From funk to finals, Raza leading way for Oregon

By Ryan LavnerMay 31, 2017, 2:51 am

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – If you expected Sulman Raza’s title-clinching heroics at last year’s NCAA Championship to help launch his career, well, sorry to disappoint.

His game actually went in the tank. It took less than a week.

Raza is the local kid from Eugene, Ore., the one who sank the 8-foot putt that gave the Ducks their first national title on their home course. Caught up in the hysteria, he didn’t practice for his U.S. Open sectional in Vancouver, and during that five-day span he apparently lost his game. Over the summer he developed the driver yips, sending balls all over the map, even hitting trees that were just 30 yards off the tee box. The low point came at the Pacific Coast Amateur, where he withdrew because his score was approaching 90.

“It was embarrassing to watch some of the shots I was hitting,” he said.

His erratic play continued into his senior season, and he made only five starts, the fewest of his career.

“Golf is a hard game,” Oregon coach Casey Martin said. “Anyone who has played this game competitively will understand that. When it is hard, it is just the hardest thing ever, and Sulman experienced that. He was in a funk.”

Raza worked on his mechanics. He stood farther from the ball. He narrowed his stance. He slowed down his tempo and rhythm and transition. And he showed signs of improvement this spring, earning a victory at the Duck Invitational (where he played as an individual), a performance that was so encouraging that Martin told his assistant: “Hey, he’s still got it.”

But Raza was left home for NCAA regionals, after he lost an 18-hole qualifier. He spent that week fine-tuning his game, hoping for another shot, and Martin rewarded his persistence with a trip back to nationals, based on his match-play experience a year ago.

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“I just had no clue it was going to happen again like this,” Raza said.

First, he holed an 8-footer for birdie on his 17th hole Tuesday to close out the team match against Oklahoma State.

Then, in the afternoon, against top-seeded Vanderbilt, he faced off against Matthias Schwab, the fifth-ranked amateur in the world. All square with seven holes to play, and once again with his team’s title hopes riding on his match, Raza played flawlessly to the clubhouse, closing out Schwab, 2 up, with a two-putt birdie after his approach into the par 5 narrowly missed the flag.

With the victory, he improved to 5-0 in NCAA match play.

“It was incredible to see him when the lights came on down the stretch,” Martin said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him hit it better than those last seven holes I was with him. Every shot was just on it.

“I’ve been in that funk before, where things do not go well and golf is the hardest pit to crawl out of, and it’s no fun. And so it’s fun to see him crawl out of it, with a big smile, and hopefully tomorrow will culminate in a great championship.”

It’s remarkable that Oregon even has a chance to become the third school in the past eight years to win back-to-back national titles.

Entering the final round of stroke play, the Ducks were in 12th place, 10 shots off the top-8 cut line. In benign conditions, it would have been a monumental task, because every team was going low, but the wind gusted to 40 mph Monday and scores skyrocketed. Oregon not only cracked the top 8 with its 5-over final round, which tied the low round of the day, but the Ducks finished fifth.

“And now here we are with one round to go,” Martin said.

The path to the finals wasn’t much easier for Oklahoma, which finished second in stroke play but was trailing in all five matches on the back nine in its quarterfinal match against Baylor.

That’s when Grant Hirschman made eagle on the 18th hole to win his match. And Rylee Reinertson, who has been deaf in both ears since age 2, birdied the 17th to earn a point. And then Brad Dalke, the U.S. Amateur runner-up who committed to play for the Sooners when he was 12, won the 19th hole to advance.

Even against a team as savvy as Illinois, which was in match play for the fifth consecutive year, Oklahoma didn’t flinch. The Sooners won the first three matches to punch their ticket to the finals, where they will look to capture their first national title since 1989.

“Oregon is going to be tough, we know that,” Oklahoma coach Ryan Hybl said. “They’ve got great players. They’ve got a great coach, and they won it last year. But you know what, I believe in my guys, and they’re going to do something great tomorrow.”

Sounds like another challenge for Oregon’s most unlikely hero.

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.