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Woods adds to highlight reel with 65 at Sawgrass

By Will GrayMay 12, 2018, 7:41 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For a little over an hour Friday afternoon, Tiger Woods’ return to The Players Championship seemed like a failure.

His first two trips around the Stadium Course looked eerily similar to his mediocre performance from the week prior at the Wells Fargo Championship. Woods’ laments about missed opportunities, errant irons and an inability to convert on the greens may as well have been plucked from the Quail Hollow transcripts.

As his 36-hole score bounced around on both sides of the cut line late Friday afternoon, long after Woods left the premises in a tinted courtesy car, whatever pre-Masters momentum he accrued at the other three PGA Tour stops in Florida seemed like a distant memory.

But the scores eventually bounced Woods’ way, and granted him both a reprieve and a third-round tee time. He then wasted little time in marking another step of progress on a comeback journey that now has a new chapter of highlights.

From the very first shot of the day, Woods displayed a level of controlled confidence that hasn’t been seen since he fired a drive into someone’s back yard during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Tee shots posed no threat; iron shots cut and drew at his will; putts that for the last 10 days have misfired finally found their mark.


Full-field scores from the The Players Championship

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Eventually I was going to put all the pieces together,” Woods said. “Today, for the most part, I did that.”

It added up to a 7-under 65, cutting a 14-shot deficit momentarily in half and vaulting Woods into a tie for eighth when he tapped in for par on his final hole. The effort kicked off a number of “first since” accolades: best score of the season, first 65 on Tour in nearly three years and his lowest score to par since his most recent victory at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“He had control of his golf ball,” said playing partner Mackenzie Hughes. “His putting kind of speaks for itself, but from the 10- to 20-foot range, he was just so solid and rolled in some really nice putts today.”

Despite a round that briefly threatened the course record, Woods won’t win his third Players title this week after digging an insurmountable hole with pedestrian scores over his first two rounds. But the theme for Woods this year hasn’t been about any single tournament, but rather his phoenix-like return when many believed his playing career might have effectively ended with back surgery last spring.

To that end, there’s plenty to glean from his performance Saturday that sent the Stadium Course crowds into a tizzy, even if it ultimately will have little bearing on the final leaderboard or who lifts the trophy come Sunday night.

“As I’ve told you guys this week, I’ve got my playing feels back and it’s just a matter of playing and executing and putting shots together,” Woods said. “It was nice. I made some putts today, and that was basically the difference.”

There’s no formula or checklist for cobbling together a victory, even when you have 79 to your credit. But surely one marker for Woods’ long-term hopes was his ability to finally go low – really low – when favorable conditions and a cooperative game finally converged.

Because for as much as Woods can rationalize his ability to successfully sweat two straight cuts on difficult tracks, to gradually build up his reps and his feels with middling results against stellar fields, these are the types of performances that can leave a lasting impression on a player’s psyche. Look no further than tournament leader Webb Simpson, who nearly had an out-of-body experience while distancing himself from the pack as Woods’ weekend fate hung in the balance late Friday afternoon.

“I think golf as a whole and sports as a whole, confidence is so big, and it can change the way you think. And I think even more so maybe with putting,” Simpson said. “I’ve started to believe again that I’m a great putter, and it had been a long time since I really felt that and believed it.”

What Woods does with this particular effort, what goodwill he can accrue from a round when he finished nearly two hours before the tournament leaders began, remains to be seen. But after struggling to keep his head above water for much of the past few weeks, he received another dose of tangible proof that lasting success is sometimes only one round away.

Weeks, maybe months from now Woods will likely play his way into contention with a trophy on the line. And when he does, that vault-like memory of his won’t have to drift back to 2000, or 2008, or even 2013 for inspiration.

He’ll be able to look back on a steamy trip around the Stadium Course that almost didn’t happen, a day when the putts finally fell in bunches, as the latest example that an often-maddening game can sometimes seem easy.

“I hit a lot of good shots today,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of, overall the whole day, a lot of quality shots and 65 was probably as high as I could have shot today, which was nice.”

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.


Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship


McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”