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Tour Rundown: An incredible new record set on the LPGA Tour

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With the arrival of links golf at Ireland’s Ballylifin for the Irish Open, British Open season began in earnest. The PGA Tour visited a history book of a course, while the Web.Com tour stopped in this writer’s extended backyard. With the LPGA making a visit to the Badger state, the week offered four exciting events to catalogue. We saw one of those rare events where everyone else played for second, and we witnessed tremendous comebacks and heartfelt emotion. Time to rundown the tours in this week’s Tour Rundown.

European Tour: Knox clocks Fox to grab Irish Open title

Beware the golfer who improves each round of a 4-round event. Russell Knox seemingly came from nowhere to win in extra time, and he has his putter to thank. The Scotsman began the day in 5th spot, but while overnight leader Erik Van Rooyen of South Africa suffered a mild implosion, Knox didn’t miss on the shortest grass. He rolled in putts from all over, in every direction. His round was capped with a 50-feet bomb for birdie. With that monster, he tied New Zealand’s Ryan Fox. Incredibly, Knox performed identical surgery on the only playoff hole, draining another lengthy birdie to steal victory from the winless Fox.

Fox came to 18 in regulation, on the heels of a textbook birdie at the 17th. Good as that one was, it might have cost him the tournament. He had a 10-feet putt for eagle, which would have eliminated any chance for Knox and the field. Fox missed, then uncorked a massive drive at the last. His pitch was close, but he could not coax the birdie putt in for a regulation win. Spain’s Jorge Campillo did well to finish at 13-under, and entertained thoughts of a playoff. Van Rooyen ultimately recovered for a 4th-place tie with Spain’s Jon Rahm.

LPGA Tour: Kim Sei-young rewrites record books at Thornberry Classic

Sei-young shot rounds of 63-65-64-65 to win the Thornberry by 9 strokes. To properly frame that performance, the BEST score from the rest of the field each day, was a mere 3 strokes lower. In the Sei-young vs. The Field competition, The Field shot 64-63-63-64. The young Korean hit 67 of 72 greens in regulation. Don’t tell me it’s an easy course. That’s Betsy Rawls-quality iron play, that’s Ben Hogan-quality ball striking. Carlota Ciganda of Spain won the “B” flight with a mere 22-under total, but her closing 64 was enough to vault her 2 shots beyond Emma Talley and Anna Nordqvist.

On the week, Kim had 31 birdies, 1 eagle and (gasp!) a double-bogey. That’s not a typo. She made 5 at the par-3 17th hole on Friday. No one can explain how nor why. In a week of unparalleled perfection, hole No. 35 was the transient fault. Of her other 6 LPGA wins, 3 came in playoff, 1 came by one stroke, and 1 was a one-up win at match play. Kim rarely wins big, so this triumph resonates even more. With the triumph, she moved from 30th to 12th in the CME Globe points race. What’s next? How about a major title. With 6 top-10 finishes to date, Kim knows the feels and is ready to win a big one.

It was a wild-West week in Wisconsin. In addition to  Kim, 10 golfers posted 4 rounds in the 60s. Third-place finished Nordqvist signed for 67 four times, on her way to 268. Oh yeah, and one whiff…

PGA Tour: Na says Goodbye with closing burst

It wasn’t the 9-stroke win seen on the LPGA Tour, but Kevin Na did his best to run away with the Military Tribute event. He opened the week with a ho-hum 69, but closed with fireworks, posting 63-65-64 on the final 3 days. Na’s effort was good for a 5-stroke victory over 3rd-round leader Kelly Kraft. The 2011 US Amateur champion began the week with 63-64, but closed with 69-70. Unable to keep pace with Na, Kraft managed to hold off Brandt Snedeker and Jason Kokrak for solo second spot.

