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Mickelson pulls out of US Open

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Published in Golf
Thursday, 15 June 2017 14:19

Phil Mickelson has withdrawn from the US Open after realising he would not have made his tee time after his daughter's graduation.

The American had endured an anxious wait on Thursday keeping across the weather with a private jet on standby as the 117th US Open got under way at Erin Hills.

Despite needing to complete a career grand slam by winning the US Open, in which he has been runner-up a record six times, Mickelson was desperate to attend the high-school graduation of his daughter Amanda, born the day after he was second to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999.

A lengthy weather delay would have given the 46-year-old a chance of making a last-minute dash from California to Wisconsin by private jet.

But later on Thursday improved weather conditions forced Mickelson to decide against the complicated travel schedule.

This meant first alternate Roberto Diaz took his place alongside Stewart Cink and Steve Stricker in a group due to tee off at 2.20pm local time (8.20pm BST).

Play started on schedule at 6:45am local time with the last three champions, Martin Kaymer, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, teeing off at 8:35am.

Johnson only arrived at Erin Hills on Tuesday afternoon after fiancee Paulina Gretzky gave birth to the couple's second son - named River Jones Johnson - on Monday, but the world No 1 is targeting the first successful title defence since Curtis Strange in 1989.

"It's been very fun the last couple of days, obviously having a new son on Monday was awesome," Johnson said. "Everybody's healthy so that's good.

"It actually worked out pretty well that I missed the cut at Memorial, even though I didn't want to. I came up here and got to practice for two days. Even though I came in late I didn't feel like I was behind the 8-ball at all because I got to prepare 10 days ago or so."

This year's US Open will be the first major championship for 23 years with neither Mickelson nor Tiger Woods in the field.

Mickelson missed the 1994 Masters due to a broken leg suffered in a skiing accident, while Woods was still two years away from turning professional.

Erin Hills a tough challenge

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Published in Golf
Thursday, 15 June 2017 14:17

The US Open is always billed as the ultimate test in golf due to course conditions but this week could also be one of the toughest logistical challenges as the major comes to Erin Hills for the first time.

A sprawling links-style layout nestled in the Wisconsin countryside, Erin Hills offers a new challenge for the world's best golfers and an equalling daunting test for everyone from volunteers to police.

With no blueprint to follow, getting more than 35,000 spectators, 5,000-plus volunteers, hundreds of media and 156 golfers in and out and around the golf course will be a monumental logistical feat.

"It's tough," USGA executive director Mike Davis said. "Not having an event at the same place every year is a challenge because you have different volunteers, different vendors, different police.

"It's not like the Players Championship or the Masters or the John Deere or whatever where it is the same place, so it has its challenges.

"Once you've done an event at the same place over and over you get pretty good at it."

As with most big sporting or entertainment events weather is the wildcard, and with blazing temperatures and a threat of violent thunderstorms spectator safety will be a prime concern.

As menacing clouds gathered on Wednesday several spectators who asked red-shirted volunteers where to go if the evacuation siren sounds were told to seek cover, which may prove difficult at a venue with only a handful of permanent buildings on site.

With just one two-lane road leading in and out of Erin Hills and only 300 parking spaces on site the US Open will be a major traffic headache for both fans and police.

"Most of what we are worried about right now is weather-related issues," said Davis. "We are very likely to get some pretty significant rains later today.

"They're predicting more rain Thursday night into Friday morning, likely some on Saturday. The normal things you are worried about."

After US Opens at Oakmont and Chambers Bay the last two years came under criticism - the former for a rules controversy and the latter for the condition of putting greens - the USGA is desperate for the 117th edition run smoothly.

While the USGA and organisers believe they have prepared for almost every contingency Davis admitted you never know what can happen.

"We know we've had some issues the last two years," said Davis. "Moving forward we want a nice, smooth US Open.

"But, listen, we're prepared -- you never know what's going to happen with Mother Nature. You're never going to know what happens with certain rule situations or how the players play the course.

"So you just deal with them and you remain nimble and flexible."

