Thursday, March 31, 2016

Lee Westwood eyes 2020 European Ryder Cup captaincy

Lee Westwood has eyes on becoming the European Ryder Cup captain in 2020.

The soon-to-be 43-year-old thinks that he'd make a great leader for the biennial matches by the time the series gets to Whistling Straits, site of last year's PGA Championship, in four years.

“It’s four years away, but I’d love to do it,” Westwood said Thursday at the Shell Houston Open. “I think I’d be the right age. I’d still be in touch with the players.”

It might sound a little strange for Westwood, who has the fifth-most European Ryder Cup points in history, to appeal for a road-game captaincy. However, the Englishman seemed to embrace taking the European side into hostile territory.

“I’d like to do it anywhere, but I think I’d be good in the States,” he said. “I think it’s a challenge, to beat the American team on home soil. It’s never easy.”

Westwood is also still hoping to make the team that will take on the U.S. this fall at Hazeltine National. After his divorce last year, Westwood gave up PGA Tour membership and moved home to the United Kingdom. However, until last week in Austin, Westwood had also taken off nearly the last two months. He's 37th in the European points standings. In hopes of making a 10th consecutive Ryder Cup appearance, Westwood sees this week at Golf Club of Houston as the start of a run toward making the squad.

“Finding a bit of form,” he said, “so I’m looking forward to the next few months.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Spieth three back of Hoffman after solid Houston start

Going into this week's Shell Houston Open, Jordan Spieth said one of his goals for this Masters precursor was to find some consistency. He found some on Thursday in the tournament where he finished a playoff loser last year, shooting an opening 5-under 67 to trail first-round leader Charley Hoffman by three shots.

“Solid round. Feel like I said yesterday in the press room, that my game is there. It’s very close,” Spieth said.

Spieth spent the first two days of the week working with instructor Cam McCormick, looking to fine-tune his mechanics just days after ascribing his Round of 16 loss to Louis Oosthuizen at the WGC-Dell Match Play to losing his swing. He looked more like the Spieth of 2015 on Thursday, making six birdies and a bogey, feeling more comfortable with his game tee to green.

“I drove the ball fantastic today. Really comfortable with my iron shots,” he said. “I had very, very good control of my golf game and my short game was there today as well.”

The 22-year-old reigning Masters champion was not especially efficient on the par 5s at the Golf Club of Houston, playing them in 2 under par. It's perhaps another manifestation of the fall off in Spieth's par-5 scoring in 2016 compared to last year. He was tied for 19th in par-5 scoring in 2015. So far in 2016, he's tied for 59th.

"Really wished I could have gotten a little more out of the par 5s and I made the sloppy bogey with a lob wedge in my hand," Spieth said. "That kind of stuff we can improve on this week."

It will be important for Spieth, who has finished T-2 and won in his only two professional Masters starts, to figure out the par 5s. With four at Augusta National, including two eagle opportunities on the second nine par 5s, Spieth will need to have the confidence to make hay against par and the field on those holes next week.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Tiger Woods' foundation to run PGA Tour stop at Riviera near L.A.

Tiger Woods is the new host of the PGA Tour's annual stop at Riviera Country Club.

The Tour announced Tuesday that Woods' foundation will also run the event. Hyundai Motors, whose American base in southern California, is taking over the title sponsorship of the event from financial services company Northern Trust, although the tournament's new name has not been formally announced.

The Tiger Woods Foundation also runs the Quicken Loans National, played in the Washington, D.C., area, the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December and the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of four FedEx Cup playoff events. Woods' foundation will not run the Boston-area playoff event after this year, however, with the PGA Tour's tournament management arm taking over the logistics.

The 40-year-old Woods has not played on the PGA Tour since last August, when he finsihed a season-best tied for 10th at the Wyndham Championship in a last-ditch effort to make the FedEx Cup playoffs. Since then, Woods has faced two back surgeries, one in September and another in October, and his playing future is uncertain. However, when Woods does return to competition, he will play in the Riviera event. He hasn't competed in the old Los Angeles Open since 2006.

''This is a fantastic opportunity for my foundation,'' Woods said in a statement. ''This is the first PGA Tour event I ever played, and it means a lot to contribute to a community that has supported me and my foundation for more than 20 years. I'm committed to playing in my foundation's events, and it will be exciting to return to Riviera.''


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Excited for Masters, Spieth looks to get game ready in Houston

To describe Jordan Spieth as jazzed for his first major title defense would, perhaps, be an understatement.

"The Masters is [less than] 10 days away," Spieth said Wednesday at the Shell Houston Open. "Just saying that makes you just want to go out and do pushups or something, just like it makes you really, really excited."

Spieth comes into this week's Masters precursor in a different place than a year ago. For one, he's the reigning Masters champion -- the U.S. Open winner, too. He's also not playing as well as he was last year. When he showed up to the Golf Club of Houston a year ago, he'd won the Valspar Championship in a playoff and, the prior week, finished runner-up to Jimmy Walker at the Valero Texas Open.

This year, Spieth has won already -- an eight-shot romp at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions -- and posted top-25 finishes in four of fives starts since. But he's also posted high opening numbers in two of his last three stroke-play events and, at times, has showed visible signs of frustration with his game. Spieth believes he is through that minor rough patch and, after a visit with swing instructor Cam McCormick earlier in the week, ready to contend.

"Everything is exactly where it was last year," Spieth said. "It's right where we want it to be going into the Masters. It's just a matter now of hitting nerve-racking shots and putts before that week, which means I got to get myself into contention this week."

Even if Spieth doesn't get to the top of the board this week, the 22-year-old Texan is convinced the experiences of the last 12 months prepare him to be in contention whenever it happens. After all, Spieth also won four more times after he lost that Houston playoff against J.B. Holmes (who withdrew from the tournament Wednesday with a shoulder injury).

"I feel like I would be a better player if I were in contention next week than I was last year, and even this week, having the success from last year and also the failures. We had both last year," Spieth said.

The world No. 2 believes in employing the same approach to the majors as last year. Why mess with success? And Spieth said there's no lack of motivation to win a second Masters title -- if for no other reason than he wants to keep his green jacket with him a little longer. The reigning champion holds on to their green jacket for a year, then they hand it back to the club for safe keeping.

"It seems maybe silly that that would be motivation," he said, "but, you know, it's things like that that make a difference."


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Caitlyn Jenner holed out for eagle at the ANA Inspiration pro-am

Caitlyn Jenner made a splash right away on Wednesday at the home of Poppie's Pond.

At Mission Hills Country Club, site of the first major on the LPGA calendar called the ANA Inspiration, Jenner holed out for eagle on the opening hole of the Wednesday pro-am. Jenner was playing alongside retired U.S. soccer legend Abby Wambach and LPGA pro Marina Alex. When the shot goes in the hole, Wambach almost celebrates more than Jenner, hugging her and jumping up and down. 

The 66-year-old Jenner made her first appearance in the major's pro-am since transitioning to become a woman. When previously known as Bruce Jenner, she appeared in the pro-am several times and participated in tournament festivities. 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Watch Shell Houston Open featured holes on Yahoo Sports

This week's Shell Houston Open is the final PGA Tour event before the Masters, offering one final invite to the year's first men's major to a winner who isn't already exempt.

Jordan Spieth, a playoff loser at Golf Club of Houston last year, headlines the field along with defending champion J.B. Holmes, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson.

