ORLANDO, Fla. – Matt Every is finally a winner on the PGA Tour, and he’s still not sure how it happened. He was nine shots behind Masters champion Adam Scott going into the weekend at Bay Hill. He was still four back of the Australian he referred to as a ”stud” going into the final round Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Every figured even par over the last three holes would do the trick. He made two bogeys. Even after a hearty handshake from the tournament host and a shiny trophy an arm’s length away from, Every summed up this wild day with just the right words. ”I … I … I can’t believe I won,” he said. ”I just … I really can’t.” The tee shot that he feared might be out-of-bounds on No. 9 somehow bounced along a cart path and led to an unlikely birdie. He surged to a three-shot lead when Scott’s touch with the putter vanished. Even with two bogeys on the last three holes – he missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th – Every still closed with a 2-under 70. The last bogey made him sweat out the finish. Keegan Bradley, who birdied the 16th and 17th holes, had a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th that would have forced a playoff. It was similar to the putt Tiger Woods has made so often to win at Bay Hill. Bradley’s putt stayed left of the hole, and he finished one shot behind. Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, videos and photos Every finished at 13-under 275, one shot ahead of Bradley, who needed two late birdies for a 72. Scott was third. In his 92nd start as a pro on the PGA Tour, Every finally won at just the right time and just the right place. The 30-year-old who grew up 90 minutes away in Daytona Beach used to come to Bay Hill as a kid to watch the tournament. And he beat the Masters champion to earn his own spot in the Masters next month. ”Being close to winning out here, it can be kind of discouraging because if you don’t win, you just wonder if it’s ever going to happen,” Every said. ”And sometimes you tell yourself, ‘Well, maybe it’s meant to be somewhere else, somewhere better.’ I don’t see how it could get much better than this – being so close to where I grew up and all the fans out there that were cheering me on. It was awesome.” It was a nightmare for Scott. He shattered the Bay Hill record by taking a seven-shot lead after 36 holes and still led by three shots over Bradley going into Sunday. His putting stroke betrayed him. Scott made only five bogeys over 54 holes. He made five on Sunday alone. And he didn’t make a birdie over the last 14 holes for a 76. ”I’m annoyed that I didn’t do better today,” Scott said. ”Sometimes you’ve got to be hard on yourself. Sometimes you don’t. And I think I was getting into a really good spot, and an opportunity here to run away with an event and really take a lot of confidence. I’m taking confidence anyway, from just some good play. But some opportunities you’ve got to take.” Cocky by nature, Every choked back tears when he realized he had won. ”It’s hard,” he said, stopping to compose himself. ”It’s tough, man. You just never know if it’s going to happen. You get there so many times. It’s nice to get it done.” He made it hard on himself. Every had a three-shot lead on the par-5 16th hole – the easiest at Bay Hill – when he drove into the woods, hit a tree trying to pitch out, laid up short of the water to play it safe and had to grind out a bogey. Scott, playing in the final group behind him, drilled 6-iron to 20 feet for an eagle putt that would have tied him for the lead. He three-putted for par. It was the second time in six tournaments that Scott lost a big lead on the last day. He had a four-shot advantage in the Australian Open and lost on the final hole to Rory McIlroy. This time, he didn’t even have a realistic chance playing the 18th. ”I really think the putting has let me down on both of those occasions,” Scott said. ”Today was a bit shaky. But this course was asking a lot of everyone today, and my short game just wasn’t there. So that needs to be tightened up and probably shows that I need to do a bit more work on it to hold up under the pressure.” Scott finished alone in third. He had to win Bay Hill to reach No. 1 in the world ranking when he arrived at Augusta National. Now, the No. 1 spot that Woods has held for the last year will be up for grabs at the Masters among Woods, Scott and Henrik Stenson, who tied for fifth at Bay Hill. Until Sunday, about the only time Every made news on the PGA Tour was when he was arrested and jailed on a misdemeanor drug possession charge at the 2010 John Deere Classic after agents were called to a casino hotel because of a strong odor of marijuana coming from the room he was in. Every paid the price with a three-month suspension that kept him from retaining his PGA Tour card. He once said earning his card back was his greatest achievement, though that sure takes a seat back to his win at Bay Hill. ”It’s just cool that I can say that I won on the PGA Tour,” Every said. ”But I always felt like my game was plenty good enough to win out here.”