After birdies on 6 of his first 10 hole on Sunday, Na survived what might be called a slump: he bogeyed 11 and then made par at the next 4 holes. Birdie at the 16th restored his hand lead, and left the rest to fight for 2nd. The victory was Na’s 2nd career title. His first came in 2011, the year of Kraft’s Amateur win, and also with a 261-stroke tally. Na moved from 58th to 18th on the FedEx Cup points list with his triumph.

Web.Com Tour: Ledesma elimina al resto de la competencia

That cognate-laden header says it all. Nelson Ledesma eliminated the rest of the competitors with his closing 67. Only a pair of Marks (Blakefield and Hubbard) shot better in round 4, and both were well off the pace. The LECOM Health Challenge, played at the Peek’n Peak Resort, near the New York-Pennsylvania border in Clymer, NY, is one of the family-favorite stops on tour.

Ledesma began Sunday in 3rd place, behind the final pairing of Sebastián Muñoz and Kyle Jones. Ledesma caught fire at the end of the opening nine, with birdies at 7 through 9. That run gave him a lead he never relinquished. His blemish-free round gave him a two-shot triumph over the final pair, who tied for 2nd at -20.

Muñoz struggled from the outset on Sunday. He bogeyed 2 of the first 4 holes, including the par-5 4th hole. Birdies at 6 and 12 steadied the ship, and 2 more birdies at 17 and 18 brought him some consolation. Jones also had a bumpy start, with 2 birdies and 2 bogeys over his first 10 holes. On a day when both needed perfection, neither one could find it. Like Muñoz, Jones finished well, He birdied 3 of his final 7 holes to match the Colombian in the runner-up spot.

Both Ledesma and Muñoz sit inside the Top 25 in the chase for a PGA Tour card, while Jones rests in the 31st spot, ever so close to the promotion.

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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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Tiger Woods wins the Tour Championship with a final-round 71

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Tiger Woods closed the Tour Championship at East Lake with a final-round 1-over 71 for a two-stroke victory over Billy Horschel and his first win since 2013.

Woods began the day with two beautifully struck shots and a smooth 10-footer for birdie at the opening hole, serving notice that he had no plans of relinquishing the three-stroke lead with which he began the final round of the Tour Championship.

Indeed, if there was any doubt Tiger Woods would win his 80th PGA Tour event, and his first since the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational, Woods’ steadiness throughout his opening holes put that corrosive quantity to rest — save for a few tense moments over the final few holes.

With a 10-foot putt to save par at the fourth hole, Woods stayed four ahead of Justin Rose and five strokes ahead of Rory McIlroy, who remained stuck in neutral. Rose missed his par effort a hole ahead moments later. For Woods, five strokes clear of the field, the march was on.

Well, sort of. He did flub this delicate pitch after flying the green with his approach shot at the par-5 sixth hole.

And yet, with Woods driving it well (he found the fairway at the 481-yard seventh hole with a 293-yard stinger off the tee following the par at the fifth), it was always going to take torrid play from either Rose or McIlroy to keep Woods from No. 80; the par train would assure him his 43rd victory in 45 tries when leading entering the final round of a PGA Tour event.

Woods parred the second through the ninth holes, making the turn with a 1-under 34. He made the turn at East Lake with a five-stroke lead.

Wayward off the tee at the 10th, Woods punched out from the trees, leading to his first bogey of the day. No matter, as Rose made bogey ahead and Woods lead remained at five.

Steady, smart, it was mostly a story of putting himself on the right side of fairways and the right spots on East Lake’s lightning-quick greens over his next few holes until a 141-yard approach shot set up a 13-foot birdie at the par-4 13th.

Like that, Woods — for whom it’s not hyperbole to say 9 out of 10 golf fans felt he’d never win another tournament as recently as mid-2017 — was five strokes clear of the field with five holes to play.

After narrowly avoiding a water ball at the par-3 15th hole, Woods reasonably assured himself the victory, even though he was unable to get up and down with his pitch from the rough just beyond the water hazard and bogeyed the hole.

