Tagged in: Golf

Russell Henley shoots lowest round in 2 years to lead Wyndham Championship

Russell Henley shot an 8-under 62, his lowest round in more than two years, to take the lead Thursday in the suspended first round of the Wyndham Championship.

Henley birdied three of his last four holes for a 2-stroke lead over Sung Kang, Ted Potter Jr., Chris Kirk, Hudson Swafford, Scott Piercy and Michael Thompson in the PGA Tour’s final regular-season event. Adam Hadwin also was 6 under but had two holes left when darkness ended play.

A storm halted play for 2 hours, 7 minutes, with 22 players unable to finish.

Past champion Webb Simpson and Kevin Kisner led a group of 10 another stroke behind at 65 at Sedgefield Country Club, where many competitors are scrambling to make it into top 125 to advance to the playoffs that start next week at the Northern Trust.

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Henley, at No. 46 in the standings, had no worries about the postseason but came out fast with a bogey-free round in chasing his first PGA Tour triumph in four years.

He moved in front with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 15th before closing with birdies on 17 and 18, the last with a 20-foot putt. He had with his lowest round on the tour since a career-low 61 at the John Deere Classic in 2019.

Henley has played some solid golf of late.

He was tied for the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open in June, then had two straight top-20 finishes before missing the cut at the British Open. He returned this week, hoping he can carry his strong play to the end.

“I haven’t won in years, so I feel like as well as I’ve been playing, I feel like I’ve underachieved a little bit,” he said.

“My mindset,” Henley continued, “is I feel if I can play my game, play my normal game, then I can maybe give myself a chance, and that’s kind of where I’m at.”

There are several big names competing to keep their season’s alive. Adam Scott, who started at No. 121, and Matt Kuchar, at No. 124, both had strong starts at 66.

“I would like to play well this week and get a chance to play next week and keep getting my game into place,” Scott said.

Rickie Fowler, who came in at 130th and needing a good week, didn’t help himself with a 71. Justin Rose, the Payne Stewart Award winner this week, has to finish in the top 10 to advance after coming in 138th. He opened with a 66, tied for 19th.

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama was at 69, tied for 89th.

Olympic medalists Rory Sabbatini and C.T. Pan also are playing after the Tokyo Games. Sabbatini, who took silver for Slovakia behind U.S. gold medal winner Xander Schauffele, started with a 66.

Pan, from Taiwan, won a seven-man playoff for the bronze. He shot a 68.Louis Oosthuizen, the only top-10 player in the FedEx standings entered, withdrew due to a neck injury.

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Matsuyama makes history with Masters triumph

Hideki Matsuyama made history on Sunday as the first male golfer from Japan to collect a major championship.

Ten years after making a sterling debut as the best amateur at Augusta National, Matsuyama claimed the ultimate trophy with a triumph in the Masters.

Matsuyama closed with a 1-over 73 and a one-shot victory that was only close at the end, and never seriously in doubt after Xander Schauffele‘s late charge ended with a triple bogey on the par-3 16th.

Moments before Dustin Johnson helped him into the green jacket, Matsuyama needed no interpreter in Butler Cabin when he said in English, “I’m really happy.”

So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. With a four-shot lead, he went for the green in two on the par-5 15th and it bounded hard off the back slope and into the pond on the 16th hole.

Matsuyama did well to walk away with bogey, and with Schauffele making a fourth consecutive birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play.

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The next swing all but ended it. Schauffele’s tee shot on the par-3 16th bounced of the hill and dribbled into the pond. His third shot from the drop area went into the gallery. He wound up with a triple-bogey 6.

Never mind that Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes.

All that mattered was that uphill walk to the 18th green, needing only to blast out of the bunker and take two putts for the victory.

That’s what he did, a final bogey for a one-shot victory over 24-year-old Masters rookie Will Zalatoris, who closed with a 70 and stayed on the practice range just in case of a playoff.

Matsuyama ended at 10-under 278 for his 15th victory worldwide, and his sixth on the PGA Tour.