WATERLOO, Ontario – Stacy Lewis is all about winning, figuring everything else will fall in place. Everything did Sunday in New Jersey when the 29-year-old Texan won the ShopRite LPGA Classic to reclaim the top spot in the world ranking from Inbee Park. ”Getting the No. 1 was just a bonus,” Lewis said Wednesday, a day before the start of play in the Manulife Financial Classic at Grey Silo. She also won the North Texas LPGA Shootout in early May after finishing second six times in her previous 16 events since winning the Women’s British Open in August. ”I feel like over the last year I’ve put myself in position to win so many times that I’m very comfortable there,” Lewis said. ”You know, I wouldn’t say it gets easier, but I would say you definitely get more comfortable. Sunday last week, the nerves were there initially, but then once we got going I felt like if I took care of my game, there’s no way anybody was going to beat me.” Park is winless in 10 tour starts this season after sweeping the first three majors last year and finishing the season with six victories. ”I’m the No. 2 right now and my life didn’t change,” she said. ”I’m just still doing the same thing, doing my routine, practice round, pro-am, playing again. Yeah, it’s just numbers, but my life is the same life.” In the two previous events at Grey Silo, Lewis tied for fifth and sixth. ”It’s a golf course you have to make a ton of birdies on and I led the tour in birdies last year, and I think I’m leading that stat this year, so I think that fits my game,” Lewis said. ”You have to go out there and attack and make as many birdies as you can.” Last year, Hee Young Park beat Angela Stanford with a birdie on the third playoff hole. They finished at 26-under 258 to match the tour record for lowest total score. ”This golf course is in perfect shape, everything, and I know how I was feeling and green conditions pretty much perfect, so easy to get used to it,” Hee Young Park said. ”(Earlier in the week there) was rain here so it got softer, so I can hit more aggressive, which is good.” She’s has been bothered by a lingering wrist injury this season. ”It feels a lot better and I’m back to pretty much normal. I can play,” she said. ”The last few weeks I played pretty good, so I think it’s ready.” Lewis hopes the wind sticks around for the weekend. ”I would much rather play a golf course when it’s playing hard than when it’s playing easy,” she said. ”What’s surprised me the last two years is that I have played well here, because I don’t like courses that are just a straight birdie-fest and you go crazy. I like it when it’s hard and you have to golf shots and things like that. The wind this year, I’m actually pretty excited about.” Third-ranked Lydia Ko also is in the field. The 17-year-old Ko won the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in California in late April and has five top-seven finishes in 11 tour starts this year. The teenager won the Canadian Women’s Open as an amateur the last two years and took the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in December in Taiwan in her second start as a professional. She has six victories in pro events, also winning in Australia and New Zealand. DIVOTS: Brooke Henderson, the 16-year-old Canadian who is third in the world amateur ranking, received a sponsor exemption. … Brittany Lang won the inaugural event in 2012. … Manulife has extended its sponsorship deal through 2016. … The tour will return to Ontario in August for the Canadian Women’s Open at London Hunt.
