McDowell returns to form on Day 1 at Firestone

By Will GrayAugust 6, 2015, 11:30 pm

AKRON, Ohio – This is a man with which we are familiar.

This is Graeme McDowell, carving his golf ball at will and walking with purpose after it. Steely-eyed and focused on the course, but quickly cracking a smile once the final putt is holed.

This is a man we once knew well, but one who hasn’t been around for quite some time. Well, he finally resurfaced during the opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

McDowell once again made a difficult game seem easy Thursday at Firestone Country Club, shooting a 4-under 66 to share second place, one shot behind Danny Lee. The score matched his lowest of the season on the PGA Tour and marked a rare bright spot in what has been a disappointing year for the former U.S. Open champion.

McDowell has slipped to No. 60 in the world rankings, and his best result of the season – a T-3 finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in November – also serves as his only top-25 finish in the last year. At No. 159 in the FedEx Cup points race, he is sandwiched between Mark Hubbard and Chez Reavie in the standings and would not currently qualify for the playoffs.

And while Firestone is not the type of track where one typically finds his game, McDowell did just that in an opening round where he needed only 22 putts.

“I like this version of me today,” McDowell said. “It’s been a rough year, no doubt about it. Definitely been some time for reflection and some questions being asked of myself. But I think we all experience these things in everything we do. It’s how you come out the other side, really.”

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The Ulsterman had missed three of his last four cuts entering this week, and said he has been facing “technical issues” all year. Difficulty flighting the ball, trouble finding the fairway and holing putts. But ultimately, he determined that his biggest struggle has been between the ears.

“Everything’s just added up in the sort of gnawing away at that confidence and belief, and we all know that this game is about confidence and belief,” he said. “You look at a run of play like Jordan (Spieth)’s got himself on, momentum and belief is everything in this game. I’ve had none of the above this year, so it’s been hard.”

While McDowell has had plenty of time to pinpoint the swing glitches that have led to his slide from the leaderboard, he is also both thoughtful and contemplative. So as rough weeks stretched into poor months and began to define his season, he started to ask himself some difficult questions.

“I think probably the hardest question was, ‘Do I still kind of want to grind and be out here? Do I still want this?’” he said. “I mean, yes. It was an easy answer, yeah, I do want it. If this all went away, I’d miss it very badly. So when you answer that question positively, then you’ve got to start kind of answering all the other questions.”

McDowell is certainly not the first or last player to fall into a downward spiral. Former Ryder Cup teammate Lee Westwood famously dropped outside the top 200 in the world before returning to form and reaching No. 1, and he empathized with McDowell’s recent plight.

“Golf’s like that, you know. Sometimes you’ve got it, and other times you haven’t. It goes in fits and starts,” Westwood said. “Graeme’s game is a bit like that. When he finds the key, he’s red-hot and world-class. And then other times, obviously he struggles like the rest of us.”

There was no struggle for McDowell during the opening round, where he birdied four of his first seven holes and never looked back. While this is not a course where he has had much past success, he did finish T-8 a year ago – “I kind of cracked this nut last year for the first time,” he said – and hopes to build upon the momentum of his opener.

McDowell has come a long way from the man who lifted the U.S. Open trophy at Pebble Beach five summers ago. Having just turned 36, he is married with a daughter, Vale, who will turn 1 later this month.

His perspective has shifted, but he hopes to soon align those newfound priorities with some on-course success.

“I want to be back to the business end of things, where it gives you the happy feelings,” he said. “When I have my little kid run out onto the 72nd green, that’s what I want. That’s what the new me wants.”

While one round a transformation does not make, for at least one afternoon the new McDowell bore a pretty strong resemblance to the guy we used to know.

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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.