PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Jessica Korda won the season-opening Bahamas LPGA Classic on Sunday for her second tour title, holing a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole to beat Stacy Lewis by a stroke. The 20-year-old Korda closed with a 7-under 66 for a 19-under 273 total on Atlantis Resort’s Ocean Club course. Lewis parred the final four holes – two of them par 5s – for a 66. Korda tied Lewis for the lead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th, then got up and down for birdie on the par-5 18th. Korda’s 4-iron approach on 18 scampered through the green to the fringe just short of the grandstand. With an official and a TV announcer holding up cords that would have interfered with her stroke, she putted under the wires to set up the winning birdie. ”That was different,” Korda said. ”It was like jump rope.” She admitted she was nervous on the winning putt. ”Incredible!” Korda said. ”I could barely put the ball down and line up.” The 2012 Women’s Australian Open winner, Korda recently started working with swing coach Grant Price. She struggled with her swing last year and felt that it led to some injuries in her left shoulder and wrist. ”I’m really just trying to hit good golf shots and get that swing down,” Korda said. Price, Hall of Famer Nick Price’s nephew, is fighting testicular cancer. Korda’s father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open tennis tournament and her mother, Regina Raichrtova also was a professional tennis player. Korda earned $195,000 and is projected to jump from 40th to 26th in the world ranking. Lewis birdied six of the first eight holes, then dropped a stroke on the par-4 ninth. She birdied the par-5 11th and par-4 14th to reach 18 under, but closed with four straight pars. On the 18th, her flop shot from short of the green came up short and her 15-foot birdie try stopped inches from the cup. Paula Creamer, paired with Korda all four days, had a 69 to tie for third with Na Yeon Choi, Lizette Salas and Pornanong Phatlum at 16 under. Phatlum finished with a 67, Salas had a 71, and Choi shot 72. Lydia Ko, the 16-year-old New Zealander making her first start as an LPGA Tour member, had a 68 to tie for seventh at 15 under. She won the Canadian Women’s Open the last two years as an amateur.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Ben Crane’s back is OK, and his putter couldn’t be working much better. The combination helped him shoot a 5-under 65 on Friday to open a six-stroke lead in the St. Jude Classic before heavy rain delayed play twice and forced the suspension of play for the day. Crane birdied his final hole Thursday night for a 63 and rolled in a 44-footer for birdie to start the second round Friday morning. He had a 12-under 128 total at TPC Southwind, matching the winning score in relation to par last year. ”I certainly didn’t see this coming,” Crane said. ”But you know when you’re putting well, I started to feel like I was a little more in control of my ball, just felt like I was tightening my draws and fades a little bit. I had access to some holes I haven’t this year and so gosh, it’s been an incredible two days.” Crane has spent the past six months changing his swing to protect his back. A four-time PGA Tour winner, Crane’s last win came in 2011 at the McGladrey Classic and his best finish this year was a tie for ninth in the Humana Challenge in January. But he was in such pain he had a therapist with him for treatment during the round. FedEx St. Jude Classic full-field scores FedEx St. Jude Classic: Articles, videos and photos ”It’s been a really, really hard year, racking my brain what’s going on, what’s going wrong and have I changed that much,” Crane said. ”You start wondering, ‘Am I going to get it back.’ So this is super encouraging. My wife said last night, ‘looks like you still got it.’ Because you wonder. But anyway, it’s been a fun start.” Carl Pettersen and Jason Bohn were tied for second at 6 under. Pettersen had one hole left, and Bohn had two to play. Davis Love III (70) and Billy Horschel (68) were in at 5 under. Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen were unable to start the second round. Mickelson, winless in his last 19 events since the British Open, opened with a 67 on Thursday, and Goosen had a 66. Friday got off to a slow start with 60 players needing to wrap up the first round with the second started 40 minutes later. Lightning delayed play at 1:03 for 59 minutes before play resumed for 13 minutes. Mickelson had just gotten to the tee when the horn blew again. Fans were sent home before a severe thunderstorm drenched the course, filling bunkers, fairways and cart paths with water. Finally, play for the day was suspended just before 5 p.m. Players are due back at 7 a.m. so they can make the cut for the third round. Love was glad to be done before the weather moved in even at 5 under, and he doubts Crane will run out to 24 under. This course where John Cook won at 26 under in 1996 was redesigned to a par of 70 after 2004. ”So he’s off to a great start and we’ll have to run him down,” Love said about Crane. ”He’s a great putter, and these greens are perfect, so he’s got the advantage on us right now, but just hang in there.” Crane had perfect timing for most of his rounds. He played most of the first round after the lengthy delay Thursday afternoon, which left nearly perfect scoring conditions with little wind and soft greens. He was in the first group off No. 1 starting the second round, and he birdied rolling in a putt with a break of more than 4 feet for the first of 24 putts. He followed up his opening birdie by sinking a 22-footer for birdie on No. 7. He hit his approach from 147 yards out to 3 feet for birdie on No. 9 to reach 10 under through 27 holes. He sunk a 14-footer on the par-3 11th with the island green before rolling in a 9-footer for birdie on No. 13. His 8-foot birdie on the par-5 16th put him at 13 under. But Crane hit into a bunker on No. 18 and missed a 7-footer to save par on way to his first bogey in two rounds. ”How do I keep this going?” Well, certainly just keep doing what I’m doing, and hopefully the same game shows up, and obviously continuing to putt well helps your score,” Crane said. ”I think that’s the key. Divots: This was the second straight round where fans were sent home early due to weather. … Memphis hadn’t had a weather delay since 2010 when the first round was suspended due to lightning. … This is the 16th tour event this season with either a delay or suspension due to weather or darkness.
GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Second-guessing Ryder Cup captains is as much a part of the gig as pimped out golf carts and awkward speeches, but the scrutiny that is sure to descend on Tom Watson after Day 1 at Gleneagles comes with a healthy dollop of cosmic irony. Consider that two years ago Davis Love III, the man who shouldered a disproportionate amount of the blame at Medinah, was blasted for sitting the juggernaut of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for Saturday’s fourball session. On Friday, Watson came under fire for letting the high-profile duo play in the afternoon matches. Sure, Mickelson and Bradley beat Europe’s first line, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, in the morning fourball session, but it wasn’t pretty. In that match Lefty was wayward with his driver, missing crucial fairways at Nos. 5, 7 and 8, and Bradley was nervous. Which is to say Bradley was Bradley. You don’t have to hold the captain’s title to know that is not a recipe for alternate-shot success. The move was compounded by Watson’s decision to bench rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who had boat-raced match play magician Ian Poulter and Scotland’s own Stephen Gallacher in the morning. The hyper-analysis that will follow in the wake of the U.S. team’s foursomes faux pas on a blustery day, a 3 ½ to ½ point rout that turned the tide for Europe, is sure to fixate on that theme, however premature and unfounded it may be. It’s part of the job description and certainly relevant considering America’s three rookies went undefeated on Day 1. The third rookie, Jimmy Walker, holed a crucial 6-foot putt at the 18th hole in his morning match alongside Rickie Fowler to eke out a half point after the duo had trailed Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer for 17 holes. Ryder Cup: Articles, videos and photos “I take the blame for that,” Watson said of the decision to bench Spieth and Reed, who cruised to a 5-and-4 victory in the morning. “I assessed that even though they won in the morning, that there maybe was a better fourball (pairing) for the afternoon. That decision not to play them was a hard decision to make. I had some doubt in making that decision, but my gut feeling said that was the right decision to make.” It’s not in Old Tom’s nature to lean on rookies, which is peculiar considering it was his three rookies at the 1993 matches that were instrumental in delivering America’s last overseas victory. These matches are not over despite Europe’s 5-3 lead. If Medinah taught the U.S. side anything it was that. But if America is going to make a game of this (and future matches) it may be time to eschew the long-held belief that experience is king at the biennial slugfest. In 2008 it was rookie Anthony Kim who inspired Mickelson and helped deliver America’s last Ryder Cup victory. Two years ago it was then-first timer Bradley who filled that roll, and the two went undefeated in team play. This is not an indictment of America’s veterans. Mickelson’s resume was Hall-of-Fame ready regardless of his 15-19-6 record in the Ryder Cup; and Jim Furyk’s legendary longevity is beyond reproach despite an inexplicable 9-18-4 mark in the matches. But if seven losses in the last nine matches have taught the PGA of America anything, it is that there is only painful association with some memories. But the PGA went with Watson – who at 65 was a dramatic break from the traditional captain’s mold – when they probably should have gone the other way on the generational scale. One could imagine on Friday afternoon Billy Horschel stewing because Watson sat him for the afternoon session. But Watson didn’t pick Horschel, who would have been another energetic rookie. He also didn’t pick Chris Kirk. Instead he opted for the “experience” of Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan and Bradley, who combined to go 1-3-0 on Friday. Experience didn’t deliver on Day 1, it was the rookies who produced two of America’s three points. It was the energetic indifference of youth that kept things from getting out of hand. It took a haymaker from Europe’s best to deny Fowler and Walker America’s only full point in the afternoon. McIlroy and Garcia – who are ranked first and third in the world, respectively – birdied the last three holes to secure the half point and ignite the partisan crowd. The rookies would never second-guess their captain. That’s not what rookies do. “It’s