Bogey-free Noh poised for Sunday duel with Bradley

By Ryan LavnerApril 27, 2014, 12:19 am

AVONDALE, La. – Seung-Yul Noh flirted with disaster late Saturday. His final drive of the day splashed down in the bunker, only a few feet from a pond, and he sighed deeply upon learning it was safe. 

His par, and bogey-free start secure – the Noh-Noh still intact – the 22-year-old Korean is now on the verge of joining elite company and becoming the latest under-25 winner on the PGA Tour.

After another blemish-free day at TPC Louisiana, Noh’s 7-under 65 Saturday was good enough for a two-shot lead at the Zurich Classic, an event that could soon produce a first-time winner for the seventh time in a decade.  

If he can la-di-da his way around TPC Louisiana again Sunday, Noh will become the first player since Charles Howell III (2010) to play all 72 holes without a dropped shot. Even more historic: If he wins in bogey-free fashion, he’d be the first since Lee Trevino in 1974.

“I’m very ready for tomorrow,” he said.

All that matters now, of course, is that he’s staked to his first-ever 54-hole lead on Tour. At 18-under 198, he is two clear of Keegan Bradley. Robert Streb is another shot behind.

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No player this week has put on an iron clinic quite like Noh, who has hit at least 14 greens in each round. On Saturday he was practically throwing darts, landing 10 approach shots within 15 feet of the cup. On the back nine, when he came home in 32 to extend his lead to two, he stuck iron shots within 10 feet on Nos. 15, 16 and 17. 

When asked about his iron play, Noh offered a sheepish grin. “Just this week,” he said, though the stats tell a different story: He is ranked 24th on Tour in greens hit, and he is in the top 10 in proximity to the hole from both 100-125 yards and 175-200.

“His iron play is off the charts right now,” said caddie Scott Sajtinac, in his first week looping for Noh. The veteran caddie, who has worked in the past for Trevor Immelman and Stuart Appleby, said he has been impressed by Noh ever since the kid landed on Tour full-time in 2012.

“Everybody knows he’s good,” Sajtinac said. “He’s the real deal. It’s just coming together this week.”

If Noh can close the deal Sunday – a tough task for 54-hole leaders this season, with just 10 of 22 players holding on to win – he will become the fourth under-25 winner this season, joining Harris English (24), Russell Henley (now 25) and Patrick Reed (23).

Inexperience hasn’t proved an obstacle to Noh in the past, however. In 2010, he became the second-youngest winner in European Tour history when the then-18-year-old captured the Malaysian Open. That year he also topped the Asian Tour Order of Merit, and the next season he earned his PGA Tour card via Q-School.

Noh had a promising rookie campaign, finishing 49th in earnings, but he struggled immensely in 2013. By finishing outside the top 150 in FedEx Cup points, Noh was briefly sent back down to the minors, but he won one of the Tour’s Final Series events to regain his playing privileges.

“It was a very good experience,” he said. “I learned from that time.”

This season has been steady, unspectacular, with just one top 10 in 13 tries. Earlier this month, after a wrist-related WD from Houston, Noh returned to Korea for two weeks with his parents and a friend. He emerged “very clean” mentally and excited about resuming his season.

A good thing, because few players on Tour are as amped up – or, now, as hungry – as his closest pursuer. Two shots behind, the 27-year-old Bradley says this is an arena in which he thrives. In this sense he’s very much like his pal Phil Mickelson – in the heat of competition, Bradley’s stride becomes more purposeful, his drives fly farther, his emotion boils over.   

“When I’m not in contention, it’s no fun,” he said Saturday after a 7-under 65. “I love waking up and feeling that energy, getting to the first tee and the biggest crowds. There is a lot on the line tomorrow.”

Not least an opportunity for Bradley, one of the game’s best American players, to break through for his first win in 20 months. In the past half year, he has switched coaches, from Jim McLean to Chuck Cook, and insists now that their work together is merely “maintenance.”

Bradley was unsure whether he’d be able to even tee it up Friday, after a late-night bout with food poisoning. “About 40 minutes from my tee time I was having some issues, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Watching him Friday you’d never know the trouble that bubbled within – he made five birdies and a highlight-reel eagle, his 66 sending him within a half dozen of the lead heading into the weekend.

“I’m most proud this week of where I’ve been mentally on the golf course and the calm I’ve felt,” he said.

Sajtinac said that Noh needs that same “calm focus” to prevail Sunday, but that attribute “only comes with age.”

Or, you know, another bogey-free round. 

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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

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Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”