Els wins thriller to advance in Australia
Craig Stadler, seeded 57th in this event, also needed an extra hole to defeat Andrew Coltart 1-up, while 55th-seeded Steve Stricker trounced seventh-seed Justin Leonard 6 & 5.
Elsewhere, unheralded Nick O'Hern of Australia, who knocked out second-ranked Hal Sutton in the first round, beat 18th-seeded Dudley Hart to advance to Saturday's quarterfinals.
Also, fourth seed, Tom Lehman lost to Brad Faxon 1-up and 21st- ranked Pierre Fulke upset fifth seed Michael Campbell 1-up. Toru Taniguchi beat Stuart Appleby 2 & 1 and Shigeki Maruyama bettered Mark McNulty 4 & 3 on Friday.
Van de Velde, best-known for his 1999 British Open collapse, had a chance to upset the top seed and took his first lead of the match when he knocked his approach shot at the 16th to within two feet. Els holed a 30-footer at the next hole to square the match. At 18, Van de Velde drained an 18-foot birdie putt, pumping his fist as the ball fell into the cup. Els halved the hole after drilling a six-footer to force extra holes.
Neither man got off the tee well at the first extra hole. Els drove right into the trees and Van de Velde's shot was headed in the same spot until his ball hit a branch and moved sharply left into a bunker. Els played his second shot into a left greenside bunker while Van de Velde played his shot short of the green. Van de Velde made a mistake with his third shot as he chipped it over the green, the hit his fourth to within three feet for his par effort. However, Els' sand shot landed inside of two feet and he made the birdie putt after Van de Velde knocked in his par putt.
Els has not had an easy time this week. In the first round, he beat 64th seed Greg Kraft 3 & 2 and posted a 1-up victory on Thursday in beating Hidemichi Tanaka.
'The guys are playing at a high level right now,' said Els, who finished second in three majors in 2000. 'The guys aren't going to hang back. They're out there to win.'
Els will face Stadler on Saturday. Stadler came back to force extra holes after being 3-down with six holes to play. Stadler squared the match at the 16th after holing a 10-foot birdie putt.
The players halved the final two holes before going to number-one for the playoff. Coltart hit his second shot from 156 yards, landing the ball seven feet from the stick. Stadler was better. His second shot landed inside of two feet. Coltart pushed his putt right and then conceded the match to Stadler.
'I wasn't planning to be in this spot right now,' stated Stadler, referring to his deficit with six holes to play.
Stricker was dominant from the beginning in his match against Leonard, going nine-under through the first 12 holes.
'I was trying to put as much pressure on him as I could,' Stricker said. 'He's hit so many heroic shots at the Ryder Cup. At one point, I didn't want him to win a hole.'
Over 46 holes in three matches, Stricker has never trailed.
Stricker will meet O'Hern on Saturday. O'Hern, who is in this event because Jarmo Sandelin was a late withdrawal, has defeated three Americans on his way to the quarterfinals. O'Hern beat Sutton in 21 holes and defeated Tim Herron 5 & 3 on Thursday.
O'Hern spoke of his fourth-round match against his fourth American.
'If I can get ahead, we'll see what happens,' said the left- handed O'Hern. 'It's match-play so anything can happen.'
Faxon, winner of the 1993 Australian Open on this course, needed 18 holes to defeat the fourth-seeded Lehman. At number-16, Lehman left it in the bunker for his second shot. The miscue allowed Faxon two putts from 20 feet to take the advantage. He needed only one.
On the 17th green, Lehman had an opportunity to square the match, as his approach at the par-four hole landed five feet from the cup. Lehman was not able to capitalize, missing the putt.
Lehman needed to roll home a 25-footer for birdie at the closing hole to force a playoff but narrowly missed the putt right.
The Fulke/Campbell match came down to the final hole also. Campbell, ranked fifth in this tournament, made a five-footer to square the match at 17.
Both players hit the green in regulation at the par-four closing hole. Fulke had 25 feet and snaked a right-to-left putt into the cup. Campbell missed his birdie slightly left, giving the Swede a 1-up victory.
Taniguchi, fresh off a defeat of third-seeded Vijay Singh on Thursday, forced Appleby to concede on the 17th green. Despite hitting the lip of a fairway bunker at 16, Appleby halved the hole but was 2- down with only two holes to play.
At 17, Appleby drove left into the trees. His second shot landed in the rough with a tree obstructing his shot at the stick. Appleby hooked his third shot into a bunker and with Taniguchi on in two, the Australian conceded the match.
Maruyama, who came back on Thursday to beat Bob May, had little trouble in his match against McNulty. McNulty won the fourth hole but Maruyama squared the match at the next hole and never looked back.
In a tournament that featured only four of the world's top-10, only one has made it into the quarterfinals. Of the eight remaining golfers, three are seeded in the bottom-10.
The quarterfinals will be played Saturday morning and the winners will advance to the semifinals later that afternoon.
Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.
Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.
While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.
“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”
Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.
“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”
Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close
CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.
McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.
“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”
The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.
“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”
He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.
“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”
Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence
CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.
Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.
Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.
It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.
“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”
Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.
“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection
CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.
Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.
Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”
Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.
“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”
Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.
“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”