Monday
Jul172017

Farnsworth, Tsui open IWO with 67s

Writing from Romeoville, Illinois

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open is a reunion of current and recent college players. And many of them congregate at the top of the leader board.

That includes co-leaders Alexandra Farnsworth of Nashville, who will be a senior at Vanderbilt in the fall, and Vivian Tsui of Markham, Ont., a graduate of North Carolina State chasing her third victory as a professional.

They scored 5-under-par 67 at Mistwood Golf Club on Monday, the leaders of a charge into red numbers that, if the calm conditions hold, could see record scores by the conclusion of play on Wednesday.

Farnsworth compared Mistwood’s look and conditioning to golf in Ireland, which should be music to the ears of owner Jim McWethy and architect Ray Hearn.

“My team took a trip to Ireland two years ago, and it feels exactly like that, without the wind,” said Farnsworth, a top-20 finisher in this year’s Southeastern Conference championship.

Farnsworth erased two bogeys from her card with five birdies and an eagle, that on the par-5 15th, a dogleg across the pond in the middle of Kelpie’s Corner. Driver and 6-iron on the hole, playing 430 yards in the first round, set up an 18-foot putt.

“I was hitting it great with my driver and really didn’t make any major mistakes all day,” Farnsworth said. “I’m happy. There’s a lot of strategy holes out here, like the 16th from the forward tee. I hit a 5-wood off the tee.”

That was one of her five birdies.

Tsui, finishing two hours later, scattered six birdies over card.

“The course really fit my eye,” Tsui said. “I feel comfortable here. That’s the main thing, coming to a golf course.”

She felt really comfy after opening with a birdie, and was 3-under after 10 holes. The only bogey of the day came on the 11th, but a binge of three birds in the next four holes moved her to a share of the lead with Farnsworth.

Tsui won a pro-am in Sydney, Australia in 2015, and the Canadian Women’s PGA last year. A victory at Mistwood would be her third in as many years for a player seeking playing status on the Symetra Tour.

“It’s tough, and I knew that going into this journey, but it’s all part of the process,” Tsui said. “There’s a lot of highs and lows, but shooting 67 today, that’s kind of the dream. Seeing those scores come is reinforcement that my hard work is paying off.”

Fledgling pro Jessica Porvasnik of Highland, Ohio recently graduated from Ohio State, and more recently won the Ohio Women’s Open, is one back at 4-under 68. Like Tsui, she’s seeking a path to the LPGA.

“I’ve had a couple of weeks off, just practicing,” Porvasnik said. “And I started off not so smart, hitting the water on No. 3. But I recovered for par. I’m just hoping to keep it in the ball park.”

Jessica Reinecke of Verona, Wis., a junior at Wisconsin, birdied three of her first five holes, and said she “tried real hard to stay patient” en route to a 3-under 69. Her only bogey was on the par-3 17th.

Ten players broke par and another pair were at par 72.

Defending champion Stephanie Miller opened with a 5-over 77.

“I’m not too happy,” Miller said. “It wasn’t all there. Didn’t make a lot of putts, lipped out a lot of putts.”

Tim Cronin

Sunday
Jul162017

DeChambeau concocts a victory

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Sunday, July 16, 2017

This one was for the golf nerds.

You know them. The guys who futz and fiddle in their basement, working on their grips, bending the shaft of their putter, testing every combination of swing weight in their $600 drivers they can think of.

You may be one of them.

Bryson DeChambeau is a golf nerd squared. He thinks in four dimensions when there are only three. He wears a Hogan cap when he might well wear a wizard’s hat decorated with stars and half-moons instead. If he designed courses, he would be Pete Dye.

Attention was paid, eyebrows were raised and his logic was questioned during his college and amateur career, when he debuted a set of irons all cut at 7-iron length. Like those who looked at the contraption of Orville and Wilbur Wright and said, “Boys, it’ll never fly,” DeChambeau was dismissed as a gadfly with a nutty idea.

In 2015, he won the NCAA Championship representing Southern Methodist, and the U.S. Amateur, the latter at Olympia Fields, with those same-length irons.

Earlier this season, futzing and fiddling with his swing, he missed eight straight cuts, the last at the U.S. Open, a 74-76 showing at Erin Hills.

