It's Rose by three over Senden at the turn

Writing from Lemont, Illinois
Sunday, September 18, 2011

On a day rather inhospitable for golf viewing, fans have turned out in reasonably large numbers for the final day of the 108th Western Open, a.k.a. the BMW Championship, at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club.

For eight holes, they saw a wet parade. Justin Rose led by as many as five strokes, including through the par-5 eighth, until he bogeyed the par-5 ninth and John Senden, playing with him, birdied the hole in a brief downpour amidst a misty day.

Rose is 13-under at the turn, Senden 10-under, with Geoff Ogilvy 9-under through 10 holes. The only player making a move, Camilo Villegas, is 6-under today and 7-under overall with a hole to play.

Since 1958, the leader in the Western / BMW at the turn has gone on to win 64 percent of the time. It’s happened 14 of 18 times when the lead was three or more strokes.

A complete report when at the conclusion of play. Updates when warranted.

– Tim Cronin

Rose by four entering final round at Cog

Writing from Lemont, Illinois
Saturday, September 17, 2011

Last week, Justin Rose and his boyhood pals played four exclusive clubs on Long Island in what he calls the JR Challenge.

Saddled with, as he called it, “a plus-7 handicap and a little bit hung over,” he finished second in the soiree, which took them to Sebonac, National Golf Links of America, the Garden City Men’s Club and Friar’s Head.

This week, he leads by four strokes through three rounds on Cog Hill Golf & Country Club’s stout Dubsdread course. Open to the public, Cog is a people’s country club, without the cachet or stuffiness of the quartet of elite places Rose and his pals slummed at last week. But Dubs fits the 31-year-old Englishman’s game, because he’s playing intelligent golf. If the tournament doesn't come back here, which is a possibility, it'll be his loss along with greater Chicago's.

“My mindset is to hit an aggressive shot to the middle of the green, rather than steer one away from the flag,” Rose said. “There’s a subtle difference.”

One that allowed him to craft a 2-under-par 69 on Saturday, one of only eight rounds in the 60s in the 108th Western Open, a.k.a. the BMW Championship, on a day when it finally warmed up, but with capricious winds of 15 miles-per-hour and more out of the southeast that made the players think.

Watched by many in the gallery of about 25,000 fans, Rose suffered only one bogey, a miscue on the par-3 12th hole. He followed that with a birdie on a difficult par-4 13th, and also had birds on the fourth and fifth holes. Those allowed him to pull clear of Mark Wilson, who faded into a tie for seventh with a 5-over 77 that, but for an exemption from a penalty, could have been two strokes worse.

At 13-under 200 through three rounds, Rose leads Australian John Senden by four strokes, and Bill Haas and Aussie Geoff Ogilvy by five. Webb Simpson, the second-round co-leader with Rose, is fifth at 7-under 206 after a 2-over 73, with PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley another stroke in arrears.

If the old standard that anyone within five strokes of the leader can challenge holds, then only Senden, Haas and Ogilvy have a shot. Consider Simpson and Bradley long shots, then, if only because once upon a Western Open, Tom Kite came from seven back (in 1986) to win in a playoff, and Macdonald Smith, Tom Watson and Andy Bean were six back with a round to go and won.

Senden, who needs to win to make the International squad for the Presidents Cup, appeared to be shooting himself out of it before he rallied from three bogeys in the first five holes. He birdied four of the last eight for a 1-under 70.

“The wind was blowing,” Senden said. “I just wanted to hang around. I had a couple shots up my sleeve.”

Including a 317-yard drive on the 18th, an approach to eight feet, and a birdie putt on the last, the exclamation point on his 70. That Presidents Cup, which will be played in Australia, appears to be a great motivator.

“To represent the International Team with Greg Norman as the captain, who we idolized as young guys, would be fantastic – and making it to Atlanta would be fabulous.”

Ogilvy is also chasing the Presidents Cup, with even more feeling for it than Senden, because the course is Royal Melbourne.

“It happens to be not only my home golf course, that I grew up right next door to, and I’ve actually got a house that back up onto the course,” Ogilvy said. “It’s a pretty special place.”

He’s 10th in those standings, and projected 26th at the moment in the PGA Tour’s standings. The top 30 advance to next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Haas is chasing a U.S. berth in the Presidents Cup. He’s 12th in the standings, the top 10 get in, and one of the two wild-cards has already been awarded to Tiger Woods.

“I have a chance, anyway,” Haas said of qualifying outright. “There’s a lot of guys outside the number that have had really strong years that could easily get picked ahead of me, and I’m OK with that because American players are playing great and I pull for the team. But today, I never once thought of the Presidents Cup.”

Haas would be the leader entering the final round but for a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 16th hole.

“That stings a bit,” he said of the double, which began with a tee shot into the bunker on the hill to the right, and continued with a half-shank that put him close to the 17th fairway. He took four more to get down, but felt better about himself after a solid save from a greenside bunker on the last. That could be crucial come Sunday.

