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Fowler, Spieth building - wait for it - Masters momentum

By Will GrayMarch 31, 2018, 12:47 am

HUMBLE, Texas – Throw a stick at the field list for next week’s Masters and you’ll probably hit the name of someone carrying unbridled momentum down Magnolia Lane.

Expectations for a wide-open race at Augusta National seem well-founded, considering the fact that nearly every pre-tournament favorite can point back to a week within the last three months as reason he’ll be the one to slip into the green jacket.

Dustin Johnson has a win under his belt in 2018, as does Justin Thomas. And Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy, and Phil Mickelson, and so on.

The list is exhaustive, at least in the non-Tiger division, but it could gain another name this week at the Houston Open.

Entering the last week before the first major, both Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler said all the right things. Their games feel close. Their fine-tuning list is short. A pit stop in Houston represents a chance to button up a few loose ends before hopping in the jet and heading east.

But watch the smile creep across Spieth’s face as he talks, or glimpse the self-assured manner in which Fowler is currently striding around the Golf Club of Houston, and you’ll realize how very far a little bit of good play at the right time can go.

With all the puzzle pieces for Augusta National spread out on the board, theirs are among the few that seemed conspicuously absent from the pile of confident favorites. Perhaps not for much longer.

“Honestly, my goal for this week’s been accomplished just in two rounds,” said Spieth, who trails Beau Hossler by two shots at 9 under. “I don’t really need to see a whole lot for next week, but it is nice to work my way into contention. And obviously, tomorrow the goal is to stay that way.”

When it comes to the soft science of Masters momentum, Spieth knows that of which he speaks. It was here three years ago that he came within a whisker of winning the tournament, ultimately falling to J.B. Holmes in a playoff. Seven days later, he was sized up for his first green jacket.

Fowler’s experience goes back a few more years, albeit with fewer high points. But just last year he opened with a 64 in Houston en route to a T-3 finish, then contended deep into the weekend in Augusta. He has an opportunity to replicate at least the first part of that scenario after rounds of 66-68, forfeiting a share of the lead only with his watery bogey on the final hole Friday.

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“It’s been a great week so far, and the checklist for the most part, we have everything done that we wanted to get done going into the week,” Fowler said. “I think the only two things left would be get in contention late Sunday, and holding the trophy.”

The two men are friends on and off the course, from Augusta National to Baker’s Bay, and in recent weeks they’ve stuck to a similar refrain: the game feels just the slightest bit off, but the pieces are in place. Perhaps the putter need only heat up a few degrees to bring it all together.

It’s a similar verse to the one McIlroy was singing after his missed cut at the Valspar, only for him to turn around and rally to a victory at Bay Hill the very next week that promptly moved his name from the group of Masters favorites who might be missing an ingredient to those that will stroll down Magnolia Lane with swagger.

Spieth and Fowler both insist that a win this week would be a luxury, and not a necessity, in order to feel good about their prospects next week. It’s a position that’s likely a little easier to hear from Spieth, given that he’ll set up shop next week in the champions’ locker room.

But this is a game where the margins are thin, and the difference between mediocre and great on a week-to-week basis is often hard to pinpoint. Spieth spoke after his opening round that, of all things, it was a missed par putt that got him back on track. For Fowler, it’s simply been trying to strike a balance.

“You’re not trying to make serious changes the week prior, but make sure it’s dialed in and it’s heading the right way and not getting too far off,” Fowler said. “I feel like golf, you’re always kind of teetering one way to the next in trying to find that sweet spot and not move too far away from it.”

The countdown to the Masters has moved from months to weeks to, improbably, merely days. It draws closer with each piped drive and each made putt, an oasis on the horizon that will demand only the best from the best.

But before they arrive, Spieth and Fowler both detoured to Houston in order to get their affairs in order. With the tournament only at the halfway point, both men have already found what they sought – with still a little more to play for in the coming days.

“These last two days, I played this golf course probably as well as I’ve ever played it,” Spieth said. “Being patient and committing to shots when I needed to, but staying away from the trouble when I needed to and let it come to me. So more of the same this weekend, hopefully.”

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

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Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”