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Simpson battling back from putting doldrums

By Ryan LavnerMay 13, 2018, 12:23 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Whatever happens Sunday, it’s worth noting that Webb Simpson’s career has already changed once here at TPC Sawgrass.

A year ago, he bumped into Tim Clark on the practice putting green. Two longtime anchorers forced to adopt a new method, Clark asked how Simpson was rolling it.

“Inconsistent,” he replied, and frankly, that was putting it mildly. The major champion, four-time PGA Tour winner and member of four cup teams was lost, entering the week ranked 192nd in putting.

“To be at the bottom of the barrel like we were, I didn’t know if he’d ever putt well again,” said Simpson’s caddie, Paul Tesori. “When you putt that poorly for that length of time and you play at this level, you can’t hide.”

But that day, Clark told Simpson to try the claw method. It felt awkward, but he was desperate for a quick fix. Simpson put it in play without any practice, and something immediately clicked – he shot 4 under for the first two rounds, ultimately tying for 16th. Over the rest of the year, after creating his own style – the “Kuchar-claw,” with the shaft pinned against his left forearm – Simpson climbed more than 100 spots in the rankings.

Full-field scores from the The Players Championship

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I wasn’t going in a good direction,” he said. “I’m very thankful he gave me that lesson.”

“And to look at him now,” Tesori said, “it’s nothing short of miraculous.”

That’s one way to describe Simpson’s putting through three rounds here at The Players.

Simpson has gained more than nine shots on the field on the greens, tops by a wide margin. The first round was the 10th-best putting round of his career. The second round was his fifth-best. On Saturday, he putted like a “normal person,” but he still added to his eye-popping totals. Through three rounds he has drained 356 feet worth of putts, none bigger than his 17-footer on the last that preserved his seven-shot advantage at The Players – the largest 54-hole lead here, by two.

“The fact of where we were a year ago with our struggles,” Tesori said, “it’s pretty amazing we’re here right now with this situation in front of us.”

Simpson was one of golf’s many promising 20-somethings when he won the 2012 U.S. Open. That breakthrough came during the anchorers’ heyday, as Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA) and Simpson and Adam Scott (2013 Masters) all won majors with the end of their long putters pressed against their flat bellies or toned chests.

But it was a month after Scott’s breakthrough that the governing bodies announced a crackdown on anchoring. The ban didn’t go into effect for two-and-a-half more years, offering a transition period for users to find another method. That sounded good in theory, except many felt obligated to switch immediately, lest they be viewed by fans or their peers as cheaters.

So in late 2014, determined to forge ahead, Simpson broke his major-winning putter over his knee – a symbolic end to his anchoring career. Rather than discard his major-winning putter, he put the two pieces in his trophy case at home.

“It won the U.S. Open,” he said, “so it’s staying with me.”

Even as Simpson appeared ready to move on, he couldn’t rediscover his stroke. One of the most consistent putters on Tour ever since he debuted in 2009, he plummeted to 174th in 2015 and 177th in ’16.

“He was basically back to square one after spending thousands of hours perfecting a perfectly fine method,” said fellow ex-anchorer Adam Scott.

Ball-bashers like Dustin Johnson or Jon Rahm or Rory McIlroy don’t need to lead the Tour in putting – they just need to be mediocre on the greens to give themselves a chance each week.

Simpson, of course, doesn’t have that luxury. He averages 290 yards off the tee, which is well below Tour average. And he’s not particularly accurate, either, ranking outside the top 125 on Tour. He relies on his putting to stay in the mix, and if the putts don’t drop, well, then he’s going to struggle, sinking from 11th in the world in 2012 to a low of 88th last January.

It took him three years, and an impromptu lesson from Clark, but now Simpson is back among the Tour’s top-10 putters and on the verge of a runaway victory against the strongest field in golf.

“I hope he doesn’t putt too well with that thing up his arm,” Scott joked, “or they’ll ban that, too.”

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Davies headlines field at Senior LPGA at French Lick

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 14, 2018, 10:40 pm

Laura Davies will be looking to win her second senior major championship this year when she tees it up in Monday’s start of the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana.

Davies, who won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in July, will join a field that includes fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Jan Stephenson, who was announced last week with Peggy Kirk Bell as the Hall’s newest members. Hall of Famers Juli Inkster and Hollis Stacy are also in the 54-hole event.

Trish Johnson is back to defend her title after winning the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship a year ago. Brandi Burton, Jane Geddes, Helen Alfredsson and Liselotte Neumann are also in the field of 81 players who will compete for a $600,000 purse, with $90,000 going to the winner.

Golf Channel will televise all three rounds live from 4-6 p.m. ET on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Langer (65) wins regular-season finale by six

By Associated PressOctober 14, 2018, 10:07 pm

CARY, N.C. – Bernhard Langer ran away with the SAS Championship on Sunday to take the points lead into the PGA Tour Champions' Charles Schwab Cup playoffs

Langer shot a bogey-free 7-under 65 for a six-stroke victory in the regular-season finale.

''I just played very solid all day long,'' Langer said. ''Putted well, hit the ball where I was looking and did everything exceptionally well.''

The 61-year-old German star has 38 victories on the 50-and-over tour, also winning this year near Houston. He has a record four victories after turning 60.