not our call. The captain is Tom and Tom is going to do what he needs to do,” Walker said. “I’m not second-guessing anything he’s doing. I don’t think Rickie is going to do that or anybody is going to do that. We are going to go play when we’re told and that’s what we told him.” To be fair it’s best to let the matches play out before the arm-chair captains take the stage, but Watson’s reluctance to rely on youth is becoming a troublesome trend. Last month at the PGA Championship, 2008 captain Paul Azinger was perusing the list of potential captain’s picks when he was asked if he had any problem selecting a first-timer. “I want rookies, dude,” Azinger laughed at the time. “I want rookies who are unscarred and playing well. That’s how I would be thinking. I want to take a bunch of rookies in there, put a chip on their shoulder and go William Wallace on their ass.” After a tough Friday at Gleneagles the chip is firmly planted on the entire U.S. team’s shoulder. If only Watson would let the rookies loose.
LAKE OCONEE, Ga. – Six women and six men will tee it up Friday at the Big Break Invitational Reynolds Plantation, each individual sharing the same goal – to win the first-place $100K prize. After two rounds of Modified Stableford followed by match play on Thursday, the final round will be stroke play. If past “Big Break” results are an indicator of future success, then the Friday favorite is gender neutral. Of 21 “Big Break” seasons past, six have been co-ed that awarded a single winner. Which gender won more? You guessed it – three were won by women and three were won by men, which indicates the inaugural Big Break Invitational is anybody’s – and either gender’s – for the taking. It would seem encouraging for Team Women that the week’s low round was posted by a female – an 8-under 64 on Wednesday. What’s not-so-encouraging is the woman who authored that round was sent packing Thursday, No. 1 seed Ryan O’Toole, when No. 12 seed Mallory Blackwelder upset her, 3 and 2. Perhaps the men have the advantage, then, since the next-lowest round posted this week was a 6-under 66 on Wednesday by Mark Silver. Guess again, because Silver was defeated, 1 up, by Brent Long on Thursday and won’t be representing Team Men on Friday. Of the women and men who are playing Friday, here’s what they shot the first two days at the Great Waters Course (throwing out Thursday’s matches from the equation since not all the matches went to 18 holes and as is the case with match play, some putts were conceded and not officially holed): Women: Emily Talley: 72-68 (4 under) Sadena Parks: 73-72 (1 over) Gerina Piller: 70-76 (2 over) Jackie Stoelting: 72-75 (3 over) Sara Brown: 75-75 (6 over) Mallory Blackwelder: 75-77 (8 over) Men: Tony Finau: 67-70 (7 under) Derek Gillespie: 69-70 (5 under) Tommy Gainey: 70-70 (4 under) Hugo Leon: 71-71 (2 under) Brent Long: 70-75 (1 over) Jay Woodson: 74-73 (3 over) Talley is the only female under par for two rounds compared to four men under par – Finau, Gillespie, Gainey and Leon. On paper, it’s advantage men. Psychologically, the women are a force to be reckoned with. “I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not scared of the boys,” Blackwelder said. “On my shows, I did beat plenty of (men) and hung right there with them.” Blackwelder competed on two co-ed “Big Break” shows – Ireland, NFL – and is married to former professional golfer and current PGA Tour caddie Julien Trudeau. She knows a thing or two about how to keep up on the course. Perhaps those experiences will give her a psychological leg-up on who appears to be the front-runner for the men. “I’ve never competed against girls,” Finau said. “Whoever is on the other side, it’s a totally different tournament with stroke play tomorrow.” Unlike Finau, Piller has plenty of experience competing against – and outplaying – members of the opposite sex. “I actually grew up playing with the boys,” Piller said, “so I like beating the boys.” Said Long, “The girls are playing really good right now. Ryann O’Toole shot 8 under yesterday, with eight birdies and that’s pretty solid….But it’s going to be a great match. It’s going to be fun.” The Great Waters Course doesn’t know or care whether the person standing on the first tee Friday is a woman or a man. Twelve terrific competitors remain and for each of them, the battles they fight in the final round will be with themselves and with the course. What it won’t be is a battle of the sexes … or will it?