Yahoo Sports will stream PGA Tour Live's featured holes coverage on Thursday and Friday from 3-6 p.m. Eastern on our Golf page

Here are some of the featured groupings that will come through the par-3 14th and 16th holes in the Thursday and Friday coverage windows:

Thursday

Off No. 10

1:10 p.m. -- Padraig Harrington, Angel Cabrera, Matt Jones
1:20 p.m. -- D.A. Points, Sean O’Hair, Carlos Ortiz

Off No. 1

12:40 p.m. -- Shane Lowry, Stewart Cink, Vijay Singh
12:50 p.m. -- Davis Love III, Kevin Streelman, Steve Stricker
1 p.m. -- Charl Schwartzel, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson
1:10 p.m. -- Jordan Spieth, J.B. Holmes, Patrick Reed

Friday

Off No. 10

1:50 p.m. -- Matt Every, Geoff Ogilvy, Ernie Els
2 p.m. -- Harris English, David Toms, Mike Weir

Off No. 1

1:50 p.m. -- Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, Hunter Mahan
2 p.m. -- Vaughn Taylor, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia
2:10 p.m. -- Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen
2:20 p.m. -- Martin Laird, Ricky Barnes, Rafa Cabrera Bello


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Annika Sorenstam named 2017 European Solheim Cup captain

Annika Sorenstam will look to become the second European Solheim Cup captain to win a road game.

The 10-time major winner was announced Wednesday as the 2017 captain for the matches to be held at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in Iowa.

"I cannot tell you how excited I am," Sorenstam said at the site of this week's ANA Inspiration, the first of five LPGA majors on the calendar. "I had hoped and I had dreamed that this opportunity would come along. If I look back in my career, the Solheim Cup has always been an important part of it. We play as individuals for 99 percent of the time, but when we do get together it's just something special."

Sorenstam will take on returning American captain Juli Inkster, whose charges came back from a four-point deficit in the final session to regain the Solheim Cup.

"I respect Juli tremendously," Sorenstam said. "She's done a lot for the game and certainly been a role model in so many ways. So I look forward to working with her and playing against her as a team."

Sorenstam, who was an assistant captain to 2015 captain and fellow Swede Carin Koch, has some work to do to repair the relationship between the biennial opponents. Last fall in Germany, Suzann Pettersen infuriated -- and likely inspired -- the American side when she pounced on rookie American Alison Lee when Lee claimed she heard that one of her two opponents, Pettersen or Englishwoman Charley Hull, give her a putt on the 17th hole of a critical match. 

"We all experienced it and I think everybody learned something from it," Sorenstam said. "I don't think we'll get in that situation next year."

The 2017 Solheim Cup will be played Aug. 18-20.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tiger Woods' foundation to run PGA Tour stop at Riviera near L.A.

Tiger Woods is the new host of the PGA Tour's annual stop at Riviera Country Club.

The Tour announced Tuesday that Woods' foundation will also run the event. Hyundai Motors, whose American base in southern California, is taking over the title sponsorship of the event from financial services company Northern Trust, although the tournament's new name has not been formally announced.

The Tiger Woods Foundation also runs the Quicken Loans National, played in the Washington, D.C., area, the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December and the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of four FedEx Cup playoff events. Woods' foundation will not run the Boston-area playoff event after this year, however, with the PGA Tour's tournament management arm taking over the logistics.

The 40-year-old Woods has not played on the PGA Tour since last August, when he finsihed a season-best tied for 10th at the Wyndham Championship in a last-ditch effort to make the FedEx Cup playoffs. Since then, Woods has faced two back surgeries, one in September and another in October, and his playing future is uncertain. However, when Woods does return to competition, he will play in the Riviera event. He hasn't competed in the old Los Angeles Open since 2006.

''This is a fantastic opportunity for my foundation,'' Woods said in a statement. ''This is the first PGA Tour event I ever played, and it means a lot to contribute to a community that has supported me and my foundation for more than 20 years. I'm committed to playing in my foundation's events, and it will be exciting to return to Riviera.''


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Jason Day considered quitting golf before the 2011 Masters

Newly minted (again) world No. 1 Jason Day has been on a roll since last summer, winning six of his last 13 starts, including the PGA Championship.

With wins in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour, Day is the betting favorite going into the Masters.

And yet, had Day made a different call in 2011, none of that would have happened.

In an interview for "Feherty" which aired on Golf Channel on Monday, Day said he considered giving up professional golf shortly before his first Masters appearance in 2011.

"I really wanted to quit the game," Day said. "I wasn't having a good time on the golf course."

Interviewer David Feherty was stunned, but the Aussie insisted it was true.

"I was not going to play that week," said Day. "I was going to take time off."

Ultimately, Day's management convinced him to play. It was a good call. Day didn't win the green jacket that week -- Charl Schwartzel did with a record four birdies in the final four holes to win -- but he did finish runner-up that week. 

Now look where Day is.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Power rankings: Shell Houston Open

This is it. This week's Shell Houston Open is the final PGA Tour event before the Masters, and, for 110 players in the 144-person field, they're playing for the final Augusta National invite offered to this week's winner.

However, for the likes of Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, Dusitn Johnson and Rickie Fowler, this week is about playing a host course setup to mirror the home of the Masters and prepare them for the year's first men's major.

Here are our top five players for this week:

1. Henrik Stenson -- The best ballstriker in the field with massive distance on a course that favors it. Was T-3 at Bay Hill and had a nice week off while skipping the Match Play.

2. Phil Mickelson -- Mickelson is pretty much automatic in the top 15 here and a winner in 2011. He's so much better to par here than any other player in the last five years.

3. J.B. Holmes -- The defending champion has three top-15 finishes here in the last five years. Wasn't great at the Match Play, but sometimes showing up to friendly turf is fix enough.

4. Louis Oosthuizen -- This may not be Louis' week (mortgage your home on him at Augusta), but a quality ballstriker with length who got to the Match Play final deserves consideration this week.

5. Patrick Reed -- Reed buzzsawed his group at the Match Play before meeting his demise on the weekend in Austin. He's consistent from week to week, becoming the new Matt Kuchar of sorts.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Monday, March 28, 2016

Shell Houston Open is Last Chance Saloon for the Masters

There is only one more way to get into next week's Masters: win the Shell Houston Open.

The final PGA Tour event before the season's first major, the Shell Houston Open plays like a Masters Lite, with the host Golf Club of Houston set up to mimic expected conditions at Augusta National Golf Club. That's what makes the event an attractive stop on the road to Augusta for many players who are already in the Masters. A total of 34 players who are already in the Masters are in the field in Houston. 

Were one of the 110 players in the field not already in the Masters to win in Houston this week, that player would bring the expected total number of players in the Augusta field to 90. (If Tiger Woods chooses to play, then that number would go up to 91.)

However, history has proven that's unlikely to happen, though Matt Jones, who won in 2014 in a playoff over Matt Kuchar, did punch his Masters ticket through this event.

Then again, winning the week before the Masters is typically a curse at Augusta National itself. Only Sandy Lyle in 1988 and Phil Mickelson in 2006 won the week prior the Masters and slipped on a green jacket the next Sunday.

What is likely is a playoff in Houston. In each of the last two years, the Shell Houston Open has gone to a sudden-death playoff, and the SHO has had more playoffs (23) in its history than any other PGA Tour event other than the U.S. Open.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Rory McIlroy to skip Masters Par-3 Contest

Rory McIlroy is going to take a pass on the Masters Par-3 Contest.

McIlroy told several U.K. publications on Monday that he will be skipping the Wednesday tradition of Masters Week in hopes of focusing the week of the year's first major.

