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Bob Sowards leads by one stroke in Event No. 4 of PGA Tournament Series

Bob Sowards
PGA of America
Bob Sowards shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday to take a one shot lead at Event No. 4 of the PGA Tournament Series.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – They say dinner never tastes as delicious when a golfer has a bogey late in his round, even if it’s a great round.

Just ask Bob Sowards and Kirk Hanefeld.

Sowards was 7-under Thursday when he bogeyed the 16th hole, a par-5, no less. Sowards’ 6-under 66 still left him a shot ahead of Kirk Hanefeld – who bogeyed the final hole of his 67 – in Event No. 4 of the PGA Tournament Series at PGA Golf Club.

“If I had bogeyed the second or third hole for my only bogey of the round, it wouldn’t seem so bad,” said Hanefeld, the Director of Instruction at Salem County Club. “Everything else in the round was pretty good. I could have made a couple more birdies, but that’s always the case.”

RELATED: PGA Tournament Series Event No. 4 Leaderboard

Sowards said he was “licking my teeth” when he got to the 16th tee of the Wanamaker Course, thinking about making an eagle. But he pulled his drive into the water and couldn’t save par.

“That’s the easiest hole on the golf course,” Sowards said. “But I also pulled my drive at 18 and had to get up and down for par from 141 yards. That helped me forget a little about the bogey on 16.”

Sowards won Event No. 2 last week and is second on the PGA Tournament Series money list this winter at $6,665. He doesn’t have a chance at winning PGA Professional Player of the Year for the fifth time, so he has a more modest goal this month.

“I’m trying to make enough money so my wife and I can re-do our basement,” said Sowards, a PGA Teaching Professional at Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio.

The winner receives $5,000. Rod Perry, who leads the PGA Tournament Series money list with $7,550, is tied for 22nd after a 72. There are two more events next week.

The 48-year-old Sowards has hired a fitness instructor to help him try and qualify for the PGA Tour Champions in 1½ years. Hanefeld, 60, played 69 events in the 50-and-older circuit, earning $785,182.

They won’t do much talking during Friday’s final round – Sowards doesn’t say much when competing – but Hanefeld says he has some advice for Sowards.

“He better play his butt off because there are only five spots in the world available on the Champions Tour,” Hanefeld said. “Bob is fortunate in that while he’s not as young as some of the guys out here, he still hits the ball as far as most of the young guys. Guys like me have to find a different way to do it.”

Five players are tied for third place at 68: Zac Oakley of Palm City, Fla., Anthony Aruta of Staten Island, N.Y., Josh Bevell of Nashville, Tenn., Rick Schuller of Chester, Va., and Nicholas Latimer-Zabor of Cleveland. Ohio.

The PGA Tournament Series is presented by Golf Advisor.

By
Craig Dolch

Series: PGA

Published: Thursday, December 08, 2016 | 4:41 p.m.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – They say dinner never tastes as delicious when a golfer has a bogey late in his round, even if it’s a great round.

Just ask Bob Sowards and Kirk Hanefeld.

Sowards was 7-under Thursday when he bogeyed the 16th hole, a par-5, no less. Sowards’ 6-under 66 still left him a shot ahead of Kirk Hanefeld – who bogeyed the final hole of his 67 – in Event No. 4 of the PGA Tournament Series at PGA Golf Club.

“If I had bogeyed the second or third hole for my only bogey of the round, it wouldn’t seem so bad,” said Hanefeld, the Director of Instruction at Salem County Club. “Everything else in the round was pretty good. I could have made a couple more birdies, but that’s always the case.”

RELATED: PGA Tournament Series Event No. 4 Leaderboard

Sowards said he was “licking my teeth” when he got to the 16th tee of the Wanamaker Course, thinking about making an eagle. But he pulled his drive into the water and couldn’t save par.

“That’s the easiest hole on the golf course,” Sowards said. “But I also pulled my drive at 18 and had to get up and down for par from 141 yards. That helped me forget a little about the bogey on 16.”

Sowards won Event No. 2 last week and is second on the PGA Tournament Series money list this winter at $6,665. He doesn’t have a chance at winning PGA Professional Player of the Year for the fifth time, so he has a more modest goal this month.

“I’m trying to make enough money so my wife and I can re-do our basement,” said Sowards, a PGA Teaching Professional at Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio.

The winner receives $5,000. Rod Perry, who leads the PGA Tournament Series money list with $7,550, is tied for 22nd after a 72. There are two more events next week.

The 48-year-old Sowards has hired a fitness instructor to help him try and qualify for the PGA Tour Champions in 1½ years. Hanefeld, 60, played 69 events in the 50-and-older circuit, earning $785,182.

They won’t do much talking during Friday’s final round – Sowards doesn’t say much when competing – but Hanefeld says he has some advice for Sowards.

“He better play his butt off because there are only five spots in the world available on the Champions Tour,” Hanefeld said. “Bob is fortunate in that while he’s not as young as some of the guys out here, he still hits the ball as far as most of the young guys. Guys like me have to find a different way to do it.”

Five players are tied for third place at 68: Zac Oakley of Palm City, Fla., Anthony Aruta of Staten Island, N.Y., Josh Bevell of Nashville, Tenn., Rick Schuller of Chester, Va., and Nicholas Latimer-Zabor of Cleveland. Ohio.

The PGA Tournament Series is presented by Golf Advisor.


Golf rules: Penalty to be waived for accidental ball movement on green

Dustin Johnson
Michael Madrid | USA Today Sports Images
A rule controversy at the U.S. Open involving Dustin Johnson led to a new local rule on accidental ball movement on the green.

Golf's governing bodies have responded to Dustin Johnson's penalty at the U.S. Open by introducing a local rule that will waive the one-shot penalty if a ball moves on the putting green by accident.

The local rule, effective in January, applies only to accidental movement on the putting green of the golf ball and a ball marker.

Johnson was lining up a par putt on the fifth hole of the final round at Oakmont when his ball moved slightly and he backed away. He said he didn't make it move, but after the USGA studied video and consulted the rule book, he eventually was given a one-shot penalty because it was ruled that his actions caused the ball to move. Even with the penalty, he closed with a 69 and won by three shots.

RELATED: Dustin Johnson wins U.S. Open despite rule confusion

The local rule was not a reaction to that one incident at Oakmont. Golf's leading experts have been meeting the last five years on a rules modernization project. Thomas Pagel, the USGA's senior rules director, said they had determined even before the U.S. Open that the rule for such accidental movement needed to be changed.

The Johnson ruling only sped up the process.

"This has been talked about for quite some time," Pagel said. "The Dustin Johnson ruling was the last of many uncomfortable rulings we've had with balls or ball markers that moved on a putting green. We had identified a solution and language as the broader rules modernization. This motivated us to say it's in the best interest of the game as opposed to waiting for the next set of revisions."

The Rules of Golf are revised once every four years, with the next revision due in 2020. Pagel could not say when the entire rules modernization project will be completed, though a rough draft is likely to be released in the spring, followed by a lengthy period of feedback.

For now, any accidental movement of the ball or ball marker on the putting green will require the player to replace it, but without a penalty shot. A local rule is an option for tournaments to use, though the USGA and R&A said it has been welcomed by the major tours worldwide, the PGA of America and Masters.

The local rule already has one fan.

"I think it's a really good thing for golf," Johnson said in a text message.

Johnson's ruling was the most famous, mainly because of how it was carried out. He was notified on the 12th tee that he might face a penalty and that he could review it with officials after the round. That meant Johnson had to play the final seven holes of the U.S. Open without knowing if he would get a penalty shot. It ultimately didn't matter, though even after his three-shot victory, Johnson did not think he deserved a penalty shot.