After all the surety, there were doubts.

“Yeah, absolutely,” DeChambeau said. “It was more trial and error, right? I’m going to test this and see if it works. It was going more into a longer swing, trying to hit it harder and farther and maybe I could time it out, and it just didn’t work for me.”

So, it was back to square one.

“So I finally backed off that about four weeks ago and said, ‘Look, just go back to what you were doing in college. You did pretty well. Let’s see where it goes from there. Maybe I can understand a little bit more of what I was doing and why I played so well because of it.

“I gained immediate confidence back.”

With confidence came instant improvement. He tied for 26th in Hartford, 17th at Avenel, 14th at the Greenbrier, and alternately contended and lurked for the first three days of the 47th John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.

Sunday, with a barrage of seven birdies in the last 11 holes, he overhauled leader Patrick Rodgers on the final holes and scored his first victory on the PGA Tour. DeChambeau’s 6-under-par 65 for 18-under 266 beat Rodgers by a stroke and Wesley Bryan and Rick Lamb by two.

No more doubts.

“Feels like a long time coming, even though I’m 23,” DeChambeau said. “It’s pretty special to win here at the John Deere.”

There were multiple reasons why beyond proving some detractors – including Nick Faldo – wrong. He’d been given a sponsor’s exemption to the Deere two years ago. And, he found out during the trophy ceremony, fellow SMU standout Payne Stewart’s first Tour win was at the Deere – when he debuted his plus-four look.

“That broke me,” DeChambeau said. He cupped his face in his hands, crying, when Deer chairman Sam Allen mentioned that Stewart, whom DeChambeau watched as a little kid, broke through at Oakwood Country Club in 1982.

He broke Rodgers at the end of the round almost without breaking a sweat.

DeChambeau was four strokes behind at daybreak, and dropped a stroke when he bogeyed the par 4 fourth. But his birdie binge began at the eighth with an 11-footer, and it never really stopped. And it needed to keep going. That bird moved him to 12-under, and he was still out of the top 10.

Birdies on the 10th and 11th opened the back nine properly, and at 14-under, he was in the neighborhood. So was a third of the field, with 26 players within three strokes when CBS hit the air at 2 p.m. At one point, after 50-year-old Steve Stricker completed an attack with 14 birdies in his last 30 holes and a final round 64 to jump to 15-under 269, he was tied for the lead with Rodgers, Wesley Bryan, Steve Stallings and Daniel Berger.

Stricker would eventually finish fifth. But DeChambeau kept coming, sinking a 10-footer for birdie on the 13th and a kick-in bird on the 14th. At that point, he was 14-under, but 14-under does not win the John Deere Classic. But 16-under can, and birdies on the last two holes got him there.

His hybrid from a downhill-sidehill lie from 259 yards out on the par-5 17th set up a two-putt birdie from 40 feet, but it wasn’t easy.

“Oh my!” DeChambeau smiled. “That first little putt, if you hit it three feet by, is off the green. I was a little tedious with it and left it three feet short.”

His four-footer hit the center of the cup.

“Sweet, huge,” he said.

His approach to the 18th was similarly stout, a 7-iron right over the flag to 14 feet behind the hole, which was cut in the traditional back-right spot, the pond looming as danger.

“I wasn’t trying to, either,” he said of attacking the pin. “I was able to take pretty aggressive line, but knew if I pulled it a little bit it wouldn’t go in the water because of the wind. So I pulled it just a little bit, pulled it enough to get close.”

And sank it, tying Rodgers, to a roar from the gallery, which might have numbered 19,000. Many were following Rodgers at the point, and, thanks to a misadventure on the 17th, he would soon be following DeChambeau.

Rodgers pulled his tee shot into the trees on the left, chipped out because he was stymied by a tree, hit the front of the green with his third but found the front bunker between his ball and the cup, and had to chip from one point of the green to the other. He lipped out the eight-footer for par and dropped to 17-under.

“I felt like I hit an OK putt,” Rodgers said. “I don’t really have a ton of regrets. I’m proud of myself for staying aggressive all day.”

