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Come and get it: PGA ripe for low scores

By Ryan LavnerAugust 8, 2018, 6:02 pm

ST. LOUIS – Going the distance on a hot, steamy Midwest morning, Dustin Johnson bumped into Sergio Garcia and Tyrrell Hatton as they headed off the 10th tee at Bellerive Country Club.

Rather than wait for them to clear in front of him on the 508-yard par 4, Johnson instead launched a missile over their heads.

The crowd roared with laughter.

Then Rory McIlroy stepped up and fired another warning shot. Jon Rahm, too.

The last to play was Shane Lowry, and this made the group slightly uncomfortable, because Lowry is average length off the tee and Garcia and Hatton were fast approaching their golf balls.

“Hurry up! Hurry up!” McIlroy said, giggling. But sure enough, Lowry, too, had more than enough firepower to send it 300-plus.

Get used to that sight. Soft and swampy Bellerive will be under attack all week in the final edition of the August PGA Championship.

PGA Championship: Tee times| Full coverage

Beginning next year, the year’s final major will instead be contested second, sandwiched between the Masters and U.S. Open. The coordinated move allows the sport to showcase huge tournaments from March to August, the PGA Tour to end its wraparound season before football monopolizes viewership, the Olympics to have top billing in August 2020, and the PGA to expand its premier event to other parts of the country and appeal to 85 percent of its membership that is just beginning its season.

It’s a dramatic shifting of the golf landscape. In its 100-year history, the PGA has been played in nine different months, but it’s occupied the final spot on the major calendar 57 of the past 58 years.

That’s been its core identity, the reason why for years the PGA’s tagline was “Glory’s Last Shot.” And it was true. The PGA doesn’t have the grandeur of the Masters, the ruggedness of the U.S. Open or the tradition of The Open, but if nothing else it offered a final opportunity to salvage an uneven season, or to cap a great year, or to project ahead to bigger and better things for the following season.

That all changes in 2019, however, when the PGA will have to redefine what makes it distinctive – other than boasting the strongest field of any major (109 of the top 111 in the world are here) and the 20 spots reserved for the club professionals.

It’s telling, perhaps, that when asked about the defining characteristics of this championship, most players pointed to their world-class treatment and the user-friendly setups.

That everything from the lodging to the facilities to the staffing is convenient and accessible.

That it’s a fair test on a straightforward, no-frills layout.

That chief championships officer Kerry Haigh and Co. aren’t concerned with the winning score, whether it’s 5 or 15 under.

“I think you look at it as a really challenging, difficult PGA Tour event with the aura of a major championship and certainly the most competitive field in all of golf,” Jordan Spieth said.

Of course, that “really challenging, difficult” part could get tested this week.

After a scorching-hot summer, club officials had no choice but to keep Bellerive as soft as possible to avoid losing the course too early. Mother Nature’s impact can mostly be found in the greens, which have little root structure and should accept more soft-landing approaches, even from the rough. The actual surfaces putt better than they appear, but the PGA left a notice in the locker room alerting players that green speeds and conditions would be intentionally slower in practice than during competition rounds. An inch and a half of rain Tuesday only added to the belief that this will be quintessential target golf.

“I look at that as a positive,” Haigh said, “because I think we could have one of the most exciting PGA Championships ever played.”

Branden Grace carded the first 62 in major-championship history at last year’s Open Championship on a calm, windless day at par-70 Royal Birkdale, and there’s a growing sense that mark could be under assault this week.

The cushy Zoysia fairways make even tricky shots around the greens more playable. There are few disaster holes to make double bogey or worse. The greens themselves are massive targets, but almost all have smaller quadrants that balls can funnel into and increase the likelihood of hole-outs.

“If you put 98 of the top 100 golfers in the world on a beautifully manicured course with soft greens and little or no wind,” Haigh said, “I certainly hope and expect we’ll see a lot of birdies.”

If all goes well, Wednesday was the one and only time that Haigh planned to meet with the press. He doesn’t particularly enjoy the annual gathering, because his task is to showcase the best players on great layouts, nothing more, and that won’t change whether this tournament is played in August or May.

“I don’t like being up here,” he said. “I don’t really want to talk about it because we are not the story. It’s the players and the golf course.”

And that’s a mission statement that everyone who loves golf can support.

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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.

Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.

''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''

The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.

''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''

Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''

Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.

''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''

The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.

''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 move on to the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

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After Further Review: American success stories

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 8:35 pm

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...

Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.

After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.

Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray

On the resurgence of American women  ...

American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.

The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell

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In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.




Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

Kang did.

“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”