"It's just too much hassle and it's a bit of a distraction," McIlroy said.

The four-time major winner is searching for a first Masters title in hopes of completing the career Grand Slam. McIlroy last won a major at the 2014 PGA Championship, following up his first British Open win the month prior at Royal Liverpool.

McIlroy last didn't play the Par-3 Contest in 2011, and the Ulsterman hopes there will be a correlation between skipping the nine-hole event on Augusta National's short course and the four-shot 54-hole lead McIlroy had five years ago.

"The year I had my best chance at Augusta, 2011, I didn't play the Par-3 Contest," McIlroy said. "So maybe the decision not to play it this year can work in my favor."

The world No. 3 surrendered the lead in the final round with a triple-bogey 7 on the 10th hole, ultimately finishing T-15. In the last two years, McIlroy has finished T-8 and in fourth place.

In the past few years, McIlroy had competed in the contest with celebrities on the bag, including ex-girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in 2014 when they were still a couple and One Direction singer Niall Horan in 2015.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Sunday, March 27, 2016

With two more wins, Jason Day crowned WGC-Dell Match Play champ

Jason Day had himself a Jason Week at the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Day completed an undefeated week at Austin Country Club on Sunday, first beating Rory McIlroy 1 up in the marquee matchup of the day, then easily dispatching of Louis Oosthuizen in the final by a 5-and-4 count for his second PGA Tour win in as many weeks.

The Aussie, who has now officially overtaken Jordan Spieth for the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, won the three matches he played in round-robin group play. He tweaked his back on the penultimate hole of his Day 1 win over Graeme McDowell. There was some doubt if he'd play Thongchai Jaidee on Day 2 before walloping him by a 5-and-3 margin, including starting with a 370-yard drive that led to an eagle. Paul Casey conceded the Friday match to Day when he realized it was better to withdraw and deal with his stomach bug than keep fighting Day.

"I just kept on rolling from last week," Day said. "And even with a sore back this week, obviously it gradually got better and better, but I'm just really, really pleased with how I played."

On Saturday, Day never trailed in his Round of 16 match against Brandt Snedeker and fell behind Brooks Koepka for just one hole in the quarterfinal round. 

That all set up a showdown with McIlroy, the defending champion from a year ago at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. The match went the distance, with the crucial stretch coming for Day with back-to-back birdies for wins on Nos. 12 and 13 to turn an all square match into a sustained advantage.

It seemed like after beating McIlroy that Day would either have little in the tank or beat Oosthuizen, who toppled Rafael Cabrera-Bello in his semifinal match, in a walkover. It was the latter. 

After a three-putt bogey on the first -- his only bogey there in seven matches this week -- Day squared the match on the fourth thanks to Oosthuizen blunders. Day never looked back, turning with a 3-up edge that seemed airtight. Four holes later, Day overpowered the 13th and 14th holes for birdies and the finishing touches on a week where he was clearly the class player in the field.

It should also be noted that Day clearly has found a course designer he loves in Pete Dye. He won the PGA Championship in August at Dye's Whistling Straits. He fell in love with Dye's Austin Country Club, fighting sight lines off the tee that allowed him to be extremely aggressive with the driver to set up his short game that is a go-to part of his repertoire.

"When you have the short game on, especially around here, you can definitely go low," he said. "I've been working very hard on that short game and on the greens I just felt like I could hole anything."

Now Day heads into the Masters looking for a second major title in a row, a third win in as many starts and with the hopes of sustaining himself atop the top spot in the world ranking.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem expected to leave job in 2016

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Sunday at the WGC-Dell Match Play that he expects to step down from the post at the end of 2016.

Perhaps it's confusing, then, that Finchem was given a one-year contract extension, also announced Sunday, through June 1, 2017.

Finchem, who has been the PGA Tour commissioner since 1994 and been with the Tour since signing on as part of the management team in 1987, said he wanted to have the flexibility to remain on a little bit longer as he is working on several major projects he wants to see through before calling it a career.

“The length of the contract really is just a placeholder in terms of giving me a little more time to do some of the projects I'm engaged in now and I want to bring those forward," he said Sunday. "I wouldn't anticipate I'm going to stay that long.”

Finchem, 68, has overseen the Tour's dramatic growth in pretty much every facet of the business, from reaching the $2 billion mark in total charitable giving, to the creation of the FedEx Cup, to increasing the Tour's total annual purse by a factor of five.

Deputy commissioner Jay Monahan was promoted this week to add the title Chief Operating Officer. Finchem said Monahan more or less handles the day-to-day operations of the Tour. Finchem reiterated this is part of a long-term succession plan -- one he orchestrated for the future of the Tour.

"I could probably go on another five or six years," he said. "But I don't think that is best for the organization. I don't consider myself old. But I'm getting old."


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Tony Finau wins 1st PGA Tour event in 3-hole Puerto Rico playoff

Tony Finau is a winner on the PGA Tour.

The 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year runner-up got his maiden Tour title on Sunday, defeating Steve Marino on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff to win the Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach (formerly Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico).

Marino and Finau were tied at 12-under 276, one clear of 54-hole leader Ian Poulter and Mexico's Rodolfo Cazaubon. The duo would play the par-5 finishing hole at Coco Beach over and over until a winner was crowned. 

On the first playoff hole, both players had lousy drives but managed to have decent third shots into the green. First, Marino hit a sand shot from about 40 yards to approximately 8 feet. Finau, in the neck in front of the green, chipped up to just a few feet for certain birdie. Marino quickly stepped up and drained his birdie.

The pair again tied in birdie the second time around, again with Marino making the birdie first.

On the third try, Marino and Finau went long of the green on the severely downwind hole with their second shots. Marino found the fringe, while Finau was in the back left bunker. Finau hit an excellent bunker shot to about 3 feet, giving Marino an eagle putt for the win. However, the University of Virginia product poorly judged the speed of the putt, leaving 5 feet for birdie. Marino powered that putt through the break. Finau made his putt for birdie and the win.

"I think I'm still a little bit overwhelmed," Finau said. "It probably hasn't all sunk in."

Also searching for his first win and a complete comeback after losing his PGA Tour card, Marino was disappointed with the finish.

"I finally played the hole like you're supposed to," Marino said. "I hit the fairway and then hit it on the back fringe. I didn't think that putt was going to be that slow and then I just hit a poor putt on the second putt. Pretty disappointing, played really well."

For the Utah native Finau, he had a chance to win in regulation, missing a 6-foot birdie putt. Whereas a season ago, that may have fazed him, Finau knew he was still in it after Marino birdied the 72nd hole ahead of him to tie.

"You've got to focus on the here and now. I did a really good job of that today even though that putt slipped by in regulation for the win, I knew I still didn't lose the tournament," Finau said. "I needed to refocus and get ready to play 18 again. That's what it takes out here I feel like to win."


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Minjee Lee makes par-4 ace at Kia Classic; 2nd in LPGA history, 2nd this year

It's becoming an epidemic on the LPGA: par-4 holes-in-one.

In 66 previous LPGA seasons, there had never been one. On Saturday at the 2016 Kia Classic, Minjee Lee made the second par-4 ace in the last two months.

Playing the 234-yard par-4 16th at Aviara Golf Club during the third round of the tournament, Lee used a 5-wood to ace the downhill hole for an albatross that moved her to 3 under par on the round. The tee on the 275-yard hole had been moved up for the third round.  The ball landed just short of the green, got a friendly bounce left and then stalked its way into the hole after hitting the flagstick.

