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Tour Rundown: Bubba crushes Kisner in championship match

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As the golf world enters the fortnight of the first two majors of the season, the competitors shift and shuffle at the top of the rankings. Favorites struggle while unknowns and used-to-be-knowns discover and rediscover top form. The ANA Inspiration is this week on the LPGA tour, while the Masters follows a week later, for the men. For this week, however, we had match play in Texas hill country, windy medal play in the Caribbean, along with some bayou and Cali golf to round things out. Sprinters, get in your blocks for this week’s Tour Rundown.

Watson wins the year’s second WGC event going away

An interesting statistic made the rounds on social media, as Bubba Watson and Kevin Kisner prepared to contest the final match of the Dell WGC Match Play championship at Austin Country Club. The bit suggested that Kisner stood a good chance against the tall lefty, having bested him head-to-head on multiple occasions. On this day, that statistic lied. Kisner match his worst start with Watson’s solid play, and was down five holes after five. It didn’t get much better, and both Watson and Kisner were able to have an early dinner, playing just 12 holes of their final match.

Watson’s ways were winderful

Kisner was a blend of bad and unfortunate on Sunday afternoon. When he bogeyed, Watson parred. When he parred, Watson birdied. When he conceded, well, Watson accepted. His only birdie in the final match came at the 11th, when Watson held a 7-hole advantage. This week was one of those occasional Bubba Watson bubbles of genius, where his clubs are like magic wands, and his interaction with caddie Ted Scott is flawless. With the exception of his 3rd match in the qualifying round (a half with Julian Suri) and his first knockout-rounds victory (2 & 1 over Brian Harman) Watson never reached the 17th tee. Most anticipated that his semifinal win over Justin Thomas was the de-facto championship match, and it’s hard to argue that assertion.

Related: Watson’s Winning WITB

Kisner, Thomas and Noren had their run

If Justin Thomas cares to become the top-ranked player in the world, his loss to Bubba Watson in Sunday’s semifinal match was frustrating. Both golfers putted well, hit the ball well, but Watson held firmer. He was 5-under par for the 16 holes of their match, and made zero bogeys. As mentioned above, Kisner seemed spent after his 19-hole overtime against Noren in the morning, leaving Noren as the only question mark. The Swede was down 1 hole to Kisner when he went birdie-par at the 7th and 8th, to take the lead for the only time that morning. Kisner eagled the 12th to square the match, then made par at the 19th to edge Noren.

Garnett collects first PGA Tour title in Dominican Republic

Brice Garnett entered round 4 with a narrow lead over recent Valspar challenger Corey Conners. Would the experience help the young Canadian, or would Garnett maintain his advantage and secure a first PGA Tour victory at the Corales Puntacana championship? The answer came early, much as it did three weeks back at Innisbrook.

How Garnett remained in the lead

No one could ever say that Garnett plays boring golf. After opening with par in round 4, he converted 4 birdies and 2 bogeys over the next 6 holes. Standing minus-two on the day after 7 holes gave the Missourian space enough on his pursuers to coast home at that number, for a 4-stroke win. On the week, Garnett had 23 birdies and 1 eagle, an unbeatable amalgamation.

Where Conners and company lost ground

For the second time this month, Corey Conners had an opportunity to claim victory on the PGA Tour. For the 2nd time, he fired and fell back. On Sunday at Corales, Conners made 1 birdie against 2 bogeys on the front nine, then 2 more bogeys and a closing double on the inward half. Conners will figure out the key to the 4th round eventually, but his Sunday . 2nd place ultimately belonged to Keith Mitchell, who birdied the 18th hole for a 1-stroke margin over 3rd-place Kelly Kraft.

Eun-Hi drives away with LPGA’s Kia Classic

Eun-Hi won two cars on Sunday at Carlsbad. The first came with her tournament trophy; the second? We’ll keep you guessing for just a little while. Jee last won on tour at the Swinging Skirts in 2017. Although the margin of victory was 2 strokes over Cristie Kerr and Lizette Salas, it was in doubt until midway through the final nine holes.

How Eun-Hi won the day

Eun-Hi Jee closed out her 4th LPGA victory on Sunday with flair and drama. After making five bogeys in her first 13 holes, Ji closed the door on her pursuers with an ace at the watery 14th hole. After opening with 70, to trail Kerr and I.K. Kim by 3, Jee improved over the next two days, with 68-67, to enter the fray. Her Sunday 67 was the 2nd-lowest round of the day (Aditi Ashok had 65) and the initial burst of birdies allowed her to make bogey at two of the closing five holes and still win going away.