McGinley explains renovations

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Published in Golf
Thursday, 25 May 2017 12:40

One of the biggest talking points ahead of the BMW PGA Championship has been the substantial alterations to the West Course at Wentworth since Chris Wood lifted the trophy last year.

Sky Sports commentator Paul McGinley and Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn were on the team that oversaw the renovation, with input taken on board from a number of European Tour professionals.

The biggest changes have been to the putting surfaces, with all 18 greens re-turfed with a sub-air system installed, while four greens (eighth, 11th, 14th and 16th) have been completely redesigned, with the third, fourth, fifth, 12th and 15th greens partially rebuilt.

The focus on returning the West Course to a layout closely resembling Harry Colt's original design has also seen huge alterations to the bunkering, with every bunker on the course being reconstructed while 29 traps have been removed.

"The players wanted to go back in the direction of the old Harry Colt design," said McGinley. "They wanted the contours on the greens to be softened, and the bunkering to be changed. I certainly couldn't see out of the bunkers before, and not many guys could. So those were the two big things we changed.

"We've also put in a sub-air system into the greens which will dry them out and get it back to a firm, fast golf course, which players have always loved playing in the past."

Woods committed to golf return

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Published in Golf
Thursday, 25 May 2017 12:29

Tiger Woods insists he "unequivocally" wants to play professional golf again but says he will be unable to "twist" for another three months.

The 14-time major winner underwent fusion surgery on his back just over a month ago to alleviate "ongoing pain in his back and leg" and has not played competitively since he withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic in February due to back spasms.

Woods was expected to be out for around six months after the operation and while he says the procedure was a success, the 41-year-old insists he is prepared to take his time over his return.

"My surgeon and physiotherapist say the operation was successful," a statement on Woods' website said.

"It's just a matter of not screwing up and letting it fuse. I'm walking and doing my exercises, and taking my kids to and from school. All I can do is take it day by day. There's no hurry.

"But, I want to say unequivocally, I want to play professional golf again.

"Presently, I'm not looking ahead. I can't twist for another two and a half to three months. Right now, my sole focus is rehab and doing what the doctors tell me. I am concentrating on short-term goals."

Beem: Day back on track

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Published in Golf
Monday, 22 May 2017 08:11

Rich Beem reflects on a long-awaited return to the winner's circle for Billy Horschel and looks back at Jason Day's near-miss at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Billy Horschel is ecstatic to win, there's no doubt about it. You'd much rather win a tournament with a birdie rather than watch your opponent three-putt, but that's just the way the game is.

It's a massive win for Billy, as it's something he has been striving for and working hard for day in, day out. It finally paid off for him and it's a job well done this week.

The way he putted this week has just been exquisite, so hats off to him for grinding it out and sticking with everything that he has been doing. His game really is looking sharp.

He has put the time and energy into golf and it's finally paying his dues. He looks much more comfortable and some of the swings look within himself, so I'm impressed with how he has handled himself.

He missed a fourth cut in a row last week at the Players Championship, but tweeted on Monday to say how much he was looking forward to coming to the AT&T Byron Nelson and hopefully turn things around.

Billy did just that and really looked great in every facet of his game, helping him take down a really great competitor in Jason Day and to also hold off James Hahn.

Unfortunately for Jason Day, he's on the losing end this time around, but I think this week shows his game is seemingly back on track.

He'll leave TPC Four Seasons with a bitter taste in his mouth but also with plenty of confidence going forward. It tells him how comfortable he is with his game.

I think he would tell us he wasn't as sharp at times as he would've liked to have been, but obviously now has something to build on ahead of the Memorial in a couple of weeks' time.

James Hahn is hopefully going to build on this third place finish and get into a bit of a rhythm now. He's such a good ball-striker and such a good putter that it's hard to believe he's not a little more consistent.

Having said that, he's still building out here on the PGA Tour and it may take another season or two to find the consistency that's been eluding him.

Thompson cruises to Virginia glory

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Monday, 22 May 2017 08:10

American Lexi Thompson secured her first win of the year by decimating her rivals at the LPGA Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Virginia.

By carding her third 6-under-par 65 of the tournament, Thompson finished five shots ahead of South Korea's In Gee Chun, carding an astonishing 20-under 264 - a tournament record.

