World's top players primed to create classic U.S. Open

By Rex HoggardJune 13, 2012, 6:15 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – If championship venues, like the championships they host, are the sum of their parts, count The Olympic Club as the game’s ultimate buzzkill.

It is, with a monsoon of respect to the Jack Flecks of the major championship world, where great Grand Slam expectations go to die. From Fleck’s stunning upset of Ben Hogan at the 1955 U.S. Open to Scott Simpson’s torrid finish in 1987 to clip Tom Watson, the Lake Course may have identified the week’s best player but not the most popular or predictable champion.

Four times the U.S. Golf Association has rolled the greatest show on grass onto the peninsula and each time the golf world came away feeling as if they’d just been punked. The masses wanted Hogan. We got Fleck. Watson was the man of the moment, but Simpson stole the show.

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Yet even as the ubiquitous marine layer engulfed the property early Wednesday it was hard not to imagine that this time would be different. If the ghosts of Olympic Opens past were swirling about the morning fog the buzz on property refused to yield.

Whether it is Tiger Woods’ official return to form two weeks ago at the Memorial, Dustin Johnson’s return from injury last week in Memphis or Phil Mickelson’s hopeful return to another West Coast Open, it’s easy to imagine that this time things will finally go to script.

With so many cosmic tumblers poised not even the Lake Course could make a mess of this marquee, could it?

Even those who call the shots at the USGA sense the change.

On Tuesday, Woods offered the perfect sound bite for the national championship: “It is just the most demanding test that there is in golf,” he said. But this is not your father, or grandfather’s, Olympic Club.

USGA executive director Mike Davis has turned the Lake Course upside down, transforming the first hole, which ranked as the easiest during the ’98 championship as a par 5, into a par 4 and No. 17, which played the toughest in ’98 as a par 4, into a par 5.

There’s a driveable par 4, the 288-yard seventh, an opening six holes that some say will drive players crazy and a closing stretch (Nos. 16-18) that, in theory, could be played in 3 under if the stars were to align properly.

Memorable Opens, however, are defined by the players, not the pitch, and the USGA wasted no time sending out its best lineup.

At 7:33 a.m. PT, Masters champion Bubba Watson will have the best seat in golf when he heads out with Woods and Mickelson, a title bout that would suggest that even the USGA is keen to lift the Lake Course from the throes of mediocrity.

The buildup to Thursday at the Open is always awash with hype, but on Tuesday even Mickelson was getting into the act.

“I get excited to play with Tiger,” Lefty gushed. “I love it. I think we all do. He gets the best out of me. . . . (He’s) the one player I’m most concerned about if I play my best golf that may have a chance to beat me.”

Not surprising given his pedestrian record in recent head-to-head duels, most notably this year in the final round at Pebble Beach when Mickelson beat Woods by 11 strokes and the field by two, “Red Shirt” was not as engaged by the high-profile three-ball.

“I don’t think we’re going to talk about a lot,” Woods said. “I think this is the tournament the guys least conversate.”

Not to worry, there will be plenty of talk about the pairing even if the conversation promises to be light inside the ropes. But the opportunity for a long awaited Olympic moment goes well beyond Woods and Mickelson.

On the opposite side of the draw from the Lefty-Tiger Show will be defending champion Rory McIlroy, who after three consecutive missed cuts seemed to find new life, if not the center of the clubface, last week in Memphis. He led after two rounds, struggled on Saturday and tied for seventh at TPC Southwind.

It was progress by any measure for the man who lapped the field last year at Congressional by eight strokes and seamlessly transformed himself from potential superstar to heir apparent.

His current slide aside, McIlroy navigated the eventful 12 months since his major breakthrough with surprising ease and seems at peace with the expectations his play has created, however unrealistic.

“You're not just happy with top-10s anymore, and you're not happy finishing in the top 5. It's a good result, but it's not what you want,” McIlroy said. “Maybe a couple of years ago it would be a step in the right direction and everything is good. But when you get yourself into positions like I did last week you want to finish them off and get wins.”

If the Woods-Mickelson pairing promises to dominate the conversation on Thursday the three-ball of McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald quietly may be the week’s most promising threesome.

Westwood has four top-10 finishes at the U.S. Open, including his 2008 heartbreak at Torrey Pines, and is fresh off a victory last week in Europe; while world No. 1 Donald lapped a deep field last month at the BMW PGA Championship and likely realizes that the relatively short Lake Course may be his best chance to win an Open.

Olympic will also be Mickelson’s last chance to score that coveted California Open, a title that has eluded the San Diego native who has five second-place showings in the national championship.

The next California Open will be in 2019 at Pebble Beach. Mickelson will be 48, maybe not past his competitive expiration date but hardly a legitimate contender. If Lefty is going to land the one title that has painfully eluded him on home soil it’s now or never.

“If you look at my game from 20,000 feet, you'd say, well, that's probably not the best setup for the way he likes to play. And yet five times I've had opportunities, I've come close,” Mickelson said of his Open record. “Could have, should have won a few of those. And it gives me the belief that I can compete and be in contention on Sunday in this tournament.”

Or maybe it’s Woods’ turn to get off a major schnied that stretches back to the 2008 U.S. Open, or McIlroy’s time to become the first back-to-back champion since 1989, or Westwood and Donald’s chance to get on the Grand Slam board.

It is, at least on paper, an embarrassment of riches for 112th U.S. Open, and for some reason it feels like Olympic Club will finally get it right.

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.

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Johnson, Moore co-lead Valero Texas Open through 36

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson was going nowhere in the Valero Texas Open when it all changed with one putt.

