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Rosaforte Report: DJ's favorite stretch of the year

By Tim RosaforteFebruary 6, 2018, 4:10 pm

In this week's Rosaforte Report: Dustin Johnson's mini-vacation is about to end with his favorite part of the schedule coming up, Gary Woodland's gets a victory in Phoenix thanks to his "team" of coaches, Rickie Fowler blows another 54-hole lead and Hale Irwin is making a start on the PGA Tour Champions this week at 72 years old.

Unless you’ve been skiing in Aspen, or following Dustin Johnson and his fiancée Paulina Gretzky on social media, you’re probably wondering what the world’s No. 1 golfer has been doing for the past two weeks, since playing in Abu Dhabi.

The answer is - DJ has been getting ready, hoping to peak for his favorite part of the PGA Tour schedule. Over his next four starts, Johnson will be defending titles three times (Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico and WGC-Match Play) and playing a spot (Pebble Beach Golf Links) in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-am where he has won twice, and where he gets to play with father-in-law Wayne Gretzky and Jordan Spieth.

The only tournament DJ will miss over the next month is technically a hometown event, the Honda Classic, but manager David Winkle knows better by now to intercede on Johnson’s favorite part of the schedule, especially the stop at Riviera for the Genesis, where he became No. 1 last year.

The Baller in Gary Woodland

As a high school and college basketball player, Gary Woodland is the type of golfer that is comfortable being coached in a team environment. His head coach is Butch Harmon. His assistant coaches are Pete Cowen (short game) and Brad Faxon (putting). That’s like having Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari and Tom Izzo on your bench.

All of the elements for Team Woodland were at work in his playoff victory over Chez Reavie at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He was second in ball-striking, which is Harmon’s department, and 16th in strokes gained-putting after listening to Faxon’s advice last winter at Old Palm. For the week, he made almost 359 feet of putts.

Under pressure, Woodland was also adept at the short-game advice passed along by Cowen, who first worked with Woodland at the QBE Shootout in December. He chipped in for par at No. 6 and Cowen noted the delicate chip he made on No. 17, facing the water on a green that ran away from him, to set up his third straight birdie.

Cowen compared it to the work he did with Brooks Koepka - who works with Butch’s son, Claude III - that led to his victory in the 2017 U.S. Open. “Sometimes, two heads are better than one,” Cowen said.

In the case of Woodland, it was actually three heads.

Another close call for Fowler

At his home in Las Vegas, Butch Harmon watched the final round of the Waste Management Open with a vested interest in both Woodland and 54-hole leader Rickie Fowler.

“It’s an interesting day having two of your players on top of the leaderboard for most of the day,” Harmon said on Monday. “It’s what you want of your players.”

As was the case, Harmon came away with mixed emotions. While Woodland had the most important closing round of his career (64), Fowler experienced one of his most disappointing with a final-round 73 that left him 1-for-6 with a 54-hole lead and some mixed feelings about the spectators at TPC Scottsdale.

“Rickie didn’t have his best day on Sunday,” Harmon said of the 73 Fowler posted to finish T-11. “He talked about the putts not dropping, which his true. But the fact he missed fairways (at Nos. 15 and 17) is uncharacteristic, especially to the left. He got back into some of his old traits that we’ll have to clean up. It’s frustrating to go through that.”

The frustration showed on Thursday when Fowler said he was disappointed in some of the comments made at the 16th hole, but come Sunday there were no hard feelings. Just as there wasn’t after a tough loss to Hidecki Matsuyama in 2016.

“For sure I love this place,” Fowler said in his closing thoughts. “The course and I, most of the time we get along well.” He exited by saying he would “keep pushing.”

The Original Bernhard Langer

At 72 years young, Hale Irwin will be competing in this week’s first full-field tournament on the 2018 PGA Tour Champions schedule, the Boca Raton Championship. His last of a record 45 senior tour victories came 11 years ago, when he was the same age (61) as Bernhard Langer will turn in August. Coming off a seven-victory season that moved him up to 36 victories, Langer very much has the Irwin record in sight, and Irwin knows it.

“I’m very proud of it, and not necessarily with (Langer) getting closer to it,” Irwin said of the record. “I played as good as I could, had some great years, but my goal was not to win 45 (times).”

Irwin acknowledges that he started cutting back at this point in Langer’s career to spend time with his family and grandchildren. That’s when his focus started to wane and his body - specifically a hamstring in his late-60s -started to break down. That was his curtain call.

Noting that he has a long way to go, Irwin added that Langer “is about as focused as you can get,” but there will come a time - based on his professional experience - when Langer loses the focus. “Whenever it is,” Irwin said, “I don’t know."

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”