WASHINGTON (AFP) — Justin Thomas reclaimed the world number one ranking on Sunday by outdueling defending champion Brooks Koepka down the stretch to win the WGC St Jude Invitational by three strokes.
Thomas, who began the day four shots off the lead, fired a five-under par 65 final round to thwart Koepka’s repeat bid and take the title at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee, on a 72-hole total of 13-under 267.
“It means a lot, especially with how I felt like I did it,” Thomas said. “In the past, I struggled with coming from behind. I got wrapped up in how far I was behind and how many people.”
The 27-year-old American became the third-youngest US PGA Tour player in the past 60 years to reach 13 career wins, behind Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and just ahead of Rory McIlroy.
Koepka, who seeks a third consecutive PGA Championship victory next week in San Francisco, closed with a double bogey after finding water off the 18th tee and slid into sharing second on 270 with US compatriots Daniel Berger and Phil Mickelson and England’s Tom Lewis.
Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, jumped from third past McIlroy and top-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm to retake world number one, a spot he held for four weeks in 2018.
“It was a hard-fought day, but it meant a lot,” Thomas said.
Three weeks ago, Thomas squandered a three-stroke lead with three holes to play, two bogeys dropping him into a playoff with Collin Morikawa that he lost.
“I feel like I learned a lot from that,” he said. “I just didn’t get ahead of myself anytime those last two, three holes, where I felt like my mind was kind of wandering and maybe thinking about winning.
“I basically just told myself to shut up and figure out what you’re doing because I could lose that tournament just as easily as I won it.
“I was really proud of myself to stay in the moment and get it done,” he said.
3-way tie at Irish Open
Jordan Smith and Aaron Rai produced superb first rounds of 65 to join early clubhouse leader Dean Burmester on five- under par at the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Smith has been consistent since golf’s resumption following the global health crisis lockdown which halted the schedule for over four months, recording five top 40 finishes in eight events.
And that consistency translated over to County Antrim as the Englishman was one of only two players to go bogey free as he carded five birdies in a testing first round at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, where just 22 players were in the red numbers.
Early starter Burmester recorded a sixth placed finish at the English Championship and a top 25 placing at the ISPS HANDA Wales Open and continued his fine form in Northern Ireland.
The South African raced to seven under after 12 holes as thoughts of only the second 59 in European Tour history came into the reckoning as he led by five shots.
However, a double bogey at 17th saw his advantage cut to three as he set the clubhouse lead at five under before he was joined by Smith and Rai.
Smith’s fellow Englishman Rai was only the second player to not blemish his card as he came home in 32 courtesy of four birdies on the back nine to make it a three way tie at the top late in the day.
“I am happy with today,” Smith said. “I need to go work on my driving a little bit and holing out but apart from that, very happy.”
Smith got his round underway at the second hole when he registered his first birdie before adding another at the eighth.
The 27-year-old picked up further shots at the tenth and 12th to sit one adrift of Burmester and when he rolled in his fifth birdie at the 16th, he was joint leader.
Smith found the rough with his tee shot at the 17th but produced a fine approach to reach the green before rolling his birdie putt short.
He had the chance to go into the solo lead at the par five last but was wayward off the tee once again, finding the thick stuff.
His approach to the green also flew right into more rough but hit a fine chip to 12 feet for birdie, only for his effort to pull up short by a matter of inches to stay at five under.
Burmester began his round with a par, which was followed by a hat-trick of birdies from the second to propel the South African into an already commanding early advantage at the top of the leaderboard.
He reached the turn in 30 thanks to a birdie at the seventh before the 2017 Tshwane Open winner started the back nine in positive fashion.
The 31-year-old picked up shots at the tenth, 11th and 12th to climb up to seven under, with his closest rivals some five shots adrift.
“For 16 holes, I played flawless golf pretty much,” Burmester said.
“I didn’t really miss a shot.”
“A couple of great up and downs kept the momentum going and then unfortunately on 17 I fell asleep over a three-footer but other than that, honestly I played great.”
Rai worked his way into his opening round and carded his solitary birdie on the front nine at the sixth.
However, he it was on the back nine when he found his range as he holed gains at the tenth, 12th, 14th and 16th to move alongside Smith and Burmester.
