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Na savors his long-awaited second win

By Will GrayJuly 8, 2018, 11:44 pm

Much has happened since the 2011 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Rory McIlroy has gone from can’t-miss prodigy to four-time major winner. The entire career arcs of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas have blossomed before our eyes. Tiger Woods has endured an almost unending tally of both ebbs and flows.

And through it all stood Kevin Na, racking up one six-figure check after the next while loitering on the edge of the upper echelon of the world rankings. All without ever winning a tournament.

Six times since his maiden PGA Tour win in Vegas in October 2011, which itself came eight years after he turned pro, Na has finished second. Two of those came in playoffs, and one was just earlier this year at Riviera. But facing a leaderboard filled with other players looking for a similar breakthrough, Na finally got hot at the right time and cruised to a five-shot win at The Greenbrier.

The emotions that swept across the 34-year-old in the minutes after signing his card erased any doubt about just how much ending The Drought meant to a player who often wears his emotions on his short sleeves.

“I tried not to think about winning. Obviously it seems like I’ve always tried too hard,” Na told reporters. “What is the difference, the fine line between trying too hard and letting it happen? Definitely thinking about that trophy. I was definitely thinking about winning, but I was trying to stay in the moment.”

As the social media age has erupted, Na has been the target of plenty of scorn. It’s hard to forget the 2012 Players Championship, where he struggled to even hit the ball off the tee while contending at one of the Tour’s biggest events, backing off multiple shots with an intentional walk-through over the ball that at times appeared more like a whiff.


Full-field scores from A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier

A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier: Articles, photos and videos


For years he has been accurately labeled as one of the Tour’s slowest players, with that distinction coming more into focus recently as the issue of slow play has grown in stature. Four years ago at Bay Hill, the heckling from members of the gallery over his slow play reached the point that Na flagged down a rules official to intervene.

His name doesn’t bring with it star cache for equipment manufacturers, to the point that he ended his club deal with Titleist earlier this year without signing with another company. He also doesn’t have a hat deal at the moment, as he played Colonial in May with a visor he bought for $22 at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse.

The lid he won with Sunday, emblazoned with the letters “SO HI,” is a nod to his home course of Southern Highlands outside Las Vegas.

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” Na said. “Lot of close calls, lot of disappointments. I wasn’t sure if it was going to come again.”

Na is a classic example of a player with immense talent who has a tendency to fade when the lights are the brightest. His career earnings, now over $26 million since he joined the Tour in 2004, serve as a testament to his consistency and elite ability. But time and again, he seemed to make an untimely bogey or fail to convert a must-make putt coming down the stretch.

Sunday on The Old White TPC, Na left little to chance while leaving the field in his wake thanks to a two-hour stretch in the middle of the round during which he went unconscious on the greens. Six birdies in seven holes, including three makes from beyond 23 feet, turned a tight contest into a rout and allowed Na to coast to trophy No. 2.

Making the short walk to the green on the par-3 18th, Na was able to exhale. There would be no testing 10-footer, no overtime opponent to conquer. This time, the pieces fell into place for one of the Tour’s most consistent players who now, 158 starts after his maiden win in Vegas, no longer has to face questions about when his victory drought will come to an end.

“It’s indescribable. The amount of close calls I’ve had, and disappointments I’ve had. Walking off the 18th hole, in the locker room, on the drive back to the hotel. I mean, a lot of heartbreaks,” Na said. “But today, everything was going well. Everything was going my way, and it was nice to have that big lead going up the last hole and enjoying the moment. It was well worth it.”

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1

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Perez (T-3) looks to remedy 'terrible' major record

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 7:34 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez’s major record is infinitely forgettable. In 24 Grand Slam starts he has exactly one top-10 finish, more than a decade ago at the PGA Championship.

“Terrible,” Perez said when asked to sum up his major career. “I won sixth [place]. Didn't even break top 5.”

It’s strange, however, that his status atop The Open leaderboard through two rounds doesn’t seem out of character. The 42-year-old admits he doesn’t hit it long enough to contend at most major stops and also concedes he doesn’t exactly have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game’s biggest events, but something about The Open works for him.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I didn't like it the first time I came over. When I went to St. Andrews in '05, I didn't like it because it was cold and terrible and this and that,” he said. “Over the years, I've really learned to like to come over here. Plus the fans are so awesome here. They know a good shot. They don't laugh at you if you hit a bad shot.”

Perez gave the fans plenty to cheer on Friday at Carnoustie, playing 17 flawless holes to move into a share of the lead before a closing bogey dropped him into a tie for third place after a second-round 68.

For Perez, links golf is the great equalizer that mitigates the advantages some of the younger, more powerful players have and it brings out the best in him.

“It's hard enough that I don't feel like I have to hit perfect shots. That's the best,” he said. “Greens, you can kind of miss a shot, and it won't run off and go off the green 40 yards. You're still kind of on the green. You can have a 60-footer and actually think about making it because of the speed.”