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'World flair' tops star power on Day 1 in Mexico

By Rex HoggardMarch 2, 2018, 2:15 am

MEXICO CITY – The opening round of the WGC-Mexico Championship definitely had a “world” flair, with five different countries represented among the top 10, but it wasn’t exactly the star power we’ve come to expect from a World Golf Championship.

There was your leader Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa), followed by Chris Paisley (England), Xander Schauffele (United States) and Shubhankar Sharma (India) tied for second; while Rafa Cabrera Bello (Spain) and Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand) were knotted at 5 under and in fifth place.

Missing from that United Nations lineup was world No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson, No. 3 and the PGA Tour’s most recent winner Justin Thomas, No. 4 Jordan Spieth and No. 5 Justin Rose.

In fact, there were just two players from the top 10 in the World Ranking, No. 2 Jon Rahm (seventh) and No. 7 Rickie Fowler (tied for eighth), among the top 10 when play finally concluded in fading light after a 30-minute lightning delay.

“Any player here can have a good day and shoot a good round,” said Oosthuizen, who was bogey-free on Thursday for a 7-under 64.

These are world-class events and by definition a collection of the globe’s best and brightest, but history shows that these WGC soirees go to chalk more times than not. The last six winners of this event, which moved to Mexico from Doral last year, include Johnson (who has won twice), Adam Scott, Patrick Reed, Tiger Woods (a seven-time champion) and Rose.

Instead, Thursday at Chapultepec Golf Club delivered a mixed bag of compelling, if not little-known, players and just as many out-of-character performances.

Johnson, for example, had two bogeys and a double-bogey and played the par 5s, which he feasted on last year on his way to victory, in 1 under par.

“I had some really good holes, I had some really bad holes. I felt like I was just struggling all day, just grinding,” said Johnson, who finished with a 2-under 69 and is tied for 13th. “When I did have good looks, I made them, which definitely kept my score at least respectable. The way I hit it, I probably should not have shot 2 under.”

Full-field scores from the WGC-Mexico Championship

WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Consider Paisley, who describes himself on his Twitter account as a “diminutive golfer from Newcastle, the anti-DJ. The Englishman, who began this year ranked 289th in the world and is playing his first WGC and first PGA Tour event this week, ranks 35th in the field in driving distance.

“I was delighted with the score, and obviously it's the biggest tournament I've played in by a long stretch,” said Paisley, who finished first, fifth and fifth in his first three starts on the European Tour this year. “To play as well as I did and shoot a great score against the world's best players and to be right up there, I'm just delighted.”

Thomas, who is fresh off his eighth Tour victory last week at the Honda Classic, couldn’t say the same thing. He posted more bogeys (three) than birdies (two) for just his third over-par round (72) of the year and is tied for 39th in the 64-man field.

“It's probably the worst I've ever felt over the ball in my life. It's a helpless feeling just because it's a course that you feel like you can score, make a lot of birdies on,” Thomas said. “I really kind of started on Tuesday, wasn't swinging it very well, and then yesterday I just was hitting it awful. It's just one of those days where kind of everything wasn't going my way and not playing well definitely added to that.”

Sharma, who like Paisley is making his first Tour start and at this point last year was plying his trade on the Asian Tour, had no such problems with his swing or Chapultepec and was a perfect 6-for-6 in scrambling on his way to a 65.

There were moments of normality early on Thursday when Bubba Watson, who won his last start at the Genesis Open and already has a WGC on his resume (2015 HSBC Champions), moved to 7 under for a two-stroke lead following three consecutive birdies at the turn, but the left-hander’s unraveling was as sudden as it was spectacular when he played Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in 4 over par to plunge down the leaderboard.

To be fair, Oosthuizen is hardly a journeyman and he’s certainly comfortable on the biggest stages (see Open Championship, 2010); and Rahm, who finished third here last year in his debut and can overtake Johnson this week as world No. 1 depending on a variety of scenarios, has emerged as a bona fide world-beater. It’s just that since their inception, the World Golf Championship events have largely been the domain of the game’s most recognizable players, a dependable catalyst that produces predictably impressive contenders and champions.

The billboards around Chapultepec understandably include the likes of Johnson, Spieth, Fowler and Thomas. By comparison, neither Paisley nor Sharma even have pictures or bios to go along with their scorecards.

But then, while it might be billboards that sell tickets and generate interest, it’s the names on the leaderboard that count once the competition has started, whether that lineup includes a superstar cast or not.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.