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Tough mudder: Koepka eyes more major history

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2018, 1:06 am

ST. LOUIS – The 100th PGA Championship turned out to be exactly what we all thought it would be, a heavyweight title bout masquerading as a toughest man competition.

With a heat index north of triple digits and the kind of humidity that makes the championship’s relocation to the more comfortable confines of May starting next year a welcome reprieve, the strongest have risen to the top.

With few exceptions, the bombers have emerged on a course that’s been soused to a spongy and one-dimensional test – see flag, hit flag. All of the other nuances of playing the year’s final major have been washed away by downpours on Tuesday and Friday.

What might not have been widely predicted, however, was Brooks Koepka’s dominance. He checked all the right boxes, had all the firepower Bellerive could ask for and a two-pack of majors to prove his pedigree; but with all the other power players perfectly aligned for what promised to be a long drive competition he blended into the crowd.

Despite his victory in June at the U.S. Open, and a major scorecard that includes five top-10 finishes in his last 10 Grand Slam starts, Koepka began the week with 20-to-1 odds, behind the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. For all the wrong reasons, Koepka has been largely overlooked like vegetables on a buffet.


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Whether it’s a byproduct of a personality that can at times come off as aloof, or his disinterest in the modern trappings of social media, in a game filled with stars Koepka is still searching for his place among the world-beater set.

Koepka uses that indifference, be it real or perceived, as fuel. It carried him through those lonely months of inactivity as he recovered from a left wrist injury and those far flung early days of his career when he chased his dream to the four corners of the globe on the European Challenge Tour.

“You always feel like you've got something to prove, whether it be to yourself or somebody else,” said Koepka, who will take a two-stroke lead into the final round following a third-round 66. “I can think of plenty of people along the way telling me I'll be nothing, working at McDonald's, doing things like that. The whole time, you're just trying to prove them wrong.”

The 28-year-old is 18 holes away from winning three of the last seven majors, not bad considering he missed one of those Grand Slam stops earlier this year when he was rehabbing a wrist injury during the Masters.

Put another way, he’s poised to prove that he’s arguably the best major championship player at the moment.

Koepka gave the field a glimmer of hope after moving to 13 under with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15, but he closed with a birdie at the 17th hole to set an impressive line.

“I can really tune in in the majors and I have no idea why,” he said. “They really get my attention. Every shot's so important out here, and you need to be able to play well.”

The consensus before this week’s PGA was that Bellerive would favor the long hitter and there’s nothing on the 54-hole leaderboard to suggest that won’t be the case.

In order, Koepka (who is tied for second this week in driving distance) is followed by Adam Scott (T-19 in driving distance), Jon Rahm (T-13), Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland (sixth), Jason Day (T-2), Tiger Woods (33rd) and Justin Thomas (10th).

“You can just have a quick look down the first page of the leaderboard and look who is there, it's great players and players in the best form this year,” marveled Scott, who shot a round-of-the-day 65 to move into second place.

Koepka, who would become just the fifth player to win his third major by 28, may have made it look easy on Saturday, but if history is any indication the game’s most relaxed player will have his hands full.

Rahm moved into the hunt for his first major with a 66 and is tied for third place at 9 under. On the check list of players who have the tools to turn Bellerive into a pitch-and-putt count the Spaniard atop the list, and like the other members of the cast he’s also not lacking in confidence.

“I know that I can do it,” Rahm said.

The same could probably be said for Fowler, who is tied with Rahm after a third-round 69, and Day, the 2015 PGA champion who is another stroke back at 8 under and tied with Thomas, this week’s defending champion.

As for Woods, his new competitive reality has never been so clear. Although he said, and did, all the right things on a sweltering Saturday, moving to within four strokes with a 4-under 66, he’s in a similar position to where he was starting the final round at last month’s Open Championship.

The old Tiger would have maintained the pressure and waited for those ahead of him to blink, but as he learned at Carnoustie, where he tied for sixth, the current generation isn’t prone to Sunday swoons, at least not collectively.

If he’s going to win major No. 15 he’ll need to outplay a generation that’s only seen his greatness on YouTube, and that means he must be aggressive.

“I just have to make birdies. This golf course is stacked right now and everyone is bunched,” Woods said.

For the second time this season the game’s best will begin a Sunday at a major chasing Koepka, and Koepka will begin his day in the gym. The gym is his refuge, a place where he can go and get away from golf and expectations; just not the feeling that he’s overlooked among the game’s best.

On Saturday morning, Koepka went to a local gym with frequent workout partner Johnson.

“Everybody wanted a picture with Dustin,” Koepka smiled. “They were talking about him as we left and I was just standing there laughing. They were like, ‘Did you see that, No. 1 player in the world was here.’ It's like, yeah, OK.”

He won’t get to No. 1 in the world with a victory on Sunday, but he’ll certainly make a statement that will be impossible for anyone to ignore.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  


Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

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On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open


Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)


Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.