Great performances - not dominance - theme of new era

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2014, 8:00 pm

HOYLAKE, England – Players can’t pinpoint the exact moment when golf’s era of dominance ended, and, really, they don’t have to. The point is that it’s over.

For years, Tiger Woods’ superior play stunted the careers of immensely talented players. Now 38, he’s no longer the biggest hitter on the PGA Tour (Bubba Watson), or the best scorer (Sergio Garcia), or the best ball-striker (Adam Scott), or the best putter (Graeme McDowell).

That’s not a knock on Woods, a five-time winner a year ago. That’s simply a statement of how deep the talent pool has become.

Heck, not even Woods himself can ignore the new world order, saying last week, “It gets harder every year, just because the fields get deeper. The margin is so much smaller. It’s only going to continue to be the case.”

And that was before Rory McIlroy’s latest tour de force, the surest sign yet that we’re in the midst of a new era in golf. Unlike the oppressive one that preceded it, this period is defined by a handful of all-or-nothing, go-for-broke studs whose careers will more resemble Phil Mickelson’s occasional brilliance than Woods’ sustained dominance.

Since Woods last won a major, in June 2008, 19 different players have captured one of the Grand Slam events. That’s a stark contrast to the 24 majors pre-Torrey, when Tiger and Phil scooped up nine of the titles – or 38 percent – in that span.

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McIlroy is the only player with a major hat trick over the past six years, which only underscores the point: Any of the top 25 players in the world are capable of putting a stranglehold on a tournament if everything perfectly aligns.

More than ever, there is a sense that the game is cracked wide open, that anyone can win on a given week.

That’s what happened with Bubba Watson, who slipped into his second green jacket with a virtuoso performance. That’s what happened with Martin Kaymer, who raced out to a huge lead at Pinehurst and then stiff-armed the field over the weekend. And that’s what happened again last week with McIlroy, who sealed the Open with a pair of eagles in his last three holes in Round 3.

Three extravagantly talented players. Three big-time victories.

“You never want to discount the possibility of someone coming along and dominating,” Mickelson said, “but nobody has really asserted themselves week-in, week-out the way Tiger did for such a long period of time. We’ll have great performances, like Rory this week and like Kaymer at the U.S. Open, but it’s very hard to do that week-in, week-out the way Tiger did. That’s why it was so impressive what he did.”

Outsized expectations accompanied both Watson and Kaymer in the wake of their second major victories, yet an encore proved difficult. An in-form Watson missed the cut in his next major start at Pinehurst, while a red-hot Kaymer finished 70th at Hoylake.

Those expectations (for the PGA and beyond) are now colossal for McIlroy, who at 25 became the third-youngest player to win the first three legs of the career Grand Slam.

With booming drives and timely putting, McIlroy reminded everyone at Royal Liverpool that his A-game is unmatched. Of course, the challenge – for Bubba, for Martin, for Rory – is sustaining that sublime form over a few months, a season, or a half-decade.

Only Woods – with a career winning percentage north of 25 percent – has been able to master that.

McIlroy briefly fell off after his redemptive 2011 U.S. Open victory. In late 2012, he added three more worldwide titles after the PGA, but then went quiet for a year and a half while dealing with equipment changes, lawsuits and breakups.

Now, as he returns to the spotlight, he finds a crowded landscape with more players who are bigger, faster, stronger, better.

“There are too many good players now,” McDowell said. “It’s so deep. It’s so strong. Everyone is so good. It’s very hard to dominate the way (Woods) did. Someone like Rory or Adam Scott maybe could do it; they’re that good. But so is everyone else, unfortunately.

“That type of dominance, I don’t think we’re going to see that again for a while unless somebody comes out who has perfected the imperfectable. These guys, the best players in the world, they’re playing pretty close to as good as you can play, really.”

Earlier this year McIlroy opined that the game desperately needed a player who could “stamp his authority,” but until this point, no one had taken the significant step forward. Just this year alone Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, Watson and Kaymer have all staked their claim as the game’s hottest player, but their form proved fleeting.

After another eye-opening performance, there is little doubt that McIlroy possesses the most upside, but his yearlong dry spell cost him the No. 1 ranking. Having dropped all the way to 11th at one point, not even two big titles in the past month could propel him back to the top spot.

Golf is a momentum sport, and no one has a bigger head of steam at the moment than McIlroy. As he gushed Sunday night, “I want to be the guy that goes on and wins majors regularly.”

So did the others. In this era, it’s easier said than done.

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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.

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“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.