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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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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.