Weather will have big say in PGA result

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2012, 12:46 am

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Mother Nature 2, PGA Championship 1, with the rubber match awaiting on what promises to be a marathon Sunday.

Through three days Kiawah Island, site of the famed 1991 “War by the Shore” Ryder Cup, has become home to the Duel against Doppler Radar. Weather reports have replaced leaderboards in importance as winds sent scores soaring to a record stroke average (78) on Friday and on Saturday it was a fast-moving storm that did the damage.

It seemed strangely apropos that Rory McIlroy, who won his first major on a saturated layout (Congressional), roared out of the gates with a 4-under 32 front nine to grab a share of the lead with Vijay Singh almost in tandem with a line of thunderstorms that halted play and set up a 29-hole Sunday to decide the year’s final major.

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Singh was playing the par-3 eighth hole when the horn echoed through Kiawah’s dunes at just before 5 p.m., while McIlroy had just made the turn on a course softened further by overnight rains and winds that were on the playable side of Friday’s gale.

Round 3 play is scheduled to resume at 7:45 a.m. on Sunday followed by the final turn, which will feature a two-tee start and threesomes.

McIlroy, who hasn’t finished better than 25th in a major since last year’s U.S. Open, likely would have preferred to play on. The Ulsterman birdied three of his first five holes and pulled into a tie with Singh with his fifth birdie of the day at No. 7.

“It was a great start, the start that I was looking to get off to,” said McIlroy, who bogeyed his last hole (No. 9) and avoided damage at the par-4 third when his tee shot nestled into the branch of what can best be described as a Pete Dye tree. “It’s nice going into the final day, if we get it finished, in a great position.”

If McIlroy ultimately emerges from the wind and rain with his second major, historians will likely remember his stellar Saturday start, but it was his persistence on Friday that should receive equal billing.

Four over through 14 holes, McIlroy rallied in the worst of the Round 2 tempest to post a 75 and keep pace with the leaders. In the not so distant past that start may have caused the worst kind of attitude adjustment but his work with short game guru Dave Stockton Sr. has softened that edge in recent weeks.

“We made a slight adjustment to my routine and my stroke, and it made a huge difference last week. I felt so much better on the greens than I did at the Open,” McIlroy said. “(Stockton) sort of just said to me, ‘You know, just go out there and have fun and enjoy it and smile.’ That's something that I've really tried to do the last two weeks, and it's definitely helped.”

On Saturday Singh wasn’t doing much smiling. With all the congeniality of an unwanted blind date the Fijian and Tiger Woods set out in the anchor match. On the 32 occasions Woods and Singh have been paired together on the PGA Tour Woods holds a 21-8-3 advantage.

Although not a complete game, Singh should add one to the “win” column following Saturday’s abbreviated frame. He birdied the first and seventh, had little to say to his playing partner and held a share of the lead when he was whisked to safety. While Woods missed three makeable putts in his first three holes, hit three fans with errant shots and signed almost as many gloves as Phil Mickelson on his way to a 3-over-par start.

To make matters worse, when players retreated to the clubhouse they were greeted by a re-air of the 2009 PGA, exactly what Woods needed: another poor putting performance to watch.

“I got off to a rough start today and couldn’t get anything going,” said Woods, who had an 8-footer for par on the eighth hole and was five strokes back when Mother Nature began turning little puddles into big ones late in the afternoon. “I’ll come back tomorrow morning and see what happens. There are a lot of holes left to play.”

Sunday will not be a two-man race, and Saturday’s delay was a timely TO for the world No. 2, but if a player is going to emerge from a high-profile pack to challenge Singh and McIlroy it seems Stevie Williams’ new boss has a better chance.

Adam Scott matched McIlroy with an outward 32 that featured four birdies over his final five holes of the day. If the Aussie is still reeling from Lytham he’s hiding it well.

Since undergoing an extreme Grand Slam makeover at the start of the 2011 season – new putter, new caddie, new attitude for the majors – the perennial also-ran in the game’s biggest events has four top-10 finishes, and two runner-up showings. In the 38 installments before that shift he had a total of four top 10s and no runner-ups.

His Open meltdown last month hasn’t changed that reality, just the subtext surrounding it.

“I did come down (to Kiawah) last Monday, Tuesday before Bridgestone to play here and felt that was really worthwhile,” said Scott, who opened with a 68 and survived Friday with a 75. “That's part of my thing is coming in before and getting a really good understanding of the course before I get here tournament week.”

The only thing we’ve learned about Kiawah through 2 ½ frames is that Mother Nature, more so than the players, will likely have the ultimate say at “Glory’s Last Shot.”

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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.