Team format will bring excitement one way or another

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2017, 8:45 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Fun and excitement. Good times and a lively atmosphere.

For once, they’re talking about the Zurich Classic, not just the tournament’s host city.

After struggling to attract star power during a quiet time on the schedule, the Zurich on Thursday will become the first official team event on the PGA Tour since 1981, when Vance Heafner and Mike Holland won at Disney World.

Based on the field assembled here – seven of the top 11, and 13 of the top 25 – and the increased media turnout, everyone is interested to see how the Big Easy stages an easygoing, freewheeling team format.

“I think that’s what we miss sometimes – the fun aspect of golf, for viewers at home, for viewers that are here, and for me personally,” Bubba Watson said. “There’s going to be some competition and a fun side of it, but at the same time, we’re going to be grinding it out and trying to win. We want to hold a trophy at the end of the day.”

There are two rounds of foursomes play (Thursday and Saturday) and two rounds of fourballs (Friday and Sunday), with a 36-hole cut to the low 35 teams and ties. Both members of the winning team will receive $1.02 million and 400 FedEx Cup points, as well as invitations to The Players, PGA Championship and Kapalua.

Players didn’t exactly pore over strokes-gained data to form their teams. Allegiances here range from college (Alabama’s Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley) to country (Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Hideto Tanihara) to state (Utah’s Tony Finau and Daniel Summerhays) to sponsor (Zurich ambassadors Jason Day and Rickie Fowler).

Hey, even brothers, in the case of Brooks and Chase Koepka.

Big bro Brooks joked that they could either wrestle by the second hole or have an incredible experience at TPC Louisiana.

“We’ve definitely hurt each other’s feelings before,” he said. “Nothing we haven’t done.”

Most of the partnerships were solidified in the fall, when the format change was first announced. Or at least that’s how it seemed to Geoff Ogilvy. With only six weeks to spare, he essentially signed up for the Tour’s version of – he called the tournament office to tell them he was interested in playing, and then he asked if anyone else had done the same.

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It wasn’t until Ogilvy showed up at Hilton Head a few weeks ago that he finally found a partner: Ian Poulter, a player he’d known for nearly two decades, the man who was riding shotgun with Ogilvy on Sunday at Winged Foot when he won the U.S. Open. “It was serendipitous, really,” Ogilvy said. “We were both looking at the right time.”

Polar opposites in both personality and temperament, Ogilvy and Poulter aren’t even the oddest couple here.

That honor could go to quirky Bryson DeChambeau and quick-tempered Rory Sabbatini.

Or maybe 32-year-old Spencer Levin and 54-year-old Rocco Mediate.

Or perhaps Argentine Miguel Angel Carballo and Californian Brian Campbell.

“If you don’t get along,” Henrik Stenson said, “it’s going to be a long four days out there.”

The only two major champions paired together, Stenson and his partner, Justin Rose, have the biggest advantage this week – they’re close friends (used to live across the street from each other in Lake Nona), they possess similar games (strong ball-strikers) and they have experience partnering together in the Ryder Cup (4-2 record), the biggest pressure-cooker in golf.

“There’s no sorrys,” Stenson said. “It’s not going to be a good environment if you’re standing over the ball feeling like, Oh, I hope I don’t miss this or he gets mad at me. It’s not going to work.”

Players expect the winning score to be somewhere between 16 and 20 under par, depending on the weather. Most will play their own game, or slightly more aggressively, during fourballs. But there is the potential for sparks to fly during the two rounds of alternate shot, especially among the teams that are playing together for the first time. Throw in a forecast that calls for 30-mph winds, and …

“You’re going to see some big numbers and it’s going to be fun on TV and you may see some teammates go at it,” Billy Horschel said. “It’s going to be entertaining.”

Players have seemed especially eager to break away from the traditional 72-hole stroke-play format. The European Tour has already unveiled innovative new ideas, from night golf to six-hole tournaments, and now the biggest Tour in the world is exploring whether the same outside-the-box thinking works in the States, too. Rickie Fowler described this week as a “trial run.”  

It’s revealing that even without world-ranking points, the Zurich has attracted its best field in decades. (Last year, just 10 of the top 50 in the world teed it up.) That the tournament doesn’t offer world-ranking points this week – and thus counts against a player’s divisor – might actually be a bonus.

“Guys that are playing free, that are expressing themselves, you’ll see more personality than you would maybe see, and I think we’re all looking forward to that,” Jordan Spieth said. “It’s an event that guys have not only marked down on their calendar, but have been as excited as any other event the rest of the year.”

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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.”

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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.