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.

Zurich Classic: Articles, videos and photos

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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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.