Lee, who played alongside Morgan Pressel for the third round, said this was the first ace of any kind in her life.

“I didn’t see it go in,” said Lee, according to Golfweek. “(Morgan) was just like ‘Oh!’ and I was like ‘Yay!’”

The Aussie wound up shooting 2-under 70 to get to 5-under 211 and trail leader Lydia Ko by nine shots entering the final round.

Ha Na Jang was the first in LPGA history to make a par-4 hole-in-one on Jan. 31 at the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic. In the third round, Jang made an ace on the windy, 218-yard par-4 eighth hole at Ocean Golf Club.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Now in Masters, Cabrera-Bello playing with house money at Match Play

Rafael Cabrera-Bello wore green on Saturday for a reason.

The Spaniard was playing his Round of 16 match at the WGC-Dell Match Play with a lot on the line -- not only a spot in the quarterfinals in the 64-player event but also a spot in the Masters, the only major in which he has never played. With a Round of 16 win, Cabrera-Bello would earn enough world ranking points from this week to crack the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking. This week is the cutoff to earn a trip to Augusta National under that criteria.

“Of course that’s in the back of your head, but it’s something that you don’t want to be thinking on the course because that’s only going to add more pressure," said Cabrera-Bello after Saturday play.

He didn't have to think too hard or too long about it. Cabrera-Bello beat Byeong-hun An when An conceded the match with an injury. 

Playing with house money -- again, green -- he went out in the afternoon quarterfinal match and beat American Ryan Moore by a 2-and-1 count to move into Sunday morning's semifinal round against Louis Oosthuizen.

Now that he's in the Masters, Sunday is gravy. He's guaranteed to make $530,000 for finishing no worse than fourth. If he wins, he'll move to 23rd in the world ranking.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Golf ball maker Dean Snell of Snell Golf

Jason Day advances to Match Play semis, takes over world No. 1

No matter what happens from here, Jason Day will be the new world No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking on Sunday night.

By winning two matches on Saturday and advancing to the semifinal round on Sunday morning at Austin Country Club, the Aussie will pass Jordan Spieth, who has been No. 1 in the world since winning the FedEx Cup at the Tour Championship in September. Spieth lost in the Saturday morning Round of 16 match against Louis Oosthuizen, who will also be part of the final four alongside Rory McIlroy and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

In the semifinal round, Day will take on McIlroy, who will hold his No. 3 world ranking regardless of the Sunday results. Were Day to win against McIlroy, he'll play in the championship match against the winner of Oosthuizen and Cabrera-Bello.

Day is seeking a second win in as many weeks, taking last weekend's Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando for his first win of 2016. The reigning PGA champion has been battling with back problems through the week. He got a reprieve on Friday when opponent Paul Casey conceded the match after feeling ill. However, he had to play 32 of a possible 36 holes in regulation to advance to the final day. 

“I’ve been on the massage table a lot this week,” Day said. “That’s probably why I’m still up and around and playing.” 

Meanwhile, Spieth will likely have an opportunity to quickly regain the top spot in the ranking. He's playing in next week's Shell Houston Open, a tournament where he finished a playoff loser last year to J.B. Holmes.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Chalk reigned in pool play at the WGC-Dell Match Play

Picking chalk at the WGC-Dell Match Play has historically been a road to ruin. However, in this year's first run at Austin Country Club, the top seeds reigned.

In the second year of the round-robin pool play format, eight of the top-seeded, group-anchoring players moved on to the Saturday Round of 16. Four players randomly drawn into each group from players ranked 17th through 32nd in the field also made it to the weekend.

Compare that to last year, where half of the weekend field was made of players seeding in one of the first two pools in each group, including five top-seeded players.

There's no one clear explanation for what well could be a one-off in a tournament and a format that has a propsenity to create surprise results.

One could be simply that the best players in the tournament are playing great, with the likes of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day already having won this season on the PGA Tour. Then again, Adam Scott, who won two starts in the Florida Swing, didn't get to the weekend.

Another could be that the random draws just worked out in favorable matchups for the top-seeded players.

The last could be the advent of the 18-hole tie in group-play matches. In 2015, the first three days of 18-hole matches had to end in a winner, meaning only one player in the match scored a group point. This year, those ties opened up possibilities for more players to have group-deciding matches on Friday.

Now the question is if the chalk will continue all the way to the final, which would lead to a match pitting Jordan Spieth against Jason Day for the world No. 1 ranking.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Opening loss was kiss of death for most at WGC-Dell Match Play

There were 32 matches to kick off the WGC-Dell Match Play on Wednesday. Six matches were halved, meaning there were 26 winners, 26 losers and 12 players who moved to Day 2 with a half-point in round-robin pool play.

Of the 26 players to lose their Day 1 match, only one survived group play to reach Saturday's start of the knockout rounds: Dustin Johnson.

Johnson lost to Robert Streb in his opening Group 8 match on Wednesday, then beat Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Jimmy Walker in successive days. Johnson advanced out of the group with a birdie on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against Aphibarnrat. 

Ryan Moore, Byeong-hun An and Patton Kizzire opened with Wednesday halves and managed to win their groups. That would not have been possible a year ago. In the first year of the pool-knockout format, no pool-play match could end in an 18-hole tie, forcing extra holes to determine a match winner. Not only would these players have been forced into sudden-death, they would have played more holes than their peers had they managed to get through to the weekend.

All told, seven of the 16 group winners played to a 3-0-0 record. Last year, that number was 12. Three players moved on with a 2-1-0 record, while four others had 2-0-1 marks.

An and Kizzire moved on with a 1-0-2 mark, with Kizzire only winning a match in the final day of pool play.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Jason Day hangs onto 2-shot lead at rainy Bay Hill

On a stormy morning at Bay Hill, Jason Day kept his Arnold Palmer Invitational outlook sunny.

The Aussie 36-hole leader shot 2-under 70 on a rainy Saturday in Orlando to maintain a two-shot lead heading into the final round. At 15-under 201, Day leads three players tied for second, including Henrik Stenson, Kevin Chappell and Troy Merritt.

For Day, he's happy with a 70 that could have been considerably worse.

"I felt like I couldn't get any momentum, especially with the umbrella up and down, the rain gear on and off," Day said. "All that said, I feel like I stayed patient to ground out a 2-under par."

After an opening par, Day bogeyed the lengthy par-3 second before ripping off three birdies to turn in 2 under par. From the middle of the fairway at the par-4 11th, however, Day found the water hazard guarding the left, leading to his only back-nine bogey. He made easy work of the short par-5 16th for birdie. The story throughout the round, however, was safely two-putting for pars from 25 and 30 feet.

For Stenson, his momentum was stymied three times by plugged lies in bunkers, two of them leading to bogeys. Nonetheless, he shot 70 to keep pace with Day.

"It's definitely a case of staying out of the sand," Stenson said.

The field played in split-tee threesomes early on Saturday to avoid stormy weather. However, on Sunday, it's back to pairings off the first tee. Day goes off in the last group with Troy Merritt, the 2015 Quicken Loans National winner who, with 67, was first in the house at 13 under par.

Justin Rose and Derek Fathauer are tied for fifth, four back of Day.

Adam Scott found the water hazard at the par-4 18th with his approach, leading to a triple-bogey 7 that leaves him nine behind his fellow countryman.

Rory McIlroy continues to struggle this week, shooting a second 75 of the tournament, complete with three double bogeys.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Drama ahead on "Cut Day" at the WGC-Dell Match Play

It's Cut Day at the WGC-Dell Match Play -- the first of three in a row.