“It’s just crazy how it can come down to one shot,” Haas said. “One shot last year, I would have been in the Tour Championship.”

Wilson avoided two shots added to his dismal card when it was ruled he incurred no penalty by leaning on his club while recreating his lie in a bunker on the 14th hole after Justin Rose played from inches away. But the 77, one of the day’s five highest scores, threw him eight behind Rose.

“It was one of those days where I was definitely the bug, and the first two days I was the windshield,” Wilson said.

He’ll need to be an Indy car on Sunday to catch Rose.

– Tim Cronin

Wilson unpenalized after bunker ruling

Writing from Lemont, Illinois
Saturday, September 17, 2011

It seemed a natural enough move. Mark Wilson didn’t even know he was leaning on his club while recreating a lie in a bunker on the 14th hole after Justin Rose played a shot.

Except that a player can’t touch the ground in a hazard, sand or otherwise, without incurring a two-stroke penalty virtually all the time.

This was one of those times where he could, because he was replacing his ball.

Whew, Wilson said in a few more words.

“I kind of got lucky in that sense,” Wilson said. “But I didn’t test the ground at all, so I feel like it makes sense. I didn’t gain anything from that. It was just a silly thing. So no penalty, which was good news for me. I wasn’t sure.”

Nor were the PGA Tour officials, including lead rules official Slugger White. They conferred for 45 minutes, talking to both Wilson and rules gurus from the USGA pouring over the fine print in Rule 13.4, before ruling Wilson’s 77 didn’t turn into a 79.

“It was an interference thing where he marked his ball for another player,” White said. “In replacing it, he touched the sand with his club. (There’s no penalty) provided nothing constitutes testing the condition of the hazard, and he did not do that, so we were very comfortable with that.

“The biggest thing was we wanted to make sure we were doing it right.”

Wilson saw the mark his club made, and so had the possibility of a penalty hanging over his head for the last four holes. He played them in 3-over, including a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 15th.

“I got fooled by the wind on the 15th, and then I couldn’t get any putts to drop,” Wilson said. “They’ve got to go tomorrow. Law of averages.”

Scores go soaring

A little wind and a little warmth, thanks to copious amounts of sunshine, brought higher scores on Saturday. The field averaged 72.768 strokes, almost three strokes higher than Friday.

Some of that can be attributed to more exacting pin placements, but the weather had plenty to do with it. That southeast wind at 15 miles-per-hour was pesky.

Whereas 75 was Friday’s highest score, Scott Piercy posted a 9-over-par 80 on Saturday, 12 strokes higher than his Friday venture. George McNeil registered a 79, Matt Kuchar and Roty Sabbitini 78s, and Blake Adams and Tommy Gainey 77s.

Around Dubsdread

Luke Donald’s 4-under 67 doesn’t mean he’s won over on Dubsdread. After the round, he said, “I’ve had a lot of 25th, 30th place finishes on this course and hopefully it’s the last time I’ll have to play it. I think there are better places, better courses that better suit me.” ... Speaking of Rees Jones fans, Phil Mickelson keeps catching it from the gallery, many of which play Cog Hill on a regular basis. He heard catcalls at the 17th green Saturday. ... Sunday’s tee times are the standard weekend twosomes, with Justin Rose and John Senden the last pair, at 12:40 p.m. Other attractive pairs: Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald (12:10 p.m.), Mark Wilson and Martin Laird (11:50 a.m.), and Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar (9:30 a.m,). Phil Mickelson is joined on the first tee by Brian Davis at 9:12 a.m., while defending champion Dustin Johnson starts with George McNeill at 7:51 a.m. Brendan Steele is all by himself at 7:25 a.m. thanks to Friday night’s withdrawal of Steve Stricker.

– Tim Cronin

Others wilt as Rose blooms

Writing from Lemont, Illinois
Saturday, September 17, 2011

Justin Rose is 12-under, a stroke better than he started, through 12 holes on Cog Hill's Dubsdread course.

The challengers aren't really challenging. Aside from Bill Haas, 9-under overall through 13 holes (and 3-under Saturday), nobody's making a move. Mark Wilson's dropped two strokes and stands 9-under after 13 holes, while Webb Simpson's 9-under through 12.

The weather is perfect, galleries are fuller, and the sun is shining. Aside from Luke Donald, who took another verbal jab at the Dubsdread layout after his 4-under 67, everyone seems to be happy.

Updates when needed, and a full report after the round.

– Tim Cronin

Wilson joins Rose as co-leader through 36 at Cog

Writing from Lemont, Illinois
Friday, September 16, 2011

A hometown hero, albeit adopted, and a lad from across the pond are the co-leaders halfway through the 108th Western Open.