At it turned out, Rodgers bogeyed the 14th and 17th holes – the 16th and 11th easiest on Sunday, respectively – and that was the difference. Pars on both, he wins. Par on either of the two, he’s in a playoff, even though DeChambeau birdied both.

“I didn’t make many bogeys this week, so to have two of them on some simple holes probably cost me the golf tournament,” Rodgers said.

He made seven bogeys in four rounds. DeChambeau made six.

Call it the revenge of the golf nerd.

Around Deere Run

The 64s of Stricker, Bryan and Morgan Hoffmann were the best rounds of the day. ... Local favorite Zach Johnson threatened but a bogey on the 15th left him at 67 and 269. ... DeChambeau’s score of 266 is the highest winning total since 2008, when Kenny Perry won a three-man playoff after scoring 16-under 268. ... DeChambeau won $1,008,000 from the purse of $5,600,000. ... Stanford’s Maverick McNealy won the low amateur title, scoring 9-under 275 to beat Illinois’ Nick Hardy by two strokes. ... The final round scoring average of 69.411 strokes was the lowest since 2013, while the four-round average of 69.753 was a hair higher than last year’s 69.743. ... There were only 14 rounds over par from the field of 73, including dew-sweeper Michael Kim, who played as a single and sped around in three hours. ... Nineteen players, the last being DeChambeau, took the Deere’s special nonstop charter to the Open Championship.

Tim Cronin

Saturday
Jul152017

Rodgers takes lead into final round

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Some 25 years ago, responding to Pat Summerall in the CBS Sports booth, Ken Venturi nicknamed the third round of a golf tournament Moving Day.

“Pat, you either move forward or you move back,” Venturi said on countless Saturdays.

On this Saturday, Daniel Berger, Scott Stallings and Rick Lamb moved forward at TPC Deere Run more forcefully than anyone else. But Patrick Rodgers stayed in front, his 3-under-par 68 for 16-under 197 placing him two strokes ahead of Berger and Stallings entering Sunday’s final round.

Next to nobody moved back. This is the John Deere Classic, after all, where birdies are the fuel for the record numbers the tournament-connected charity operation raises. It raised over $10.5 million last year and was named the PGA Tour’s tournament of the year.

Because it is, because TPC Deere Run yields low scores with panache – Saturday’s scoring average of 68.185 was the lowest for Round 3 since the Deere moved from Oakwood Country Club in 2000 – because the early-week rain and Friday’s cool weather has kept the fairways soft, look for another truckload of low scores in the final round.

That will be fine with Rodgers, who won 11 times in college at Stanford and grabbed a title on the Web.com circuit, but has yet to hoist a trophy on the PGA Tour.

“I hope I get everybody’s best golf tomorrow and I hope I play just a little bit better,” said Rodgers, who will have an eagle eye on the leader boards dotting the course.

“Probably the most comfortable I feel any time on Tour is up here at the top of the leader board,” he added. “I had a lot of experience winning in college and amateur golf, and I expected to come out here and win right away. Probably my biggest frustrations as a pro have been not getting it done yet. Part of the frustration so far has been not having as many chances as I would like.”

Two untidy bogeys prevented an even better round, but Rodgers’ advantage was never really threatened. Local hero Zach Johnson and physics whiz Bryson DeChambeau, his playing partners for the day, each scored 1-under 70, failing to put runs together despite flashes of brilliance, such as Johnson’s chip-in eagle 2 at the par-4 14th.

While many in the gallery of about 18,000 followed that trio, the sustained pushes came from farther back. Berger was tied for 21st and seven strokes in arrears at the start of the round and scored 8-under 63 to climb to 14-under 199. Stallings was six back in a deadlock for 11th and fired a 64 to match Berger, two back of Rodgers.

“As long as I can keep doing the same things that I’ve been doing, I’ll have a shot,” Berger said. “I just tried to give myself as many chances as I could. With the soft conditions, you can attack the flags.”

Berger, with brilliant approach irons, birdied seven of the first 11 holes to rocket to 13-under, on the heels of Rodgers. He bogeyed the par-4 13th, but birdied the 14th – driving into a greenside bunker and getting up and down for a 3 – and 17th coming in to land at 14-under. His longest made putt was 12 feet, and the second longest was 9 foot-1. Eight made putts were from gimme range. Given that and his outlook, two strokes back is nothing.