Friday is the final day of round-robin group play at Austin Country Club, with the last of the six matches in 16 groups of four unfolding. At the conclusion of the 32-match docket on Friday, the starting field of 64 will be whittled down to the individual group winners, which will come together for the weekend in a 16-man, bracket-style tournament to determine a champion. 

However, only about two-thirds of the field still has a chance to make the weekend. A total of 22 players have already been eliminated in the first two days of pool play. That leaves 42 players competing with a chance of winning their group outright or, if the circumstances allow, ending up in a tie for the group title. If there is a tie -- and there are some possibilities of an entire group having the same record -- then the players in that tie will immediately move to a stroke-play playoff to determine the group winner.

That's a chance from last year's event, the first time the round-robin group format was introduced. Last year, the 18-hole group play matches had to end with a winner, with the triumphant player getting a point and the loser getting nothing. Unfortunately, that led to a sizable portion of the Friday docket proving to be meaningless matches for both players, creating a somewhat underwhelming final day to group play. This year, matches could end in an 18-hole tie, with each player getting a half-point. That may have created a few underwhelming finishes in the first two days, but the compromise makes Friday much more exciting.

Jordan Spieth, who won his first two matches and can do no worse than a playoff on Friday, isn't necessarily a fan of the change, but he gets why it was made.

“I like it if you beat somebody you go through,” Spieth said. “I like the head-to-head. But I understand that last year there were three or four scenarios where guys were already through without playing their last match, and it’s not necessarily as exciting. But I still think if you beat somebody heads up, you should have the advantage to go through over them.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mickelson wins over Daniel Berger after 18th hole injury

Phil Mickelson won his Thursday match at the WGC-Dell Match Play 1 up against Daniel Berger, but it probably wasn't how the five-time major winner wanted to lock up his second win in as many days. 

Mickelson, who never trailed in the match, arrived to the 18th hole at Austin Country Club all square with Berger, last year's PGA Tour rookie of the year. After Mickelson smashed a 320-yard tee shot to the right side of the fairway, Berger pulled his tee shot to the finishing hole, with his ball winding up near a rock wall. 

After taking some dozen practice swings, Berger thought he had a way to swing, avoid the wall, hit the ball and still have a chance to salvage at least a tie in the match. However, when he tried the swing for real, the hosel of his wedge clipped the rock wall, forcing Berger to whiff on the shot and injure his wrist. After he missed the shot, Berger conceded the hole at the match to Mickelson. 

Now at 2-0-0 in his group, Mickelson's Friday showdown with Patrick Reed, also perfect in a pair of matches, determines the winner of Group 9, one of 16 four-player groups that will feed into a bracket-style tournament after Friday play.

While Mickelson is happy to be undefeated, he wasn't happy with the sloppy play that got him there on Thursday.

"We both struggled today, neither one of us really 'won' any holes. We handed each other holes back-and-forth," said Mickelson, who made just two birdies on his round. "It wasn't the match either of us hoped for."

As for Berger, he has a meaningless match against Matthew Fitzpatrick. He could concede the match and get ready for the Masters in two weeks.

"I wouldn't play if my wrist doesn't feel good with the Masters coming up. We'll see, I don't know. It doesn't feel that great right now," said Berger. "I've never had an injury in my life. We'll see. Hopefully, I'll be all right."


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Despite back issue, Day plays, breezes through Day 2 at Match Play

After tweaking his back on Wednesday on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Match Play, Jason Day wasn't completely sure if he should play on the second day of round-robin group play. 

Day, who was considering conceding his Thursday match, must be glad he chose to give it a go. He won his match against Thongchai Jaidee by a 5-and-3 count to go to 2-0-0 in his group. 

The world No. 2 showed his back, which he tweaked with a drive on the 15th hole in his match against Graeme McDowell, was in good shape on the first tee when he drove the green with a 370-yard shot, setting up an eagle 2 and a win on the first. He own the second, too. At the turn, he held onto that 2-up edge.

Day won the 10th and 11th holes with birdies, hanging on to a 4-up lead before a birdie at the par-5 15th put away Jaidee. 

On Friday, Day faces Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who is also 2-0-0 after beating Kevin Kisner on Thursday, for the win in Group 2, one of 16 groups of four that are playing a round-robin to determine a 16-man bracket-style tournament over the weekend to crown a champion.

Day, who won this event in 2014 in the final year of the one-and-done format, is looking for a second win in a row on the PGA Tour. He won last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first win of 2016.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spieth, feeling at home, wins on Day 1 at WGC-Dell Match Play

Jordan Spieth is playing on comfortable turf this week at the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Not only is he competing in Austin, where he spent three semesters at the University of Texas, but Spieth is also competing on a host course in Austin Country Club that he played once or twice each week of his brief collegiate life.

The third benefit of home-state advantage became clear on Wednesday. Spieth has a hero's gallery, and they're soundly in his corner. That crowd cheered on Spieth as he beat 2014 Ryder Cup foe Jamie Donaldson by a 3-and-2 count in Day 1 of round-robin pool play.

Spieth did his damage against Donaldson in the first seven holes, winning five, losing one and halving the other. In that stretch, he missed just one fairway and played 3-under golf. 

''I played the first seven holes or so perfectly. That's pretty commanding. I was very pleased with that,'' Spieth said. ''I didn't back down, I kept hitting driver. I kept on going for stuff, almost too much."

The world No. 1 gave back a hole when Donaldson birdied the eighth hole, but he shut the door on the Welshman when he saved par on the 12th after hitting his second shot to the par 5 in the left-side water hazard.

''I just made some really poor decisions to let him back into the match. Fortunately stuck through it,'' Spieth said. ''He's a very tough match-play player ... knew there wasn't going to be give-up after 4 down.''

Even as Donaldson was making aggressive, impressive plays to stay in the match, the partisan crowd didn't give him any love. In fact, more often than not, Donaldson got crickets in response. It had to be jarring for Donaldson, but Spieth loved it.

''It almost like a home Ryder Cup match,'' Spieth said. ''They weren't cheering when putts were missed, everyone was very respectful, but every step I took, somebody was yelling or cheering `Hook'em Horns' or `Go Jordan,' which is really, really cool.''


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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New halved matches expand intrigue at WGC-Dell Match Play

For 2015, the WGC-Dell Match Play changed the one-and-done format of the 64-player event with the hope of, frankly, creating less fluky outcomes. Too many top-name players were losing in the first two rounds, and, unlike in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the madness wasn't endearing. It was frustrating for players and fans alike to see a weekend draw forged by the vagaries of match play.

Replacing that format was a round-robin, pool-play format with 16 groups of four players. The winners from each group then would enter the bracket-style portion of the event until a winner was crowned. 

The problem with last year's edition was that the pool-play matches couldn't end in a tie. There had to be a winner. And, in so doing, the need for a finish created more losers, sooner. A number of Friday matches in last year's event were completely meaningless. 

Kudos to the PGA Tour, then, for fixing that for 2016. All pool-play matches can end in a tie, awarding a half-point to each player, as opposed to the full point for a win (or none for a loss). 

On Thursday, six of 32 matches were halved, saving players from tiring themselves out more than their pool-based peers and keeping more players in the hunt for the group win.

Russell Knox was one of those 12 players to end their day in a tie. After wrapping up an intense 18-hole match with David Lingmerth at the windy, demanding Austin Country Club, Knox was perfectly happy to stop there.

“I like it this way,” said Knox. “It’s always nice to play to a winner as well, but I don’t really feel like playing more golf right now.”  


