Sean O’Hair defeats Kris Blanks on second hole of playoff at RCB Canadian Open in Vancouver, B.C.

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SeanO'Hair Wins Canadian Open

SeanO'Hair Wins Canadian Open

Sean O’Hair turned around the worst week of his most trying golf season on an even tougher golf course.

Not even he imagined it was possible just four days ago.

Coming off a frustratingly close missed cut at the British Open, and in the midst of his worst season on the PGA Tour, O’Hair “played horrific” in Wednesday’s Pro-Am on the eve of the RBC Canadian Open.

All of which made him savor the victory four days later that much more.

O’Hair won after tapping in for bogey on the first playoff hole Sunday, and then watching fellow American Kris Blanks lip out his bogey putt from just over 5 feet. It was the fourth PGA Tour victory for O’Hair, but his first since 2009 and first top-15 during a season in which he’s missed 10 of 17 cuts coming in.

“Wednesday night was my worst point of the whole year,” O’Hair said. “I was lost on Wednesday. To be sitting here, I just really appreciate this win.”

The 29-year-old didn’t see any irony in ending his slump at the Canadian Open in a season in which he’s already fired a couple of Canadians — swing coach Sean Foley, who also now works with Tiger Woods, and caddie Brennan Little. He had plenty of praise for both, but did find some irony in how the week played out.

“It is ironic that I’m sitting here after Wednesday and how I felt, and to be holding this trophy is unbelievable,” said O’Hair, adding he the breakthrough started after reading the Bible later that night. “I ve been holding on so tight and trying to do it forcefully. Finally I just said ‘You know what, it’s time for me to just let go and whatever happens, happens.’”

It worked on a course that punished anyone who tried to force things.

O’Hair started three shots off the lead before shooting 68 to get into a playoff with Blanks (70) at 4-under 276. It was the second-highest winning total on the PGA Tour this season, and the first non-major without a bogey-free round since 2008. Only eight players finished under par on the tree-lined Shaugnessy Golf and Country Club, so it was perhaps fitting it was won with a bogey.

After a tough week, O’Hair didn’t mind seeing Blanks miss.

“There is not one second I’m not feeling like I’m going to just puke,” said O’Hair, whose $936,000 winning share was almost triple his season earnings coming into the week, and vaulted him up 104 places in the FedExCup playoff standings to 43rd with five weeks left in the race. “I’m sorry he missed the put but the fact I won knowing he missed it was just overwhelming.”

Playing the 472-yard, par-4 18th again, O’Hair and Blanks both drove it into the thick rough that many players compared unfavorably to the U.S. Open.

O’Hair’s second shot came up short, but in the fairway, while Blanks ended up in a greenside bunker. He’d gotten up and down from the same spot on his final hole with a 10-foot putt to join the playoff, but couldn’t keep it on the green the second time. After O’Hair two-putted from 21 feet, Blanks chipped it past the hole and, putting on the same line as his last hole, lipped out.

“I’m still a little (ticked),” Blanks said despite doubling his winnings this season with $561,600, and jumping from 116 to 54th in the FedExCup standings. “The more I think about it, the more I’ll probably get upset at the shots I gave away.”

So will Argentina’s Andres Romero, who was 4 over through nine holes before making five birdies in his next seven to tie for the lead. But he missed a 22-foot par putt on No. 18 that would have put him in the playoffs after leaving his bunker shot well short, finishing with an even-par 70 in the final round and alone in third place at 277.

John Daly shot 72 to finish in a four-way tie for ninth at 280 — his first top-10 in six years — with current Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, amateur sensation Patrick Cantley, and Spencer Levin, who all closed with 69s. Despite his over-par finish, Daly said he was taking lots of positives away.

“A ton,” Daly said. “In the past, I would have shot an 80 or 82 today.”

Canadian Adam Hadwin, a local playing on a sponsor’s exemption, struggled early before bouncing back late to finish with a 72 and tied with Australian Geoff Ogilvy (70) for fourth at 2 under. Hadwin, in his second year on the third-tier Canadian Tour, was 5 over after a four-putt double bogey on the par-3 8th and another bogey on the tough par-4 11th, but birdied his next three holes. The 23-year-old failed to end a 57-year drought for Canadians at their national open, but did earn another PGA Tour start at next week’s Greenbrier Classic.

