Lowry breaks through with incredible escapes at WGC

By Will GrayAugust 9, 2015, 11:54 pm

AKRON, Ohio – With plenty of time to kill before his final-round tee time, Shane Lowry admitted that he spent much of his Sunday morning envisioning how the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational trophy would look in his hands.

Thanks to a round that was part ball-striking clinic and part lessons in forestry escape, the Irishman’s vision became a reality.

Lowry fired a bogey-free, 4-under 66 at Firestone Country Club, racing past Jim Furyk and Justin Rose and holding off Bubba Watson to claim his first PGA Tour victory.

After sweating the world rankings to simply earn a spot in this week’s 77-man field, Lowry used the opportunity to announce his newfound presence among the game’s upper tier, now projected to crack the top 20.

While he lacked the credentials of his three closest competitors, Lowry’s self-belief never wavered.

“I don’t think there was any point out there that I thought I couldn’t win,” Lowry said. “I thought I was right in the driving seat most of the day. I played the golf course quite well.”

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Lowry began the day alone in third place, two shots behind Furyk and Rose, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 2 and 8 to take the lead.

Then the fun really began.

Navigating his way through uncharted territory on the PGA Tour, Lowry bookended his final nine with a pair of recovery shots that would make even Bubba Watson blush.

The first came on No. 10, when he hit is drive so far left that the tee box signage on No. 11 was in his way. After taking a free drop, Lowry lashed out a high, slicing approach from 101 yards that carved around a tree and somehow nestled within four feet for an easy birdie that stretched his lead to two shots.

That proved to be his first turn of fortune, with more yet to come.

“I was quite lucky because I got a drop, the drop actually took me back onto a little bit of an upslope, which meant I could get the ball in the air quicker,” he said. “I was just trying to get up around the green and make a 4.”

Lowry pulled off another impressive escape on the par-4 14th, where a drive into a fairway bunker caused him to lay up. His wedge approach from 62 yards came up well short, but he holed a 17-foot putt to keep a clean scorecard and maintain a two-shot cushion.

“I think that’s probably the putt that won me the tournament in the end,” he said.

While the approach to No. 10 deserves consideration for shot of the year, his approach to No. 18 will go down in Firestone lore. Boxed in by trees along the left side and nursing a one-shot lead, Lowry gashed a wedge that flew through too many tree branches to count.

Hoping to simply get it up near the green, Lowry pumped his fist in the air when the ball landed on the green and rolled to within 12 feet, setting up a closing birdie.

Don’t mess with the luck of the Irish.

“It was sitting down in a hole. It was almost like someone had stood on it, but it was where the crowd was walking,” he explained. “I pulled it a bit too low, and went into the tree. The rest is history.”

Lowry broke onto the scene in 2009 when he won the Irish Open as an amateur, and has been a solid player on the European Tour in recent years. With this victory, he has now unlocked a PGA Tour membership through 2018 and the opportunity to comprise a schedule that features the best events on both circuits.

Graeme McDowell finished three groups ahead of Lowry, but the Ulsterman stuck around to watch Lowry roll in his final putt and congratulate his friend.

“I’ve known he was very good, very talented for several years now,” McDowell said. “This golf course personifies what he’s good at. He’s an extremely great driver of the ball, very long and very straight, and his short game is one of his outstanding qualities. He’s one of the best chippers of the ball that I know.”

Lowry had played in a handful of WGC events since 2009, notably the 2013 Match Play when he ousted another friend, Rory McIlroy, in the opening round. But his game fell on hard times shortly thereafter, and he dropped to No. 142 in the world last May.

The turnaround, Lowry insisted, came from a total overhaul of his game.

“I’m probably 20 yards longer than I was. My irons are more consistent, my wedge play is better,” he said. “All around, I’m probably a better player and more mature player as well, which is a big thing.”

Flashing a cheeky grin with his newly-acquired trophy sitting next to him, Lowry admitted the full weight of his victory had yet to sink in. His hope, though, is that this is only the beginning.

“I feel like I’ve been playing good golf for the last couple of years,” he said. “I was never too far away. So yeah, I think this is going to give me the confidence hopefully to drive on now and win more events, and hopefully the floodgates will open.”

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.