LOS ANGELES – The problem with social media spats is the level of vitriol rarely matches the intended narrative. Take for example Brandel Chamblee’s comments during a news conference this week setting up the Florida swing regarding Rory McIlroy’s extracurricular gym work. “The only thing that gives me concern with regard to Rory going forward, [and] I say it with a lot of trepidation, because it’s a different era for sure,” Chamblee said. “When I see the things he’s doing in the gym, I think of what happened to Tiger Woods and I think more than anything as much as what Tiger Woods did early in his career with his game was just an example of how good a human being can be, what he did towards the middle and end of his career is an example to be wary of. “That’s just my opinion. And it does give me a little concern when I see the extensive weightlifting that Rory is doing in the gym.” Never mind that virtually the same concerns have been voiced by Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo in the past and that the comment gained momentum largely because McIlroy responded with a video post on Twitter of the world No. 3 doing squats. On Wednesday at the Northern Trust Open where he is making his 2016 PGA Tour debut McIlroy was jokingly asked if he’d done any squats? “Not yet. I’m planning to, though. Maybe with Brandel on my back,” he said. Northern Trust Open: Articles, photos and videos The media laughed at McIlroy’s comment. Rory didn’t. McIlroy and the current generation of players take fitness seriously, and however innocent or measured Chamblee’s comments may have been, they clearly struck a social media nerve largely because there is a misconception over why the vast majority of top players have turned to the gym and what exactly they are trying to accomplish. Chamblee conceded as much, telling the media during Tuesday’s conference call, “I don’t know the full extent of what he’s doing.” Not surprisingly, McIlroy was more than happy to explain in impressive detail exactly what he’s trying to accomplish with his workout program. “Stay injury-free. That’s really it,” he said, simply. “Obviously I’m trying to be strong but the whole reason I started this is because I was injured.” McIlroy explained that toward the end of his rookie year on the PGA Tour in 2010 he started experiencing back problems and was diagnosed with a degenerative disc. “You think of the golf swing and the torque and the load that you’re putting on your spine. The spine does two things: It flexes and it rotates. And it doesn’t like to flex and rotate at the same time, which is what a golf swing does,” he said. “If anything, the golf swing is way worse for your back than anything I do in the gym.” While pictures of McIlroy in a gym squatting 265 pounds (which really isn’t outrageous for a person of his size) often prompt a generally negative reaction from those who have traditionally viewed golf fitness as an oxymoron, taken as part of a larger, more detailed program, they are hardly a red flag. “There’s nothing wrong with doing squats and deadlifts and push-ups,” said Sean Cochran, Phil Mickelson’s longtime trainer. “I have Phil do very similar things and they are conducive to the conditioning of an athlete. Along with that you have to do mobility training and core stabilization. I’ve seen [McIlroy] in the gym and don’t think he’s doing anything to hurt his golf swing.” Comparisons to Woods, be they on the golf course or in the gym, are always dangerous. The greatest player of his generation did things with his game that are simply incomparable and the same can be said of how Tiger embraced fitness. Whether all that time in the gym had a detrimental impact on Woods’ career only he can say, but the assumption that modern fitness programs should come with some sort of “warning label” ignores how specialized workout regimens have become for the top players. “[Gary] Player said it best, most of those who don’t understand the value of an exercise component to golf often make the misconception that it’s going to do damage,” said Randy Myers, who trains dozens of Tour players including Brandt Snedeker and Davis Love III. “The reality is through today’s checks and balances through functional assessment there should be no player that doesn’t benefit from training and weightlifting.” Perhaps McIlroy would have been better served if he’d tweeted a video of his stretching or mobility routines and not 265 pounds anchored across his back, but his point is valid nonetheless. To think a player can compete for 25 or 30 years at the highest level with the modern swing and not have some sort of fitness program is unrealistic. “I’m trying to make my back as strong as I possibly can so that when I come out here and swing a golf club at 120 mph, I’m robust enough to take that 200 times a day when I hit shots and when I practice and when I play golf,” McIlroy said. When properly explained, McIlroy’s fitness program is a necessary and nuanced part of his greatness, but then social media doesn’t really leave a lot of room for that level of detail.