Ian Poulter in 2012 at the Dubai World Championship had a 30-foot birdie putt in a playoff. As he went to replace his ball, it fell from his hand and hit the edge of his marker, causing it to flip over. He was given a one-shot penalty and wound up losing to Robert Karlsson, who had a short birdie putt.

Under the local rule, Poulter would not have been penalized.

In another example, Davis Love III had a short par putt on the 17th hole at the 1997 Players Championship when his putter nudged the ball during his practice stroke. Even though his club made contact with the ball, he would not be penalized under the local rule because it would be an accident.

What is an accident?

"Anything that is not intentional," Pagel said.

He said an intentional act would include intent, such as picking up the ball without marking it.

The local rule applies to 18-2 and 18-3 (ball at rest moved) and 20-1 (lifting and marking). The rules haven't changed, but the penalty would be waived.

"We still need to figure out what caused the ball to move," Pagel said. "In those instances, it more likely than not was an accident that caused it to move. We still have to have that discussion. But the discussions are less contentious when there's no longer a penalty part of that conversation."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

By
Doug Ferguson

Series: News Feature

Published: Thursday, December 08, 2016 | 11:15 a.m.

Golf's governing bodies have responded to Dustin Johnson's penalty at the U.S. Open by introducing a local rule that will waive the one-shot penalty if a ball moves on the putting green by accident.

The local rule, effective in January, applies only to accidental movement on the putting green of the golf ball and a ball marker.

Johnson was lining up a par putt on the fifth hole of the final round at Oakmont when his ball moved slightly and he backed away. He said he didn't make it move, but after the USGA studied video and consulted the rule book, he eventually was given a one-shot penalty because it was ruled that his actions caused the ball to move. Even with the penalty, he closed with a 69 and won by three shots.

RELATED: Dustin Johnson wins U.S. Open despite rule confusion

The local rule was not a reaction to that one incident at Oakmont. Golf's leading experts have been meeting the last five years on a rules modernization project. Thomas Pagel, the USGA's senior rules director, said they had determined even before the U.S. Open that the rule for such accidental movement needed to be changed.

The Johnson ruling only sped up the process.

"This has been talked about for quite some time," Pagel said. "The Dustin Johnson ruling was the last of many uncomfortable rulings we've had with balls or ball markers that moved on a putting green. We had identified a solution and language as the broader rules modernization. This motivated us to say it's in the best interest of the game as opposed to waiting for the next set of revisions."

The Rules of Golf are revised once every four years, with the next revision due in 2020. Pagel could not say when the entire rules modernization project will be completed, though a rough draft is likely to be released in the spring, followed by a lengthy period of feedback.

For now, any accidental movement of the ball or ball marker on the putting green will require the player to replace it, but without a penalty shot. A local rule is an option for tournaments to use, though the USGA and R&A said it has been welcomed by the major tours worldwide, the PGA of America and Masters.

The local rule already has one fan.

"I think it's a really good thing for golf," Johnson said in a text message.

Johnson's ruling was the most famous, mainly because of how it was carried out. He was notified on the 12th tee that he might face a penalty and that he could review it with officials after the round. That meant Johnson had to play the final seven holes of the U.S. Open without knowing if he would get a penalty shot. It ultimately didn't matter, though even after his three-shot victory, Johnson did not think he deserved a penalty shot.

Ian Poulter in 2012 at the Dubai World Championship had a 30-foot birdie putt in a playoff. As he went to replace his ball, it fell from his hand and hit the edge of his marker, causing it to flip over. He was given a one-shot penalty and wound up losing to Robert Karlsson, who had a short birdie putt.

Under the local rule, Poulter would not have been penalized.

In another example, Davis Love III had a short par putt on the 17th hole at the 1997 Players Championship when his putter nudged the ball during his practice stroke. Even though his club made contact with the ball, he would not be penalized under the local rule because it would be an accident.

What is an accident?

"Anything that is not intentional," Pagel said.

He said an intentional act would include intent, such as picking up the ball without marking it.

The local rule applies to 18-2 and 18-3 (ball at rest moved) and 20-1 (lifting and marking). The rules haven't changed, but the penalty would be waived.

"We still need to figure out what caused the ball to move," Pagel said. "In those instances, it more likely than not was an accident that caused it to move. We still have to have that discussion. But the discussions are less contentious when there's no longer a penalty part of that conversation."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


Pete-Bevacqua-56x56

Pete-Bevacqua-200x200

Tiger Woods stays positive, healthy in his return

Tiger Woods
Rob Schumacher | USA Today Sports Images
"Even with Tiger, every time we set expectations, he exceeds them." - Jordan Spieth.

NASSAU, Bahamas — The return of Tiger Woods was more about the big picture than any of his big numbers.

And that started with the sight of that red shirt on Sunday.

Woods grumbled about three more double bogeys in the final round of the Hero World Challenge. Considering how badly he has felt in the 15 months since he last played, he still was able to keep it in perspective.

"It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat the best players in the world," Woods said. "I missed it. I love it."

RELATED: How Tiger fared on Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

He even loved some of his golf at Albany.

Woods made 24 birdies, the most of anyone this week. He also had six double bogeys, three of them in the final round. The last one on the final hole, his third of the week on the 18th, gave him a 4-over 76. It was the highest score of the tournament, and he finished 15th in the 17-man field.

The other players were not about to measure him by his score — not yet, anyway.

"The whole world is watching a couple of rounds of golf," said British Open champion Henrik Stenson, who finished second to Hideki Matsuyama . "It's great to see him back and healthy and playing. I want to see him up in contention and try to beat him when it matters the most.

"Give him three or four tournaments, maybe six tournaments, maybe around the Masters," he said. "It's easy to overanalyze a very limited amount of golf."

Rarely has a December event attracted this much curiosity. Woods, the dominant player of his generation, had gone 466 days since his previous tournament because of two back surgeries. The recovery at times made it difficult for him to walk and led him to wonder if he would ever play.

"Getting back to this point is beyond anything that I've ever experienced in my lifetime," said Woods, who turns 41 at the end of the month. "The pain issues that I had, it was rough. Quite frankly, there some pretty dire times where I just couldn't move."

Woods showed no stress in his swing or in walking five straight rounds, starting with the pro-am. He had plenty of length, at times going after his driver with a little more pop to clear a bunker. He holed a few long putts . He missed a few short ones. At times, he looked like he had never been away for that long. And at times it did.

"It's kind of new to me again, the feel of playing, the feel of adrenaline in my system, hitting shots," Woods said.

One day after he briefly pulled within two shots of the lead, it was clear early on this day would be a struggle.

Woods was scrambling for pars instead of being in a position to attack pins. He twice made double bogey on a par 5, starting at No. 6 when he blasted out of the sandy area to the back side of a double green, forcing him to chip off the putting surface. Still, he rallied with three straight birdies to play the front nine in even par.

He was never going to win the tournament — Matsuyama was too far ahead — but it was a chance to post a decent number and take more positives into what figures to be a two-month offseason. Instead, Woods added two more double bogeys and shot 40 on the back nine.

He made his third double bogey of the week on the 18th hole without even going into the water. His tee shot landed in a thick palmetto bush, and he had to take a penalty drop to take it out. Just his luck, his drop in the sandy waste area settled right in front of the nub of another bush. He got that back to the fairway, went just over the green and took two putts from there for his 6.

"What he did here showed that he's certainly up for the task and his game is there. He's ready to go," Jordan Spieth said. "Even with Tiger, every time we set expectations, he exceeds them."

Woods at least starts his climb from No. 898 in the world, the product of not playing since Aug. 23, 2015.

He said he wants to play a full schedule in 2017 — that typically means no more than about 20 a year — and will look at his options over the next few weeks.

"I need to play more tournaments. Zero in 15 months is not a lot, so this is one," Woods said. "I thought I made some good, positive things happen this week. Made a lot of birdies, also made a lot of mistakes. That's something I know I can clean up."