''I don't have anything to prove, but I still have golf,'' Langer said. ''I still want to improve my own game. I still want to play to the best Bernhard Langer can play. I don't think I need to prove anything, but I love competing, I love winning or being in the hunt. As long as I can do that, I think you're going to see me out here.''

Langer finished with a tournament-record 22-under 194 total at Prestonwood Country Club, the tree-lined layout softened by heavy rain Thursday from Hurricane Michael. He opened with a 62 on Friday to match Gene Sauers and Tom Lehman for the lead, and had a 67 on Saturday to remain atop the leaderboard with Sauers.

Full-field scores from the SAS Championship

''The 10 under was amazing,'' Langer said. ''I couldn't believe there were two other guys who shot 10 under.''

The four-time Charles Schwab Cup winner also won at Prestonwood in 2012.

''It's always fun to go back to where you've won before because you feel like you know how to play the course and you're somewhat comfortable and that's certainly the case here,'' Langer said. ''I've been probably 50, 70 times now around this golf course and I know how to play every hole.''

Scott Parel was second, closing with a double bogey for a 65.

''Bernhard is just in his own world this week,'' Parel said.

Jerry Kelly had a 68 to finish third at 15 under, and Lehman followed at 13 under after a 71.

Sauers shot a 75 to tie for fifth with Miguel Angel Jimenez (68) at 12 under.

The top 72 players in the Schwab Cup standings qualified for the playoffs, the three-event series that begins next week with the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in Richmond, Va. Dan Forsman tied for 56th to jump from 74th to 72nd, edging John Huston for the final spot by $932. Huston tied for 46th.

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Pepperell captures British Masters, eyes Augusta

By Associated PressOctober 14, 2018, 5:29 pm

WALTON HEATH, England -- Eddie Pepperell won his second European Tour title with a two-shot victory at the British Masters on Sunday and likely secured the even bigger prize of a place in next year's Masters at Augusta National.

The Englishman shot an even-par 72 and held off his playing partner, Sweden's Alexander Bjork (71), as the pair went to the 72nd hole at a wet and windy Walton Heath with Pepperell just a stroke in front.

Pepperell finished on 9-under 279.

Herbert Lucas (69) and Jordan Smith (73) were tied for third, another two shots behind Bjork.

English pair Sam Horsfield (69) and Tom Lewis (70) along with American Julian Suri (74) tied for fifth, one shot in front of tournament host Justin Rose (70).

The victory takes Pepperell into the world's top 35 and almost certainly secures a first appearance at Augusta in 2019. The top 50 at the end of the year are guaranteed a place in the first major of the year in April.

Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood (72) finished 2 under in a seven-way tie for ninth.

Full-field scores from the British Masters

A top-two finish on Sunday would have seen Rose reach the top of the world rankings for the second time this season, the 38-year-old having spent two weeks as No. 1 in September

Pepperell was ranked outside the top 500 as recently as May last year, but won the Qatar Masters in February and followed a runner-up finish in the Scottish Open with a tie for sixth in the British Open seven days later, carding a closing 67 at Carnoustie despite saying he had a hangover.

His three-shot overnight lead was down to a single stroke on Sunday when Bjork covered the front nine in 34 and Pepperell three-putted the ninth, the same hole where he enjoyed a spectacular hole-in-one on Thursday.

However, the 27-year-old Pepperell promptly holed his second shot to the 10th from 122 yards for an eagle to move three clear and a par save from off the green on the 14th looked to have sealed the win.

There was still time for some late drama, though, as Pepperell dropped shots on Nos. 15 and 16 to see his lead cut to a single shot, but Bjork bogeyed the 18th after driving into the heather and Pepperell saved par from a greenside bunker.

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Disappointed Sharma fades to T-10 at CIMB

By Will GrayOctober 14, 2018, 1:46 pm

For the second time this year, India's Shubankhar Sharma watched an opportunity for a breakthrough win turn into a learning experience.

Sharma burst onto the scene in March, taking a two-shot lead into the final round of the WGC-Mexico Championship only to fade to a tie for ninth. It was a similar story Sunday at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, where Sharma started the final round in a three-way tie for the lead but struggled to an even-par 72 that dropped him into a tie for 10th.

"Disappointing, not really happy with the way I finished," Sharma told reporters.

Full-field scores from CIMB Classic

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The 22-year-old was 1 over for his first six holes, but he battled back with four straight birdies on Nos. 7-10 to get within three shots of eventual winner Marc Leishman. But his tee shot at the par-3 11th found the water, leading to the first of three straight bogeys that ended any hopes of victory.

"That was probably one of the worst swings of the day," Sharma said. "That 11th hole I think killed the momentum for me. A par there would have gone a long way, and I probably could have made more birdies after that."

Sharma remained optimistic this spring following his final-round fade in Mexico, and he retained a positive mindset despite a rough afternoon as he eyes upcoming starts at both the CJ Cup in South Korea and the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.

"Great experience. Very, very good to have two top-10s on the PGA Tour, so that's a good way of looking at it," he said. "Also, it pushes me to keep playing well. I feel like I have it in me to win out there on the PGA Tour, and I've given myself two opportunities. Game is in a decent place now."