“I’ve been nine shots back and lost in the playoff,” Berger said, recalling the 2015 Honda Classic, where Padraig Harrington triumphed. “I think as long as I’m standing, I’m going to have a shot.”

Stallings asserted himself with a back-nine 30 that included an eagle on the par-5 17th set up by an approach to 21 feet. The putt toppled in with its last erg of energy.

“I thought I left it short, to be honest,” Stallings said.

That followed four birdies earlier on the inward half. Unlike Rodgers, three-time Tour winner Stallings won’t be watching the leader boards.

“I could care less about that,” Stallings said. “I couldn’t even tell you some of the other guys on the leader board. “

Using the adage that anyone within five strokes of the leader can win, there are 17 players with a Sunday shot, including the 10 players tied for eighth at 11-under 202, a group including 2010 winner Johnson and lefty Rick Lamb, whose 8-under 63, featuring an opening 30 on Deere Run’s back nine, might have been even lower.

“You don’t really think about it, you just kind of keep going,” said Lamb, who was 4-under after five holes, 6-under after eight, and 9-under after 13. He bogeyed the par-4 ninth, his last hole, to settle for 63.

Johnson would have loved any number starting with a 6, but was saddled with a 70 via sloppy shotmaking.

“Just lazy, lazy swings, which is unfortunate,” Johnson said. “Im going to try to birdie them all tomorrow. See how that goes.”

Nicholas Lindholm is the forgotten man in fourth place at 13-under 200 after a 5-under 66, while DeChambeau, Jamie Lovemark and J.J. Henry are tied for fifth at 201.

Around Deere Run

Amateurs Nick Hardy and Maverick McNealy, grouped with Richy Werenski, each scored 2-under 69, are at 7-under 206, and are paired together again Sunday (9:22 a.m.). ... The secondary cut was to the low 70 and ties, so 73 players will play on Sunday off the first tee beginning with Michael Kim at 7:20 a.m. Eight players, including Davis Love III, were trimmed, but still get last-place money. ... Four players lead the birdie brigade with 19 each: Rodgers, Berger, Lovemark and Kevin Tway. ... It would have been nine sitting out the final round but gaining a paycheck, except Robert Garrigus was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard after his round. He’d gone out in 1-under 34, but his third-round score was zapped from the scoring computers after the gaffe, when he signed for a lower score on one hole than he’d made. He’ll get nothing and not like it. ... Kelly Kraft had the shot of the day, a recovery shot from the back walkway of the 18th hole Greenside Club after hooking his tee shot on the par-5 17th well left. He smacked the recovery shot, which had to clear a steel railing, 203 yards and managed to save par.

– Tim Cronin

Friday
Jul142017

Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood: The lead

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Friday, July 14, 2017

Kevin Tway was feeling pretty good about his standing in the John Deere Classic after bagging nine birdies across 10 holes in the second round.

Then the rest of the afternoon wave came through.

It was more like a tsunami.

Tway, even after a career-best 8-under-par 63, is tied for fifth going into the weekend at TPC Deere Run.

That’s how it is in the Deere, where the track meet of birdies begins Thursday morning and never lets up. A daily bushelful of birdies is mandatory to stay among the leaders. Par is rarely a friend. Bogeys are toxic.

Tway birdied seven straight holes, just like daddy Bob Tway once did on the circuit, taking himself from 1-under – which would have missed the cut – to 8-under, and eventually got to the lead at 10-under before a bogey dropped him to 9-under-par 133.

The 63 was the day’s best round, but here in Birdieville, he’s four strokes behind Patrick Rodgers, who made Tway’s binge look like kid stuff. Rodgers sank 146 feet of putts en route to a 7-under 64, including a 51-foot putt on the par-3 seventh and a 27-footer on the par-4 eighth. He also chipped in for birdie on the third hole, a bonus bird that offset his bogey on the ninth, his last hole of the day and only bogey of the week.

Still, at 13-under 129 he’s the leader at the halfway point. Bryson DeChambeau, who added a 65 to a 66 for 11-under 131, is second, with 2010 champion and tournament board member Zach Johnson tied with Charles Howell III for third at 10-under 132.