His caddie, Joe LaCava, offered the best perspective.

"I wasn't going to compare him to the rest of the field. They've been playing all year and they've been playing great," LaCava said. "Honestly, my goal was to get him through five rounds on his feet. That was big."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

By
Doug Ferguson

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Monday, December 05, 2016 | 11:31 a.m.

NASSAU, Bahamas — The return of Tiger Woods was more about the big picture than any of his big numbers.

And that started with the sight of that red shirt on Sunday.

Woods grumbled about three more double bogeys in the final round of the Hero World Challenge. Considering how badly he has felt in the 15 months since he last played, he still was able to keep it in perspective.

"It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat the best players in the world," Woods said. "I missed it. I love it."

RELATED: How Tiger fared on Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

He even loved some of his golf at Albany.

Woods made 24 birdies, the most of anyone this week. He also had six double bogeys, three of them in the final round. The last one on the final hole, his third of the week on the 18th, gave him a 4-over 76. It was the highest score of the tournament, and he finished 15th in the 17-man field.

The other players were not about to measure him by his score — not yet, anyway.

"The whole world is watching a couple of rounds of golf," said British Open champion Henrik Stenson, who finished second to Hideki Matsuyama . "It's great to see him back and healthy and playing. I want to see him up in contention and try to beat him when it matters the most.

"Give him three or four tournaments, maybe six tournaments, maybe around the Masters," he said. "It's easy to overanalyze a very limited amount of golf."

Rarely has a December event attracted this much curiosity. Woods, the dominant player of his generation, had gone 466 days since his previous tournament because of two back surgeries. The recovery at times made it difficult for him to walk and led him to wonder if he would ever play.

"Getting back to this point is beyond anything that I've ever experienced in my lifetime," said Woods, who turns 41 at the end of the month. "The pain issues that I had, it was rough. Quite frankly, there some pretty dire times where I just couldn't move."

Woods showed no stress in his swing or in walking five straight rounds, starting with the pro-am. He had plenty of length, at times going after his driver with a little more pop to clear a bunker. He holed a few long putts . He missed a few short ones. At times, he looked like he had never been away for that long. And at times it did.

"It's kind of new to me again, the feel of playing, the feel of adrenaline in my system, hitting shots," Woods said.

One day after he briefly pulled within two shots of the lead, it was clear early on this day would be a struggle.

Woods was scrambling for pars instead of being in a position to attack pins. He twice made double bogey on a par 5, starting at No. 6 when he blasted out of the sandy area to the back side of a double green, forcing him to chip off the putting surface. Still, he rallied with three straight birdies to play the front nine in even par.

He was never going to win the tournament — Matsuyama was too far ahead — but it was a chance to post a decent number and take more positives into what figures to be a two-month offseason. Instead, Woods added two more double bogeys and shot 40 on the back nine.

He made his third double bogey of the week on the 18th hole without even going into the water. His tee shot landed in a thick palmetto bush, and he had to take a penalty drop to take it out. Just his luck, his drop in the sandy waste area settled right in front of the nub of another bush. He got that back to the fairway, went just over the green and took two putts from there for his 6.

"What he did here showed that he's certainly up for the task and his game is there. He's ready to go," Jordan Spieth said. "Even with Tiger, every time we set expectations, he exceeds them."

Woods at least starts his climb from No. 898 in the world, the product of not playing since Aug. 23, 2015.

He said he wants to play a full schedule in 2017 — that typically means no more than about 20 a year — and will look at his options over the next few weeks.

"I need to play more tournaments. Zero in 15 months is not a lot, so this is one," Woods said. "I thought I made some good, positive things happen this week. Made a lot of birdies, also made a lot of mistakes. That's something I know I can clean up."

His caddie, Joe LaCava, offered the best perspective.

"I wasn't going to compare him to the rest of the field. They've been playing all year and they've been playing great," LaCava said. "Honestly, my goal was to get him through five rounds on his feet. That was big."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


Harold Varner III wins Australian PGA Championship

Harold Varner III
Joseph Maiorana | USA Today Sports Images
Varner III sunk nine birdies Sunday on the way to a victory in the Australian PGA Championship.

GOLD COAST, Australia — Harold Varner III didn't really know the protocol, so he filled the Australian PGA Championship trophy with champagne, took a sip and then shared it around.

The 26-year-old American won a title for the first time outside the U.S. mini tours when he fired nine birdies in a closing 65 on Sunday to finish at 19 under, two clear of Australian journeyman Andrew Dodt and four ahead of 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott.

He finished runner-up after a playoff here last year, then had four top-10 finishes in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.

"After last year, it feels good to come back and finish it off," he said. "This is my first win since the mini tours, so this is my first win, I guess, as part of an organization such as the PGA Tour, the European Tour. It's just a step in the right direction and I'm just super excited."

RELATED: Lexi Thompson to become second woman to play in Franklin Templeton Shootout

Varner had a hectic week at the event that is co-sanctioned by the Australasian and European tours. After lightning and rain stopped his first round after 14 holes, he had to set the alarm for 2:45 a.m. Friday to get up in time for an early courtesy car ride to his 5:30 a.m. tee off.

He finished his first round in a share of the lead at 7 under, then went out and finished his second round before lunch on day two. His spare time has included black jack at the Casino where he's staying, and where he was headed Sunday night.

This being his first win abroad, Varner admitted he wasn't fully across the routine for a champion that included extra interviews, news conferences and photos opportunities.

"I'm ready to get to the casino but no one told me about the other stuff that goes along with winning — which I'm totally cool with — I just didn't know there was so much stuff. There might have been 1,000 pictures out there," he told the news conference where he filled the trophy with champagne and shared it around. "Winning is cool."

Varner started the last round two shots behind Dodt. He surged into the lead with a run of four birdies at the start of an entertaining span of nine holes that contained seven birdies and two bogeys. He took a two-shot lead into the last hole and tapped in for par.

Dodt held a two-shot lead before the final round but couldn't match it with Varner's nine birdies and closed with a 69. Scott closed with a 67, his best round of the tournament to finish in outright third at 15 under.

Ashley Hall dropped from second to fourth at 14 under after a final round of 70. His fellow Australian Brett Rumford finished at 10 under, two shots ahead of a group of three that included Dutch golfer Darius van Driel, amateur Brett Coletta and John Senden. New Zealander Ryan Fox was ninth at 7 under.

Scott started the last day four shots off the pace but again was wayward off the tee. He kept in touch with three birdies in four holes from the eighth and added an eagle at the par-5 15th.

"It was my best round of the week and it wasn't good enough unfortunately," he said.

The former No. 1-ranked Scott said he planned to put the clubs away for a while and catch up on family time, surfing, and watching some cricket and tennis.

The clubs "will be away for a couple of weeks and if they're not too rusty by Christmas I might bring them back out and shake some of the rust off," he said. "I'll just play around for fun and then I'll get serious once the new year starts."

Varner, who is the only player other than Tiger Woods with black heritage on the PGA Tour, is hoping this win is the launching pad for a better 2017.

He was the first American to win the Australian PGA title since Hale Irwin in 1978 at Royal Melbourne, and the first non-Australian to claim the title since 1999.

"Winning is just ... different," he said. "Three years, I haven't won, so this is special."

This article was written by John Pye from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

By
John Pye

Series: News Feature

Published: Monday, December 05, 2016 | 10:58 a.m.

GOLD COAST, Australia — Harold Varner III didn't really know the protocol, so he filled the Australian PGA Championship trophy with champagne, took a sip and then shared it around.

The 26-year-old American won a title for the first time outside the U.S. mini tours when he fired nine birdies in a closing 65 on Sunday to finish at 19 under, two clear of Australian journeyman Andrew Dodt and four ahead of 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott.

He finished runner-up after a playoff here last year, then had four top-10 finishes in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.