But he didn’t make it easy on himself, pulling a wood left off the 16th tee that settled down in the rough, punching the ball forward ultimately bogeying the hole to fall to 1 over on his final round and just two strokes ahead of Billy Horschel, in the clubhouse at 9 under, with two holes to play.

Another wayward effort — again left — off the tee at the 17th, and Woods, already sweating profusely in the Georgia heat, surely perspired further. Ultimately, however, he managed to make par, and summarily pounded a 347-yard tee shot down the fairway at the 18th hole with a two-stroke lead.

Woods found the bunker with his approach, but with little doubt left about the outcome of the tournament, he made the walk to the 18th green amid this surreal scene.

A tap-in par later, and Woods — who only began hitting full shots in early October of last year following his spinal fusion surgery — captured the Tour Championship and his 80th PGA Tour win.

For context on Woods’ incredible return to the winner’s circle, check out what our Andrew Tursky had to say.

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Tiger Woods fires third-round 65, takes a three-shot lead into final round

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Tiger Woods walked to the first tee at East Lake today like a gladiator entering an amphitheatre. Beginning the third round of the Tour Championship with a share of the lead, a sea of supporters were there to hoot and holler as he strode purposefully towards the opening tee. Expectancy was in the air, as after all Tiger Woods has converted a 36 hole share or solo lead into a win a remarkable 77 percent of the time throughout his career.

Both at Valspar and the Open Championship, Woods was unable to find that extra gear when he found himself atop the leaderboard. Today, however, was a different story, and Woods delivered the performance that came so natural to him when he was in his pomp.

Woods began his round with a piped drive down the first fairway, and after his approach shot landed just outside 20 feet on the first green, it appeared that the 14-time major champion was on his way to a steady start. However, when he rolled that birdie putt into the center of the cup, the galleries of East Lake responded with a cacophony of noise. Tiger Woods was on the march.

After a two-putt par at the second hole, Woods began a charge that turned into the performance he had been searching for all year when he’s found himself in contention. Woods birdied the third hole after stuffing a wedge to eight feet and burying the putt, and when he then birdied the par-4 fourth hole measuring 479 yards after nailing another putt from outside 20 feet, the crowd and Woods began to believe that today could be special.

To say Woods fed off that sublime birdie and the energy of the crowd would be an understatement. The 79-time PGA Tour champion put on a clinic over his next couple of holes, draining consecutive birdie putts from inside 10 feet, The great man then produced a scintillating approach shot from the fairway bunker on seven which just crept over the greenside trap and settled five feet away from the hole for an opportunity for Woods’ fifth straight birdie. Woods slammed the putt right in the middle to take him to six-under par for the day and 13-under par for the event.

Woods’ one blemish on the opening nine came on the tricky par-3 ninth hole, double-crossing his tee shot and failing to get up and down from off the green. Despite the error, Woods’ opening nine scorecard made for an imposing sight. 30 strokes that included six birdies and gave him a four-shot lead.

A clutch seven-foot par save on 11 kept the momentum rolling and it didn’t take long for the American to capitalise on that impetus, cutting his iron approach into the par-4 12th to seven feet. He then walked that birdie putt in to take him back to 13-under par.

Woods then parred his way to the 16th hole, a hole which he took a six on in round two, and it looked set to be another big number on the cards for Woods after he missed the green with his approach and then saw his ambitious flop shot run back to his feet. But Woods executed a nerveless bump into the hill with his next shot that took all the sting out of the ball and trickled out to tap in range for a superb bogey save.

On Woods’ penultimate hole, he barely missed his birdie putt, and after popping in his par putt, he approached the 18th tee with a three-shot lead. Woods striped his driver down the middle of the fairway, but a pulled approach into the back greenside bunker and a disappointing splash out meant Woods had to settle for a par to finish a thrilling round of 65, giving him a three-shot lead entering tomorrows final round.