Then there’s Tway and his pals at 133: Chesson Hadley, Chad Campbell and J.J. Henry.

“I was kind of hoping it would never stop, but it did,” Tway said. “You’ve got to make a lot of birdies around here, so I’ll just keep trying to do that.”

Rodgers is 25 and seems to have been playing in the Deere since he was 12. It’s actually his sixth appearance, with 11 rounds in the 60s out of 16. He tied for 15th as an amateur in 2013, and briefly led on Saturday.

“My dad took a screenshot of the leaderboard, and framed it,” Rodgers recalled.

Pops Rodgers might get a picture of his kid with the trophy on Sunday night. His tee-to-green game is back in shape, he’s been putting like the devil for close to three months, and just enough of a rare cooling north wind on Friday made him take notice.

“I was very much focused on the task at hand,” Rodgers said. “It was breezy enough where you just had to be locked in for every shot. I did a nice job staying present and patient all day.

“It was one of those days where you look up at the leader board and you’re 6-, 7-, 8-under.”

DeChambeau, whose clubs are the same length, went back to the putter he used to win the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields, which explains needing only 26 putts on Friday and 56 in 36 holes.

“It’s just a product of taking out as many variables as possible,” said DeChambeau, who played with Rodgers. “I had great control speed and I got lucky a couple times. Now I feel I’m really turning the right direction, being able to see reads, confirm them, and be able to execute them online.”

Like Rodgers, DeChambeau was previously given a sponsor exemption by tournament director Clair Peterson. He missed the cut in 2015, but learned something.

“You have to have a really good wedge game and understand how to hit shots in the wind, control trajectory, spin rates, everything like that,” DeChambeau said. “That’s what I was able to do beautifully this week – or today.”

Johnson’s quiet 4-under 67 – no birdies on par 5s – on top of his opening 65 kept him in contention at the tournament the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native holds closest to his heart.

“I’m very comfortable,” Johnson said. “I feel my best game is still in front of me. I wish I could have taken more advantage of the par-5s today. It’s not exactly ideal. I think I had three putts inside eight or nine feet that I missed. (But) there are way more positives right now than negatives.”

Around Deere Run

There’s a fight for low amateur, with Maverick McNealy of Stanford and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy of Illinois at 5-under 137. ... The cut fell at 2-under 140, the highest since a similar trim in 2014, and kept 82 players around for the weekend. Among those going home early: Illinois senior-to-be Dylan Meyer (142), D.A. Points (144), defending champion Ryan Moore (145), and local fan favorite Kurt Slattery (147, a 76 following his opening 71). ... Max Homa, who stood 4-under with five holes to play but bogeyed three of his last five holes to finish at 1-under 141, also missed the cut. He’s made the cut once in a dozen tries this season. ... Angel Cabrera became the third player to withdraw, pulling the pin after going out in 5-over 41 on Friday to stand at 7-over after 27 holes. ... Tway’s seven-birdie run was impressive, but the tournament record is eight by Fuzzy Zoeller at Oakwood Country Club in the second round of the 1976 Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open. He finished second. ... The scoring average was 69.771, lowest in the second round since 2013. The day’s 575 birdies pushes the three day total to 1,236, a good start for the tournament’s “Birdies for Charity” initiative.

Tim Cronin

Thursday
Jul132017

Howell, Schneiderjans lead the way at the Deere

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Really, now. The name of this tournament is the John Deere Classic, but considering the health of the leaders, shouldn’t it be sponsored by Palmer Chiropractic, the big school across the river in Davenport?

Charles Howell III is coming off a serious rib injury.

Ollie Schneiderjans was out nine weeks with back trouble.

Each scored 8-under-par 63 at rain-softened TPC Deere Run in Thursday’s fourth round of the 47th Deere, the Quad Cities’ annual festival of golf. Howell set the target score in the morning and Schneiderjans matched it in the afternoon.

They lead local hero Zach Johnson, Rory Sabbatini, Patrick Rodgers and Chad Campbell by two strokes, and a sixsome including perennial Deere contender Daniel Summerhays and quirkmeister Bryson DeChambeau by three.