"After last year, it feels good to come back and finish it off," he said. "This is my first win since the mini tours, so this is my first win, I guess, as part of an organization such as the PGA Tour, the European Tour. It's just a step in the right direction and I'm just super excited."

RELATED: Lexi Thompson to become second woman to play in Franklin Templeton Shootout

Varner had a hectic week at the event that is co-sanctioned by the Australasian and European tours. After lightning and rain stopped his first round after 14 holes, he had to set the alarm for 2:45 a.m. Friday to get up in time for an early courtesy car ride to his 5:30 a.m. tee off.

He finished his first round in a share of the lead at 7 under, then went out and finished his second round before lunch on day two. His spare time has included black jack at the Casino where he's staying, and where he was headed Sunday night.

This being his first win abroad, Varner admitted he wasn't fully across the routine for a champion that included extra interviews, news conferences and photos opportunities.

"I'm ready to get to the casino but no one told me about the other stuff that goes along with winning — which I'm totally cool with — I just didn't know there was so much stuff. There might have been 1,000 pictures out there," he told the news conference where he filled the trophy with champagne and shared it around. "Winning is cool."

Varner started the last round two shots behind Dodt. He surged into the lead with a run of four birdies at the start of an entertaining span of nine holes that contained seven birdies and two bogeys. He took a two-shot lead into the last hole and tapped in for par.

Dodt held a two-shot lead before the final round but couldn't match it with Varner's nine birdies and closed with a 69. Scott closed with a 67, his best round of the tournament to finish in outright third at 15 under.

Ashley Hall dropped from second to fourth at 14 under after a final round of 70. His fellow Australian Brett Rumford finished at 10 under, two shots ahead of a group of three that included Dutch golfer Darius van Driel, amateur Brett Coletta and John Senden. New Zealander Ryan Fox was ninth at 7 under.

Scott started the last day four shots off the pace but again was wayward off the tee. He kept in touch with three birdies in four holes from the eighth and added an eagle at the par-5 15th.

"It was my best round of the week and it wasn't good enough unfortunately," he said.

The former No. 1-ranked Scott said he planned to put the clubs away for a while and catch up on family time, surfing, and watching some cricket and tennis.

The clubs "will be away for a couple of weeks and if they're not too rusty by Christmas I might bring them back out and shake some of the rust off," he said. "I'll just play around for fun and then I'll get serious once the new year starts."

Varner, who is the only player other than Tiger Woods with black heritage on the PGA Tour, is hoping this win is the launching pad for a better 2017.

He was the first American to win the Australian PGA title since Hale Irwin in 1978 at Royal Melbourne, and the first non-Australian to claim the title since 1999.

"Winning is just ... different," he said. "Three years, I haven't won, so this is special."

This article was written by John Pye from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


Hideki Matsuyama heads into 2017 with major momentum

Hideki Matsuyama
Reinhold Matay | USA Today Sports Images
Since the Tour Championship, Matsuyama has four wins and hasn't finished outside of the Top 5.

NASSAU, Bahamas — It started with a victory at home in the Japan Open. It ended with another trophy in the Bahamas against a short but strong field.

Five tournaments. Four victories.

The way Hideki Matsuyama is playing, he might wish the Masters started next week.

Or maybe not.

"I'm kind of glad it's not," he said with a broad smile, "because I don't think I could win next week."

RELATED: Hideki Matsuyama wins Hero World Challenge for third straight victory

Winning must be exhausting for the 24-year-old Japanese star, and no one has been more proficient at it over the last two months. Even more alarming is that Matsuyama is making it look easy, although getting through the final nine holes at the Hero World Challenge felt as heavy as walking through the beach sand of the Bahamas.

Coming off seven-shot victories in the HSBC Champions and the Taiheiyo Masters, he had a seven-shot lead over Henrik Stenson going into the final round at Albany Golf Club. Matsuyama didn't make another birdie after the ninth hole, and his lead was reduced to two shots with two holes to play when he closed with two pars for a 1-over 73 and a two-shot victory.

"I can't say that I played well today," he said. "But I did win Tiger's tournament, and what a great honor it is."

Matsuyama said Tiger Woods has been his golfing idol as long as he can remember, and as much as he enjoyed winning, he was just as happy to see Woods back in competition. Woods led the field with 24 birdies, but six double bogeys contributed to a 15th-place finish in the 17-man field.

The first time he heard of Woods was when Matsuyama was 5 and watched video — "over and over and over again," he said — of Woods winning the 1997 Masters. Three years later, Woods won 10 times around the world, including the final three majors in what is considered his best season.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see all those wins because they didn't have the broadcast in Japan," Matsuyama said. "But I knew Tiger was winning, and I knew he was very good. And I almost expected him to win every tournament."

RELATED: How Tiger fared at the Hero World Challenge

Perhaps he is starting to appreciate what it's like to get on a roll.

"I'm not even close to being mentioned in the same sentence as Tiger," he said. "But I am working hard, and hopefully, little by little, I'll get better and better."

Matsuyama isn't the first player to get on a hot streak. Last year, Jason Day won four out of six tournaments against the strongest competition in the world, including the PGA Championship and a pair of FedEx Cup playoff events.

Matsuyama now has 12 victories worldwide, and while he became the first Asian to win a World Golf Championships title, a major is where players are measured.

"You've got to do it in the big events in the summer, too," Woods said. "So it's going to give him a boat load of confidence going into next year and he's going to be one of the top guys to beat for a very long time. Look at his swing, look at his game and look at the body that he has. It's built to handle the test of time."

Matsuyama hasn't finished out of the top five since the Tour Championship, and while he can't explain why he keeps winning, this recent run likely dates to the Deutsche Bank Championship. It was there that Hiroshi Iwata suggested a drill for his putting, which has held Matsuyama back.

Iwata introduced him to the "Pelz Putting Tutor," a small metal plate with two tiny steel balls at the end that are set apart just over the width of a golf ball. It is designed to help players line up putts and with their stroke.

Iwata's drill is to make 10 short putts in a row with a conventional grip, using only the left hand and only the right hand.

Perhaps it helped this week that Matsuyama's caddie, Daisuke Shindo, wanted the week off. So he borrowed Iwata's caddie, Mei Inui. Not only does she know the drill, she managed to keep Matsuyama calm when his lead was slipping away.

"When things get tough, I sometimes put my head down and become quiet," he said. "But Mei was always positive throughout, even the back nine, and was giving me good vibes, which really helped coming in."

Matsuyama, who now lives primarily in Orlando, Florida, is headed home for Japan to spend time with his family. He's worked hard. He's won plenty. He could probably use a break, but it won't be for long. He wants to keep this going into the new year, which starts Jan. 5 in Hawaii. And he's already thinking about the Masters.

"I think he'll be a major champion within the next couple of years, personally," Jordan Spieth said. "It's awesome to see him tearing it up here."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

By
Doug Ferguson

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Monday, December 05, 2016 | 10:39 a.m.

NASSAU, Bahamas — It started with a victory at home in the Japan Open. It ended with another trophy in the Bahamas against a short but strong field.

Five tournaments. Four victories.

The way Hideki Matsuyama is playing, he might wish the Masters started next week.

Or maybe not.

"I'm kind of glad it's not," he said with a broad smile, "because I don't think I could win next week."

RELATED: Hideki Matsuyama wins Hero World Challenge for third straight victory

Winning must be exhausting for the 24-year-old Japanese star, and no one has been more proficient at it over the last two months. Even more alarming is that Matsuyama is making it look easy, although getting through the final nine holes at the Hero World Challenge felt as heavy as walking through the beach sand of the Bahamas.