It was a welcome result for Thompson, who was playing in her third event since her devastating defeat at the ANA Inspiration, when she was hit with a four-shot penalty and eventually lost in a playoff in the year's first major.

The 22-year-old led from start to finish over the weekend and recorded six birdies in her bogey-free final round to bag her first trophy on the LPGA Tour since the 2016 Honda LPGA Thailand.

Thompson said: "I was a little off off the tee and kind of steered it around the golf course, but I'm not complaining with a 65, that's for sure.

"I just felt very in control of my game and a lot more relaxed in between shots and my caddie was a big help with that."

It was the third runner-up finish of the season for Chun, whose bogey-free 67 left her four shots in front of the third-place finisher Angela Stanford.

Stanford had four birdies and an eagle, at the par-5 15, in her closing round of 66 to finish one shot ahead of Danielle Kang, who finished alone in fourth place at 10-under 274.

Carlota Ciganda of Spain carded a 67 to finish in a tie for fifth with Sei Young Kim (71) of South Korea at 275.

Americans Ryann O'Toole (69) and Gerina Piller (69) were another shot back in a tie for seventh with Sweden's Madelene Sagstrom (70).

World No 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, trying to maintain her 82-week run at the top of the rankings, stumbled to a 73 and finished in a four-way tie for 10th.

Langer, Monty six off Funk's pace

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Saturday, 20 May 2017 23:43

Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie are six shots off the pace at the half-way stage of the year's first senior major.

Both players have registered back-to-back 69s at the Regions Tradition event in Birmingham, and are among a group of seven pros tied-for-10th at Greystone Country Club.

American Fred Funk, a two-time winner of the Tradition, has carded rounds of 67 and 65, to stand one shot clear of his little-known compatriot Scott Parel.

Funk, who has made just a single bogey in his opening 36 holes, said he was looking forward to partnering Parel in round three: "Scott and I have become really good buddies but I've never played with him yet.

"I was just thinking, 'boy, it would be nice to play with him in the last round, last group.' I've got him, so that works out really good.

"I think combined we're not six-foot tall, but that's OK."

The 5ft 5in Parel, who turned pro at 31, is seeking a first tour victory and was only invited to compete following the withdrawal of Fred Couples.

Defending champion Langer remains in contention after a second 69 which contained a solitary bogey at the sixth hole.

Victory for the German would make him the joint-record holder for most senior major titles.

He currently has seven to his name, one behind Jack Nicklaus who claimed his eight wins between 1990 and 1996.

Montgomerie, meanwhile, had a mixed day on Friday combining six birdies with three bogeys.

Saturday's third round will have a two-tee start because of expected bad weather.

36-Hole Leaderboard:

132: Fred Funk (65)

133: Scott Parel (66)

135: Scott McCarron (70)

136: Kenny Perry (70)

136: Miguel Angel Jimenez (71)

136: Jeff Sluman (71)

136: Kevin Sutherland (68)

137: Rod Spittle (68)

137: Tom Lehman (68)

138: Bernhard Langer (69)

138: Joey Sindelar (69)

138: Duffy Waldorf (69)

138: Marco Dawson (71)

138: Colin Montgomerie (69)

138: Lee Janzen (73)

138: Glen Day (68)

Poulter to play at Wentworth

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Tuesday, 16 May 2017 15:03

Ian Poulter has confirmed that he has accepted an invite to compete in next week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Poulter will look to build on his superb performance at The Players Championship as he makes his first appearance at Wentworth since 2014, and he is looking forward to seeing the new-look West Course following its extensive renovation over the last year.

The 41-year-old enjoyed his best finish of the year at TPC Sawgrass just three weeks after he thought he had lost his PGA Tour card, and his share of second propelled him to 58th in the FedExCup standings after starting the week ranked 136th.

Poulter admitted afterwards that he was keen to play a number of European Tour events this summer, and he will join the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose in a star-studded field for the first of seven Rolex Series tournaments.

"For me, to have played well last week and locked up everything in America has now freed my summer up and meant I can come back and play in some of the big events in Europe, which I'm really looking forward to," said Poulter.

