Think outside the box, Davis: Say yes to Na

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 9, 2016, 1:04 am

CARMEL, Ind. – Kevin Na’s decision last week to pull out of the Deutsche Bank Championship could affect more than his bank account. It also may have jeopardized his unlikely bid for a Ryder Cup spot.

Last Monday, he was 14th in the FedEx Cup and 20th in Ryder Cup points. Another high finish would push him closer to the $10 million bonus, and further onto the radar of U.S. captain Davis Love III.

But some decisions are easier to make than others.

Na withdrew from last week’s event after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sophia Ria, on Aug. 29. That was four days before the start of the opening round at TPC Boston. He could have flown in from Las Vegas, he said, but “I think I did the right thing. I felt like my wife needed me there. I felt like she could use my emotional support.”

And so he bailed, even though his decision could prove costly over the next few weeks. Na’s withdrawal dropped him from 14th to 23rd in FedEx Cup points, and from 20th to 22nd in the Ryder Cup standings.

Only the top 30 players at the end of this week’s BMW Championship qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship. It’s a major goal for players like Na: An appearance at East Lake guarantees a spot in the year’s first three majors.

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The Ryder Cup picture is even cloudier. Love will make three of his captain’s picks on Monday morning, and Na missed the opening of a two-week audition.

“I knew I was doing the right thing so it wasn’t difficult to make a decision,” he said after opening with a 3-under 69 Thursday at Crooked Stick. “I knew it was going to hurt me a little bit, but I was willing to make the sacrifice that it was going to take. I was willing to take the hit.”

We’ll never know how Na would have played in Boston, of course. (He had only one top-30 finish there in nine previous starts.) But few players have been as consistent this season. His eight top-10s are the fifth most on Tour, behind only Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Jason Day and Matt Kuchar.

Two of those Americans are already on the Ryder Cup team, and the other, Kuchar, seems likely to receive a pick.

But there hasn’t been nearly as much discussion about Na. Perhaps it’s because he has never played in a biennial match. Or maybe it’s because of his reputation as a slow player. Whatever the case, if Love wants to make an outside-the-box pick on Monday, or in the hours after the Tour Championship, he should seriously consider adding Na.

Love is said to have an "unofficial" points list, which is good news, because the Ryder Cup task force decided two years ago that fall events would no longer count toward the standings. The rationale, Phil Mickelson said, was that the fall events were “giving the bottom half of the Tour a three-month head start over ultimately the top guys.” Even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem admitted that he “whiffed” on that move.

Na just so happened to play some of the best golf of his life in the fall. He lost in a playoff in Napa. He tied for second in Vegas. He shared third place in Malaysia. Sure, he pocketed more than $1.3 million over that three-week span, but he had no Ryder Cup points to show for it.

“I talked to Davis about it at the beginning of the year,” Na said. “It was definitely disappointing news. I didn’t know. That kind of sucked.”

Had the fall counted toward the standings, Na would rank as high as ninth, not 22nd, on the points list. He would have nearly locked up an automatic spot. He would have been impossible to ignore.

Instead, he’s likely to be overlooked for a safe pick, for an American who is stumbling toward the finish line. Take your pick: Rickie Fowler shot 75 on Thursday. Bubba Watson doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour in six months. J.B. Holmes has three missed cuts and no finish better than 33rd in his last five starts. Jim Furyk, the losingest player in U.S. history, didn’t even qualify for the third playoff event.

So why not Na?

Sure, it’s fair to wonder how he would handle the crucible of the Ryder Cup – this is a man who couldn’t pull back the club when he played in the final group at The Players, and Hazeltine might send him into a full-blown panic attack. But with his bizarre antics, feisty attitude and killer short game, it’s easy to see him aggravating the heck out of the Europeans.

Asked what he’d bring to the U.S. team, Na said: “I hit it really straight. I’m a good putter. I have a great short game. I’m a fighter. I’m a guy that’s going to be pretty steady and you know what to expect when I tee it up. I’m always right there.”

Though Na might not have any Ryder Cup experience, he did go 2-0-1 in the WGC-Dell Match Play this year. Even halved a match with Rory McIlroy, Europe’s best player.