Coming off seven-shot victories in the HSBC Champions and the Taiheiyo Masters, he had a seven-shot lead over Henrik Stenson going into the final round at Albany Golf Club. Matsuyama didn't make another birdie after the ninth hole, and his lead was reduced to two shots with two holes to play when he closed with two pars for a 1-over 73 and a two-shot victory.

"I can't say that I played well today," he said. "But I did win Tiger's tournament, and what a great honor it is."

Matsuyama said Tiger Woods has been his golfing idol as long as he can remember, and as much as he enjoyed winning, he was just as happy to see Woods back in competition. Woods led the field with 24 birdies, but six double bogeys contributed to a 15th-place finish in the 17-man field.

The first time he heard of Woods was when Matsuyama was 5 and watched video — "over and over and over again," he said — of Woods winning the 1997 Masters. Three years later, Woods won 10 times around the world, including the final three majors in what is considered his best season.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see all those wins because they didn't have the broadcast in Japan," Matsuyama said. "But I knew Tiger was winning, and I knew he was very good. And I almost expected him to win every tournament."

RELATED: How Tiger fared at the Hero World Challenge

Perhaps he is starting to appreciate what it's like to get on a roll.

"I'm not even close to being mentioned in the same sentence as Tiger," he said. "But I am working hard, and hopefully, little by little, I'll get better and better."

Matsuyama isn't the first player to get on a hot streak. Last year, Jason Day won four out of six tournaments against the strongest competition in the world, including the PGA Championship and a pair of FedEx Cup playoff events.

Matsuyama now has 12 victories worldwide, and while he became the first Asian to win a World Golf Championships title, a major is where players are measured.

"You've got to do it in the big events in the summer, too," Woods said. "So it's going to give him a boat load of confidence going into next year and he's going to be one of the top guys to beat for a very long time. Look at his swing, look at his game and look at the body that he has. It's built to handle the test of time."

Matsuyama hasn't finished out of the top five since the Tour Championship, and while he can't explain why he keeps winning, this recent run likely dates to the Deutsche Bank Championship. It was there that Hiroshi Iwata suggested a drill for his putting, which has held Matsuyama back.

Iwata introduced him to the "Pelz Putting Tutor," a small metal plate with two tiny steel balls at the end that are set apart just over the width of a golf ball. It is designed to help players line up putts and with their stroke.

Iwata's drill is to make 10 short putts in a row with a conventional grip, using only the left hand and only the right hand.

Perhaps it helped this week that Matsuyama's caddie, Daisuke Shindo, wanted the week off. So he borrowed Iwata's caddie, Mei Inui. Not only does she know the drill, she managed to keep Matsuyama calm when his lead was slipping away.

"When things get tough, I sometimes put my head down and become quiet," he said. "But Mei was always positive throughout, even the back nine, and was giving me good vibes, which really helped coming in."

Matsuyama, who now lives primarily in Orlando, Florida, is headed home for Japan to spend time with his family. He's worked hard. He's won plenty. He could probably use a break, but it won't be for long. He wants to keep this going into the new year, which starts Jan. 5 in Hawaii. And he's already thinking about the Masters.

"I think he'll be a major champion within the next couple of years, personally," Jordan Spieth said. "It's awesome to see him tearing it up here."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


Hideki Matsuyama wins third straight tournament at Hero World Challenge

Hideki Matsuyama & Tiger Woods
The Associated Press | NewsCred
The return of Tiger ended with Hideki Matsuyama winning his third straight tournament, and fourth out of his last five.

NASSAU, Bahamas — Hideki Matsuyama was only 5 when he first saw Tiger Woods, watching on videotape that 1997 Masters victory. Even sweeter was standing next to Woods in his Sunday red shirt to receive yet another trophy.

Right now, the Japanese star can't seem to lose.

The return of Tiger Woods ended with Matsuyama winning his third straight tournament, and fourth out of his last five, in the Hero World Challenge.

"I can't say that I played well today, but I did win Tiger's tournament," Matsuyama said. "And what a great honor that is."

RELATED: Hero World Challenge final scores | How Tiger fared on Sunday

Matsuyama had a few nervous moments on the back nine at Albany when his seven-shot lead at the start of the final round was reduced to two shots over British Open champion Henrik Stenson with two to play.

Matsuyama closed with two pars for a 1-over 73 and a two-shot victory.

Woods found plenty of positives from his first tournament in more than 15 months, though the final round featured three double bogeys and a 76 — the highest score of the tournament — that dropped him to 15th place out of 17 players.

"It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat the best players in the world," Woods said. "I missed it. I love it."

Matsuyama is moving up in class quickly.

His big run started with a three-shot victory in the Japan Open. He was runner-up in Malaysia, then became the first Asian to win a World Golf Championships title with a seven-shot victory over Stenson and Daniel Berger in the HSBC Champions. Two weeks later, he won the Taiheiyo Masters on the Japan Golf Tour by seven. And except for a few mistakes on the back nine at Albany, this was another runaway.

"It's going to give him a boat load of confidence going into next year, and he's going to be one of the top guys to beat for a very long time," Woods said.

Matsuyama, who finished at 18-under 270, won $1 million and remained at No. 6 in the world. He ended his streak of 17 consecutive rounds in the 60s, though all that mattered was the trophy presentation with Woods.

"It's tough with a seven-stroke lead," he said. "But somehow I was able to pull it off. Hopefully, this experience will help me in the future."

Stenson, playing with him in the final group, closed with a 68 and made Matsuyama work hard for this title.

Matsuyama still had a six-shot lead going into the back nine when he went bunker-to-bunker around the 10th green and made double bogey. Then, he three-putted from about 18 feet on the 14th hole, where Stenson made birdie for a two-shot swing.

Just like that, the lead was down to three with four holes remaining. And it looked like it would get even closer on the par-5 15th. Matsuyama was in a greenside bunker in two and didn't quite reach the green. Stenson had a 45-foot eagle putt. But the Swede left it about 10 feet short and three-putted for par, and Matsuyama matched him.

Stenson also three-putted the 10th, costing him another chance to get closer.

"Whatever he gave me on 14, I gave it straight back to him on 15," Stenson said.

Stenson drilled a 4-iron into 4 feet on the 16th for another birdie, and Matsuyama's approach barely cleared the bunker, leading to par to stay two ahead.

The tournament was still in doubt on the 18th hole. Matsuyama's shot from the rough bounded over the green, while Stenson had 12-feet for birdie. If the Swede made and Matsuyama failed to get up-and-down, it was headed for a playoff. The Japanese star steadied himself with a good pitch to tap-in range, and that wrapped it up.

"He hit a very classy chip there," Stenson said.

Matsuyama now heads home to Japan for a break, though he won't put the clubs away for long. He starts back in Hawaii the first week of the new year, and already he is thinking ahead to April and Augusta National.

"Starting next week all my focus and preparation will be for the Masters," he said. "Hopefully, along the way I can play well on the PGA Tour. But the Masters is my next goal."

DIVOTS: Matsuyama borrowed the caddie of good friend Hiroshi Iwata this week, Mei Inui. He said she helped keep him positive when his lead was shrinking. His regular caddie, known as Dice-K, returns to work in Hawaii. ... Rickie Fowler (69), Matt Kuchar (70) and Dustin Johnson (71) tied for third.

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

By
Doug Ferguson

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Sunday, December 04, 2016 | 7:15 p.m.

NASSAU, Bahamas — Hideki Matsuyama was only 5 when he first saw Tiger Woods, watching on videotape that 1997 Masters victory. Even sweeter was standing next to Woods in his Sunday red shirt to receive yet another trophy.

Right now, the Japanese star can't seem to lose.

The return of Tiger Woods ended with Matsuyama winning his third straight tournament, and fourth out of his last five, in the Hero World Challenge.

"I can't say that I played well today, but I did win Tiger's tournament," Matsuyama said. "And what a great honor that is."