ATLANTA – We often hear this tired refrain, usually decried by hackneyed observers far removed from day-to-day insights into the game: Golfers are boring. They’re vanilla. They’re bland. Never say an interesting word, let alone a controversial one. Never have a strong take from their perch atop the middle of the fence. This is a stance which has afflicted the game for years, drummed into the heads of golfers who might not have realized how unremarkable they really are. But it’s forced a change. They’ve gradually become more cognizant of it, especially younger players who haven’t been coached up in the language of rhetoric and might be too naïve to be unthoughtful. What’s happened as a result isn’t quite a revolution, but it is a revelation: These guys are intelligent, own strong opinions and aren’t afraid to let the world hear certain viewpoints. Maybe not on weighty political affairs, but at least on the world as it affects them. All of which leads us to recent perceived moaning and groaning about the FedEx Cup playoffs and the latest Catch-22 which has ensconced the game. As it stands, these players – the ones who don’t want to be considered boring or uninteresting or fence-sitters – have been asked about the grind of competing four straight weeks after a grueling season. They are questioned about fatigue and focus. The queries are undoubtedly leading the witnesses. To their credit, most have spoken their minds. They’ve been completely honest on how they feel about competing so many weeks in a row without so much as a brief respite. “I’m in desperate need of some rest,” defending FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson said before being ousted from the playoffs. “Of course, it’s a little disappointment not making it back. … It wasn’t to be this year, but I finally get a bit of a break. You know, if you got some of the guys who are playing 66 percent of my schedule are worn out and struggling, I guess you can understand that I’m a little bit fatigued as well.” Tour Championship: Articles, videos and photos “Somehow managed to not fall over this week,” Geoff Ogilvy admitted after last week’s BMW Championship. “I’m pretty tired. The altitude wears you out. And this many tournaments in a row wears you out, too. … To be honest with you, I’m not a hundred percent excited about playing golf next week, but I’m really excited about what making the Tour Championship does for you.” “It’s been a long year, a lot of tournaments,” agreed Sergio Garcia. “A lot of tournaments out there and that also take as little bit out of you. But I can’t be disappointed with it.” It’s not just them, either. From Phil Mickelson taking his ball and going home after two rounds last week to Rory McIlroy lacking so much focus that he four-putted the same green on consecutive days, players’ words are being endorsed by their actions – and vice versa. This is a decidedly bad look, no matter which way you slice (or hook) it. When your vocation is professional golfer, people don’t like to hear complaints about your vocation very often. All of which has led to the laymen among us – you know, those unfortunate scamps who don’t have an opportunity to earn millions of dollars this week and haven’t been forced to play golf for the past month without a break – criticizing the criticism. It’s a fool’s errand, this business of requesting more honesty, then denouncing the comments wrought from such candor. And yet, the never-ending cycle continues, with thoughts on the FedEx Cup serving as the latest example. It also hints at a perilous future, one which will only reinforce the stereotypes. If players speak their minds on such issues and remain castigated for their honesty, fewer will continue to be so open. As it relates to this current topic, maybe it won’t matter that much going forward. “We don’t like playing four weeks in a row in the playoffs, either,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in response to the prevailing opinion. “We think in the playoffs there should be a break week. We didn’t do that this year for some unusual reasons. I can tell you right now it’s not going to happen in the next few years. We already know basically the schedule – and there will be a break week.” That should be received as excellent news for those who have had the gall to speak their minds recently. Hopefully it will be considered a win for those making their opinions known. Because the last thing we should wish for is a group of boring, vanilla, fence-sitters amongst the game’s best players. Their criticisms might forever be criticized, but it still beats the alternative.
MALELANE, South Africa – Branden Grace had his lead cut to just one stroke at the Alfred Dunhill Championship after shooting an even-par 72 in the third round Saturday, allowing several challengers to close the gap behind him. Grace had a five-stroke cushion after the second round, but a late surge by Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark erased most of the advantage. Bjerregaard had an eagle on the 13th and then birdied his last three holes for a 66 to climb to second place. Grace has a 16-under total of 200, with Danny Willett of England two shots behind after a 67 and Francesco Molinari another stroke back following a 70. ”A couple of the easy holes I managed to make mistakes on,” said Grace, who mixed four birdies with four bogeys. ”But I’m in the position I want to be in and looking forward to tomorrow.” The wind picked up considerably during the third round, but it didn’t seem to bother Bjerregaard, who played his back nine in 6 under. ”We’ve had no wind pretty much all week and it was tough, especially on the first couple of holes, to adjust to that all of a sudden,” Bjerregaard said. ”It will be fun tomorrow. It’s not a position that I’ve been in that many times. I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully I can find a couple more fairways and give him a challenge.” Willett is chasing back-to-back European Tour victories after his win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last week.