Straka rides on eagle to share lead
MIAMI (AFP) — Austrian Sepp Straka soared with an eagle and five birdies to join a four-way tie for the lead on seven-under 65 in the US PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Championship.
Tyler McCumber had six birdies and an eagle and got as low as eight-under on the picturesque par-72 course, but a bogey at his penultimate hole, the eighth, dropped him back into a share of the first-round lead.
He and Straka were joined by Scott Harrington and Hudson Swafford, with China’s Zhang Xinjun and American Joseph Bramlett a shot back on 66.
“Hitting the ball really well all day,” Straka, seeking a first US PGA Tour title, said of his round.
“The couple of times I missed the green I got up and down, chipped in once, so, really just kind of everything was falling into place today.”
Straka teed off on 10 and picked up four birdies in his first nine holes, the eagled the par-five fourth.
“Hit a pretty good drive in the fairway and had a good number for a five-wood in there,” he said of his eagle.
“Hit it about five feet and sunk the putt.”
The course yielded 93 sub-par rounds, but Straka said it still demanded patience.
“You can shoot a low round out here, but it’s got to be a consistent low round. You’ve got to let the birdies come to you.
“You’re going to hit a lot of fairways, fairways are pretty wide,” Straka added. “But you’re going to want to hit your irons good because the greens, you can miss it in some bad spots.”
Harrington said the island atmosphere made him more relaxed. He also has the confidence of knowing he shares the course record of 10-under 62, which he recorded in the second round of a Korn Ferry Tour event in 2016.
“I feel as kind of a longer player I can kind of let it rip a little bit,” Harrington said.
Ten players were two off the pace on 67 and another dozen were tied on 68. That group included American Kelly Kraft, who stormed home with two eagles in his last three holes. That included a hole in one at his final hole, the ninth.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell, meanwhile, got off to a quiet start, firing a two-under par 70 that included three
McDowell eyes dose of confidence
MIAMI (AFP) — Graeme McDowell is hoping a return to the Corales Puntacana resort, where he ended a near-four year title drought last year, will jumpstart his game.
“My game needs that little injection of confidence anyway,” McDowell admitted this week as he prepared to tee off Thursday in the US PGA Tour event in the Dominican Republic.
The 2010 US Open winner struggled mightily at the US Open at Winged Foot last week, missing the cut after shooting an 80 in the second round.
The 41-year-old expected a vastly different challenge this week.
“As opposed to the US Open last week, this is going to be about making some birdies,” McDowell said.
“Fifteen- or 20-under par to win down here.”
“It’s about taking advantage of the opportunities that this course gives you if you drive it well and get aggressive with your iron play.”
“And I really putted well here last year, so if I can kind of get the putter ramped back up, enjoy these greens again, I’ll hopefully have a good weekend.”
McDowell fired a three-under final round of 69 for a 19-under total and a one-shot win over American Chris Stroud and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes last year.
It was his first US PGA Tour title since the Mayakoba Classic in 2015.
“The win last year was pivotal for me and it really kicked me on into the sort of latter part of last year where I played pretty well,” McDowell said.
He won a European Tour event in Saudi Arabia to start the 2020 season and was playing well before Covid-19 brought the game to a halt.
McDowell admitted the lengthy break “derailed me a little bit.
“But that’s just one of those things,” he said. “It’s derailing a lot of people in a lot of ways all over the world, so I’m certainly not going to sit here and kind of be resentful.”
It’s been a different atmosphere as golf returned to action, with spectators largely banned in a bid to prevent any surge in coronavirus cases.
McDowell acknowledged it had been hard to adjust, and he was delighted that a limited number of spectators were to be allowed in designated hospitality areas this week.
“I’ve missed the old environment a little bit and perhaps this will give me a little bit of a taste of the old stuff again and maybe straighten me back out and maybe get me back on some leaderboards again,” he said.
Can Augusta cope with the ‘Incredible Bulk?’
HONG KONG (AFP) — Bryson DeChambeau dismantled one of golf’s most feared courses to win his maiden major title at the US Open, raising concerns about what he might do to Augusta when the Masters rolls around in November.
DeChambeau, bulked-up from a regime of weight training and protein shakes during the coronavirus lockdown, brutalised Winged Foot with a singular strategy that upset the purists and prompted soul-searching among the golfing establishment.