RELATED: Hero World Challenge final scores | How Tiger fared on Sunday

Matsuyama had a few nervous moments on the back nine at Albany when his seven-shot lead at the start of the final round was reduced to two shots over British Open champion Henrik Stenson with two to play.

Matsuyama closed with two pars for a 1-over 73 and a two-shot victory.

Woods found plenty of positives from his first tournament in more than 15 months, though the final round featured three double bogeys and a 76 — the highest score of the tournament — that dropped him to 15th place out of 17 players.

"It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat the best players in the world," Woods said. "I missed it. I love it."

Matsuyama is moving up in class quickly.

His big run started with a three-shot victory in the Japan Open. He was runner-up in Malaysia, then became the first Asian to win a World Golf Championships title with a seven-shot victory over Stenson and Daniel Berger in the HSBC Champions. Two weeks later, he won the Taiheiyo Masters on the Japan Golf Tour by seven. And except for a few mistakes on the back nine at Albany, this was another runaway.

"It's going to give him a boat load of confidence going into next year, and he's going to be one of the top guys to beat for a very long time," Woods said.

Matsuyama, who finished at 18-under 270, won $1 million and remained at No. 6 in the world. He ended his streak of 17 consecutive rounds in the 60s, though all that mattered was the trophy presentation with Woods.

"It's tough with a seven-stroke lead," he said. "But somehow I was able to pull it off. Hopefully, this experience will help me in the future."

Stenson, playing with him in the final group, closed with a 68 and made Matsuyama work hard for this title.

Matsuyama still had a six-shot lead going into the back nine when he went bunker-to-bunker around the 10th green and made double bogey. Then, he three-putted from about 18 feet on the 14th hole, where Stenson made birdie for a two-shot swing.

Just like that, the lead was down to three with four holes remaining. And it looked like it would get even closer on the par-5 15th. Matsuyama was in a greenside bunker in two and didn't quite reach the green. Stenson had a 45-foot eagle putt. But the Swede left it about 10 feet short and three-putted for par, and Matsuyama matched him.

Stenson also three-putted the 10th, costing him another chance to get closer.

"Whatever he gave me on 14, I gave it straight back to him on 15," Stenson said.

Stenson drilled a 4-iron into 4 feet on the 16th for another birdie, and Matsuyama's approach barely cleared the bunker, leading to par to stay two ahead.

The tournament was still in doubt on the 18th hole. Matsuyama's shot from the rough bounded over the green, while Stenson had 12-feet for birdie. If the Swede made and Matsuyama failed to get up-and-down, it was headed for a playoff. The Japanese star steadied himself with a good pitch to tap-in range, and that wrapped it up.

"He hit a very classy chip there," Stenson said.

Matsuyama now heads home to Japan for a break, though he won't put the clubs away for long. He starts back in Hawaii the first week of the new year, and already he is thinking ahead to April and Augusta National.

"Starting next week all my focus and preparation will be for the Masters," he said. "Hopefully, along the way I can play well on the PGA Tour. But the Masters is my next goal."

DIVOTS: Matsuyama borrowed the caddie of good friend Hiroshi Iwata this week, Mei Inui. He said she helped keep him positive when his lead was shrinking. His regular caddie, known as Dice-K, returns to work in Hawaii. ... Rickie Fowler (69), Matt Kuchar (70) and Dustin Johnson (71) tied for third.

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


Lexi Thompson to become only second woman to play in the Franklin Templeton Shootout

Lexi Thompson
Brian Spurlock | USA Today Sports Images
Lexi Thompson is accustomed to making history. And, she'll make some more this week in the Franklin Templeton Shootout.

Lexi Thompson is accustomed to making history. This week, she'll make some more in the Franklin Templeton Shootout, when Thompson becomes just the second woman to ever play in Greg Norman's PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla.

Thompson, 21, came to Naples as a 10-year-old to try to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open at Imperial Country Club. She didn't make it out of the local qualifier, shooting a 77, but qualified two years later when she was 12. Thompson qualified the next two years as well, finally making the cut when she was 14 in 2009, and later Monday-qualified for an LPGA event, tying for 27th.

RELATED: Lexi Thompson, Jordan Spieth relive Junior Ryder Cup memories

Thompson played the revamped Tiburon layout, designed and redesigned by Norman, at the LPGA Tour's season-ending CME Group Tour Championship from Nov. 15-20. She didn't play well, tying for 40th, but ended the season as one of only two Americans to win on the LPGA Tour and the highest-ranked American in the world at No. 5. After she played the CME, Thompson came to a greater realization of what playing in the Shootout will mean.

"I haven't thought much about it but this week being around all the volunteers who are excited I'm realizing the experience that week will be fun," Thompson said during the CME. "I'm going to treat the invitation to play as an honor for sure."

Her fellow LPGA Tour golfers and Commissioner Mike Whan are excited for Thompson's opportunity.

"As a fan I'm looking forward to watching," Whan said. "It's neat exposure and great experience for her. It'll be fun.

"These team events, it's attractive to fans watching because we've played in some of them before."

LPGA Tour player Brittany Lincicome, a long hitter like Thompson on the tour, was kind of hoping she'd be playing, too.

"That's amazing," Lincicome said. "I'm really jelaous. ... I'm super-jealous.

"I think she's going to do phenomenal. This course is a long hitters' course and she hits it plenty far. Fingers crossed that she does do well, and that 'Hey, we are good. We do deserve to play.' Maybe that'll get more girls involved."

The Golf Channel's Karen Stupples and Jerry Foltz both see Thompson adding to the TV element for the Shootout as well.

"Lexi is one of the most exciting players that the LPGA has," Stupples said. "Not only does she hit it far, she hits it straight too. It'll be fun to see her playing in that type of format ... It's nice to see her on that stage with the guys. I think she'll have fun with it. She has brothers that she's used to playing with as well. It won't be something strange for her."

"There'll be people watching that that might not tune into an LPGA event," Foltz said. "She's most marketable young American player on tour. From a TV standpoint, I would say she's one of the big needle-movers for women's golf."

Thompson and DeChambeau, a 23-year-old who was the U.S. Amateur champion at SMU in 2015, then turned professional in 2016. After playing in PGA Tour events and not earning enough to retain his card, DeChambeau got his first professional victory at the Web.com's DAP Championship, a finals event that led to him securing his 2017 PGA Tour card.

"It's going to be fun paired up with Bryson," Thompson said. "We're a Cobra-Puma team (both are sponsored by the company), so it's a pretty big deal. Greg asked, so it's a huge deal. ... I love team events and to get an invite from Greg Norman, you don't get that very often. I'm going to have a good time and see how I do."

Thompson and DeChambeau tied for sixth in the 10-team event that also had LPGA Tour players Paula Creamer, Brooke Henderson and Morgan Pressel.

"We had fun, no problems," Thompson said. "But we failed to win."

Foltz wonders about DeChambeau's extremely analytical thought process and how it pairs with Thompson.

"She plays a lot by feel," Foltz said. "For him to get up on the green and get out his Cliffs notes and hieroglyphics and calculations and say 'Depending on the acceleration of the ball and then the rate of decceleration with the constant slope ... .you have to aim this 1.32 inches outside the right edge. He's going to give her an exact spot to hit every putt. But that's really going to help her."

In 2006, Sorenstam was paired with Fred Couples, and the two finished last, just behind Norman and Nick Faldo. Norman made a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole, just after Sorenstam made a 20-footer for birdie and pointed at Faldo and Norman. Faldo missed his birdie try in the scramble, but Norman made his and pointed right back at Sorenstam and Couples.

"This is a great honor for me to be invited to such a great tournament, and I've been watching this on TV for several years, and when I got invited early in the year, I was thrilled," Sorenstam said prior to the tournament. "It made it even more special for me to get a chance to play with Freddie here. I want to thank him for wanting to play with me."