KAPALUA, Hawaii – Tim Clark knows all about pressure, and not just when he’s in contention at a golf tournament. Clark has had a productive career as he enters his 14th season on the PGA Tour. His two victories include The Players Championship. His six international titles include the Australian Open and Scottish Open. He has played on three Presidents Cup teams. And it all started with a tryout in the North Carolina snow. For a South African who didn’t have the pedigree of an Ernie Els or Retief Goosen, Clark never imagined how he could get to the toughest tour in golf. Travel was long and expensive. A chance to play college golf turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. There was another South African playing at North Carolina State, and one year his father had come over to watch Simon Hobday in the U.S. Senior Open at Pinehurst. He spoke to Wolfpack golf coach Richard Sykes about Clark, who was approaching his 20th birthday. ”His dad spoke to the coach and said, ‘Listen, there’s a kid in South Africa who would really like to come and play on your team right now if you’d give him a chance,”’ Clark said. ”So he called me up and said, ‘You can come in the spring. If you play any good, you can stay. If you don’t, sorry, your scholarship is gone.’ And then I made first-team All-American in the spring.” But it wasn’t that easy. Clark had only been to America once in his life. He came over in 1993 with Rory Sabbatini to play in the International Junior Masters (Sabbatini won). They headed over to Las Vegas for an AJGA and were asked to qualify (Clark was the only one who did). The Junior World at Torrey Pines was the next week, but Clark said South Africa was banned because of apartheid. And then he went home, until North Carolina State gave him a chance – with a caveat. ”I left South Africa on Christmas Day because that’s the cheapest flight,” Clark said. ”We landed and it was snowing. And I was like, ‘Wow, I’m not prepared for this.’ I live in weather like this (Hawaii) all year round. Coach picked me up. He had never seen me play before and he took me to hit balls – straight off the plane, in the snow. He just wanted to see what he had.” Clark apparently swung the club good enough. Along with getting off to an All-American start that spring, he won the U.S. Amateur Public Links the next year and played in the 1998 Masters. He turned pro later that year, spent two years on the Nationwide Tour, won twice in 2000 to the PGA Tour and was on his way. ”The biggest opportunity I had in my career was to go there and play,” Clark said. It’s not an unusual path for international players. Colin Montgomerie went to Houston Baptist. Luke Donald went to Northwestern, earned a degree in art and won an NCAA title. Graeme McDowell played at Alabama-Birmingham. Back then, it was rarer for South Africans given the distance and lack of attention unless young Springboks could make frequent trips to America. ”When we grew up, the PGA Tour was like an afterthought,” Clark said. ”You never thought that was even a possibility. I was lucky to come over to college and have that opportunity. For most of us, that was so far-fetched. Financially, it’s a big thing to come from South Africa to play Q-school. Guys can’t afford it. For me, that was probably the biggest break I ever had in my career.” MONDAY FINISH: The Hyundai Tournament of Champions is the second PGA Tour event that ends on a Monday. The other is the Deutsche Bank Championship, which has ended on Labor Day since its inception in 2003 and it works beautifully with the Boston community. As for Kapalua? The decision to switch to a Monday finish didn’t make sense four years ago, and it doesn’t make sense now. For sure, the tour wants to get away from the NFL playoffs. But the NFL is not played on Sunday night – the second game ends about 8 p.m. EST – and that would be ideal for the frigid part of the mainland to watch the final round from Kapalua with scenic shots of surf and humpbacks. Instead, it’s only the third round. The final round Monday ends before the college championship game. But the guess here is that most fans aren’t watching golf, they’re watching the pre-game show. Worse yet, it cuts into the following week at the Sony Open, a loyal sponsor that is not treated like one by giving it a shorter week. CHANGING TIMES: When the Tournament of Champions first came to Kapalua in 1999, there were 13 major champions in the 30-man field. There are four major champions in the 34-man field this year. Of course, some of those 13 major champions make 1999 seem a long time ago. The field included Tom Watson and Scott Simpson. The regular winners included Brandel Chamblee.