Tossing convention out of the window, the 27-year-old eschewed accuracy in favor of smashing his drives for pure distance — hitting just four of his last 21 fairways — and relying on his new-found strength to muscle recovery shots out of deep rough.
Together with rock-solid putting, the result was a six-shot triumph, with DeChambeau the only player to shoot below par in the final round on Sunday.
The fact that it came at a course famed for 1974’s “Massacre at Winged Foot” and the 2006 meltdowns of Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie — when Geoff Ogilvy won with a five-over-par total — underlined the feeling that this could be a game-changer.
“I don’t really know what to say because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a US Open champion does,” said a flabbergasted Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner.
DeChambeau, a physics major, has long prided himself on the analytical approach that has earned him the nickname “Mad Scientist.”
He’s known for cutting his irons and wedges to the same length, floating his balls in Epsom salt to discover their lighter and heavier sides, and even writing backwards and left-handed to improve his fine motor skills.
For the Masters, Dechambeau, dubbed the ‘Incredible Bulk’ since his physical transformation, is planning to add another 10 pounds (five kilos) of muscle and is considering using an outsized, 48-inch driver.
The danger for the sport’s hierarchy is that DeChambeau repeats his success at Augusta, which suits long hitters and has little rough, forcing them to change the rules or equipment to stop golf turning into a driving contest.
But DeChambeau warned: “It’s tough to rein in athleticism. We’re always going to be trying to get fitter, stronger, more athletic.”
“Tiger (Woods) inspired this whole generation to do this and we’re going to keep going after it. I don’t think it’s going to stop.”
Six of the worst
While DeChambeau was turning heads at Winged Foot, New Zealand’s Danny Lee was losing his.
After an increasingly irate six-putt on the final hole of his third round, Lee slammed his putter into his bag and hurled it into the turf, before withdrawing with a wrist injury.
“The most likely cause for a sore wrist would have been the 30-year-old smashing his putter into his bag as he stormed off the green,” quipped New Zealand’s Stuff website.
Lee’s quintuple bogey left him 13 over for the tournament — no disgrace on a course that has been the undoing of many a player — but it was his fit of pique that drew negative attention.
“Danny Lee is in danger of being permanently tagged with the label no professional sportsperson desires — quitter,” Stuff’s opinion piece added.
“Bad loser? Well, that’s been thrown at him too.”
To his credit, South Korean-born Lee issued an apology calling his actions “foolish and very unprofessional.”
“My frustration took over me and combined with injury I had to fight with it all week,” he said.
“It is still just an excuse. I shouldn’t have left like that.”
Women’s tennis world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty has been without her coach for most of the year due to Australia’s coronavirus restrictions, leaving her at something of a loose end.
Not one to mope around the house, the reigning French Open champion has been out on the golf course, where she showed her skills by winning the women’s title at the Greg Norman-designed Brookwater Golf Club near Brisbane.
“Is there anything you can’t do?” asked a social media user of Barty, who famously took a break from tennis to play cricket for Brisbane Heat in the 2015-16 Women’s Big Bash League.
Australian media said Barty had slashed her handicap from 10 to four while playing rounds with fellow Grand Slam winner Pat Rafter and her boyfriend Garry Kissick.
Last December, the multi-talented Aussie even upstaged 15-time major-winner Tiger Woods by finding the green at her first attempt in a demonstration event before the Presidents Cup in Melbourne.
Ardina, Guce play at Symetra
I was excited to win my second Symetra Tour tournament last year.
Dottie Ardina, fresh from a joint 42nd place in the Cambia Portland Classic, joins compatriot Clariss Guce in the sixth stop of the Symetra Tour — the annual IOA Golf Classic presented by HomeValue.com starting Friday at the Alaqua Country Club in Longwood, California.
The LPGA Tour takes a one-week break as Ardina and Guce resume their campaign in the second-tier tour.
The IOA Golf Classic stakes $150,000 with the winner taking home $22,500.
Defending champion Marta Sanz Barrio of Spain is not in the field. She finished 13th in the 2019 Volvik Race for the Card with $67,244.
“I was excited to win my second Symetra Tour tournament last year. I have some great memories and have always had a nice and fun week in Longwood,” Sanz Barrio said. “I am very thankful that IOA has continued putting all their efforts into supporting the Road to the LPGA and women’s golf, especially during such uncertain times.”