The LPGA returns to North America this week for the Citibanamex Lorena Ochoa Invitational Presented by Aeromexico and Delta. Most of the LPGA’s biggest names are taking the week off. Just 36 players, the smallest field of the season, will tee it up at the Club de Golf Mexico in Mexico City for the 72-hole, no-cut event. Three of the 36 are Mexican amateurs and only the top 20 finishers will earn ranking points. Defending champion Inbee Park of South Korea will not be on hand; she is still recuperating from a thumb injury. “For the past couple months after the 2016 Rio Olympics, I’ve been focusing on recovering from my left thumb injury,” Park said in a statement. “I had to put on a cast for about four weeks which was during the Evian Championship. So far, I’m seeing some positive improvements on my rehab and I’ve started to hit some balls. However, my injury is still not fully recovered. I’m very cautious regarding my injury and if possible would like to take extra precautionary measures since the injury can negatively recur.” Park may be among the missing but there are four past champions in the field however, including 2014 winner Christina Kim (United States), 2010 winner In-Kyung Kim (South Korea), 2009 winner Michelle Wie (United States) and 2008 champion Angela Stanford (United States). The field also includes Canadian Brooke Henderson, American Paula Creamer and Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist. Nordqvist in particular has something to play for this week. This is the final event before next week’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. A total of 72 players will qualify for that event, based on points; once the field has been determined the points will be reset. The top nine players in the points standings will have a mathematical chance to win the season long CME Race to the Globe. At the start of this week, Nordqvist is ranked 10th but she would move into the top nine with a top-20 finish here.
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – When Ariya Jutanugarn first pulled 2-iron from her bag, sparks should have flown. A choir of angels should have broken into song. It was like King Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone. Something wondrous began happening when Jutanugarn discovered the enchanting qualities this relic from a bygone era possessed. All those demon doubts haunting her on tee boxes, Jutanugarn started slaying them with this new weapon. She used it to fight her way out of golfing hell. The 2-iron made its way into Jutanugarn’s bag two summers ago, when she was mired in a slump that would see her miss 10 consecutive cuts. Back then, fellow players were whispering things no player wants spoken about her. They were whispering that Jutanugarn might have the “driving yips.” With Jutanugarn returning to the ANA Inspiration this week, the focus is on how far she has come since collapsing over the final three holes last year. Her story is about how quickly she bounced back to win three straight LPGA titles in May. She went on to claim five titles overall last year and win the Rolex Player of the Year Award. Vision 54’s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott were vital in helping Jutanugarn rebound as her mental coaches. So was Gary Gilchrist, her swing coach. Her bounce back, though, actually began before the ANA last year. Really, Jutanugarn’s rebound started the day her caddie, Les Luark, introduced her to a TaylorMade RSI 2-iron back in the summer of 2015. He put the sword in her bag. She used it to pierce the darkness, to slash open the first splintering rays of light showing her the way out of her terrible slump. “The 2-iron has been awesome for Ariya,” Marriott said. “Kudos to Les for coming up with it.’ Luark began caddying for Jutanugarn amid her slump in ’15. After a shoulder injury, which required surgery and a troublingly long recovery, Jutanugarn swooned. It was stunning how far she fell, because she was such a can’t-miss phenom before. The injury changed her swing. She changed it to avoid lingering pain, but she began hitting her driver all over the planet. The malady spread, moving through the rest of her game. ANA Inspiration: Articles, photos and videos Luark saw that as soon as he picked up Jutanugarn’s bag. “She was so focused around her tee-shot issues,” Luark said. “She couldn’t do anything else. She couldn’t practice anything else, or focus on anything else. “So, just getting to where she had some confidence on the tee, that allowed her to start looking at the other parts of her game. It got her started going in the direction that led to her winning last year. Without the 2-iron, I don’t know if she would have gotten to that stage, at least not as quickly as she did.” Jutanugarn, 21 now, didn’t want to play the ShopRite Classic in 2015, because the course was too claustrophobic for her. That’s why Luark suggested the 2-iron. He saw how comfortably she hit her 3-iron, and he went to TaylorMade to have the equipment crew shape a 2-iron for her. She teed it up at ShopRite and was pleasantly surprised how far she could hit that 2-iron, even though she missed yet another cut there. Jutanugarn didn’t immediately shake her