He made an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole of the opening round to stay at 2 under. He followed with a big drive, a hybrid into 12 feet and an eagle. Johnson was on his way, and he kept right on going Friday to a 7-under 65 and a share of the 36-hole lead with Ryan Moore.

''You just never know. That's the beauty of this game,'' Johnson said. ''I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. You just never know.''

Moore had three birdies over his last five holes for a 67 and joined Johnson at 9-under 135.

They had a one-shot lead over Grayson Murray (69) and Andrew Landry (67).

Ben Crane (66), Martin Laird (65) and David Hearn (68) were three shots behind. Billy Horschel and Keegan Bradley shot 71 and were four shots behind at 5-under 139.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, had a short stay in his first time at the Texas Open since 2010. Garcia shot an even-par 72, and at one point became so frustrated he threw his driver into the shrubs.

Garcia finished at 2-over 146 and missed the cut.

It was the first time since 2010 that Garcia missed the cut in successive starts. That was the PGA Championship and, 10 weeks later, the Castello Masters in Spain. This time, he missed the cut in the Masters and Texas Open three weeks apart.

Johnson, a two-time winner of the Texas Open, appeared to be headed to a short week until the key par save on the 13th hole, followed by his eagle, par and three straight birdies. He began the second round Friday with five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, a sixth birdie on the par-4 first hole, and then an eagle on the short par-4 fifth when he holed out from a greenside bunker.

The only sour taste to his second round was a three-putt bogey from about 30 feet on his final hole. Even so, the view was much better than it was Thursday afternoon.

Moore thought he had wasted a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 14th hole when he left his 50-foot eagle putt about 6 feet short. But he made that, and then holed a similar putt from 8 feet for birdie on the next hole and capped his good finish with a 15-foot putt on the 17th.

''That was a huge momentum putt there,'' Moore said of the 14th. ''It was a tough putt from down there with a lot of wind. That green is pretty exposed and ... yeah, really short and committed to that second putt really well and knocked it right in the middle.''

The birdies on the 14th and 15th were important to Moore because he missed a pair of 10-foot birdie tries to start the back nine.

''So it was nice to get those and get going in the right direction on the back,'' he said.

The cut was at 1-over 145, and because 80 players made the cut, there will be a 54-hole cut on Saturday.

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Garcia tosses driver, misses Valero cut

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

It wasn't quite to the level of his watery meltdown earlier this month at the Masters, but Sergio Garcia still got frustrated during the second round of the Valero Texas Open - and his driver paid the price.

Garcia had a hand in redesigning the AT&T Oaks Course along with Greg Norman several years ago, but this marked his first return to TPC San Antonio since 2010. After an opening-round 74, Garcia arrived to the tee of the short par-4 fifth hole and decided to get aggressive with driver in hand.

When his shot sailed well left, a heated Garcia chucked the club deep into the bushes that lined the tee box:

It took considerable effort for Garcia to find and retrieve the club amid the branches, and once he did things only got worse. He appeared to shank a chip once he got up to his ball, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on a demanding track.

Garcia closed out his round with four straight pars, and at 2 over he eventually missed the cut by a shot. It marks the first time he has missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour since 2003, when he sat out the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament in successive weeks.

Garcia entered the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and he was the only top-20 player among the 156-man field. He missed the cut at the Masters in defense of his title after carding an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole during the opening round.

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Daly-Allen team grabs Legends of Golf lead on Day 2

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 11:14 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - John Daly and Michael Allen took the second-round lead Friday in the cool and breezy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Daly and Allen shot an 8-under 46 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course with wind gusting to 15 mph and the temperature only in the high-50s at Big Cedar Lodge. They had three birdies on the front nine in alternate-shot play and added five more on the back in better-ball play to get to 13 under.

''Michael and I go back to the South African days in the late 80s and playing that tour,'' Daly said. ''We've been buddies since. He's just fun to play with. We feed off each other pretty good. And if he's not comfortable guinea-pigging on one hole, I'll go first.''

On Thursday, they opened with a 66 on the regulation Buffalo Ridge course. They will rotate to the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course on Saturday, and return to Top of the Rock for the final round Sunday.

''I went to high school in Jeff City, so it's cool to have the fans behind us,'' Daly said.

Allen won the PGA Tour Champions team event with David Frost in 2012 and Woody Austin in 2016.

''I'm just here to free up John,'' Allen said. ''It was fun. Luckily, I started making good putts today. We just want to keep the good times rolling.''

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

Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco were a stroke back along with Bernhard Langer-Tom Lehman and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett. Singh and Franco had a 7-under 32 in best-ball play at Mountain Top, and Lehman-Langer and Broadhurst-Tripplet each shot 6-under 48 at Top of the Rock.

''Part of the issue here is all the tees are elevated, so you're up high hitting to a green that's down below and the wind is blowing, and there is more time for that wind to affect it,'' Lehman said. ''If you guess wrong on the wind, you can hit a really good shot and kind of look stupid.''

Former UCLA teammates Scott McCarron and Brandt Jobe were two strokes back at 11 under with Steve Flesch and David Toms and the Spanish side of Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez. McCarron-Jobe had a 47, and Jimenez-Olazabal a 48 at Top of the Rock, and Tom Flesch shot 34 at Mountain Top.

First-round leaders Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik had a 52 at Top of the Rock to fall three shots back at 10 under. Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly also were 10 under after a 32 at Mountain Top. Jay Haas aced the 131-yard seventh hole at Mountain Top with a gap wedge. Haas and fellow 64-year-old Peter Jacobsen were 8 under after a 32.