will be a desire to somehow match his 2017 scorecard.

Luckily for Thomas, he has a few built-in sounding boards when it comes to such heightened expectations, like his South Florida neighbor Tiger Woods and good friend Jordan Spieth.

“He's reached out and we have talked a bit about it on a serious note. Just what advice after coming off a year like he had similar to mine in 2015,” Spieth said. “I was able to, I hope, to share just a couple insights that maybe I wasn't prepared for that could have helped me, not necessarily on the golf course, but more in just kind of way of life and blocking out stuff and staying focused.”

It’s a concept that at least partially explains why Thomas’ goals – which in 2017 included finishing with an average over one shot in the strokes gained-tee to green category – are statistically specific.

Fowler, for example, pointed out that it’s Thomas’ short game, more so than his power off the tee or putting, that he admires the most about the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year.

“Whenever we have chipping contest when we're at home I don't know if I've ever beat him in a chipping contest,” Fowler said. “He pitches the ball well where he doesn't have to make many putts, because he chips them close enough.”

It’s the kind of minutia that Thomas will focus on in 2018. It has to be, because the alternative – winning a certain number of events or contending in majors – is its own form of competitive quicksand.

“I understand that the expectations will be a lot more not only from fans and peers, but from you all [media] and you’re probably going to be reminded of that quite often, so I just have to deal with it,” Thomas said. “I can't compare any years to past years or last year, it's just golf so I have to go out and do what I'm doing and just don't get affected by that stuff.”

The time for reflecting is over, regardless of how much ground he covered in 2017. At least in his own mind, Thomas is once again nothing more than simply one of the game’s promising up-and-coming players.

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Levy wins Trophee Hassan for fifth European Tour title

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 6:32 pm

RABAT, Morocco - Alexander Levy finished with a 2-under 70 Sunday to win the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco by a shot from overnight leader Alvaro Quiros.

One off the lead overnight, Levy made two of his four birdies in his first five holes to hit the front and stayed ahead for the rest of the final day at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course.

It was the 27-year-old Frenchman's fifth European Tour victory and he will take winning form to Beijing next week when he defends his China Open title.

Levy ended 8-under 280 overall, one ahead of Spain's Quiros, who closed with a second straight 72.

Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II

With his chasers pushing hard, Levy kept his cool after dropping a shot on No. 16. He birdied the short, par-3 No. 17 and made par at the last.

Quiros birdied his last two holes to make sure of second place outright. He needed an eagle on No. 18 to force a playoff.

A group of four players finished in a tie for third, including Italy's Andrea Pavan, who finished with a brilliant 6-under 66. Swedish pair Joakim Lagergren (70) and Alexander Bjork (70) and Finland's Mikko Ilonen (72) also shared third.

Levy had three other top 10 finishes in his five previous events this season and moved up to ninth on the European Tour's Race to Dubai points list.

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(Not that) Jutanugarn shares lead with (not that) Ko

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 1:58 am

LOS ANGELES - A player eager for her first win and a rookie top the leaderboard at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Lurking two shots back is a Hall of Famer.

Winless Moriya Jutanugarn overcame a poor start and birdied the 18th for a hard-earned 1-under 70 to tie rookie Jin Young Ko at 9 under on Saturday at Wilshire Country Club.

Ko shot a 66 in her bid to become the year's first two-time LPGA winner. She won the Women's Australian Open in February, her first victory as an official tour member after a successful run on the Korean LPGA circuit.

''I'm ready for win or top 10, so maybe tomorrow I will really focus on shot by shot,'' said Ko, who added an exclamation point to her golf bag for each of her wins on the KLPGA. ''I won 11 times, so if I win tomorrow, maybe I change to 12. I need more, I need every time motivation.''

Jutanugarn is trying to match younger sister Ariya as a tour champion. Seven-time winner Ariya was tied for 27th after a 72 in the third round.

Usually when one of the Thai sisters is in the lead, the other will watch when her round is finished.

''If she's not too lazy, she is probably going to come out,'' Moriya said about Ariya.

Playing in an all-Korean threesome, Hall of Famer Inbee Park was two shots back in third after a 69. Her birdie putt for a share of the lead on 18 slid just by the hole. The group drew a large contingent of Korean fans.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

''I kind of started off a little bad. I was able to come back strong, so I'm really happy with that,'' Park said. ''I left a few putts out there. The greens around this golf course are just really tough. You just don't know what's going to happen.''

Moriya Jutanugarn's round included a double bogey on the par-4 first hole and a bogey on the par-4 sixth. She eagled the par-4 14th after holing out from the fairway 93 feet away. The ball took once bounce and went in, eliciting a stunned look from Jutanugarn before she high-fived her caddie.

