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Vintage Poulter: Ian on his way to Augusta

By Will GrayApril 1, 2018, 11:56 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – With his back against the wall and a trip to the Masters once again slipping away, Ian Poulter summoned all the strength and focus he could muster and transported himself back to 2012.

Using the same putter with which he tormented the U.S. squad at the Ryder Cup six years ago, Poulter stood over a 19-foot birdie putt on the final hole that he had to have. It was a last-ditch effort to salvage a tournament that hours earlier he appeared destined to win, only to watch the tide turn against him as it had so many times before.

But the ghosts that have haunted the Englishman in recent close calls were nowhere to be found on the 72nd hole at the Houston Open, as he took dead aim, found his target and unleashed a chest pound that might as well be added to his Medinah highlight reel.

The closing birdie forced a playoff with Beau Hossler, one that the steely-eyed Englishman won with a par on the first extra hole to secure his first win since 2012 along with that elusive ticket to Augusta National that he thought was his a week ago.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride, I’ll be honest with you,” Poulter said. “It was a good decision to come here this week, to be aggressive right from the start to try to force my way in.”

Poulter is never one to hide his emotions, and that was more than evident this week in Houston, where he originally debated even showing up. He had thought he was in the Masters with his performance at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, only to be informed minutes before a quarterfinal loss to Kevin Kisner that he hadn’t yet done enough.

Still fuming from what he perceived as mis-information, Poulter played Thursday like a man who wanted to be anywhere else. When he returned to finish the final hole of his opening round the next morning, he was tied for 123rd among a 144-man field – depths from which no player has returned to win on the PGA Tour in the last 35 years. His bags were even packed in anticipation of a missed cut.

Full scoring from the Houston Open

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Of all people to pull off such a Herculean comeback, Poulter was probably low on the list of possibilities. Despite being richly talented and maintaining a world-class standing for years, he had won only twice on Tour and had never captured a stroke-play event in the U.S. His last win anywhere came in November 2012 in China.

But that would be exactly what he needed to make the Masters, which in turn was the only reason Poulter showed up in Houston. So facing a seemingly impossible task after being within arm’s length of Magnolia Lane a week ago, he went on an unfathomable tear.

Poulter played his final 60 holes at the Golf Club of Houston in 21 under, making just a single bogey in what he called some of the best golf of his 19-year career.

“It was hard work, and it takes a lot of mental strength to be able to do that. Disappointment kicks in at some stage,” Poulter said. “But you know what? At times you have to dig deep. When you want something bad enough, then you have to go right down to the bottom and grab hold of what you can to come back up.”

But those eye-popping stats only drew him even with Hossler, who surged down the stretch to turn a three-shot deficit with 10 holes to go into a one-shot lead heading to the final tee.

The former Texas Longhorn had his putter raised high in the air as a birdie try of his own tracked toward the hole on 18, only to creep past the right edge. Moments later, he could only watch as Poulter forced overtime.

“I did think I made that putt on the last hole, but it hung out there,” Hossler said. “Ian basically had the same putt, and there’s no way he’s going to miss it after watching my ball. I said yesterday I wanted to beat these guys at their best, and I think I saw Ian’s best today.”

Poulter’s last-minute Masters bid will get much of the attention, but he was quick to focus on the long-term ramifications. After all, it was less than a year ago that he believed he had played his way out of a Tour card following a foot injury, his status salvaged only by the same sort of clerical error that went against him last week in Austin.

With the trophy sitting next to him, Poulter’s eyes grew wide when discussing the two-year exemption this win carries as he continues to balance a busy schedule on both sides of the Atlantic.

But the allure of Augusta is undeniable. Players have used the Houston event to earn a last-minute trip to the Masters for the past 11 years, but none of their plights were quite as improbable as Poulter’s whirlwind fortnight in the Lone Star State.

After falling victim to a math error last week and writing off his own chances only three days ago, Poulter looked within and discovered exactly what he needed to snag the 87th and final spot in the Masters. This time, there will be no calculators required.

“The journey continues,” Poulter said. “I’ve had 19 good years on Tour, and I guess I’ve got another couple coming. So there’s life in the old dog yet.”

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

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Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”