For Howell and Schneiderjans, it now feels so good.

“With my injury, all I could do was putt,” Howell said of his several weeks of enforced idleness after surgery. “It drove me nuts, just not being able to play golf. But I realized how lucky I am to play golf for a living. I missed competing out here.”

Howell sank 123 feet, 9 inches feet worth of putts en route to his bogey-free 63, with eight birdies. His highlight-reel putt was a 26-footer that curled in on the par-3 seventh.

Impressive though that was, Howell was correct in saying the week was young.

“To contend, you have to putt well for four days,” Howell said.

Schneiderjans’ back tightened up at Colonial thanks to a too-cold hotel room, and he ended up pulling a muscle. That sidelined him post-Memorial to now, but you couldn’t tell it, considering his nine-birdie showing.

“It’s still sort of there,” Schneiderjans said. “It lingered and I tried to play through it. It’s been fine the last three weeks.”

He made 90 feet of putts, including 26-footer for a birdie on the par-3 third – his 12th holes of the day – and finished his round with three birdies in four holes, going 3-3-3-3. And the par was a tap-in.

“I changed a little bit of my (putting) routine midway through the round, made a little adjustment,” Schneiderjans said.

He didn’t divulge the change, but he’d best keep to it. His 5-under 30 on that side matched the low for the day.

Sabbatini, hitting 13 fairways, shot 65 with a double-bogey early in his round, but ran off six birdies on an inward 30.

“I really tried to focus on making sure I was precise with what I was trying to do out there,” Sabbatini said. “I kind of had a little bit of everything going.”

Johnson, the 2012 winner, his all but his last green in regulation to open with 65 for the second straight year, and his 31st round in the 60s in 33 starts.

“With this Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday rain we had, it’s one of those where you feel you have to keep the pedal down,” Johnson said. “I think my irons were the best part of my game today.”

Bubba Watson, who played only nine holes before Thursday, punched out a 2-under 69, including an eagle 3 on the par-5 second. But he was even par after a bogey on 13, rallying by sinking a four-footer for birdie on the 14th and a 12-footer for birdie on the 17th.

He might need a 69 again Friday to make the cut. Five of the last seven years, 4-under 138 has been the number needed to advance to the weekend.

Illini Watch

Amateur Dylan Meyer, who rolled in Sunday to get what he called “the shock and awe out of the way,” looked like a veteran in the first round, scoring 1-under-par 70 to lead the contingent of University of Illinois-connected players past and present. He was 2-under after a birdie on the 13th, but gave one back on the next hole before parring in.

Nick Hardy, Meyer’s roommate at Illinois, scored even-par 71, with five birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey 6 on the 13th, and is tied for 76th.

Among the graduates from Champaign, three-time winner Steve Stricker fired a 2-over-par 73 with one birdie, but at 50, he’s the low senior. D.A. Points has made the cut only once in 11 years, and he’s in line to miss it again without a rally after opening with a 3-over-par 74.

Maverick McNealy of Stanford, the third amateur in the field, opened with a 2-under 69.

Around Deere Run

Defending champion Ryan Moore opened with a 3-over-par 74 and is tied for 129th going into Friday’s play. ... Local hero Kurt Slattery has had an adventure this week, first on Monday by qualifying in Pinnacle Golf Club, where he’s an assistant pro, by eagling the 18th hole from the fairway to make a playoff and then eagling again to grab the fourth spot available in the field. Thursday, he elicited a roar from gallery pals by making a birdie on his sixth hole and was 1-under on his ninth, the par-4 18th. A shanked second after a perfect drive led to a double-bogey. He doubled his next hole as well, but rebounded with four birdies in the next six holes and finished at even-par 71. ... Danny Lee and Carl Pettersson withdrew, Lee after a 74 featuring an inward 4-over 39, Pettersson after an untidy 44 that finished 8-6 on the par-5 17th and par-4 18th. Pettersson had every number on his card from 2 through 8. ... The day’s scoring average was 70.716, the highest for an opening round since 2007 (70.840). Only five holes played under par, with the par-5 second, at 4.465, pulling the round average under par.

Tim Cronin

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