“It would mean a lot,” he said of playing on his first team. “One of the things I dream of is making the Ryder Cup team.”

And with that, he hurried out of the scoring area. No surprise. He was late for his FaceTime date with Sophia.

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Mullinax fires course-record 62 at Valero

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 9:01 pm

Trey Mullinax surged into contention during the third round of the Valero Texas Open, shooting a 10-under 62 that set a new course record on the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.

Mullinax started the day seven shots off the pace, but by the time he completed his round he had taken a one-shot lead with the overnight leaders still on the course. The former Alabama standout caught fire on the back nine, shooting a 7-under 29 despite a bogey after chip-ins for eagle on No. 14 and birdie on No. 16 to go along with an eagle on the home hole.

"It's probably one of the best rounds I've ever had," Mullinax told reporters. "To go out there and shoot 62 on a hard golf course is really good."

Mullinax appeared headed for a missed cut after a 74 in the opening round, but he bounced back with a second-round 68 to earn a weekend tee time and his third-round score broke the previous course record of 63 held by multiple players.

The 25-year-old finished 137th in FedExCup points last season, leaving him with only conditional status this season. His lone top-10 finish of the year came at the Valspar Championship, where he survived a Monday qualifier and went on to tie for eighth, and this marks only his third start since the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.

"Obviously I would like to play a little more, but the tournaments I get in, I'm really excited about playing golf," Mullinax said. "I've loved every start I've gotten, and I'm very thankful to be in the position I'm in."

Mullinax holed a putt to clinch a national title for the Crimson Tide in 2014, and he finished T-9 at last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills. But success has been fleeting among the professional ranks, meaning Sunday's opportunity to notch a career-best finish or breakthrough victory is nothing short of enticing.

"I'm sure you'll be nervous," Mullinax said. "To have a chance to win or just go play good golf is what I came here for, so that's what I'm going to do."

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Quiros maintains one-shot lead through 54 in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 7:46 pm

RABAT, Morocco - A birdie on the last hole gave Alvaro Quiros a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Trophee Hassan II.

Quiros' birdie on No. 18 allowed the Spanish golfer to sign for an even-par 72 on Saturday to stay at 7-under par overall and clear of four players in second place.

South African pair Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, France's Alexander Levy, and Finland's Mikko Ilonen were just a shot behind at 6 under heading into the final day at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat.

Quiros is a seven-time winner on the European Tour, but went six years without a victory until last year with his triumph at the Rocco Forte Open in Italy.

Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II

He's seeking a wire-to-wire victory in Morocco after sharing the first-round lead with Bradley Dredge before taking it outright on Day 2.

Quiros had an on-off day in the third round - he said it was ''suddenly great shot, suddenly not so good'' - and carded four birdies and four bogeys to come out even and still hold on to his lead.

Van Rooyen shot 71, Bezuidenhout 68, Levy a 69, and Ilonen the best round of the week so far with his 6-under 66.

Ilonen had seven birdies and just a single bogey - on his first hole - to leap 23 places up the leaderboard and into contention for a first tour title since 2014 when he won the World Match Play Championship.

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.

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Garcia tosses driver, misses Valero cut

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

It wasn't quite to the level of his watery meltdown earlier this month at the Masters, but Sergio Garcia still got frustrated during the second round of the Valero Texas Open - and his driver paid the price.

Garcia had a hand in redesigning the AT&T Oaks Course along with Greg Norman several years ago, but this marked his first return to TPC San Antonio since 2010. After an opening-round 74, Garcia arrived to the tee of the short par-4 fifth hole and decided to get aggressive with driver in hand.

When his shot sailed well left, a heated Garcia chucked the club deep into the bushes that lined the tee box:

It took considerable effort for Garcia to find and retrieve the club amid the branches, and once he did things only got worse. He appeared to shank a chip once he got up to his ball, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on a demanding track.

Garcia closed out his round with four straight pars, and at 2 over he eventually missed the cut by a shot. It marks the first time he has missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour since 2003, when he sat out the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament in successive weeks.

Garcia entered the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and he was the only top-20 player among the 156-man field. He missed the cut at the Masters in defense of his title after carding an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole during the opening round.