“I felt like I was playing for my country out there … brought it back and gave them something to cheer about,” said Hadwin. “I ll catch a flight tomorrow. I ve got celebrating to do tonight.”

NOTES: Ernie Els had the best round of day, a 66 that vaulted him into a tie for 17th in a group that also included world No. 1 Luke Donald (67). Els’ best finish since March moved him to 131 in the FedExCup standings, while Donald moved up one spot to fifth. … Third-round leader Bo Van Pelt was still atop the leaderboard at 5 under at the turn, but played the next five holes at 4 over to finish in a tie for sixth with Scott Piercy (69) and Woody Austin (68).

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Rickie Fowler may have failed what he started, but will it lead to a major finish?

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Rickie Fowler on verge of greatness

Rickie Fowler on verge of greatness

Did Rickie Fowler fail to finish what he started? Or did he start what will lead to a major finish?

There are those who’ll take the first one and run with it. Hasn’t won an event. Can’t close. Lots of flash and hype, great clothes, style but…

And those folks … well, let’s just say they might be more than a bit short-sighted.

Four decades of watching majors teaches you one thing — when it’s your time, it’s your time. It’s mystical and magical. It’s 15-footers for par into a gale. It’s a Velcro shot on the bank at the 12th hole at Augusta. It’s a snap off the tee that winds up in perfect shape for an approach to the green. It’s a back nine beyond compare in your golden years.

It’s the peace and the confidence, the acceptance we saw in Darren Clarke last week at Royal St. George’s. It was Clarke’s major. Just like it was Graeme McDowell‘s week at Pebble Beach or Jack Nicklaus‘ at Augusta back in 1986. The little things all fell into place. The games looked strong and at times effortless and no matter what form of magic the field threw at them, they always had an answer.

Fowler knows the feeling, just on a different level. And what we saw from him at Royal St. George’s was … a player stepping up to the major level.

That third-round 68? Brilliant. He played like a links veteran. He created shots around the greens. He bored drives through the wind and worked it around when he had to do that too. He thrived on that chess game everyone plays with the links. He didn’t let the all-out brutal conditions bother him one bit.

And, afterward, he admitted he took a page from Tom Watson — something a lot of much older players have yet to figure out.

“Joe (Skovron), my caddie, watched a little bit of the coverage prior to us going out, and (Watson) just saw kind of how he looked like he was having fun, smiling, and embracing the conditions,” Fowler said.

“The best way to deal with tough and hard conditions is just go out and try and make a good time of it. So starting the round, we just wanted to keep moving forward, have fun hitting golf shots. And with those conditions, it make links golf fun to play.”

Fun? Now we’re talking. Haven’t the last two major winners played their weeks as if they didn’t have a care in the world? Like they’re kids having fun on what’s really a pressure-cooker of a week?

But that’s only part of it.

We’ve been talking Fowler since his freshman season at Oklahoma State. He wowed there, he wowed at the 2007 Walker Cup where, as the youngest player he went 3-1. And the 2010 Ryder Cup where he was three down to Edoardo Molinari in singles with three holes to play and halved the match.

We’ve been expecting a lot. And, just maybe too much, too soon.

Yes, had he not laid up on the final hole at the 2010 Waste Management Phoenix Open, he might have won. Might have. Or maybe it was just Hunter Mahan‘s week. And there was the 2009 Frys.com Open where he lost a three-way playoff to Troy Matteson.

We were ready to see him breakthrough. And not just on Twitter or in double-dog dare videos with Bubba Watson. Yet what forgot was, no matter how talented a player is, no matter how many expectations he — and we — have for him, there is indeed a learning curve.

Some players jump right in, others need time. No one is Tiger Woods. Got that?

And with Fowler? We tend to compare him to the rival we want for him — Rory McIlroy — yet we forget that McIlroy turned pro two years ahead of Fowler. He had his oops moments, too, on the European Tour, which the U.S. doesn’t follow too closely.