He was far from a sure thing, closing at 40-1 to win the tournament at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. Matsuyama could be found upward of 60-1 prior to the tournament at some sportsbooks, making him one of the biggest long shots to win Masters since Danny Willett in 2016.

He was not a popular choice for bettors either. As of Thursday, he accounted for only 1% of the money that had been wagered on the odds to win the Masters at William Hill sportsbooks.

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Masters Tournament delays ticketing process for 2021

The Masters Tournament has delayed its ticketing process for the 2021 championship as it seeks a way to let some spectators to return for the first major of the year.

Dustin Johnson won the 2020 Masters, which was postponed from April to November because of the coronavirus pandemic, before just a smattering of Augusta National members, as the tournament had made the decision to play without spectators.

With just 100 days until the first round of the 2021 Masters arranged for April 8, the club has to make decisions quickly.

“As planning continues on how to stage the 2021 Masters Tournament safely and responsibly, we would like to inform you that Augusta National is delaying the ticket process for Patron Series Badges, which traditionally begins Jan. 1,” the club said in an email to ticket holders.

“Our intention is to communicate our decisions for the 2021 Masters to all patrons of record by the end of January. No further action is needed with your account at this time.”

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Patron Series Badges are good for the four tournament rounds only and do not include practice rounds. The cost of a badge for 2020 was to be $375, and when the Masters announced in August that it would play in November without spectators, it offered to defer those badges to 2021.

Practice rounds are another matter. Those tickets are distributed for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday via a lottery conducted the previous spring. Those tickets were also deferred to 2021.

Because all of these tickets and badges have been pre-sold, Augusta National Golf Club has a difficult problem in figuring out how to proceed with presumably a smaller number of spectators permitted on site. In the email, the club thanked its patrons for “continued patience” as it looks to communicate a definitive answer.

Crowd sizes are not revealed, but it is generally believed that around 30,000 series badges are sold.

Whittling that number to even half would require some ingenuity, possibly allowing admittance for a limited number of days or again deferring attendance a year.

Masters chairman Fred Ridley said in November that he hopes the “tournament in April will be more normal than it is now,” but offered no assurances that it will be any different, given the current uncertainty with the pandemic.

“We would need to see objective data that would give us a high level of confidence that we could bring large numbers of people onto the grounds for April,” Ridley said on Nov 11. “I think the vaccine — I don’t want to get into medical prognostications — but just logically as a lay person, the vaccine, while it will be wonderful when it happens, there are all kinds of issues that point to beyond April [for the vaccine] as the silver bullet.

“As it relates to [COVID-19] testing, there are some real opportunities there. Our staff has been exploring those very deeply. We have a number of people who are very interested in helping us. It is something we will be looking very hard at. It’ll be a wonderful circumstance if we could test large numbers of people.”

In November, the Masters required all who would be on the grounds to produce a negative COVID-19 test before being admitted. It administered rapid-response tests through a local pharmacy. But those were administered to a relatively small number of people, perhaps fewer than 2,000.

To have significant numbers of spectators who have to undergo testing would require a huge effort, although Augusta National has the financial resources — plus acres upon acres of parking facilities — to make it possible.

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Darren Clarke wins TimberTech Champions by 1 stroke for first PGA Tour Champions title

Darren Clarke won the TimberTech Champions on Sunday for his first PGA Tour Champions title, two-putting for birdie on the par-5 18th for a 1-stroke triumph over Jim Furyk and Bernhard Langer.

Clarke hit his second shot on 18 to 30 feet and rolled his eagle try just past the hole. After Furyk missed a 20-foot eagle try, Clarke tapped in for a 4-under 68 and the breakthrough victory in his 40th senior start.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities the last few years, so it’s great to finally win one,” Clarke said. “I wouldn’t be working this hard if I didn’t think I could still win.”

The 52-year-old major champion from Northern Ireland had a 17-under 199 total at The Old Course at Broken Sound. Clarke shot a 62 — with a penalty stroke for picking up his ball on the second fairway — Saturday for a share of the lead with Robert Karlsson.

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Clarke won for the first time since the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George’s.

“Well, the last victory I had, I was drunk for a week, so this time I won’t be,” Clarke said.

