Open Champ Hamilton Leads AmEx

By Sports NetworkSeptember 30, 2004, 4:00 pm
KILKENNY, Ireland -- Despite a bogey at the last, reigning British Open champion Todd Hamilton used a strong back nine to post a 6-under-par 66 Thursday and take the first-round lead of the World Golf Championships - American Express Championship.
Sergio Garcia, playing for the first time since going 4-0-1 in the Ryder Cup two weeks ago, bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot a 5-under 67. He was joined in a tie for second by Ryder Cup teammates Luke Donald and Miguel Angel Jimenez, Stuart Appleby, Adam Scott and Steve Flesch.
Tiger Woods teed it up on Thursday despite a back injury that had him contemplating withdrawal. He grimaced and groaned his way to a 4-under 68 and a share of eighth place.
Woods slept awkwardly on his plane last week and tweaked the area between his shoulder blades. He said on Wednesday that it would be a tee-time decision and ultimately decided to give it a go.
'I thought it might loosen up a little bit, but it didn't,' said Woods, the two-time defending champion. 'I was hoping the spasms would go away, but that didn't happen, either. I just had to get through it somehow and post a number.'
Woods looked to be in pain off the first tee, but played surprisingly well. He birdied his first two holes, before collecting five consecutive pars at Mount Juliet Conrad.
He sank a 25-footer for birdie at the eighth, then made a 30-footer for birdie at the next to make the turn at 4-under-par 32. Woods birdied the 11th, but made a mess of No. 12. His second buried in a greenside bunker, then he blasted out to a trap on the other side of the putting surface. Woods could do no better than bogey to fall to minus-4.
The No. 2 player in the world recorded another birdie at the 17th to get to 5 under, but trouble loomed at the difficult closing hole. Woods drove into the right rough and took a hard swing at his second. The impact caused Woods to nearly fall to his knees, while shouting in pain.
Woods could not save par from 20 feet but is still in the hunt for his first stroke-play victory since this tournament in 2003.
'I figured if I could just get the ball on the green somehow, I've been putting great, it's just a matter of getting on the green and making putts,' said Woods. 'I was hoping I could get there in regulation and I did that most of the day and made a lot of putts.'
Woods was joined in eighth at 4 under by U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, Zach Johnson, Thomas Bjorn, Nick O'Hern, Lee Westwood, Robert Allenby and Justin Leonard.
After the drama of whether Woods would tee it up or not was answered, the focus shifted to Hamilton, who is virtually a shoo-in for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year after his win at Royal Troon and a title at the Honda Classic.
Hamilton parred the first, then hit a poor pitching-wedge at No. 2 that barely carried the greenside bunker. He rolled in the 20-footer for birdie and made it two in a row with a 12-foot putt at the par-3 third.
He laid up short of the green with his second at the par-5 eighth hole. Hamilton had 70 yards to the hole and hit a lob-wedge to 6 feet for his third. He drained the putt to reach 3 under for the championship.
It was a run of golf late on the back nine that vaulted Hamilton into the lead. At the par-3 14th, Hamilton hit a 6-iron to 12 feet to set up birdie. He made it back-to-back birdies with a 25-footer at the 15th and polished off three birdies in a row with a crazy birdie at the 16th.
Hamilton drove left over tents at the 16th, but had a good lie and good angle at the flag. He had 110 yards and hit a sand-wedge to 15 feet to set up his sixth birdie of the round. Hamilton two-putted from 50 feet at 17 for his fourth birdie in as many holes.
Even though play was contested under lift, clean and place on Thursday, Hamilton was not immune from mistakes. He missed the fairway at the 18th and missed the green with his second. Hamilton's third landed 40 feet short of the hole and his par-saving putt missed 4 feet past. He made that putt for a 66, but still held first by himself.
'The last hole is probably going to be played as the toughest one for the whole day, if not the whole tournament,' said Hamilton. 'At least I bogeyed a hard hole instead of an easy one.
'The putter felt good the whole day. If you can't putt on these greens, you can't putt, because the greens are spectacular. You may not be able to hit it close to the hole but it's going to stay on the green.'
Garcia was the player closest to matching Hamilton in the lead on Thursday. The Spaniard was 6 under through his first 10 holes, but cooled at the 14th when his 5-iron approach landed left of the green. Garcia made bogey there but got back to 6 under with a 35-foot birdie putt at the 16th.
Garcia drove into the rough at 18 and tried to get a 3-wood on with his second shot. The ball landed in a greenside bunker and he could not get up and down for par.
'It was a pretty simple 5 under,' said Garcia. 'I bogeyed the last, but I hit my worst drive all day. I managed to make a couple on the front nine, and unfortunately didn't make as many on the back, but it was good to play that consistent all day long.'
Ernie Els and local favorite Padraig Harrington are part of a group tied for 16th at 3-under-par 69. Paul McGinley, another Irishman, carded a 2-under 70 on Thursday.
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    Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

    TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

    He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

    “Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”

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    Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

    The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

    “Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

    Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

    “Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

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    Only putting is holding McIlroy back

    By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

    McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

    McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.