Chris DiMarco, who's played in a handful of Shootouts, wouldn't mind seeing more women play in the Shootout.

"I'd almost like to see two or three women's teams anyway and then have a different set of tees for them," he said. "I think it'd be good for the PGA and it'd be good for the LPGA Tour."

Norman said he's been asked about having an LPGA Tour player a few times, and was happy this time it worked out. Thompson averages 277 yards off the tee, second on the LPGA Tour. That'd put her around 200th on the PGA Tour, just ahead of fellow Shootout players Luke Donald, Jerry Kelly and K.J. Choi.

"I actually played a few rounds with Lexi," Norman said. "Very impressed. I have to do everything in my power to out-drive her. She gets it out there to a point where I don't think it's a problem no matter where the PGA Tour puts the tee markers. She's going to be able to hold her own. She's obviously a lot longer than I ever was.

"I'm a big fan of the LPGA Tour. I'm a big fan of the Chinese team to go to the Olympics. You see the evolution of where the women's game has gone. They've kept up with technology. In the last few years I've never had so many requests to be involved with the LPGA in some way, shape or form."

Correspondent Dave Kempton contributed to this article.

What They're Saying About Lexi ...

"I think she will be terrific and what a great opportunity to showcase her talent." -- LPGA Tour player Paula Creamer.

"It's been a while since we had a woman in the Shootout so I hope she does really well. I'm pulling for her, for sure. Lexi has the length to compete with the guys and the biggest challenge might be mental, keeping everything in focus. The coverage will be great for the LPGA." -- LPGA Tour player and Naples resident Mo Martin

"This is awesome for Lexi and she has so much special talent, a special person." -- LPGA Tour player Beatriz Recari of Spain.

"It's a great accomplishment to be asked to play with the guys but she has the distance to stay with them." -- LPGA Tour player Angela Stanford.

"She'll be fine, taking two days of the pro-am to learn any different nuances in the course setup for the men because she'll hit back there with them." -- Curtis Thompson, Lexi's brother and tour golfer.

This article is written by Greg Hardwig from Naples Daily News, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.

By
Greg Hardwig

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Sunday, December 04, 2016 | 1:39 p.m.

Lexi Thompson is accustomed to making history. This week, she'll make some more in the Franklin Templeton Shootout, when Thompson becomes just the second woman to ever play in Greg Norman's PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla.

Thompson, 21, came to Naples as a 10-year-old to try to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open at Imperial Country Club. She didn't make it out of the local qualifier, shooting a 77, but qualified two years later when she was 12. Thompson qualified the next two years as well, finally making the cut when she was 14 in 2009, and later Monday-qualified for an LPGA event, tying for 27th.

RELATED: Lexi Thompson, Jordan Spieth relive Junior Ryder Cup memories

Thompson played the revamped Tiburon layout, designed and redesigned by Norman, at the LPGA Tour's season-ending CME Group Tour Championship from Nov. 15-20. She didn't play well, tying for 40th, but ended the season as one of only two Americans to win on the LPGA Tour and the highest-ranked American in the world at No. 5. After she played the CME, Thompson came to a greater realization of what playing in the Shootout will mean.

"I haven't thought much about it but this week being around all the volunteers who are excited I'm realizing the experience that week will be fun," Thompson said during the CME. "I'm going to treat the invitation to play as an honor for sure."

Her fellow LPGA Tour golfers and Commissioner Mike Whan are excited for Thompson's opportunity.

"As a fan I'm looking forward to watching," Whan said. "It's neat exposure and great experience for her. It'll be fun.

"These team events, it's attractive to fans watching because we've played in some of them before."

LPGA Tour player Brittany Lincicome, a long hitter like Thompson on the tour, was kind of hoping she'd be playing, too.

"That's amazing," Lincicome said. "I'm really jelaous. ... I'm super-jealous.

"I think she's going to do phenomenal. This course is a long hitters' course and she hits it plenty far. Fingers crossed that she does do well, and that 'Hey, we are good. We do deserve to play.' Maybe that'll get more girls involved."

The Golf Channel's Karen Stupples and Jerry Foltz both see Thompson adding to the TV element for the Shootout as well.

"Lexi is one of the most exciting players that the LPGA has," Stupples said. "Not only does she hit it far, she hits it straight too. It'll be fun to see her playing in that type of format ... It's nice to see her on that stage with the guys. I think she'll have fun with it. She has brothers that she's used to playing with as well. It won't be something strange for her."

"There'll be people watching that that might not tune into an LPGA event," Foltz said. "She's most marketable young American player on tour. From a TV standpoint, I would say she's one of the big needle-movers for women's golf."

Thompson and DeChambeau, a 23-year-old who was the U.S. Amateur champion at SMU in 2015, then turned professional in 2016. After playing in PGA Tour events and not earning enough to retain his card, DeChambeau got his first professional victory at the Web.com's DAP Championship, a finals event that led to him securing his 2017 PGA Tour card.

"It's going to be fun paired up with Bryson," Thompson said. "We're a Cobra-Puma team (both are sponsored by the company), so it's a pretty big deal. Greg asked, so it's a huge deal. ... I love team events and to get an invite from Greg Norman, you don't get that very often. I'm going to have a good time and see how I do."

Thompson and DeChambeau tied for sixth in the 10-team event that also had LPGA Tour players Paula Creamer, Brooke Henderson and Morgan Pressel.

"We had fun, no problems," Thompson said. "But we failed to win."

Foltz wonders about DeChambeau's extremely analytical thought process and how it pairs with Thompson.

"She plays a lot by feel," Foltz said. "For him to get up on the green and get out his Cliffs notes and hieroglyphics and calculations and say 'Depending on the acceleration of the ball and then the rate of decceleration with the constant slope ... .you have to aim this 1.32 inches outside the right edge. He's going to give her an exact spot to hit every putt. But that's really going to help her."

In 2006, Sorenstam was paired with Fred Couples, and the two finished last, just behind Norman and Nick Faldo. Norman made a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole, just after Sorenstam made a 20-footer for birdie and pointed at Faldo and Norman. Faldo missed his birdie try in the scramble, but Norman made his and pointed right back at Sorenstam and Couples.

"This is a great honor for me to be invited to such a great tournament, and I've been watching this on TV for several years, and when I got invited early in the year, I was thrilled," Sorenstam said prior to the tournament. "It made it even more special for me to get a chance to play with Freddie here. I want to thank him for wanting to play with me."

Chris DiMarco, who's played in a handful of Shootouts, wouldn't mind seeing more women play in the Shootout.

"I'd almost like to see two or three women's teams anyway and then have a different set of tees for them," he said. "I think it'd be good for the PGA and it'd be good for the LPGA Tour."

Norman said he's been asked about having an LPGA Tour player a few times, and was happy this time it worked out. Thompson averages 277 yards off the tee, second on the LPGA Tour. That'd put her around 200th on the PGA Tour, just ahead of fellow Shootout players Luke Donald, Jerry Kelly and K.J. Choi.

"I actually played a few rounds with Lexi," Norman said. "Very impressed. I have to do everything in my power to out-drive her. She gets it out there to a point where I don't think it's a problem no matter where the PGA Tour puts the tee markers. She's going to be able to hold her own. She's obviously a lot longer than I ever was.

"I'm a big fan of the LPGA Tour. I'm a big fan of the Chinese team to go to the Olympics. You see the evolution of where the women's game has gone. They've kept up with technology. In the last few years I've never had so many requests to be involved with the LPGA in some way, shape or form."

Correspondent Dave Kempton contributed to this article.

What They're Saying About Lexi ...

"I think she will be terrific and what a great opportunity to showcase her talent." -- LPGA Tour player Paula Creamer.