The 50-year-old Furyk also closed with a 68. He won this year in his first two starts on the senior tour.

“I really feel like I’m putting well, but I was burning a lot of edges and not able to get some putts to go in,” Furyk said. “At 18 had a nice look for eagle there from about 20 feet and thought I hit a great putt. I didn’t even sniff the hole, I probably missed it a good cup low and we just misread the putt. I’m a little stunned it broke as much as it did.”

Langer, the 63-year-old German star who won the event in 2010 and 2019, shot 67. He was 16 under until making bogeys on the 15th and 17th holes that cost him. He regained the lead in the Charles Schwab Cup.

“I didn’t drive the ball well and I could feel there was something wasn’t right with my swing and it showed up over and over,” Langer stated. “I hit probably six or seven tee shots just way right and that’s going to bite you sooner or later — and it did on 16.”

The PGA Tour Champions wraps up 2020 next week with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix, although the season will be extended to include 2021 because of tournaments lost from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miguel Angel Jimenez was fourth at 15 under after a 66.

Karlsson (71) and Gene Sauers (68) followed at 14 under.John Daly, tied with Furyk for the first-round lead after a 64, had weekend rounds of 73 and 71 to tie for 26th at 7 under. He was making his fourth start since exposing he has bladder cancer.

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Peter Malnati shoots 63, leads PGA Bermuda Championship

Peter Malnati saw his infant son at a PGA Tour event for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic, which brought a smile to his face and another birdie on his card for an 8-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the Bermuda Championship.

The tournament is the first to permit limited fans — no more than 500 a day at Port Royal — since the opening round of The Players Championship on March 12.

The final birdie was the ninth of the round for Malnati, who has gone from the South to the West to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and keeps playing some of his best golf.

It was the third time in his past three events he posted a 63 or lower. Malnati was runner-up at the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi and followed that with a tie for fifth in Las Vegas. This round gave him a one-shot lead over Ryan Armour and Doug Ghim, who birdied his last two holes.

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“With everything in the world right now — and this island is doing a phenomenal job with their testing protocol and keeping everyone safe — I just didn’t know if it was actually going to work for them to get out here,” Malnati said of about his wife and 1-year-old son.

“So coming off that disappointing bogey on 17, I hit a nice drive on 18 and before I even get my yardage or anything, I see my wife and boy standing out there.

“It just brought a huge smile to my face,” he said. “To see them and then to finish with that birdie, I’m a happy man.”

Malnati ran off five straight birdies starting with No. 9, and he was looking to finish strong.

Among the shorter hitters in the modern power game, he had made up his mind to take on the bunkers down the right side of the par-5 17th hole and turn it into an easy birdie.

Instead, he turned it left into the water for a penalty stroke and made bogey.

“So that stunk,” Malnati stated. “But how can I complain about much? We’re on the island of Bermuda and I sure played great.”

The Bermuda Championship matches the weakest field of the year on the PGA Tour, though it receives full status this year because the HSBC Champions in Shanghai was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning Bermuda is not the same week as a World Golf Championship.

The winner receives an invitation to the Masters next year. It also is the start of consecutive PGA Tour events permitting limited fans. The Houston Open has said it will sell no more than 2,000 tickets a day. The Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, the first event on 2021, also announced this week it would limited fans.

Doc Redman, Vaughn Taylor and Chase Seiffert were at 65, while Hunter Mahan was in the group at 66. It was Mahan’s lowest opening round in more than two years.

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Tiger Woods says he’s considering playing Houston Open before Masters

Tiger Woods is defending his Zozo Championship title this week with an eye on the Masters in three weeks.

And the run-up to what usually is the first major championship of the year is strange to say the least, he said.

So odd, in fact, that Woods stated he is considering adding another tournament before the Masters, the Houston Open.

“I think my plan is just to play and practice,” he said at Sherwood Country Club, where the relocated Zozo Championship starts Thursday.

“I don’t know if I’m going to play Houston or not. I’m not playing next week, and we’ll see how this week goes and make a decision from there.”