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Jason Day wins at Match Play, but tweaks back; intends to play on

Jason Day was one of 16 winners on Day 1 of group play at the WGC-Dell Match Play. However, in his 3-and-2 win over Graeme McDowell, Day tweaked a back injury.

Day fell down two holes after four but quickly bounced back immediately by driving the 370-yard fifth hole to remain 1 down.

At the eighth, Day started a five-hole stretch that included four wins with three birdies and a concession from McDowell to turn around the early deficit. The world No. 2 held on to tie the final four holes of the match. It was on the next-to-last hole of the match that Day felt a back injury. Hours after leaving Austin Country Club to seek treatment, Day, through his agent, expressed an intent to continue playing.

"Jason tweaked his back (driving) on hole No. 15 and had some work done post-round. He is pleased with the outcome of the match and is getting prepared to play tomorrow," said agent Bud Martin in a statement.

It would take a second victory in as many weeks, but Day could potentially overtake Jordan Spieth as No. 1 in the world. While that may be a motivator, there are other things to consider, including a potential second consecutive major at the Masters in two weeks.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Woods' ex-caddie Steve Williams says gym work cost him career

There's long been a theory that Tiger Woods' commitment -- some close to Woods at one point or another have called it an obsession -- to weight lifting and gym work shortened his career.

Count his former caddie, Steve Williams, as one of those who subscribe to that school of thinking.

“I guess when [Tiger] looks back, he might question some of the activities that he did, some of the gym work that he might have done that, you know, had all these injuries escalate," Williams said on BBC Radio's 5 Live.

"It is very hard to pinpoint how he has got to where he is now but I’d have to say there is a lot merit in [that theory].”

Woods has been on the shelf since a pair of back surgeries in September and October 2015. The first surgery was Woods' second microdiscectomy in 18 months, which led to a follow-up procedure. While Woods is apparently chipping and putting, it's unclear where Woods is in his recovery and when he might be able to play competitive golf again.

For as foggy as Woods' future is, Williams was resolute that he believes his former boss will win again. 

“I don’t doubt he will come back to the winner’s circle," Williams said. "He is a great competitor, he has an incredible work ethic – when he can work hard – and one thing he does know how to do is win."

As for whether Woods will add to his tall of 14 majors? Williams isn't convinced the 40-year-old Woods can do that.

“But whether he comes back and wins major championships?" he said. "That’s going to be a very difficult task.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spieth hoping for Austin advantage at WGC-Dell Match Play

Jordan Spieth knows how the putts break at Austin Country Club, and that should only improve his putting proclivity this week at the WGC-Dell Match Play.

In his three semesters at the University of Texas, Spieth played the course often -- he reckons once or twice each week.

“It’s a place I’m very familiar with, and I feel I have an advantage at," he said Tuesday.

Spieth, who is expecting gusty winds and firm greens, echoed the sentiments of other players in classifying the challenge at Austin Country Club as finding the proper position off the tee. It's not a course that particularly favors long hitters but rather players who can set up their approach shots with the tee ball.

The key for Spieth is to get off to a good start. He's guaranteed three matches in the round-robin group format, but if he opens with a thud like he has in two of his last three events, there's a chance he'll fall behind with two matches remaining.

While Spieth may well have a college town edge, the world No. 1 said he still feels a little like a tourist. He's not crashing at a friend's house.

“I’m not used to staying in a hotel in Austin,” Spieth said. “I used to come back here and stay on my buddies’ couches when I came back.” 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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McIlroy not worried about unfamiliar WGC-Dell Match Play track

Like a lot of players in this WGC-Dell Match Play field, Rory McIlroy wasn't familiar with host Austin Country Club until this week.

However, the defending champion isn't particularly worried about a lack of local knowledge. The matches go too quickly.

"It's about playing the player that's in front of you there on the first tee," said McIlroy on Tuesday. "It's a sprint. It's 18 holes. You don't really have time to find your rhythm. You need to try to make birdies from the get-go. And that's the approach I've adopted the last few years."

And maybe that's a freebie for the Americans preparing to take on Europe in the Ryder Cup in the fall.

Perhaps the moment that could best replicate the biennial matches this week would be if McIlroy and Spieth met, which they can only do in the final match. Spieth is in his home state of Texas and, specifically, where he led the University of Texas to a national championship.

"If I were to play Jordan Spieth at any point this week, I'm sure the atmosphere out there would be just as hostile as the Ryder Cup, seeing where he's from, and he's obviously very popular here," McIlroy said.

For McIlroy, this is an opportunity to join the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott, all who have PGA Tour wins this year, as well Rickie Fowler, who has a European Tour win to his credit. This is McIlroy's last start before the Masters, where he could complete the career Grand Slam with a win.

"I feel like I'm close," he said. "I'm probably not quite where they are, and I haven't had the confidence of getting a win this year, but I feel like it's close."


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Monday, March 21, 2016

Wesley Bryan needs no tricks to win Web.com Tour event in La.

Wesley and George Bryan made a name for themselves as the trick-shot duo, the Bryan Brothers. However, it was a different kind of teamwork that earned Wesley his first Web.com Tour win on Sunday.

In just his third Web.com Tour start, Wesley won the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, the first Web.com Tour event of the season on U.S. soil, by a shot with his brother George on the bag. 

After a weather-plagued week, Bryan put the finishing touches on a final round of 3-under 68 that left him with a nervous wait to see if his total would hold up for the win. The 14-under total was enough for a one-shot win over Argentinian Julian Etulian.

“Dude I’m not going to lie. I went over to the range to prepare for a playoff and I was 55 times more nervous over there when the ball was out of my court and I had no control over the situation,” Bryan said. “That was a super weird feeling. I’m super relieved I guess would be the word.”

George himself had hoped to play in the event, but came up just a shot shy in Monday qualifying.

The 25-year-old Wesley, who calls Augusta, Ga., home, moved up to third on the Web.com Tour money list. 


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Sei Young Kim tied LPGA 72-hole scoring mark in Founders win

Just about 15 years ago in Arizona, Annika Sorenstam shot the only 59 in LPGA history at the 2001 Standard Register Ping event. That week, she went on to win with a score of 27-under 261 to set the 72-hole scoring record on the LPGA.

On Sunday, in the same state, Sei Young Kim tied that mark.

With a final-round, 10-under 62, Kim seized control of the JTBC Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Cup and won the tournament by five shots at 27-under 261. And, believe it or not, Kim did it with only three of four rounds in the 60s. She shot 2-under 70 on Saturday. 

“It’s a dream come true,” Kim said of her Sunday 62. “It’s my best score ever. I didn’t know what I shot until I added my scorecard.”

For Kim, the 2015 Rookie of the Year, now has three LPGA wins and, alongside two-time 2016 winner Ha Na Jang, has staked a claim in the conversation of the best players on the circuit right now.

World No. 1 Lydia Ko finished alone in second at 22 under par, thanks to a 15-under weekend. Jacqui Concolino also broke the 20-under barrier on the number.

All told, it was an easy scoring week for the field. After the tournament, Ko said it felt like the true par against the field was 68. That wasn't quite true against the field averages, but 49 of 74 players to make the weekend cut shot at least 10 under par for the tournament. 


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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rory McIlroy admits to mental block in his game

Rory McIlroy closed the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a bright spot. He sank a 59-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole at Bay Hill to put up a final-round, 7-under 65. In the end, he almost back-doored a top-25 finish, ending up tied for 27th place.