Ask any Woods supporter, and they’ll tell you the one element missing from the great man returning to the winner’s circle in 2018 has been his inconsistent driving. Well, the decision to change recently from the Mitsubishi Tensei Orange shaft that he had been using for most of the year, to the Mitsubishi Diamana D+ Whiteboard shaft may well be the final piece of the complicated Tiger Woods puzzle. Woods looked as good as ever off the tee with the chief in hand on Saturday afternoon, finding 10 of 14 fairways on day three.

A victory tomorrow would be Woods’ first since 2013. His first win since four back surgeries that threatened to end his career. His first win since the majority of golf’s talking heads declared he had the chipping yips. His first victory since he suffered public derision after he received a DUI which turned out to be the cause of a toxic mix of prescription drugs. There is no way to downplay it, a win for Woods tomorrow would be one of the most memorable of his career. He has pulled himself off the canvas to within touching distance of his third Tour Championship victory. Should he claim that victory tomorrow, it may well be Woods’ finest hour outside of his 14-major championship wins.

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GolfWRX Morning 9: Driver now a weapon, Tiger leads | What makes Bryson so good | Paulinagram

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

September 21, 2018

Good Friday morning, golf fans.
1. Tiger in front again
Another FedEx Cup playoff event, another Tiger Woods first-round lead.
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard…”Woods finished his day at the finale with a closing nine of 31 after a slow start and was tied with Fowler atop the season-ending leaderboard at 5 under par. He’s been in this position before from Tampa to St. Louis and was equally impressive two weeks ago at the BMW Championship when he opened with a first-round 62 for a share of the lead….But Thursday at East Lake felt different. It felt better.”
  • “This was by far better than the 62 at [the BMW Championship],” said Woods, who is playing at East Lake for the first time since 2013. “Conditions were soft there. It’s hard to get the ball close here. There’s so much chase in it. If you drive the ball in the rough, you know you can’t get the ball close.”
  • “On Thursday he had the look of a complete golfer, a five-tool player whose only limitation was running out of holes. Statistically he finished inside the top 10 in strokes gained: off the tee (eighth), tee to green (third), fairways hit (fourth), driving distance (eighth), greens in regulation (fifth), proximity to the hole (sixth), scrambling (first) and strokes gained: putting (eighth).
  • “I felt in control today,” Woods said without even trying to hide the knowing smile that inched across his face. “I had a lot of control over my shots.”
Golf Digest’s Joel Beall noted Woods’ warmup didn’t suggest a low number was forthcoming…”It was not an auspicious start. The warm-up wasn’t smooth, a fair share of drivers sailing over the left-field fence that separates the East Lake range from the 16th hole. The irons were a little thin, and he wasn’t dropping many putts on the practice green. There were a few grabs towards his back, the infamous part of his frame that kept him sidelined for so long. That someone forgot to tell the golf gods to turn on the A/C-a couple degrees from an Atlanta record high, apparently-wasn’t helping matters, the print of his shirt already unrecognizable from sweat when he arrived to the tee.”
“So when Tiger Woods three-jacked from 30 feet on the first hole, it felt like the opening salvo to a song-and-dance we’ve seen too many times before.But not on the only face that mattered.”
2. Also, Rickie
A PGA Tour.com report notes that Fowler (who co-leads the Tour Championship with El Tigre) is feeling good”Now he’s tied for the lead in the season-ending TOUR Championship at East Lake, his 5-under 65 holding up for the best score of day one with Tiger Woods.”
  • “I haven’t been on any type of painkillers,” Fowler said of his strained right oblique, which kept him out of the first two Playoffs events, THE NORTHERN TRUST and Dell Technologies Championship. “Like just standard Advil. And the big thing and reason why, I didn’t want to mask anything, just because if something did come up, I wanted to get the real response from my body.”
  • “Fowler’s body responded most especially on the greens, where he made nearly 92 feet of putts and ranked second in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.”
3. The big stick delivereth
Golf Channel’s Mercer Baggs…”Ever since making adjustments to his driver – which included adding loft and changing the shaft – at The Northern Trust, Woods’ long game has become one of his greatest assets.”