It would have been a good bet to figure that this week’s tournament would be the only one before the Masters, simply because Woods has never played the week before the Masters in any year since playing his first as a pro at Augusta National in 1997.

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Asked how he would try to replicate his run-up to the Masters, Woods said: “You can’t.”

“It’s not normally this time of year,” he said. “It’s not normally played this way, the configuration of events. We’re not in a Florida swing. This is all different.

This whole year’s been different for all of us.

“The fact that the Masters will be held in November, it’s unprecedented, never been done before. I can’t simulate the normal ramp-up that I normally have, and I don’t think anyone else can either. It will be different for all of us.”

Woods is making only his sixth start on the PGA Tour since the resumption of play following a 13-week pandemic shutdown.

His best finish is a tie for 37th at the PGA Championship in August. He has slipped from 13th to 28th in the world.

His last start was a month ago at the U.S. Open, where he missed the cut and struggled again with back stiffness.

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Dustin Johnson out of CJ Cup due to covid

No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson has withdrawn from this week’s CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas after testing positive for COVID-19.

Johnson, according to the PGA Tour, was experiencing symptoms, prompting him to take a test. Players are tested prior to travel each week and on site as part of the PGA Tour’s coronavirus testing protocols.

“Obviously, I am very disappointed,” stated Johnson, a 23-time PGA Tour winner who took the Tour Championship and thus the FedEx Cup title last month.

“I was really looking forward to competing this week but will do everything I can to return as quickly as possible. I have already had a few calls with the tour’s medical team and appreciate all the support and guidance they have given me.”

According to David Winkle, Johnson’s agent at Hambric Sports, the golfer took an on-site test Sunday that was negative. But he started feeling symptoms Sunday night, stayed away from the course Monday and didn’t feel better Tuesday, so he took a test that came back positive.

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Because the symptoms started Sunday, it is possible that Johnson could return at next week’s Zozo Championship as long as his symptoms have subsided.

He would not be able to practice on site prior to the tournament.

Johnson has not played since he finished tied for sixth at the U.S. Open last month. It is also possible he could play at the Houston Open the week before the Masters, which is Nov. 12-15.

Johnson has been one of the most consistent players in the game of late, tying for sixth in his last start at the U.S. Open, winning the Tour Championship, finishing second at the BMW Championship, winning the Northern Trust and tying for second at the PGA Championship.

He will be among the favorites at the Masters next month. Johnson becomes the second player in straight weeks to test positive for COVID-19.

Tony Finau withdrew from last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open due to a positive test. He also withdrew from the CJ Cup field and has been substituted  by Robby Shelton.

The PGA Tour has had a successful return to competition following a 13-week shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson is the 15th player who the tour has announced as having tested positive. Prior to Finau, two players tested positive at the U.S. Open, but there had been a six-week stretch of no positive cases before that.

J.T. Poston was the first alternate and replaces Johnson in the 78-player field.

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Sergio birdies final hold to win Sanderson Farms

Sergio Garcia didn’t have to sweat much over the final shot that clinched the Sanderson Farms Championship, his first PGA Tour triumph since the 2017 Masters. It was only 2 feet 6 inches in length, barely more than a tap-in after the Spaniard hit the shot of the tournament from the final fairway.

But just like with the other putts he stroked this week, Garcia wasn’t watching when he rolled in one last birdie putt to close out a final-round 67 to edge Peter Malnati by a shot at the Country Club of Jackson.

“Well, I guess eyes closed is probably normal for me now,” Garcia said. “I realized that I get too caught up in trying to make it too perfect instead of just letting myself do it. You don’t have to hit a perfect putt every time to be able to make it.”

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Garcia, 40, has been one of the more cerebral players on Tour for more than two decades.

But even after opening with a share of the 54-hole lead in Mississippi, it didn’t appear likely coming down the stretch that he’d be able to add to his trophy haul this week.

Garcia played his first 13 holes in 2 under, a solid score for a co-leader but not good enough to keep pace with Malnati, the 2015 champion who blistered the course with a closing 63.

There were few signs entering this week that self-trust would amount to much for Garcia, who was making his first-ever Sanderson presence.