One of the two may come away with the $1.44 million first price supplied by title sponsor BMW, the German automaker whose largess has helped fill the pockets of the pros for five years now. Or perhaps not, though through 36 holes, the scores posted by Mark Wilson – the Elmhurst resident, via Wisconsin – and Justin Rose – England’s very own – are extremely impressive.

On a soft day for scoring, Wilson tacked a 6-under-par 66 to his opening 65 and stands at 11-under 131, a record for the first two rounds on Cog Hill Golf & Country Club’s sturdy Dubsdread course. Rose added a 3-under 68 to his opening 63 for his 131. Either way, way to go. The previous best in the opening 36 on Dubs was Daniel Chopra’s 132 in 2006. The 131s also matched the overall Western / BMW mark set by Camilo Villegas at Bellerive three years ago.

Scarily, Wilson didn’t think he expended much effort to get there.

“Everything came pretty easily,” he said. “I feel at peace out there.”

And at home.

“I probably have played here 100 times,” Wilson said. “I don’t think I’ve played it a ton, but I don’t have to look at the yardage book a lot. Six rounds each year at the tournament, plus practice rounds. And the people I know here by name, there are about 100, and others saying ‘Go Elmhurst.’ ”

All that added up to amazingly good vibes for Wilson, who opened with a bogey and then went on a tear, especially through the soft middle of Dubs, where there are birdies to be had. He found four in a row beginning on the eighth hole.

“When I bogeyed the first, the first thing that came into my mind is two years ago, I played with Tiger (Woods) when he shot 62, opening with a bogey.”

Wilson’s 65 shoulda, woulda, coulda been a 64. How he missed the three-footer on the 16th hole after a splendid approach from 160 yards, he had no clue.

“I probably already counted it,” he said. “I was in shock when it missed the hole.”

He didn’t just walk up and swipe at it, either. Then again, two holes earlier, he made an all-universe save on the par-3 14th, floating a flip wedge to five feet from a dodgy lie 30 yards out, and making the putt.

“One of my all-time best,” Wilson said.

Rose’s tour of the grounds was equally lively, including an eagle on the par-5 15th. That jumped him to 11-under, and for a few minutes a stroke ahead of Wilson. A big drive and a 214-yard 3-iron to 32 feet set up the putt that elicited a roar from those in the gallery of about 20,000.

“That eagle was very timely,” Rose said. “Leading up to that I’d had chances on 10, hit a great drive at all, got a little lucky with the tee shot on 12 (landing it to the left of a pin tucked left), bogeyed 13, and had a good chance at 14. I was hoping for something to happen. I’d gone a little flat.”

Interestingly, Rose also credited a previous round with Woods on Dubsdread for imprinting a positive mindset in him. It was the final round in 2007, the fourth of Woods’ five victories on Dubsdread.

“We were both sort of 4-under through seven or eight holes, going along really nicely,” Rose recalled. “I shot 68. He was very jovial to start with, and the way he closed it out (with a 63) was a huge learning curve. He got more and more focused, more tunnel vision as the round went on. Funnily, I thought about that today on the 13th tee.”

More funnily, Rose bogeyed the 13th, as well as the 18th, but the eagle-birdie combo on the 15th and 16th brought him in as the co-leader.

The duo stands two strokes clear of third-place Webb Simpson, whose 68 places him at 9-under 133 after two rounds. The steadiest of the leaders, he’s made one bogey, on the par-4 fifth on Friday, in 36 holes.

Australian John Senden is fourth, at 8-under 134, needing a big finish to both make it to next week’s Tour Championship via the PGA Tour’s playoff point system, and a victory to qualify for the International squad for next month’s President’s Cup, which will be held at Royal Melbourne – the original Down Under, not the version in Long Grove.

And lurking tied for fifth at 6-under 136? Bill Haas, whose family has Illinois roots, and Robert Allenby, who won the Western in a sudden-death playoff in 2000.

It’s Allenby whom the rest of the leaders should be worried about. He’s in the best position of the five Western Open winners in the field – it was six until Steve Stricker withdrew after the second round, citing neck pain – and posted one of only two bogey-free rounds on Friday. Brandt Jobe, with a quiet 7-under 64 after an opening 75, had the other, and played with Allenby while doing so.

On a day for scoring – the average of 69.800 was the seventh lowest in a Western since 1940, and the second-lowest second round since then, with only the 69.250 registered at Bellerive in 2008 lower – the top 11 players all scored in the 60s. The high score, 4-over 75, was posted by four players, including Brendan Steele, dead last in 69th place thanks to his opening 78.

At 11-over 153, Steele is a light-year away from Wilson and Rose, but a low score doesn’t mean a late tee-time on Saturday. A two-tee start is necessary thanks to NBC’s screening the Michigan State-Notre Dame football game at 2:30 p.m. That means Wilson, Rose and Simpson will commence firing at 9:15 a.m. on the first tee. Steele and Tommy Gainey will do so from the 10th tee at the same hour.

– Tim Cronin