slump or quit missing cuts, but there was finally a building block. There was hope. “A couple weeks using it, the 2-iron was her favorite club,” Luark said. Who has a 2-iron as a favorite club? Actually, who else even hits a 2-iron in the women’s game? Laura Davies might be it. Luark says Jutanugarn fretted when he checked her golf bag overnight into the clubhouse storage room at the Kia Classic last week. She hates leaving it anywhere overnight. She worried about arriving in the morning to find the 2-iron was gone. “I don’t think I could play if it wasn’t there,” she told Luark. It was there. “It’s a go-to club she can trust,” Nilsson said. “She knows she can always put it in play.” Jutanugarn doesn’t just put it in play. She bombs it. Luark estimates she is carrying it 230 yards this week, and that on firm fairways it can run out to 270 yards. That’s longer than most players will hit their drivers this week. It’s part of the reason Jutanugarn won’t carry a driver again this week. She hasn’t put driver in her bag for a tournament round the entire year. Still, she can belt her 3-wood past most players’ drivers and hit her 2-iron with a lot of players’ drivers. Plus, Jutanugarn hits 2-iron so straight. “I really like it, because I feel like I can control it,” Jutanugarn said. “When I want to hit it in the fairway, I feel comfortable with the 2-iron.” Gilchrist says Jutanugarn’s miss comes when she gets too steep with her swing. She hits down so hard on the ball. It’s why her iron play is so strong but she struggled with the driver. The thing is, Jutanugarn is hitting a lot of drivers in practice and pro-ams now. She’s a lot more comfortable with it again, and more tempted to put it in play. “When Yani Tseng was No. 1, she would hit her driver 30 yards past the average player,” Gilchrist said. “Ariya can hit her driver 20 yards past Yani. That’s insane.” But, Gilchrist is in no rush to push the driver on Jutanugarn. “Ariya could make twice as much money as she does if she started hitting driver, because she would become this long-hitting phenomenon,” Gilchrist said. “People would think it’s unbelievable how far this woman’s hitting the ball, but if you’ve got a winning formula, why change it? There’s a risk. If you lose your confidence, nobody’s talking about you at all.” Jutanugarn’s formula has her on the verge of becoming the No. 1 player in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. A victory this week gets her there. And an enchanting 2-iron helped set this all up.
ERIN, Wis. – The past month has served as a rude reminder that Jon Rahm’s pro career won’t always go so perfectly. Prior to this rough patch, many wondered if the young Spanish star would ever encounter adversity. In the past 52 weeks, he has enjoyed a meteoric rise, from the low amateur at the U.S. Open to the 10th-ranked player in the world. He has won once, contended for titles as often as any player in the world and become one of the biggest challengers to Dustin Johnson’s throne. But recently the 22-year-old has also begun to show his age. It started with a meltdown at The Players, where he shot 82 and missed the secondary cut. It continued at the Memorial, where his emotional outbursts drew attention on social media. And it came to a head at this week’s U.S. Open, where Rahm went 76-73 and joined several big names in missing the cut. Even worse, on the back nine Friday, he dropped F-bombs, slammed clubs and whacked a tee sign – all on camera. Neither of Rahm’s fellow playing competitors said the flare-ups were distracting. “I understand it,” Rickie Fowler said. “It’s tough out there.” Added Hideki Matsuyama: “I knew he’s an emotional player, and sometimes he wears it on his sleeve. I was not expecting it, but it wasn’t a problem at all.” It might be if it continues. Most observers are seeing Rahm this year for the first time, but this is the way he has always played and behaved on the course. He has always been quick-tempered. At Arizona State, the coaches would let Rahm blow off steam, knowing that he needed to let the frustration out and then he’d quickly bounce back. The only difference now: As one of the game’s rising stars, he is on TV. U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog: Day 2 | Full coverage “College it was even worse, but there was nobody looking,” Rahm said as he walked to the player parking lot late Friday afternoon. “I’ve done many worse things many times on the course, but the thing is there were no cameras.” And now that there are extra eyeballs on him, Rahm is conflicted, because the same fire that has brought all this negative attention is also what has made him great. Tomahawking a club into the turf might cause fans to snicker (and the PGA Tour to issue a fine), but it helps him move on. After his outburst on the 14th hole Friday, he birdied the next hole, nearly made another on 16, and then smoked a 331-yard drive down the center on 17. “I know golfers are supposed to internalize everything, and I wish I could,” he said. “Every time I try to keep it to myself, just imagine a Coca-Cola bottle. If you shake it once, then it comes down. But once you open it, it’s a complete mess, and that’s what happens if I try to