However, McIlroy knows he had a very sloppy week. For as many good holes he had, McIlroy derailed his week with six double bogeys, including three on Saturday alone. If he is to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters in three weeks, McIlroy knows he'll have to play more consistently.

"It's been the story of the week and sort of been the story of my year, as well," McIlroy said after the round. "I've played some great golf and not great golf. I've made a lot of mistakes."

The good news for McIlroy is that this is the first Sunday in his last four PGA Tour events that he didn't play inadequate golf. He closed at Riviera with 75, falling quickly out of contention. He missed the cut at The Honda Classic, so he had Sunday off. At Doral, he carried a 54-hole lead, but safe golf in the final round gave him few legitimate birdie chances and left him in third behind Adam Scott.

At this point, McIlroy acknowledges the mistakes are caused by his attitude.

"I know it's nothing to do with my game, really. It's nothing to do with me technically; it's more mental," he said. "I'm beating myself up over mistakes that I'm making on the course and then I'm not letting myself get over it, so that it sort of lingers there for the next few holes."


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With clutch up-and-down, Day secures Arnold Palmer Invitational

Jason Day is on the board in 2016.

With an up-and-down for par on the 72nd hole, Day secured a one-stroke win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando. His 17-under total, including a 2-under 70 final round, was good enough to defeat Kevin Chappell, who was seeking his first PGA Tour win. 

It wasn't easy for the world No. 3 and reigning PGA champion. After an impressive birdie at the par-3 second, Day made three bogeys in four holes, including a dropped shot after finding the water with his 200-yard second shot from the middle of the fairway at the par-5 sixth. However, Day righted the ship and got back to even on the day with a birdie on the ninth after an approach shot to gimme range.

Chappell kept in close touch with Day throughout the afternoon, forcing the Aussie to keep pace and find an extra gear down the stretch. 

Following a disappointing par on the short par-5 16th, Day his a great tee shot to the 225-yard 17th, sinking the 12-foot putt for birdie. Day needed a par at the water-guarded finishing hole to lock up the title. Perhaps trying to play safe, Day pulled his approach shot into the back-left greenside bunker, leaving a ticklish escape of some 30 yards. He played it perfectly, leaving a 4-footer for par that won the tournament.

Henrik Stenson and Troy Merritt finished tied for third at 14 under par. Zach Johnson was fifth at 12 under.

For Day, this is the culmination of work to get back into last year's form after taking an extended break in the fall and early winter so he could recharge the batteries and spend time with his family, including his second child born in November. He's found his way to a PGA Tour victory at just the right time, with Masters Sunday only three weeks away. 


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Clarke prepared to test friendships with Ryder Cup picks

Darren Clarke knows some of his European Tour friends might hold a grudge against him this fall.

Clarke, the 2016 European Ryder Cup captain, will have the difficult task of hand-picking three players to round out the 12-player squad that will look to win for a ninth time in the last 11 biennial matches against the United States at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

He has already suggested the likes of Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, long-time veterans of the Ryder Cup and friends of Clarke's, could be wild-card picks. However, that doesn't mean they're mortal locks. 

"The wildcards could be difficult decisions," Clarke told the Daily Mail. "The phone calls to the guys that don’t make the team — especially if I am very close to them — that will be very difficult. But that’s what I have to do. That’s part of the job. It’s part of the remit. But to have to do that, I have no issue with that at all. It wouldn’t cost me a thought.

"It could cost me friendships. That may well be the case. But I have to do what I have to do for the betterment of the European Tour."

With five American golfers in the world top 10 right now and half of the top 20 playing under the American flag, Clarke knows his team will face a very talented squad. The Ulsterman also knows his team has a spirit that didn't require a task force -- like the PGA of America's Ryder Cup advisory group -- to cultivate. 

"We have that spirit. We don’t need to do anything. We won’t lose that under my captaincy, under the next captain or the next captain. That European team spirit can’t be trained. It is not false. It’s what we have, it’s what we do, it’s what we are. It’s bred into us in the European Tour."


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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Jason Day hangs onto 2-shot lead at rainy Bay Hill

On a stormy morning at Bay Hill, Jason Day kept his Arnold Palmer Invitational outlook sunny.

The Aussie 36-hole leader shot 2-under 70 on a rainy Saturday in Orlando to maintain a two-shot lead heading into the final round. At 15-under 201, Day leads three players tied for second, including Henrik Stenson, Kevin Chappell and Troy Merritt.

For Day, he's happy with a 70 that could have been considerably worse.

"I felt like I couldn't get any momentum, especially with the umbrella up and down, the rain gear on and off," Day said. "All that said, I feel like I stayed patient to ground out a 2-under par."

After an opening par, Day bogeyed the lengthy par-3 second before ripping off three birdies to turn in 2 under par. From the middle of the fairway at the par-4 11th, however, Day found the water hazard guarding the left, leading to his only back-nine bogey. He made easy work of the short par-5 16th for birdie. The story throughout the round, however, was safely two-putting for pars from 25 and 30 feet.

For Stenson, his momentum was stymied three times by plugged lies in bunkers, two of them leading to bogeys. Nonetheless, he shot 70 to keep pace with Day.

"It's definitely a case of staying out of the sand," Stenson said.

The field played in split-tee threesomes early on Saturday to avoid stormy weather. However, on Sunday, it's back to pairings off the first tee. Day goes off in the last group with Troy Merritt, the 2015 Quicken Loans National winner who, with 67, was first in the house at 13 under par.

Justin Rose and Derek Fathauer are tied for fifth, four back of Day.

Adam Scott found the water hazard at the par-4 18th with his approach, leading to a triple-bogey 7 that leaves him nine behind his fellow countryman.

Rory McIlroy continues to struggle this week, shooting a second 75 of the tournament, complete with three double bogeys.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Author Claudia Mazzucco on golf's legendary lessons

Friday, March 18, 2016

Jose Maria Olazabal to miss the Masters citing health concerns

Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal will not compete at Augusta National next month, citing health concerns.

The 50-year-old Spaniard, who won green jackets in 1994 and '99, did not disclose what ails him.

“I am sorry to announce that I’m unable to attend this year as I’m not feeling well,” said the former European Ryder Cup captain. “The Masters is very special to me and walking up Magnolia Lane gives me a peace of mind like nowhere else. I have wonderful memories since my first time at Augusta in 1985 as an amateur, not just of the two wins but from the great experiences that make it a unique event.”

This will mark just the third time in Olazabal's career that he has missed the Masters. However, Olazabal has not played competitively since the second round of last year's Masters. It is said Olazabal is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, according to Golf Digest.

While Olazabal hasn't been able to play competitively, his condition has improved. He's now able to hit golf balls on the practice range and work on his putting.

“I’m feeling better,” he said. “I have regular tests and they show improvement, which is a good sign. But the main thing is to get rid of pain. It’s a slow process and I have to be patient.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Author Claudia Mazzucco on golf's legendary lessons

Jason Day shoots 65, opens up big lead at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Jason Day is on fire at Bay Hill.

The world No. 3 backed up an opening 6-under 66 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a Friday 65 that has him well in command.

Day went bogey-free on Friday, a day after blitzing Bay Hill's back nine in 31 strokes to jump into a one-shot lead over five players. He capped off his round with a 35-foot birdie on his final hole, the par-4 ninth, which he double-bogeyed on Thursday.

At 13-under 131, Day is certainly in position for his best-ever finish in this event. Then again, in five prior appearances, Day's best effort was a T-17.