Before bringing her game to the LPGA, Ardina and Guce campaigned extensively in the Symetra Tour.
Ardina, 26, has 17 career Top 10 finishes with earnings of $190,527.
Guce, on the other hand, has won twice on the tour and finished in the Top 10 11 times for a career earnings of $129,059.
Bianca Pagdanganan, the other Filipina in the LPGA Tour, opted to stay home.
Virus closes 3 Baguio courses
BAGUIO CITY — All three golf clubs in the city have closed their courses indefinitely following new cases of coronavirus cases involving personnel and guests.
The Pineswoods Golf and Country Club stopped its operations after one of its guests who played over the weekend tested positive.
Baguio Country Club (BCC) also advised members of its indefinite closure after one of its caddies was found to have in close contact to a person who tested positive in their barangay.
“We assure everyone that contact tracing and proper health and safety protocols including disinfection and sanitation are already being implemented, as it is always our priority to protect our valued members, guests and employees,” the BCC announced.
Also shuttering its facilities was Camp John Hay which announced it through Viber.
“As a result of random testing conducted in conjunction with the city’s expanded testing efforts two caddies have tested positive. Therefore, Camp John Hay Golf Club will be closed until further notice to conduct contact tracing, continued disinfecting, and other appropriate activities. We exhort everyone to be even more vigilant in their practicing of suggested protocols as well ‘Heal as One’. Stay strong, stay safe,” Camp John Hay announced.
Tiger, Thomas edge Rory, Rose
In a closely-fought match that boiled down to the closest-to-the-pin competition, Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas edged European stars Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose during their 18-hole exhibition match at Payne’s Valley in Missouri Tuesday.
The Ryder Cup-style match was held in Woods’ new course design and featured six holes of four-ball, six of alternate shot and seven of singles play.
McIlroy and Rose won the four-ball portion to take a 1-0 lead after six holes, but Woods and Thomas took the next six holes to pull abreast, 1-1.
In singles play, Woods and Rose faced off while McIlroy and Thomas recreated their 2018 Ryder Cup match.
Rose nearly aced the 16 on his way to victory over Woods.
The McIlroy-Thomas match provided the highlight.
McIlroy touched the lip on three of their holes, left a chip 1 inch from falling and birdied the 18th, but still trailed Thomas by a hole going to the par-3 19th.
In his CBS Sports report, Kyle Porter wrote that “at one point, McIlroy joked that he was going to decline to give Thomas the ride home (think plane, not car) to Florida that Thomas was expecting.
Thomas birdied the 19th hole to clinch the match and force the tiebreaker.
The 19th is a cavernous hole surrounded by cliffs and water.
With legends Jack Nicklays and Garry Player watching, the foursome teed off and Thomas won it for their team by sticking his tee shot closest to the pin.
Porter wrote that “Thomas carried the day on television — as he often does — and Tiger’s first public course shined.”
All players had microphone clipped on their clothes so the viewers heard Rose and Woods talk about shafts, McIlroy and Thomas discuss pizza options.
No tournament, no problem for teen prodigy
I know that other players in the world are playing a lot of tournaments, and I have to prepare and get stronger.
Rianne Mikhaela Malixi is spending fewer hours on the golf course due to the coronavirus pandemic, but remains steadfast in her goal to be a world-class golfer someday.
The 13-year-old prodigy, the reigning national stroke play champion, has not played a tournament since placing runner-up to Abby Arevalo in the Philippine Ladies Amateur golf championship last February.
“I miss the pressure of tournament play very much,” said Rianne, who, despite the uncertain future, maintains a strict daily schedule.
“When I’m home for the day, I wake up at 5 or 6 a.m., work out and then school,” she said. “When I’m playing golf, I wake up at 4 a.m. and tee off around 6 or 6:30 a.m.”
Unfortunately, Rianne said she’s not playing as frequent as she did before the pandemic.
“It depends whether my dad has work or not. In a month, my dad has on and off work for 15 days,” she said.
Rianne said if her father does not report for work, they get to play thrice a week. If her father has work, she only gets to play once a week.
In a month, Rianne gets to play only eight rounds, a far cry from her punishing five-times-a-week schedule at the Royal Northwoods Golf and Country Club in San Rafael, Bulacan before the pandemic.