Where Kerr and company went off-course

Kerr was on fire after 36 holes. 67-64 left her 13-under par and in command. Saturday was a different story. Kerr managed only 2 birdies on the day, and stumbled with 2 bogeys and a double. For the other 3 rounds, she totaled 19 birdies, so the Saturday slide was crucial in giving Jee the slightest opportunity to win. Kerr made bogey at the par-five 17th hole on Sunday, where birdie would have earned a spot in a playoff. It’s safe to say that Kerr left Carlsbad grinding her teeth.

Stricker strides to Rapiscan win on Champions

You can sense it, can’t you? We bet the fellows on the Champions Tour can, too. Stricker remembered how to win, so watch out. Steve Stricker, the ultimate late-bloomer on the regular tour, was a bit slow to warm up to winning on the Champions Tour. He has now done it twice in three weeks, and the rest of the tour is waking up with night shivers.

How Stricker crossed the finish line

Steve Stricker was the only golfer to post 3 rounds in the 60s. Enough said. The Wisconsinite had 2 bogeys in each round, but made a bushel of birdies and 1 eagle to make up for the miscues. On Sunday, Stricker had birdies on 4 of the first 6 holes of the closing nine, eliminating the remainder of the field from contention.

How the competition reacted

Billy Andrade was close, but couldn’t make birdies over his final five holes to close the 3-stroke gap. He finished solo 2nd at 8-under par. Gene Sauers had a forgettable Saturday (73) and a memorable Sunday, but all it got him was a tie for 3rd with Scott Parel at minus-7.

Etulain victorious on the bayou on Web.Com tour

An Argentine with a French name was right at home in Cajun country. Julian Etulain, a graduate of PGA Tour Latinoamerica, grabbed the top spot on Thursday and never let go. His win at the Chitimacha Louisiana Classic came by two strokes over the USA’s Taylor Moore.

How Etulain found Zydeco

It seemed he had, with his 9-birdie 62 in round one. Etulain held the lead by one after 18 holes, and never left the top spot through tournament’s end. His struggle came on day two, when he went birdieless for 12 holes and added his first of three bogeys on the week, for 70. Etulain found the putting stroke on day 3 and 4, returning to the 60s both days, to close with 66 and 67 for 19-under par 265. The triomphe moved the Argentine 35 spots to the good, into 5th in the season-long chase for a PGA Tour card.

How Moore and others came up shy

Taylor Moore scratched his way to a tie with Etulain at the tournament’s midway point. His 65 and 67 stood him in terrific shape, headingo to the weekend. On day three, Moore was all over the score sheet, posting 1 eagle, 1 birdie, 2 bogeys and 1 double for 72. As quickly as he made strokes up on day 2, he gave many back on day 3. He fought his way into 2nd spot on Sunday, thanks to a 63 of his own. 2 back of Etulain and 2 clear of 3rd-place Justin Lower.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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Tour News

It’s the Ardmore! Woods begins Quicken Loans National with TaylorMade putter in the bag

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If you had a bet going with your buddies that there was no way Tiger Woods would depart from his beloved 13 major-winning Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS this week, you lose.

Woods started the first round of the Quicken Loans National with the TaylorMade Ardmore 3 he has been practicing all week with at TPC Potomac.

Adam Schupak spotted Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, on the way to the first tee for Woods’ 1:20 ET start time with the camo TaylorMade putter cover in the bag (not surprisingly, the TaylorMade Ardmore 3 was beneath the cover).

Woods has struggled with the putter this season, as we’re all well aware, particularly since the Memorial. No. 89 on Tour in strokes gained: putting, the 14-time major champion knew he had to do something.

“I’m trying to find something that I can feel again, like the swing of the putter, getting my body in the right positions and seeing the lines again,” Woods said. “You know, it’s just one of those things, once I start to get the ball rolling on my lines, then I’ll be back to putting like I was. I just have not been rolling it on my lines. And then on top of that, when they don’t roll on lines, then I have a hard time seeing my lines and it’s a vicious cycle. And I’m just trying to get out of that cycle.”

Woods reportedly tried a number of TaylorMade putters in the Bahamas last week, arriving (as far as we know) at the Quicken Loans National with just the Ardmore and his Newport to choose between.

He has made his choice for the first round. We’ll see how it pans out and whether Woods remains a mallet man all week.

