Woods has firm grip on fourth Doral title

By Rex HoggardMarch 10, 2013, 12:36 am

DORAL, Fla. – Before we dole out the WGC salad bowl and send Tiger Woods packing back up Interstate-95 with his second tilt of 2013, let’s pause for competitive clarity.

They like to play all 72 at these big-money games and as impressive as Woods’ four-stroke advantage at the Black & Blue Monster may seem, somewhere Y.E. Yang is yelling into a flat-screen TV to hold the phone.

You remember Yang, the understated South Korean who played the role of Jack Fleck at the 2009 PGA Championship?

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Woods began that final lap at Hazeltine National two clear of Yang, was anointed the de facto champion on Saturday night and stumbled to a closing 75 to spit up his first 54-hole lead in a major championship.

That disclaimer aside, however, picking “the field” on Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship has a distinct “fool's bet” quality to it. It’s not just that four-stroke advantage over Graeme McDowell on a golf course where he has won three times; it’s not those filthy birdie totals (he has 24 so far this week, the most through three rounds in his career); and it’s not even that controlled action that has dissected Doral.

It’s the deadpan glare.

Just past the dinner hour on Saturday, Woods slipped into the interview room for his post-round give and take with the media with McDowell still answering questions. The Northern Irishman noticed the world No. 2 and drifted into a playfully flowery assessment of Woods’ game.

“The way (Woods) controlled his ball – it wasn't like wow, it was just really solidly good and impressive, you know, so . . .,” laughed McDowell, who was paired with Woods on Saturday. “OK, that's enough of that.”

Woods didn’t bite or blink. In the military it’s called the 1,000-yard stare; in professional golf it’s a sign that one is playing with a purpose.

With a monsoon of respect to McDowell, who began the final frame at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge four strokes behind Woods and clipped him in a playoff, or Phil Mickelson, who blew past Woods during the final round of last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the pack will be running uphill on Sunday.

Optimism suggested that Sunday’s forecast with wind gusts expected to exceed 20 mph will help even the playing field, but even the man who striped stringers all over the Blue Monster on Saturday struggled to concede the point, although he tried.

“If you're coming from behind, it's always nice to have tougher conditions. But also when you've got the nice lead, too, it's nice to have tougher conditions and you can make a bunch of pars,” Woods tried to explain before allowing a wildly understated, “I’ve won a few tournaments in the wind.”

It could have been worse if not for a drive that sailed into a palm tree and never came out at the 17th hole. Woods took a penalty drop and limited the damage with a bogey. A hole earlier McDowell also helped his cause with a chip-in for eagle to move to within four strokes.

But Woods, who began his round with three consecutive birdies and signed for a 67, carved a drive with the wind at the 18th hole and fist-pumped a 16-footer for birdie into the cup to establish a four-stroke cushion. He is 50-for-54 when leading through three rounds in his career, and is 16-0 when leading by at least four in official Tour events.

Not that the field had much interest in embracing the “B” flight just yet.

“It's not overly difficult for the reason that you can make a lot of birdies. Even in tough conditions, even in wind, you can shoot in the mid-60s fairly easily,” Mickelson said.

“I really don't have to play that much differently. It's a course where you can make a lot of pars, but it's not always easy to make birdies when you have to. And if Steve (Stricker, who is tied with Mickelson five shots back) or I can get off to a hot start, the group in front, I think we can make a run.”

Ditto for McDowell, who missed short par putts at Nos. 10 and 11 and hit a “scruffy” chip about 10 feet at No. 14 and made double bogey. Still, the man who has outdueled Woods before on a Sunday seemed the most likely candidate to play the role of Yang on Day 4 in South Florida.

“He’s going to be tough to catch,” McDowell said. “I’m just glad I was able to steady the ship and give myself a chance.”

A chance, yes, but not a good one.

That mountain seemed even higher when Woods was asked to compare his current play to that when he was considered at his best in 2000 and 2001. It’s lofty territory that some figured he would never reach again on a rebuilt left knee and a retooled swing that has eluded him at times over the past two years. The answer was chilling.

“I don't want it to be as good (as 2000). That was never the intent,” Woods said. “I want it to be better.”

This much is certain – through 54 holes at Doral he has been better than the field, but if long-shot bets are your thing, knock yourself out.

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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.

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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.

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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.”  

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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.