Without tournaments, Rianne said she motivates herself through self-discipline.
“I know that other players in the world are playing a lot of tournaments and I have to prepare and get stronger,” she said.
Standing five-foot-two and weighing 125 pounds, Rianne hits her driver about 250 yards, just about the same distance an average LPGA player does.
She said she has gotten stronger by 10 yards from last year and hopes to improve on it as she grows taller.
“I hope I can reach 5-5 at least. My father stands 5-10,” she said.
Rianne said she’s happy and proud for the exploits of Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan overseas, but admitted to feeling envious.
“It’s natural to feel a little jealous because they’re making a lot of progress abroad. So instead of feeling disappointed, I have to face reality and prepare too for the future,” she said.
Despite less time on the golf course, Rianne said she fights inactivity by doing household chores aside from attending to her school lessons and working out.
“I wash the dishes, mop, sweep, and vacuum the floor,” said Rianne who also sent a photo showing her and sister cleaning their father’s vehicle.
She works out in their mini-gym at home where she hits balls on the driving net and practices putting.
After the chores and workout, Rianne spends six hours attending to home school.
Rianne is also fond of sketching which she does on spare time and lately, has been trying to learn Japanese.
“I have been watching Japanese animation series, and it just irritates me that I don’t know the language and I have to read the subtitles,” Rianne explained why she wanted to learn Japanese.
She said she’s having fun although she’s still a long way to go in understanding the language.
“I still have to master three scripts in Japanese,” she said.
After a busy year wherein she competed in Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, United States, Vietnam, Japan and Malaysia, Rianne hasn’t gone out of the country.
She was supposed to take part in the Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific championship in Thailand and the ANA Jr. Inspiration amateur tournament in the US, both of which were canceled.
Normandy Sto. Domingo, Rianne’s swing coach, said her prized pupil hits the ball longer and has matured a lot as a golfer.
He said Rianne scores between two-under and even par off the blue tees at Northwoods, although he concedes that she may need to be tested consistently in tournaments.
“Of course, it is different when you play tournaments where you learn to deal with pressure,” he said.
Rianne was also supposed to make her fifth appearance in the IMG Junior World in San Diego, California where her best finish was runner-up to Chutimon Rujinaran of Thailand in the 11 to 12 age bracket last year.
She broke into national prominence that same year when she won the division in the FCG International 2019 in San Diego.
Now a member of the national pool, Rianne gets to play with her teammates at Luisita Golf Club in Tarlac.
But training has not been consistent because of the pandemic.
“I have played around 10 times in Luisita,” she said.
To make her practice rounds worthwhile, Rianne said she sets goals for herself.
“I challenge myself for improvement,” said Rianne who is used to playing alone.
“I wish the tournaments would resume as long as we follow safety protocols,” she said.
Among her golf heroes are Tiger Woods, Collin Morikawa, Daniella Kang and Saso, her teammate with the Pradera Verde golf team that dominated the PAL Ladies Interclub in Davao two years ago.
Rianne said she still remembers the advice she got from Saso who now has won two titles in the Japan LPGA.
“There was a situation that I had been hooking my shot a lot. She just told me to adjust and aim right of the target,” she said.
Adjustment. That’s what Rianne has been doing to survive the pandemic.
3 Baguio golf courses announce temporary closure
BAGUIO CITY — Golfers will need to wait a little longer before teeing off in Baguio City.
Three golf courses have announced temporary closure after some of their personnel and a guest tested positive for coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The Pinewoods Golf and Country Club closed its courses after one of its guests who played over the weekend tested positive.
Baguio Country Club (BCC), meanwhile, advised its members of the course’s indefinite closure.
The BCC management announced that one of the club’s caddies made close contact to a person who recently tested positive for COVID-19 in their barangay.
“We assure everyone that contact tracing and proper health and safety protocols including disinfection and sanitation are already being implemented, as it is always our priority to protect our valued members, guests and employees,” the BCC announcement stated.
Camp John Hay shared that two of its caddies tested positive for COVID-19.
“Camp John Hay Golf Club will be closed until further notice to conduct contact tracing, continued disinfecting, and other appropriate activities,” Camp John Hay announced to its members through Viber.