keep it down. If I try to keep it down, at some point, I’m going to miss a shot that’s not that bad and I’m going to lose it. Sometimes I need to get mad.” Rahm admits that he needs to work on his anger management. He doesn’t want to be a distraction to the other players in his group. He doesn’t want to be a poor role model for kids. He knows there must be some healthy release, some way to channel his energy. At this point, he’s just not sure how. “I’ve always been criticized for it,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. I feel bad when I react sometimes, but it’s something I can’t control. “At the end of the day, I need to look toward my golf game, and sometimes it does help. … I need to find a different way to do it, but even if I work on it, sometimes it just overpowers me.” His frustration was apparent all week at Erin Hills, where his normally lethal driver betrayed him. At a course that should have perfectly suited his power game, Rahm spent much of the week hacking out of the fescue, only fueling his anger. “You need to get mad, but maybe not externalize it as much,” he said. “It’s just hard when I feel like I’m hitting good shots and I’m trying as hard as I can and things aren’t happening. It’s unlike me. I can’t remember the last time I played my last four competitive rounds that many over par.” It’s a shame that this issue seems destined to follow Rahm as he navigates the early stages of his pro career. Though he can be intense and aggressive when things are going poorly, off the course he remains accommodating and approachable and affable – everything you’d hope for in a generational talent. “Having an eye on you, I sometimes get mad, and then I feel bad for getting mad, and then it makes me feel worse,” he said. “It’s a very downward spiral that I go into a negative place.” His reputation might depend on whether he can escape it.
ERIN, Wis. – Luckily for the 117th U.S. Open, headlines don’t always tell the complete story. In order, a balloon tumbled from the sky in a fiery ball on Thursday, then the next day officials announced an E. coli scare on property. It all kind of made one pine for the days when the most frightening thing at the championship was deep rough and a USGA official waiting for you with a rulebook on the 12th tee. But for all the distractions at Erin Chills, all the social media scuffling over supercharged fescue and a golf course that could be stretched to 18 miles, it was a fresh wind from the northwest and the inspired play of Brooks Koepka on Sunday that turned what could have been a week to forget into something worth remembering. After four days of wild lead changes and frenzied congestion, Koepka converted the clutch putts, took advantage of a rare U.S. Open venue with four par 5s and limited his misses, not posting a single score worse than bogey at what turned out to be an MIA Open for the missing marquee. A week that began with no Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, marking the first time since 1994 at least one of the game’s leading men wasn’t in the field at a major, begat a weekend without world Nos. 1, 2 and 3 – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, respectively – for the first time at a major. While those titans may have been missed, it turns out they simply missed Koepka’s coronation, the completion of his transition from a calm and confident player with plenty of potential to a bona fide star who didn’t blink when the game’s most demanding test finally arrived on Day 4. Even when Hideki Matsuyama made the long walk up the hill to the scoring area with the clubhouse lead at 12 under Koepka kept up appearances, which in his case would best be described as intense indifference. Or maybe aloof aplomb would be a better way to sum up the 27-year-old’s unique persona. U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog: Day 4 | Full coverage With Matsuyama setting the mark, Koepka answered by rolling in 32 feet of birdie putts at the 14th, 15th and 16th holes to move four clear of the field. He cruised home from there to a record-tying total in relation to par at 16 under and his first major title. “This week I honestly don’t think I ever got nervous, I just stayed in the moment,” Koepka said with a signature shrug. The Erin Hills Open may have been an extreme break from the norm, with 31 players finishing under par for the week, but to casual observers the final outcome probably looked vaguely familiar to last year’s event which was won by Dustin Johnson, a close friend of Koepka’s and something of his equal in the flat-liner department. Johnson, who won last year with a similarly commanding performance at Oakmont, called Koepka on the eve of the final round to offer support and the two spent time together earlier this week playing practice rounds and doing whatever world-class athletes do when they aren’t winning. “He’s always pretty flat line, I think that’s why people compare him to DJ and it’s why they get along so well. They are similar people, nothing fazes them and they’re pretty chilled out,” said Koepka’s swing coach, Claude Harmon III. Beyond that calm exterior and limitless power, however, there’s a subtle if not substantial