"Everyone on the European Tour has been incredibly supportive and that has helped me be free and clear on what I needed to do in my own mind.

"I would have loved to have won last week, and it's still a disappointment not to have got that win, but the result means I can come back over and play in the BMW PGA Championship, and plan my summer schedule, and it will obviously be great to play in front of the British fans again.

"My form is good - I don't feel like I've got a lot out of my game over the last few weeks - but I've been working hard and hopefully the results will follow."

Poulter has been reluctant to play at Wentworth in recent years as he was not a fan of the greens, but all 18 have been replaced at the revamped West Course in a huge project overseen by Ernie Els, Paul McGinley and current Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the changes that have been made at Wentworth," added Poulter. "Everything the guys - Thomas, Paul - have done to improve the course makes me want to jump back on a plane to the UK. It's just what I need - the chance to come back to Britain and play some golf and enjoy it.

"It seems the changes they have made are what the West Course deserves and it is going back to its rightful self, so respect to the club, to the European Tour and to the guys involved for making those changes and I'm sure the players will enjoy playing it next week."

'Kim like a seasoned veteran'

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Monday, 15 May 2017 18:33

Paul McGinley reflects on an impressive victory for Si Woo Kim at the Players Championship and looks at what the future may hold for Asian golf.

For me, the best player won in Si Woo Kim. He got control of the golf tournament on the front nine with three birdies, and then controlled the whole back nine like an experienced pro.

He's the youngest-ever winner of The Players Championship and didn't take any chances on that back nine. That was a really good lesson in how to win a golf tournament and he's a deserved winner.

We talk about the mental zone that elite sports people get in and he was certainly in that today. The only time I saw him get out of it was on the 16th when he stopped to watch Ian Poulter play on the screen, but that didn't affect him.

That was a very mature performance from the 21-year-old here. Kim showed no form this year prior to this week and yet he went out there and behaved like a seasoned veteran.

Some of the short game stuff he played was so good that if it had been Seve Ballesteros or someone like that we'd have been lauding it up. He showed a variety of shots from all areas of the green.

Nobody came at him and really exerted pressure on him. We expected the likes of JB Holmes and Louis Oosthuizen, the pedigree guys, to do so but that never really materialised.

Ian Poulter played lovely but never made a putt outside of 20 feet all week and couldn't get his nose in front. Kim saw that lack of pressure and let the holes peter out.

We've seen the Korean ladies dominate the sport and we haven't seen the men come through in the same kind of manner, but maybe we're going to see it now.

There have been a lot of Asian players who have reached this level and won big tournaments and then stagnated a little bit going forward. Hopefully, we'll see one of them kick on and go on to win a major, which would really make a statement in a world of golf.

Big guns fail to fire at Sawgrass

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Monday, 15 May 2017 18:14

Rory McIlroy, world No 1 Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler were just some of the big names who failed to make an impression in the final round of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday.

McIlroy's week came to a disappointing conclusion with a double-bogey six on the 18th in a closing 75, as he finished two over par overall.

McIlroy is set to undergo an MRI scan on Monday to determine the extent of an injury which hampered his efforts at Sawgrass. The four-time major winner hopes it is not a recurrence of the back and rib problem which kept him out for seven weeks earlier this season.

World No 1 Johnson finished outside the top three for just the third time this season.

Johnson saved his best until last for the so-called 'fifth major', following rounds of 71, 73 and 74 with a closing 68, although it wasn't enough to maintain his superb record in 2017, which includes three consecutive wins and two runner-up finishes.

The 32-year-old has missed one cut in nine tournaments this season, although he was forced to withdraw from the Masters just minutes before his opening round due to a back injury suffered in a fall at his rented house in Augusta.

Day, who won the Players by four shots last year, lamented a bad break at the par-three 13th hole that resulted in a double-bogey five, in the third round and he followed that up with a shocking final round of 80.

He played holes 16 and 17 in 14 shots as he completed the worst-ever final round score by defending champion at TPC Sawgrass.

Fowler finished level with Day on seven over for the tournament as he scored 79 with double-bogeys at the seventh, 15th and 18th.

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