"It's been a while since we had a woman in the Shootout so I hope she does really well. I'm pulling for her, for sure. Lexi has the length to compete with the guys and the biggest challenge might be mental, keeping everything in focus. The coverage will be great for the LPGA." -- LPGA Tour player and Naples resident Mo Martin

"This is awesome for Lexi and she has so much special talent, a special person." -- LPGA Tour player Beatriz Recari of Spain.

"It's a great accomplishment to be asked to play with the guys but she has the distance to stay with them." -- LPGA Tour player Angela Stanford.

"She'll be fine, taking two days of the pro-am to learn any different nuances in the course setup for the men because she'll hit back there with them." -- Curtis Thompson, Lexi's brother and tour golfer.

This article is written by Greg Hardwig from Naples Daily News, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.


Everyone is chasing Hideki Matsuyama at the Hero World Challenge

Hideki Matsuyama
Brett Davis | USA Today Sports Images
No one is close to Hideki Matsuyama, the hottest player in golf over the last two months.

NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods started with brief run at the lead. Hideki Matsuyama ended Saturday on his way to another victory.

Matsuyama, a winner in three of his last four tournaments, holed out for eagle on the front nine and kept his mistakes to a minimum for a 7-under 65 to build a seven-shot lead in the Hero World Challenge.

British Open champion Henrik Stenson (66) and U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson (72) were the closest players to the Japanese star.

Woods was even farther back — 11 shots — though the opening hour was filled with big excitement and raised expectations. Woods opened with three straight birdies, and then holed out a 40-yard bunker shot on the par-3 fifth hole to get within two shots as Matsuyama was getting started.

But it didn't last.

RELATED: How Tiger Woods fared on Saturday at the Hero World Challenge

After an 18-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole to reach 11 under, Woods started missing fairways and dropping shots. And he ended the third round with another tee shot into the water on the 18th hole for a double bogey. He had to settle for a 70 and was in 10th place among 17 players.

Even so, Woods has made 19 birdies in three rounds of his first tournament in 15 months. Asked what he would have thought at the start of the week to hear that he was 8-under par through three rounds, Woods replied, "I've had said I'd be pretty far behind. And I'm right."

Matsuyama was at 19-under 197, matching the 54-hole score by Bubba Watson last year at Albany. A year ago, Watson had a two-shot lead. No one is close to Matsuyama, the hottest player in golf over the last two months.

"I knew somebody was going to go low, but I thought it was going to be probably three, four guys that would post this kind of a score," Woods said. "But Hideki is just playing unbelievable golf."

Johnson tried to stay with him, but had a hard time keeping it out of the sandy areas off the tee. Matsuyama was two shots ahead when he laid up on the short seventh hole, which played downwind, and then one-hopped his wedge into the cup for an eagle. Just like that, the lead was up to four. And when Johnson kept making mistake, ending with a double bogey on the 18th, the margin only got wider.

Brandt Snedeker (69) and Matt Kuchar (71) were at 11-under 205.

RELATED: Hero World Challenge leaderboard | Tiger's birdie from the bunker

Matsuyama took notice early when he saw Woods made a brief run up the leaderboard.

"Only Tiger could take a year-and-a-half off and put up the numbers he's putting up this week," Matsuyama said. "I don't care how many strokes I'm leading over him, I still worry about him, fear him."

That was more respect than reality. The winners of golf's two oldest major championships this year don't sound like they have much of a chance from seven back.

"Anything's possible, but I'm going to have to shoot a really special round," Johnson said.

Matsuyama won his first World Golf Championships title last month in Shanghai at the HSBC Champions, winning by seven shot over Stenson and Daniel Berger.

"That's exactly what he did at HSBC Champions, and it was not much to do at that time. And possibly, that could be the same tomorrow," Stenson said.

Woods still captivated the small island crowd, at least with his start. He three-putted for bogey to slow his momentum, and he missed a pair of 6-footers for par early on the back nine. Still, most players said his score was above their expectations given the injuries he had and the rust he accumulated.

Woods said he had no expectations at all, though he was surprised about his start. Typically after a long layoff, Woods said he struggles to get going. Now it's about finishing a round.

"That's the most concerning part of the game, is getting off to I guess halfway decent starts," Woods said. "But I've been into the round early, and I've been able to build a significant amount of positive shots and go under par early. And unfortunately, I haven't been able to keep it going, except for yesterday. I didn't hit the ball that poorly today, but hit bad putts in the middle part of the round."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

By
Doug Ferguson

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Saturday, December 03, 2016 | 6:38 p.m.

NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods started with brief run at the lead. Hideki Matsuyama ended Saturday on his way to another victory.

Matsuyama, a winner in three of his last four tournaments, holed out for eagle on the front nine and kept his mistakes to a minimum for a 7-under 65 to build a seven-shot lead in the Hero World Challenge.

British Open champion Henrik Stenson (66) and U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson (72) were the closest players to the Japanese star.

Woods was even farther back — 11 shots — though the opening hour was filled with big excitement and raised expectations. Woods opened with three straight birdies, and then holed out a 40-yard bunker shot on the par-3 fifth hole to get within two shots as Matsuyama was getting started.

But it didn't last.

RELATED: How Tiger Woods fared on Saturday at the Hero World Challenge

After an 18-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole to reach 11 under, Woods started missing fairways and dropping shots. And he ended the third round with another tee shot into the water on the 18th hole for a double bogey. He had to settle for a 70 and was in 10th place among 17 players.

Even so, Woods has made 19 birdies in three rounds of his first tournament in 15 months. Asked what he would have thought at the start of the week to hear that he was 8-under par through three rounds, Woods replied, "I've had said I'd be pretty far behind. And I'm right."

Matsuyama was at 19-under 197, matching the 54-hole score by Bubba Watson last year at Albany. A year ago, Watson had a two-shot lead. No one is close to Matsuyama, the hottest player in golf over the last two months.

"I knew somebody was going to go low, but I thought it was going to be probably three, four guys that would post this kind of a score," Woods said. "But Hideki is just playing unbelievable golf."

Johnson tried to stay with him, but had a hard time keeping it out of the sandy areas off the tee. Matsuyama was two shots ahead when he laid up on the short seventh hole, which played downwind, and then one-hopped his wedge into the cup for an eagle. Just like that, the lead was up to four. And when Johnson kept making mistake, ending with a double bogey on the 18th, the margin only got wider.

Brandt Snedeker (69) and Matt Kuchar (71) were at 11-under 205.

RELATED: Hero World Challenge leaderboard | Tiger's birdie from the bunker

Matsuyama took notice early when he saw Woods made a brief run up the leaderboard.

"Only Tiger could take a year-and-a-half off and put up the numbers he's putting up this week," Matsuyama said. "I don't care how many strokes I'm leading over him, I still worry about him, fear him."

That was more respect than reality. The winners of golf's two oldest major championships this year don't sound like they have much of a chance from seven back.

"Anything's possible, but I'm going to have to shoot a really special round," Johnson said.

Matsuyama won his first World Golf Championships title last month in Shanghai at the HSBC Champions, winning by seven shot over Stenson and Daniel Berger.

"That's exactly what he did at HSBC Champions, and it was not much to do at that time. And possibly, that could be the same tomorrow," Stenson said.

Woods still captivated the small island crowd, at least with his start. He three-putted for bogey to slow his momentum, and he missed a pair of 6-footers for par early on the back nine. Still, most players said his score was above their expectations given the injuries he had and the rust he accumulated.

Woods said he had no expectations at all, though he was surprised about his start. Typically after a long layoff, Woods said he struggles to get going. Now it's about finishing a round.

"That's the most concerning part of the game, is getting off to I guess halfway decent starts," Woods said. "But I've been into the round early, and I've been able to build a significant amount of positive shots and go under par early. And unfortunately, I haven't been able to keep it going, except for yesterday. I didn't hit the ball that poorly today, but hit bad putts in the middle part of the round."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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