Willis Earns First Win in His First Start on PGA Tour

By Sports NetworkJanuary 15, 2001, 5:00 pm
Garrett Willis posted a three-under 69 on Monday to win the Tucson Open by one shot over Kevin Sutherland. Willis, who finished with a four-round total of 15-under 273, earned the win in his first-ever start as an official PGA Tour member and became the first golfer since Robert Gamez in 1990 to win his first PGA Tour event.
Bob Tway and Geoff Ogilvy tied for third at 13-under, while overnight leader Mark Wiebe, looking for his first win in 14 years, struggled to a two-over 74 and finished three shots off the pace at minus-12.
Wiebe was in control of the tournament until early on the back nine. He bogeyed 11 and followed with another bogey at 12. That bogey, coupled with a birdie by Willis on the same hole, gave Willis a one- shot lead at minus-15.
While Wiebe continued his descent down the leaderboard, Sutherland was moving up at the same time. He birdied 13, 15 and 16 to get to within one of Willis' lead. At the par-three 17th, Sutherland hit a beautiful approach shot that landed five feet from the stick. He pulled the putt left and was forced to take par heading to the difficult 18th.
Sutherland hit his tee shot down the middle at the closing hole, but his approach shot landed some 60 feet right of the hole. He two- putted for par and kept the pressure on Willis.
Willis had plenty of opportunities at the end of the round to extend his lead. At the par-five 15th, he played his third shot from a fairway bunker onto the green about 25 feet short. Willis was putting for a two-shot lead, but missed the putt left.
At 16, Willis was short on a 20-foot birdie effort. He then hit his tee shot at 17 directly over the flag and watched as the ball rolled down the hill and stopped four feet from the hole. His birdie putt lipped out right and he carried a one-shot edge to the 18th tee.
The 465-yard 18th, with water right and left on the tee shot and a difficult left pin position, proved difficult for players before the final group as there were several double-bogeys and one triple. Willis used driver from the tee and played the ball down the middle of the fairway. He had 191 yards to the flag and left his ball 45 feet to the right and short on the fringe.
Willis had the luxury of being able to two-putt for the championship, but he took a run at the birdie, leaving himself about three feet coming back. He drilled the par save and won his first title.
'This is well beyond my means,' said Willis, who pocketed $540,000 for the win. 'A month ago, I was at qualifying school not knowing where I was going to play this year. Now, I'm a PGA Tour champion. This is a great country.'
Willis started Monday's final round two strokes behind Wiebe. His round got off to a shaky start with a bogey at number-two after an errant tee shot. The 27-year-old rebounded with a tap-in birdie at the par-three fourth.
The birdie at four was the first of three in a row. Willis added another birdie at number-eight, but lost a stroke at nine.
Willis joins Gamez in an elite group of golfers to win their first start on Tour. Gamez did it in 1990 at this event. Prior to Gamez, the last player to do it was Ben Crenshaw in 1973.
Sutherland, a first-round co-leader, finished the day with a four-under 68. He birdied his first two holes but bogeyed the third. Sutherland birdied the ninth before picking up his three back-nine birdies.
'I hit the ball very well today,' noted Sutherland, who was seeded 62nd in last week's Match Play Championship. 'I had a lot of opportunities to make birdies. I have no complaints today.'
Tway fired a six-under 66 on Monday to jump into a tie for third with Ogilvy, a first-round co-leader. The pair finished at 13-under for the tournament.
Cliff Kresge, K.J. Choi and Greg Kraft joined Wiebe in a tie for fifth at minus-12. Kresge and Choi posted 66s, while Kraft carded a 68.
The tournament was completed on Monday due to snow and rain in the Tucson area on Friday, which caused the second round to be postponed for the day.
Click here for Full-Field scores from The Tucson Open!

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

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.

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“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.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

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.”

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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.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

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.

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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.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

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.”

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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.”