“A short burst of inconsequential information.” That’s how Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey originally defined the social networking service that he and three others created, but what has come to define the narrative so often of this generation is far more facile than that. Somewhere between the bottle of wine your neighbor opened last night and the Arab Spring movement, Twitter is the most narcissism-inducing, vanity-vomiting, muckraking scourge of harmony and aggregate source of everything one needs to know, time-suck in history. On election day in 2016 there were 40 million tweets before 10 p.m. ET. Assuming each tweet took a minute, if you divide by minutes to get the number of hours, then hours to get days, then days to get years, that comes to roughly the equivalent of one person tweeting, for every single second of life for 76.1 years. Given that the average life span in the United States is 78.74 years, that is literally tweeting a life away. And to think, Scotland banned golf almost a half a millenium ago because it was interfering with archery practice. Full disclosure, I contributed to those millions of tweets on election day, and freely admit that I spend too much time on this social media outlet. Mostly I tweet about golf-related, geeky swing stuff and statistical data that I find interesting. Which is to say, from an information standpoint, it is a lot closer to how long cats will lick each other than breaking political movements of a ground-swelling nature. Given the nature of my Twitter account I am always caught off guard at how people’s ire can be raised over such exchanges of an “inconsequential nature.” I have an informal approach to the interaction that I have on Twitter, in that I view it as a party at my house: Come on in, argue if you see fit, but if you start breaking dishes, you have to go. I can smell rudeness a par-5 away. Hence, I block on average about 10 people a day, which means I have blocked around 20,000 people in my six-plus years on Twitter. Dead give-aways of an incipient bent are as follows: * Using ALL CAPS in a message.The heading for the Declaration of Independence, reads “In CONGRESS”; anything less important can follow standard grammar rules. * Using exclamation points!!! History is a better teacher than the volume of a voice. Don’t scream to make your point; improve your arguments. * Starting or ending a message with “Dude.” I believe this one is self explanatory, dude. I’m thinking that golf should ban Twitter, not because it is interfering with the practice of the game but because it is interfering with the civility of it. Twitter may have originally been a burst of inconsequential information but it has turned into 140 characters of kindling, burning civility to a fine crisp. I can understand the discord involving politics, religion and war but what is there to argue about in golf, I mean besides the fact I am still paid to talk about it for a living?
MADRID – Home favorite Jon Rahm shot a 5-under 67 to finish one off the lead after the first round of the Spanish Open Thursday. Marc Warren of Scotland and Paul Dunne of Ireland set the pace on 66 at the Centro Nacional de Golf. Warren birdied five of his last seven holes and Dunne also finished strongly with a birdie at the 16th and an eagle at the 18th. Rahm, who finished fourth at the Masters Sunday, eagled the 18th too, the ninth hole of his round. ”I played a lot better than I expected, especially off the tee,” said the world No. 4 from Spain, who has never won professionally in his home country. Full-field scores from the Spanish Open ”Too bad that I couldn’t make a couple of putts but I guess it’s happening to everyone, the greens are not easy to read. Still, 5 under is fine and hopefully I can keep playing the same way to the green and make some putts for the rest of the week.” Spanish amateur Victor Pastor was in a group of 10 other players tied with Rahm. Defending champion Andrew “Beef” Johnston launched his campaign with a 68.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Earlier this year Johnny Harris, the president of Quail Hollow Club, circulated a five-minute video to PGA Tour players. Although Quail Hollow has been a popular stop on Tour since it first hosted the Wells Fargo Championship in 2003, the message was clear – come back to the golf course you know and love. There was a concern among tournament officials that last year’s PGA Championship, which was played at Quail Hollow, had left some players unimpressed with the layout, which underwent a series of renovations in the years leading up to the 2017 PGA. “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked in the video of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.” True to his word, on Tuesday as players made their way around the course to prepare for this week’s event, there was an actual lemonade stand perched on the back of the fourth tee box. Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, photos and videos The message was clear. While few, if any, would question the outcome of last year’s PGA, which was won by Justin Thomas, it was not the golf course that made the Wells Fargo one of the circuit’s most popular events. “The course has maybe gotten a little more criticism than maybe [Harris] is comfortable with,” said Johnson Wagner, who is a member at Quail Hollow. “He said to me that he feels like the course was set up pretty difficult for a major and guys weren’t used to that out here.” The most glaring changes prior to the ’17 PGA were to the first, fourth and fifth holes, and they all lived up to that billing ranking as the second-, 13th- and ninth-toughest holes last August. The sum total of those changes, along with much different conditions in August compared to May, was a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017, compared to a 72.95 average for the ’16 Wells Fargo Championship played at Quail Hollow. The mental impact, however, went much deeper. While most agree the changes to Quail Hollow made the course harder for the PGA Championship, opinions vary on whether the nip/tucks made the course better. “No, I don’t think so,” said Scott Brown, who tied for 13th at last year’s PGA. “The golf course the way it was was pretty awesome. Just from hearing guys talk, the vast majority haven’t really agreed with a lot of the changes they made.” Which explains why Harris and tournament officials were proactive in pointing out that this year’s event would be more familiar for players. Last month’s “green sheet,” which is sent to players in advance of tournaments, said the par-4 first hole will play 495 yards this week, compared to 524 yards for the PGA Championship; and the back tee at the fourth, well that’s open for anyone who wants some lemonade. In fact, Quail Hollow will play 7,554 yards this week, compared to 7,600 yards for the PGA. The first hole, which Brown jokingly referred to as a par 5, was the biggest concern for many players. At the PGA, the opener played to a beastly 4.388 scoring average, among the Tour’s 50 toughest holes, compared to a 3.942 average a year earlier during the Wells Fargo. “It’s easy to mess a great golf course up. They made some great changes, I thought Nos. 4 and 5 were fine, but No. 1 is just an absolute monster hole now,” said Chris Stroud, who tied for ninth place at the PGA. “I understand why players wouldn’t want them to mess with it, but a lot of it has to do with how good players are now.” For this week’s event the course will also revert to over-seeded perennial rye grass for the fairways and rough, and the greens and approaches will be Bermuda grass. The set up will also be in the hands of PGA Tour officials, not staff from the PGA of America, which should promote a more player-friendly layout. “We have our own rules officials to set it up however they want, but the PGA [of America] was probably just guarding against conditions in the summer time, a little harder and a little faster, we have to give ourselves options,” Stroud said. “There’s no perfect option.” The green sheet said rough heights will be maintained at about 2 inches and that “hole placements will also return to the traditional setup used by the Tour since 2003.” Although Quail Hollow had to endure a few more slings and arrows than officials are accustomed to, the ’17 PGA did provide valuable feedback for future events. The course is scheduled to host the 2021 Presidents Cup, which will be played in late September, and could become an occasional major venue with the PGA Championship’s move to May beginning in 2019. “We learned a lot about Quail Hollow and that it’s a better golf course when it’s over-seeded and the rough is shorter than it is with Bermuda and deep, nasty rough,” Wagner said. Judging by this year’s field, which includes six of the world’s top 10 players, Harris also learned the value of guerrilla marketing and how to make lemonade out of perceived lemons.
SINGAPORE — Amy Olson’s eagle on the front nine and a late birdie on the 16th hole were enough for the American to emerge from a five-way tie from the first-round lead to shoot a 3-under 69 and take a two-stroke lead after two rounds at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. The 26-year-old American had a two-round total of 7-under 137 Friday on the Sentosa Golf Club’s Tanjong course. There was a five-way tie for second — Inbee Park (69), Azahrara Munoz (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70), No. 1-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and No. 3 Minjee Lee (71). After an eagle on the par-5 eighth on Thursday, Olson did the same on the par-5 fifth in the second round. ”I’ve made some pretty good shots on both those par fives to set them up,” Olson said. Your browser does not support iframes. Full-field scores from the HSBC Women’s World Championship ”I hit the ball really, really good today and gave myself a ton of birdie opportunities on the front, and honestly, I just couldn’t read the greens out there. I don’t know if the pins were just in tricky spots but I gave up a lot of opportunities on the front nine. A couple putts kind of fell at the end, but just overall, kind of a steady day.” No. 4 Park, making her first start of the LPGA season, said she was ”feeling kind of rusty, but happy where I am at the moment.” Former No. 1 Lydia Ko shot 70 and was 2-under. Nelly Korda, who won the Women’s Australian Open two weeks ago, shot 70 and was at even-par. Korda had a painful 74 in her opening round, and tweeted about it later. ”Well, I tried to get out of some trouble by punching out… I proceeded to hit a tree … and slammed the grip end of the club in the ground, little did I know it was going to bounce up and hit me full force in my lip,” she said on Twitter. ”That’s what we call Karma.”
