Prize fighters: Lovemark, Herman playing for Masters berth

By Will GrayApril 2, 2016, 11:50 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – The race is on for golf’s final golden ticket.

A win at any point in the PGA Tour season is a welcome result, bringing with it a bevy of perks. But this particular week at the Shell Houston Open offers players just one perk - the simplest, yet most coveted perk of all. 

Lift the trophy on Sunday, and your next stop is the front gate at Augusta National.

It’s the kind of stuff that players dream about, a motivator that can drive hours of offseason practice. And for Jamie Lovemark and Jim Herman, it’s tantalizingly close after three rounds at the Golf Club of Houston.

But Lovemark and Herman aren’t just playing for the chance to take their first trip down Magnolia Lane. They’re also playing for their first Tour victory.

The two have taken very different paths to this point. Lovemark, 28, was a can’t-miss prospect who has battled injury and is now beginning to play to the level many expected when he first turned pro in 2009.

Herman, meanwhile, is a 38-year-old journeyman who has bounced between circuits and just last season made the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the first time.

But now they are united in the spotlight, sharing the 54-hole lead and sitting one shot clear of a potent chase pack.

Lovemark began the day one shot behind Charley Hoffman, but a 2-under 70 gave him a share of the overnight lead for the first time in his career. Seven years after losing a playoff at the Frys.com Open, he is older, wiser, healthier and eager to close the deal.


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“That was my third or fourth event as a pro. Things seemed kind of easy,” Lovemark said. “Hindsight, it’s not too easy after all. I’m not taking much for granted, just going to do what I do.”

Herman moved into contention with a bogey-free 68, channeling form that seemingly came out of nowhere. He had only one top-40 finish in eight starts this year, and Herman hadn’t broken 70 in his last 10 rounds entering the week.

But now he has strung three straight sub-70 scores together, and with only a handful of top-10 finishes to his credit he is on the cusp of a breakthrough victory.

“Houston or any of the other places would be fantastic, just to get one,” Herman said. “I’ve been out here five years, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow. If it goes my way, that would be awesome.”

Lovemark and Herman will have to cope with the crucible that Sunday’s final pairing creates, but their quest is also complicated by the pedigree of players hot on their heels. Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Russell Henley all have multiple Tour wins, and each is eager to add another.

For Stenson especially, it’s a chance to end an 18-month victory drought that has included a myriad of close calls.

“I know I can play my best, and hopefully bring that out on the final days as well,” Stenson said. “I think some of my fellow colleagues might have been more fortunate in those situations, and a few times I haven’t delivered what I need to deliver. It’s been a bit of a combo, but I’d love to get on the No. 1 podium.”

Ever the cool customer, Lovemark strode to the podium after his third round and said all the right things: a win’s a win, whether it comes here or elsewhere. The focus remains on getting the job done, stamping your name as the best for at least one week at the highest level. A Masters invitation is merely icing on the cake.

“Not too concerned about it, honestly,” he said. “If I play next week, that’s great. Obviously a win on any level is very important to me.”

But this isn’t just any other week we’re talking about. Players can use the SHO as golf’s fastest launching pad, teeing it up in the season’s first major before the trophy even has a chance to collect dust.

Plus, you know, it’s Augusta National. It’s the Masters. The place – and the event – speak for themselves.

“You know there’s a lot to play for tomorrow,” Herman said. “You think about it coming into the week. This is your last chance to get to Augusta, but it’s more than that. I’m not going to put any more pressure on myself than I already might.”

For Herman and Lovemark, this could be the point at which their professional career paths pivot. This could be the event that transforms them from “PGA Tour member” to “PGA Tour winner.” It’s a distinction that both covet, and one that can’t be erased.

To do it, they’ll need to outlast each other, not to mention those in close pursuit, under pressures that are largely unfamiliar. But if they manage to pull it off, they’ll not only graduate to a new tier professionally, they’ll get to take the best post-victory trip the game offers.

Golden tickets, after all, come around only so often.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain fired a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).


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Local favorite Yu Liu was in sole possession of seventh place after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.


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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.


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"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.