''Today was kind of a pretty rough day for me with not a very good start and like trying to come back,'' Jutanugarn said. ''I just try to play my game and be patient out there I think is the key.''

Jutanugarn, the second-round leader, read the break perfectly on a long putt to make birdie on 18 and share the lead with Ko.

Playing two groups ahead of Jutanugarn, Caroline Inglis also eagled the 14th from 180 yards. She briefly jumped up and down and smiled after three bogeys and a double bogey. She shot a 69 and was four shots back in a tie for sixth with Minjee Lee.

''It was like one bounce and then it like trickled in,'' Inglis said.

Aditi Ashok eagled 14 early in the round.

Ko did some scrambling of her own. Her ball found a sandy hazard on the 17th with a scoreboard and a winding creek in between her and the green 190 yards away. Her approach landed just off the green and she made par. Her round included six birdies and a bogey on 16.

Eun-Hee Ji (70) and American Marina Alex (72) were tied for fourth at 6 under.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng shot a 70 and was in a six-way tie for 12th at 2 under.

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Defending champs Singh, Franco take senior lead

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 12:15 am

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco took the third-round lead Saturday in the windy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Singh and Franco shot a 7-under 47 in wind gusting to 20 mph on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to get to 19-under 145, a stroke ahead of the teams of David Toms-Steve Flesch and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett.

''It was a tough day,'' Singh said. ''The wind was swirling, have to get the club right and we made some putts. Carlos played really well on the back nine and I played really well on the front nine, so we ham-and-egged it a little.''

Toms and Flesch also shot 47, and Broadhurst and Triplett had a 33 on the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course.

''We just paired well together,'' Toms said. ''I don't think either one of us played great. We picked each other up out there.''

Wind and rain is expected Sunday when the teams finish at Top of the Rock, again playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

''Make as many birdies as possible and see what happens,'' Singh said. ''That's all we can do.''

Singh and Franco are trying to become the first to successfully defend a title since Jim Colbert and Andy North in 2001. Singh won the Toshiba Classic in March for his first individual senior title.

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week in Georgia for his first senior victory.

Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer had a 34 at Mountain Top to join Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal at 17 under. Jimenez and Olazabal had a 33 at Mountain Top.

''It's great for me to be able to play with him as a team member,'' Olazabal said. ''We do have great memories from the Ryder Cup and other events, and it's always a great pleasure to play with a great player and a friend.''

Langer took the final-round forecast in stride.

''We've done it hundreds of times before and we'll probably do it again,'' Langer said. ''We'll make the best of it. We both have a good attitude. We're known to play in all sorts of weather and I just look forward to playing one more day with my partner here.''

Wisconsin neighbors Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were 16 under after a 48 at Top of the Rock.

John Daly and Michael Allen, the second-round leaders after a 46 at Top of the Rock, had a 37 at Mountain Top to drop into a tie for seventh at 15 under.

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Landry shares Valero lead, eyes first career win

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 11:15 pm

After coming up just short of a breakthrough win earlier this season, Andrew Landry has another chance to earn his maiden victory at the Valero Texas Open.

Landry came within inches of winning the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, ultimately losing to Jon Rahm in a four-hole playoff. He struggled to find form in the wake of his close call, missing the cut in each of his four starts following his runner-up finish in Palm Springs.

But Landry took some time off to welcome his first child, Brooks, last month and he made it to the weekend in his first start back last week at the RBC Heritage, where he finished T-42. He made a move up the standings Saturday at TPC San Antonio with a bogey-free 67, and at 13 under shares the lead with Zach Johnson heading into the final round.

"I just did everything really good," Landry told reporters. "I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat, and I had a couple bad putts that I didn't really make. I'm happy with it, it's a good 5-under round. Gets me in the final group tomorrow and we'll see what happens."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

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Landry started the day one shot off the pace and in the final group with Johnson and Ryan Moore, and at one point he took sole possession of the lead after birdies on three of his first six holes. Now he'll have another chance in the day's final tee time where he's grouped with Johnson and Trey Mullinax, who sits one shot back after firing a course-record 62 in the third round.

For Landry, it's another opportunity to break into the winner's circle, and it's one for which he feels prepared after coming so close three months ago.

"I mean, I don't want to go too deep into it because I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but I just believe in myself. There's no other explanation for it," Landry said. "You can totally get out here and play with Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, two top players in the world, and you can go out there and fold under pressure or you can learn a lot.

"Zach's always been a role model to me the way he plays golf, I feel like we have very similar games, and it's just going to be fun tomorrow getting to play with him again."