If Day continues at this torid pace, then the tournament scoring record should be in Day's sights. In 1973, Buddy Allin won this event at 23-under 265 by eight shots over Charles Coody.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Author Claudia Mazzucco on golf's legendary lessons

Rory McIlroy shoots 67 at Bay Hill to easily make the cut

Rory McIlroy has righted the H.M.S. Ulsterman.

After opening with 3-over 75 with a case of the Lefts on Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy improved by eight shots on Friday with a 5-under 67 that has him easily moving on to the weekend at Bay Hill.

The down side for McIlroy is that he still lost two more shots to Jason Day, who, at 13-under 131, is 11 shots of the world No. 2.

"I saw him ahead of me and I got to maybe 8 behind at one point,'' McIlroy said. "And I was thinking if maybe I could get to 6 behind for the weekend ... and then I'm 11 behind. Maybe I can make up a little ground. But 67 was a great start today. It could have been better. If I can go out at the weekend and shoot a couple of scores similar to that, it might not be good enough, but it'll still be a good comeback from what [I shot] yesterday.''

McIlroy started the tournament by pulling his first tee shot onto the driving range, leading to a double-bogey 6. He made another double bogey later in the round and found three different water hazards. The poor performance sent McIlroy to the range post-round for an hour to work out the kinks.

"The shots I was hitting [during the round] I hadn't seen in a long time,'' said McIlroy. "I wanted to know whether it was my swing or what it was. I sort of figured out that my face angle was a little left at impact. I'd been trying to move the ball up a little bit in my stance with the driver. The face was closing a little bit and even if you're swing it well with the face closed, at [that] speed, there is no way it is going to come back. That's where the lefts were coming from.''

The performance was particularly surprising considering how well he prepared in the intervening week between Doral, where he finished third, and Bay Hill.

"You should have seen the practice sessions I had in Palm Beach last week,'' he said. "I was coming here full of confidence and really hitting it well."

With Day so far ahead of him, McIlroy's weekend mission is to build back where he was leading into this week. He'll defend the first of two PGA Tour titles won last year in Austin, Texas, next week at the WGC-Dell Match Play. Then he'll get his second crack to try to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Author Claudia Mazzucco on golf's legendary lessons

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jason Day takes one-shot lead after Day 1 at Bay Hill

Jason Day looked on Thursday like the guy who rose to No. 1 in the world last summer.

Day finished strong at Bay Hill, including one-putting the final seven holes, to shoot 6-under 66 and take a one-shot lead after Round 1 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. 

After the Aussie turned in 1-under 35 following a disappointing double-bogey 6 at the water-less ninth, the reigning PGA champion played a perfect second side. He made mince meat of the par-5 12th, treating it like a par 4. His approach to the 13th was inside a yard. On the next hole, he nearly made a 96-foot putt for birdie. Following a mid-range birdie at the 15th, Day took advantage of the short par-5 16th, hitting his second shot to 10 feet and making the eagle bid.

The 66 ties Day's best round of the year with the second round at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. More importantly, it's the first time this season that Day has opened in the 60s. 

However, Day had reason not to worry. He took extended time off after last year's FedEx Cup to be with wife Ellie as she delivered the couple's second child in November. So far in 2016, Day has played just four times. He knew he would eventually get where he wanted with his game.

''There was no sense of urgency at all for me, really,'' Day said. ''I just kept on saying, `Just make sure you stay patient and things will happen, it will happen.' I just got to make sure I get the reps under my belt and hope it will work. This is one good round, one good round in the right direction. ... So that helps.''

Day has plenty of world-class pursuers close to him, including Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott, part of a five-way tie for second place. The world No. 3 hopes this opener is a sign of things to come this week.

"It's good to shoot the score that I did today because it does a lot for my confidence, and I'm just hoping that I can keep it going for the next three days after this.''


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Author Claudia Mazzucco on golf's legendary lessons

Se Ri Pak to retire at the end of 2016 season

Se Ri Pak is hanging up the cleats.

The 38-year-old South Korean announced Thursday at the JTBC Founders Cup that this will be her final competitive season. 

“Basically, 2016 will be my last full-time season,”Pak said after opening with a 3-under 69 at Wildfire Golf Club in Arizona. “I know I love to play golf but it is also my dream to help others.” 

It's unclear how many more events Pak will play this year. In 2015, Pak dealt with a shoulder injury that limited her schedule to eight events. She didn't play after June. This is her first LPGA event in nine months.

Pak said she'll return to her home country with the intention of helping young girls realize the same dreams she accomplished on the LPGA. However, whatever Pak does from here is icing on the cake. She changed the trajectory of the sport forever when, as a 20-year-old, she won two majors in the 1998 season.

Her triumphs, first at the McDonald's LPGA Championship and then in a 20-hole playoff against Jenny Chuasiriporn at the U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run, inspired a generation of Korean golfers -- women especially -- to develop their skills and bring them to the LPGA. When Pak was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007, 45 Korean-born players were on the LPGA.

In total, Pak has 25 LPGA wins, a record for Korean-born players, and five majors, a mark only surpassed by 27-year-old Inbee Park, who now has seven major titles.

Though Pak wouldn't learn it until years later, she is partially responsible for the world-class player Park is now. Park was convinced to become a pro golfer when she was Pak's '98 Women's Open win.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Author Claudia Mazzucco on golf's legendary lessons

Rory McIlroy opens with 75 at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Rory McIlroy struggled in his opening round on Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. From struggling with pulling his driver to finding a trio of water hazards, McIlroy was kind of lucky to walk away with 3-over 75 that has him nine shots behind leader Jason Day.

It all started when McIlroy made a double-bogey 6 on the opening hole when he pulled his drive onto the driving range at Bay Hill. Two holes later, McIlroy tugged his tee shot at the par-4 third into the water but did well after his drop to get up-and-down for par. And it just kept going like that.

After a day of seeing drive after drive hug the left side of the course, McIlroy declared he had a case of the Lefts.

"It's funny. I started missing it left off the tee, and I haven't been doing that at all over the recent weeks, or even last week in practice, or even in the pro-am yesterday," he said. "I hadn't really been missing anything left. [When I] missed one left like that at the start, I thought it was just a bad swing, so I didn't think anything of it. And then I hit one left on three, hit one left on four, missed a few left."

On the eighth hole, it wasn't a tug that got McIlroy into trouble. Rather, he left his second shot 15 yards short of his uphill target, ending up in a water hazard. He made a second double bogey on the side.

Eight holes later, McIlroy found the water for a third time with his second shot from a hanging lie to the par-5 16th. 

"I haven't hit a shot like that in a long time," McIlroy added.

Again, however, he got up-and-down from 77 yards for a par save.

The 75 ties McIlroy's high PGA Tour round of the young season, matching the final-round score he shot at Riviera to fall out of contention at the Northern Trust Open. It's also the sixth time in his last eight PGA Tour rounds that McIlroy has shot in the 70s, including in the first round of each of his last three events.

At The Honda Classic, McIlroy missed the cut after backing up an opening 72 with another.

At Doral, McIlroy turned around a Thursday 71 with a hot putter to shoot a Friday 65. He finished third when he played conservatively in the final round.

If McIlroy is to make the weekend -- and he sits T-107 in a 120-player field -- he'll have turn on the aggressiveness and leave the Lefts on the range.

"It probably could have been a few worse," McIlroy said. "So, to end up shooting this, if I get some good work done on the range tonight, and come back and play a good round of golf tomorrow, and get myself into the low, red numbers, at least I'll be here for the weekend, and I can maybe make a charge."


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Author Claudia Mazzucco on golf's legendary lessons

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