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Dustin Johnson has missed nine birdie chances from 10 feet or closer at Liberty National, which ordinarily might annoy him. He’s hitting it so well that he still leads The Northern Trust Open. Johnson birdied three of his last six holes Friday, finishing with an approach to 8 feet on the 489-yard closing hole, for a 4-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead over Jordan Spieth (64) going into the weekend. Johnson has won this FedExCup Playoff opener twice at other courses. He was at 12-under 130. ”I’ve got a lot of control with the golf ball and hitting a lot of really nice shots and rolled in a couple putts today which is nice, but still feel like I left quite a few out there,” Johnson said. ”I’m in a good position heading into the weekend, and if I can keep swinging the way I am, I think it’s going to be a good weekend.” The weekend does not include Masters champion Tiger Woods, and neither did Friday. Woods, who opened with a 75, withdrew a few hours before his second round was to begin because of what he described as a mild strain to the oblique that Woods says was causing pain and stiffness. It’s the first time he withdrew in the middle of a tournament since February 2017, two months before fusion surgery on his lower back. He said he was hopeful to play next week at Medinah. Spieth might be finding some form at just the right time. Winless in more than two years, he started the PGA Tour’s postseason at No. 69 in the FedEx Cup with no assurance of staying among the top 70 who advance to next week at Medinah. He might be two rounds away from breaking that drought. Spieth was on the same score (131) that he was going into the weekend last week at the Wyndham Championship, where he followed with a 77 and missed the 54-hole cut. His shots have been tighter, his misses not that severe and he even got some good fortune on his final hole that led to a birdie and a spot in the last group with a familiar face. Johnson and Spieth have played together at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am each of the last five years. The opening playoff event had a strong cast of contenders, with Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed two shots behind, and Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy among those another shot back. McIlroy was just happy he wasn’t farther behind. The Northern Trust: Full-field scores | Full coverage | FedExCup standings He walked off the par-3 14th with a double bogey because of a two-shot penalty from the bunker. McIlroy went to remove a small stone next to his ball, but realized when he touched it and it disintegrated that it was a clump of wet sand from a brief storm delay. The original ruling was a penalty. The PGA Tour reviewed it as McIlroy played the last four holes, spoke to him after the round and determined there was no intent to improve his lie. His 70 became a 68. ”The reason I called someone over is I don’t want anything on my conscience, either,” McIlroy said. ”I feel like I play the game with integrity and I’m comfortable saying that I didn’t improve anything. I thought it was a rock. It wasn’t. I moved my hand away, and then I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ve done anything wrong here.’ ”It came down to me and they said, ‘OK, are you comfortable telling us you didn’t improve your lie?’ And for me, I am comfortable saying that.” Missing the cut meant the end of the season for at least two dozen players who would not be among the top 70, which includes Bubba Watson. Sergio Garcia would appear to be a casualty having started at No. 65 and not making it to the weekend. The first step for Spieth was to make sure he stayed in the top 70. Now it’s about contending. ”The important thing for me is not to get ahead of myself,” Spieth said. ”Historically, I’m a very consistent player. I’ve lost a bit of that. I still have the firepower but that consistency is what I’m trying to get back, and there’s certainly going to be times where I’m out of position over the weekend. It’s about limiting mistakes. One bogey over 36 holes is somewhat unrealistic week to week. But if I can hold it close to that for the next 36, again, that firepower is still there. And it would certainly shoot my confidence up.” Johnson’s year has been quiet since winning a World Golf Championship in Mexico City for his 20th career victory. Another year passed without winning a major. He was runner-up in the first two majors, but he hasn’t finish better than 20th since the PGA Championship. He feels the consistency in his swing is returning. And while he’s not making everything, he’s making enough and likes the way he’s rolling it. ”I feel like I’m stroking it well right now,” he said. ”I worked on the stroke a lot the last couple weeks and feel good and I have confidence in it.”