Old Milwaukee? Low scores remind of former event

By Will GrayJune 16, 2017, 1:45 am

ERIN, Wis. – It’s been seven years since the PGA Tour shuttered the Greater Milwaukee Open, ending a 42-year run for Wisconsin’s lone annual Tour event.

And while they’re separated by only a 40-minute drive over winding, two-lane roads through some sprawling farmland, you’d have a tough time finding two more disparate golf courses than Brown Deer Park and Erin Hills. The former was a track where you could leave driver in the car, while the latter is taking major championship golf to unprecedented lengths this week.

But if you squinted a little while scanning the opening-round leaderboard at the U.S. Open, it would have been easy to wonder if you’d been transported across town to the course where Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts once reigned supreme.

A new venue has led to a decidedly new experience at the season’s second major. Specifically, red numbers – lots of them. A record 44 players broke par in the opening round, including six scores of 67 or better led by Rickie Fowler’s 7-under effort that tied the tournament’s opening-round scoring record in relation to par.

“You don’t get many rounds at the U.S. Open that are stress-free,” Fowler said.

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The afternoon wave was highlighted by Adam Hadwin reeling off six straight birdies en route to a 4-under 68, becoming the third player to do so in this event and first since Andy Dillard in 1992.

“Certainly not used to it. Not certainly like this,” Hadwin said. “But the greens were very receptive. You’re spinning wedge shots, you could hold a mid-iron. So if you kept it in the fairway, you had some scoring opportunities.”

The tried-and-true mindset that par is your friend went out the window Thursday amid a gentle breeze and under sunny skies, as the leaderboard became slathered with more red paint than the end zone at nearby Camp Randall Stadium.

Tournament officials always prefer to offer the most demanding test during the final round, and by default that means that the course can’t be pushed to its limit in Round 1. Players are easing their way into things this week, just as they did two years ago at Chambers Bay, another unconventional venue, where 5 under led after both the first and last rounds. The path will inevitably grow more arduous as the week progresses.

“We’re all interested to see where the pin positions are going to be tomorrow, and if there’s a knee-jerk reaction,” said Paul Casey. “It’s pretty benign and receptive, but it’s not going to last. If the sun shines and the wind blows, it’s going to dry out. It will be treacherous.”

The USGA stretched Erin Hills to a whopping 7,845 yards in the opening round, but they could have tacked on another 500 yards to that total without slowing down much of the field. The firm and fast conditions achieved at Pinehurst and Chambers Bay proved elusive last year at Oakmont, and Mother Nature has again failed to cooperate this week.

The surrounding area has been deluged recently, and the course took on a couple more inches of rain once tournament week began. More precipitation is expected over the next 48 hours. To put it simply, soft conditions mean green lights for elite players – even on the longest of courses.

“I made a birdie out of the first cut of rough today. This is never going to happen again, so might as well enjoy it,” said Brandt Snedeker. “The greens are the best I’ve seen in a long time. Rolling the perfect speed. I thought it was very, very fair. Almost more so than I was expecting for a U.S. Open.”

Granted, not everyone had their way with Erin Hills in the opener. Fowler and Sergio Garcia (70) were the only players ranked inside the top 10 who broke par, as Nos. 1-6 were a cumulative 21 over. Defending champ Dustin Johnson struggled to a 75, while Rory McIlroy (78) and Jason Day (79) combined to shoot 13 over after finding nearly every unpleasant nook and cranny this 650-acre property has to offer.

“You cannot play this golf course if you’re not in position off the tee, and I wasn’t in position,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, I paid the price for it today.”

The scoring will surely regress in the coming days despite the rain on the horizon, and the forecast calls for cool and breezy conditions for the final round that should go a long way toward identifying a worthy winner. But the decision to bring a national championship to Erin Hills seven years ago broke a mold, and so too did the low scoring the opening round produced.

The old GMO may still be dead, but at least for one day it didn’t seem quite so far away.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”