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5 things we learned on Sunday of the 2018 U.S. Open

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Opportunity knocked for so many golfers, yet it was the 2017 champion who seized the moment when it was his. Brooks Koepka fired his second sub-par round of the week on Sunday to separate from playing partner Dustin Johnson, and enter the pantheon of multiple major champions. He became the 7th player to defend his title, joining old-school legends like Willie Anderson and John McDermott, mid-century icons like Ralph Guldahl and Ben Hogan, and the last man to accomplish the feat, Curtis Strange. With that introduction, let’s move to the main event, the 5 things we learned on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills.

5) The USGA gave golf a chance

True to its word, the USGA pulled out all the stops in the wee hours of Sunday morn. The course set-up team ensured that enough water was distributed to putting surfaces, that worthy shots would not be punished. Hole locations were assessed and confirmed, also ensuring that multiple opportunities for success were available. As a result, 15 golfers turned in scores under par of 70, highlighted by Tommy Fleetwood’s 7-under stunner. Although many fans, writers and players were quick to assault the organizers for losing control of the course, the USGA reminded us that it always had control of the conditions at Shinny, and that its only mistake was to soar too close to the sun.

4) Captain America ran out of gas

If Patrick Reed had been able to sign his card on the 9th tee, when he stood 5-under on the day and 1-over for the tournament, he would be in a playoff with the eventual champion as I type. Unfortunate for this year’s Masters champion was that 10 holes remained. Reed promptly bogeyed the 9th, added 3 more bogeys on the inward half, and summoned just one birdie toward the end. His fourth-place finish was his best in a U.S. Open, but knowing that victory was in the cards will sting for a while.

3) DJ and Finau gave it a run

Where to begin? How about this: DJ had four bogeys on Sunday. He totaled that many on Thursday-Friday combined. He had birdies, too, but couldn’t find the game that possessed him over the opening 36 holes. Oddly enough, this type of experience won’t be a setback for the 2016 champion. After all, he came back from a career-killer in 2015, when he 3-whacked his way out of a playoff with Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay. As for Milton Pouhau Finau, aka Tony, the Utah native had never before been in the final group on any day of a major professional championship. He acquitted himself well, standing even on the day and 3-over for T2 at the 18th tee. Knowing that he needed eagle for a playoff might have taken the final winds from his sails, and he limped home with double bogey and solo third. Looking ahead to the final August playing of the PGA Championship, Bellerive near St. Louis might just be his type of course.

2) Tom Terrific nearly made his own U.S. Open history

I’ll write this cautiously, as I’m certain I would have intimated in the 1980s and 90s that Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood would have been major champions by now. Tommy Fleetwood ought to win one of these things soon. His record-tying 63 was a short putt away from a record-breaking 62. Eight birdies against a single bogey was the stuff of legend, and if only he had trusted that final putt a bit higher on the break … that’s not fair. Fleetwood right now is the fellow to watch at Carnoustie next month. Bet a few quid or bob or whatever on the Southport native, as he should contend for the title.

1) Brooks cooks up a winning broth

It’s easy to look back and see all the great shots that the defending champion hit over the four days of the 2018 U.S. Open, shots that would win him his second consecutive trophy. Remember that 60-feet bomb to save par on Saturday? Shades of Costantino Rocca. How about the approach shots to within mere feet that earned him 5 birdies on Sunday, including a competition-killer on 16? Koepka was the guy we thought Dustin Johnson would be. Perhaps it was the time off for wrist rehabilitation early this season that gave him the burning desire to win. Out for nearly 4 months, Koepka had plenty of time to ponder what he achieved last June in Wisconsin, and what might lay ahead for him. The begged question is, does the most recent, two-time major winner have the game to acquire more of the game’s cherished trophies?

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (par 70; 7,440 yards) in Southhampton, New York. The U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since 2004 when Retief Goosen won (he failed to qualify for the 2018 event).

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Phil Mickelson, who has two top-5 finishes at Shinnecock Hills, will seek to fill out his career Grand Slam with a win this week. Also, it’s Tiger Woods’ 10-year anniversary of winning the legendary 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — that was his most recent major championship victory.

Also in the field are headliners Dustin Johnson (now ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings), Justin Thomas (No. 2), Justin Rose (No. 3), Jon Rahm (No. 4) and Jordan Spieth (No. 5).

Brooks Koepka (No. 9) is the defending champion; he won last year by four shots for his first and only major so far in his career.

Check out our photos from Shinnecock Hills below!

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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