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    “I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

    McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

    “I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”

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    Rosaforte Report: Toski lively, singing and ready to go home

    By Tim RosaforteJune 22, 2018, 6:41 pm

    Bob Toski sounded pretty good for a man near death last week. When we spoke on Friday, the 91-year-old teaching legend and former PGA Tour leading money winner was alive and feeling well. Especially when he was talking about giving lessons, swinging a golf club again, and going down to the piano bar at Arturo’s near his home in Boca Raton, Fla., to sing his favorite song, “Sentimental Journey."

    “It’s been quite a journey,” Toski said in total bliss. “But I’m going home tomorrow.”

    Going back 10 days, to June 12, Toski suffered a severe heart attack that had him on life support, in critical condition, at a hospital not far from the South Florida golf community where he’s pro emeritus at St. Andrews.

    He opened 15 minutes on the phone on Friday by asking how much he owed me for the publicity he got during the U.S. Open. Typical Toski. His heart may have skipped a beat, but he hadn’t.

    At no more than 120 pounds, still larger than life.

    Bob Toski from his hospital bed in South Florida

    “This is the mouse,” he said when asked to confirm it really was him on the phone. “The Mighty Mouse.”

    We were laughing now, but there was a moment one night during “Live From the U.S. Open” when I got a message from the Boca hospital which sounded grim (hospital staff used a defibrillator on him six times during his stay). That’s when one of the friends by his side texted me and said it would be just like “Tosk” to sit up straight and ask everybody what was going on.

    Essentially, that’s what happened. And now here he was on the phone, cracking off one-liners, talking about Brooks Koepka’s win at Shinnecock, giving his take on the USGA and course setup, asking how much I’d been playing, and giving his love to everybody at “The Channel.”

    He invited me down for a lesson at St. Andrews and dinner at Arturos. “In a month’s time,” he said, “I’ll be ready to go.”

    He sounded ready right now, singing a line from his favorite song, from his hospital bed in the happiest of voices, “Gotta set my heart at ease.”

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    Spieth fades with 3-over 73: 'It's just golf'

    By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:10 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – After finding nothing but positives for his first five trips around the course, Jordan Spieth finally suffered a setback at TPC River Highlands.

    Spieth won the Travelers Championship last year in his tournament debut, and he quickly bounced back from a missed cut at Shinnecock Hills by firing a 7-under 63 in the opening round this week to take a share of the lead. Out early during the second round with a chance to move even further into red figures amid calm conditions, he instead went the other way.

    Undone by a triple bogey on the par-5 13th hole, Spieth was 5 over for his first 14 holes and needed an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole for the second straight day simply to salvage a 3-over 73. The score knocked him back to 4 under for the week and six shots behind Brian Harman.

    Despite finding three fewer fairways, three fewer greens in regulation and taking five more putts than he did in the opening round, Spieth still put a positive spin on a lackluster result.

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    “I actually felt like I had better control of my golf swing than I did yesterday. I really struggled with my swing yesterday and I kind of got some good breaks,” Spieth said. “It’s just golf. It’s kind of like yesterday I got three or four shots extra out of the round, and today I lost three or four based on how I felt.”

    Spieth was happy with his opening-round effort, but even after finishing late in the day he still went straight to the driving range that lines the ninth fairway at TPC River Highlands – not exactly standard behavior after grabbing a share of the lead.

    “So it’s not like things are on,” he said. “Sometimes it can get disguised by rounds, but it’s not far off. It really is close.”

    Spieth has lamented a lack of quality chances to win this year, which he has previously described as being within six shots of the lead heading into the final round. He’ll have some work to do to meet that mark this weekend in defense of his title, as his round hit a snag on No. 13, his fourth hole of the morning, when he pulled his tee shot out of bounds and then hit his subsequent approach into the water.

    “For whatever reason, it’s a large fairway but it’s always just killed me,” Spieth said. “I don’t know what it is about the hole, but that hole I get on the tee and for whatever reason I struggle. … I just hit a bad shot at the wrong time there.”