difference between Koepka and Johnson. Unlike the world No. 1, Koepka didn’t arrive on the PGA Tour with untold fanfare or enjoy immediate and unqualified success. Instead, he forged a much different path, starting out on the European Challenge Tour, the Continent’s version of Triple A golf, before moving onto the European Tour. He played tournaments in far-flung places like Kazakhstan and had to have extra pages put into his passport at one point because of his extensive travels. But most importantly he learned. “He’s slept in his car, he’s done everything on the way up. He’s slept in a B&B with four of us and struggled along the way and that’s helped him appreciate where he is,” said Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott. So when he began this year by missing four of his first six cuts, he didn’t panic, he didn’t try to find new answers or reinvent a wheel that has always run at an extremely high speed. “It’s the Mike Tyson thing. It had been easy up until the beginning of this year for Brooks. But as Mike Tyson said, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ All of a sudden golf’s not easy,” Harmon said. “He missed a bunch of cuts and I think it spurred him on. He bounced back and recovered from that. It was massive.” Koepka’s victory was equally massive for a championship that seemed to lack an identity, initially as a result of the perceived missing star power and then as scoring reached record levels. Rickie Fowler initially filled the star void, taking the first-round lead with a 65 and starting the final round just two strokes back, but he never managed to close the gap and finished with an even-par 72 to tie for fifth. Brian Harman emerged on the weekend as a potential breakout player and for 63 holes a steady putter kept him in contention. But after crucial par putts at the sixth and ninth holes to keep pace with Koepka, Harman’s chances slowly devolved into a “dogs chasing cars” deal, with missed par attempts at the 12th and 13th holes. After going 25 holes without a bogey, he never recovered and tied for second place at 12 under par. “If you would have told me I’d shoot 12 under at the U.S. Open and not win I’d have taken the bet for sure,” said Harman, who had made the cut in just two of his previous seven major starts. What the leaderboard may have lacked in marquee, it made up for in variety. Four players shared the lead at the turn on Friday and that number ballooned to seven players midway through Round 3 before separation Sunday finally arrived. The 117th edition may not have been the showstopper officials had been hoping for, but after taking a few shots to the chin in recent years the USGA’s experiment at Erin Hills was widely considered a success, qualified or otherwise. “I think they did a fantastic job,” said Jordan Spieth, one of the few high-profile players to even make it to the weekend. “Chambers [Bay] was tough with the greens, and then last year had a tough Sunday. And I thought that the USGA did a phenomenal job this week of allowing the golf course to be what it is and play the way it’s supposed to play. Not trying to do anything to hold any kind of standard. Instead, create an environment where if you play well, you can score, and if you don’t, then it can go the other way.” In many minds the Erin Hills Open was likely saved by Sunday’s breeze. After three days of record scoring that included Justin Thomas’ 9-under 63 – the lowest score in relation to par ever at the U.S. Open, which prompted the previous record holder Johnny Miller to compare the event with the Milwaukee Open – balance and a bite was returned to the golf universe on Day 4. Sunday’s winds finally put the fear back in the golf, where it should be at the U.S. Open, and as is always the case the most fearless player emerged.
CARY, N.C. – Colin Montgomerie earned his second PGA Tour Champions victory in five weeks on Sunday, a three-stroke win at the SAS Championship. Montgomerie shot a bogey-free, 8-under 64 in his final round at Prestonwood Country Club. He earned $315,000 for his sixth career victory on the 50-and-over tour, and improved two spots to No. 7 in the Charles Schwab Cup standings in the tour’s regular-season finale. The 54-year-old Scot finished at 16-under 200. He won the tour’s first-ever event in Japan – the Japan Airlines Championship – last month. The Hall-of-Famer won 31 times on the European Tour and topped the tour’s money list a record eight times – seven in a row from 1993-99 and the last in 2005. Vijah Singh and Doug Garwood each shot 66 and tied for second at 13-under 203. Corey Pavin was one stroke behind them after a 67. Montgomerie began the final round sharing the lead with Phillip Price and Jerry Kelly. He had three birdies on the front nine before pulling away with five birdies on the back nine – including on the 14th, 15th and 17th holes – before closing with a par on the par-4 18th. Montgomerie has said he hopes to be on form entering the Schwab Cup playoffs – which begin next week in Richmond, Virginia, for the top 72 players – after he started the season slowly because of injuries. He was sidelined for more than two months in the spring with torn ligaments in his left ankle.