He had missed three of his last four cuts, including each of the first two majors this year, and had dropped out of the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time since 2011. In nine starts since the break, he had ended better than T-32 just once – a T-5 finish at the RBC Heritage in June.

Asked if he had become frustrated by media asking him what’s wrong with his game, Garcia shed some perspective on his recent drought. “I really wasn’t that frustrated,” he stated, “because nobody was really talking to me.”

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Herbert shoots 65 to take Scottish Open lead

Australian golfer Lucas Herbert carded seven birdies and one bogey in a 6-under 65 to lead the Scottish Open by one shot on Friday going into the weekend.

Herbert considered quitting the game as he struggled during the middle of the 2019 season, but finds himself in contention for his second European Tour title after conquering his first in January in Dubai.

At 11 under par, he’s a shot ahead of Robert Rock, and two ahead of two more Englishmen, Ian Poulter and overnight leader Lee Westwood.

“To be honest, I turned up here on Wednesday and hit it all over the place,” Herbert stated. “Sort of not really expecting too much the last few days, but it’s kind of all come together nicely. My iron play has been great, which has taken the pressure off, and I haven’t had to get it up and down from ball washers to try and save pars.”

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Poulter added a second round of 66 to his opening 67 at the Renaissance Club for a halfway total of 9 under which was matched by playing partner Westwood.

Westwood could follow a brilliant 62 on Thursday with only a 71.

“It’’ nice to be in contention and good to come back, play and support the tour,” the U.S.-based Poulter stated.

“It’s great that we have these events on right now, to be able to showcase the tour a bit and I’m not thinking anything about Saturday bar bringing an umbrella and a pair of waterproofs.

“The weather forecast looks horrific, 20 mph (32 kph) winds and a couple of inches (5 centimeters) of rain. You can be blown off the course easily, but we’re at the right end of the leaderboard to try and batten down the hatches, dig in deep, and hold strong as much as you possibly can.”

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Australian PGA tour postponed until 2021

With a raft of strict control measures in place across most Australian states, the difficult decision to rearrange the tournament was made in hope restrictions will ease by early next year.

It means fans will have the capacity to see the Australian PGA Championship twice in a calendar year, with the 2021 edition also to be staged later that year.

ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Tournaments Director Nick Dastey said the public health considerations of those that help bring this event to life – the players, fans and volunteers – were pivotal in the decision.

“In conjunction with the Queensland Government and other key stakeholders, we have investigated numerous contingency plans to be able to stage the event in December, including players entering a hub and competing while serving a strict quarantine period,” Dastey said.

“Different from other professional sports, golf is a week-to-week travelling tour and in addition to playing in front of no fans, players would have potentially been required to undertake a further period of quarantine prior to or at the conclusion of the tournament.

“For interstate and international players, additional quarantine measures when returning to their home location or next tournament may have also meant a further 14-day quarantine.

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“While it is not a decision taken lightly these measures would not be in the best interests of our members, our fans, stakeholders and commercial partners, and as such we have made the decision to postpone the event with the hope that restrictions ease by 2021.”

Given the ever-changing landscape and uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19, PGA of Australia chief executive Gavin Kirkman stated the PGA will continue to monitor and review its decision, with a definitive ruling of the event’s scheduling to be made in December.

“The uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic makes it extremely difficult to stage events at the level we would normally expect,” Kirkman said.

“We will continue to be agile and rely on the expert advice of the Queensland Government to safeguard against the spread of the virus.

“Our new date will be subject to health regulations and will be reviewed again in early December, when we expect to be armed with a more accurate prediction of COVID-19’s impact across the country during summer.

“At that time we will determine whether the event will proceed in February or, as a last resort, cancelled. This will ensure our members and key stakeholders are provided appropriate notice of any decision made.”

One of the Australian PGA Championship’s feature events in its week-long festival of golf, the Greg Norman Medal, will also be rearranged.

The Greg Norman Medal is Australian golf’s highest individual honour for Australian men and women professional golfers and features an honour roll that includes Hannah Green, Minjee Lee, Marc Leishman and Jason Day.

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