  • “Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways in the first round at East Lake Golf Club, which led to hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation.”
  • “It’s not as though Woods has completely traded distance for accuracy. He hit his drive on the par-5 18th 320 yards and hat helped produce an eagle.”
  • “It’s more like he now has the ability to control his driver. Those wayward tee shots we had become accustomed to seeing aren’t so offline. That means sometimes he’ll send one 296 yards – like he did on the first hole – and sometimes he’ll gear up and knock one 328 yards – like he did at the fifth.”
  • Woods had this to say…“[I]f I hit it normal, I hit it just as far. And so that’s to me like 300 yards in the air,” he said. “But … the neat thing about this one is that if I miss it and spin it a little bit, those spinners stay in play instead of chasing off on me, and I can turn this ball.
  • “And so, yeah, if I hit controlled shots, they’re in play and they’re shorter. But if I go ahead and step up and launch one, I’m just as far. The neat thing is I don’t have to swing it as hard to hit the ball as far. And so it puts a little less toll on my body. I don’t have to have my speed up there at 120, 121, 122 miles an hour to carry it 305, 310 like I did before.”
4. Paisley
Meanwhile, on the Web.com Tour…AP Report…”Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship.”
  • “The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.”
  • “I think just all around was really good,” Paisley said. “I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.”
5. What makes Bryson so good?
Our Peter Sanders takes a headfirst dive into the data.
A few morsels…
  • “He averaged over 300 yards, 15 yards longer than the field, and hit more fairways than the 2017 winners.  Further, Bryson (Blue arrows below) had 35% fewer driving errors than those made by the 2017 winners.”
  • “Bryson did hit more greens-in-regulation (blue arrows below). BUT remember he hit more fairways and made fewer errors. Finally, Bryson’s proximity when he hits the greens* is closer to the 2017 Tour average than it is to the 2017 winners”.
6. Rory PACIlroy?
A Golf Channel report indicates Mr. McIlroy may have a seat at the Player Advisory Council table…”I’m not on the PAC. I’m probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what’s going on and give your input and whatever.”
  • Input and whatever! McIlroy also said he likes the new Tour Championship format, sort of.
  • “I like it for the FedExCup. I don’t necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don’t know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There’s a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it’s good.”
7. New Web.com schedule
Golfweek’s Brentley Romine with the details...”The 2019 Web.com Tour season will now end on Labor Day, the PGA Tour announced on Thursday.”
  • “The new schedule features 27 events, including three new events and a three-event Finals (down from four). The three new events are the Suncoast Classic Feb. 14-17 in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., Evans Scholars Invitational May 23-26 in Chicago and TPC Colorado Championship July 11-14 in Berthoud, Colo. The Finals will consist of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship (Aug. 15-18), Albertsons Boise Open Aug. 22-25) and Web.com Tour Championship (Aug. 30-Sept. 2).”
  • “The Web.com Tour has enjoyed tremendous momentum in recent years and has created a platform from which graduates are enjoying immediate success on the PGA Tour,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. “The revamped schedule will allow for a more natural cadence to the season for our fans, while providing an earlier finish that enhances the visibility of the Web.com Tour Finals.”
8. JT pain free
Golf Channel report...”After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.”
  • “Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.”
  • “If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn’t have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don’t want to do anything that’s going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I’m going to get as many points for the team as possible.”
9. Interpreting Paulinagram
Charles Curtis of For The Win on an Instagram story Paulina Gretzky posted that features the Great One’s daughter listening to a song.
  • “As some people have noted, these are the lyrics to the Dustin Lynch song attached to that photo:..I’d be jealous too, if she was with you…I’d be out of my mind, watching her move…If I was just a guy with across the room view….I’d be jealous too, if she was with you, with you.”
What does it mean? Who knows? Who cares? Some combination of the two?

 

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