Dan Jenkins joked on Saturday that Fowler was low polka dot Saturday because of the design on his waterproofs — but still five off the lead. Yes, clothes are the easy target for the man who loves bright solids, monochromatic looks and his signature Sunday orange. Same goes for his hair or his caps. Or his dirt-bike/BMX days.

Back then, a wipeout was just a wipeout. You get back up on the bike and go again. Skinned knees, bumps, bruises and all. But like he told Golf World’s Tim Rosaforte before the Open, “Sometimes it’s harder to get back up on the bike. In golf, you can never physically get hurt by a loss, but there can be some tough downtime.”

We’re thinking Fowler has turned the corner. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open, but he had another huge shot at winning three weeks ago at the AT&T National when he went head-to-head with Nick Watney. Fowler shot 74; Watney, the winner, shot 66.

You’re thinking what a win could have done. We’re thinking that loss may have done more.

Fowler didn’t have time for tough downtime. He went to work on his game. He stepped up mentally. He hit the shots. He threw it all out and came up with his best major finish. Ironic isn’t it, that his best major finish prior to that was a tie for 14th at St. Andrews in 2010 when he battled back from an opening 79?

After that 79, he reeled off six consecutive rounds of par or better at the Open before closing with a 74 and tying another young gun, Anthony Kim.

Instead of heading home, he hopped a plane for Vancouver where he’ll tee it up in this week’s RBC Canadian Open. He’s a first-timer here, but he’s standing out — pre-tournament — in a strong field.

He doesn’t look at the comparisons to McIlroy as pressure. He calls it motivation. And no matter how many expectations we put on him, understand that his goals are even higher.

Before you ask, we have no idea how he’ll take to the Shaughnessy G&CC. It’s his first Canadian Open and like everyone else who played the Open, he’s dealing with an eight-time-zone difference.

What we do know is we saw him step up last week. We saw a stronger mental game and some amazing shots under the toughest of conditions. We saw a player who we’ll be talking about for a long while; a must-have on every Presidents and Ryder Cup for the foreseeable future.

And most of all, we saw a start — on a major career.

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Nick Watney wins second of the year with AT&T National title

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Nick Watney wins AT&T National

Nick Watney wins AT&T National

Never mind that Nick Watney was the highest-ranked player at the AT&T National, or that he won a World Golf Championship in March. Stepping to the first tee Sunday in a tie for the lead at the AT&T National, he had reason to feel overlooked.

After being announced, one fan called out, “Go, Rickie!” Several other fans in the large gallery wore bright orange shirts and flat-brimmed caps to show their support for Rickie Fowler, a 22-year-old who was tied for the lead and going after that first PGA Tour win.

“He’s obviously a very popular player. I think his time is definitely coming,” Watney said. “I would say there were probably a few more Fowler fans out there. But it is what it is. Sometimes you play away games or whatever.”

Watney doesn’t have the panache of Fowler, but his game is starting to get plenty of attention.

Playing the weekend at Aronimink in a staggering 12 under, and going the final 27 holes without a bogey, Watney closed with a 4-under 66 for a two-shot victory over K.J. Choi (67) to win for the second time this year and move to No. 10 in the world.

Watney, whose other win this year was a World Golf Championship against an elite field at Doral, also put himself atop the FedExCup standings and the PGA Tour money list for the first time.

“It’s a very addictive feeling to be out there and under the gun,” said Watney, who had rounds of 62-66 on the weekend. “To be able to hit good shots and putts is why I play, really.”

And to think that with only 27 holes left in the tournament, Watney was trying to keep from getting left behind. Ten birdies, an eagle and no bogeys later, he was posing with the silver trophy of a Liberty Bell and wondering how much better he could get.

Watney finished on 13-under 267, tying the tournament record by Tiger Woods in 2009 when it was played at Congressional. The tournament is scheduled to return to Congressional next year.

Charles Howell III earned quite a consolation prize. He played bogey-free in the final round for a 6-under 66 to tie for third with Adam Scott (68) and Jeff Overton (67). That made him eligible for the British Open in two weeks as the top finisher from the top five who wasn’t already exempt.

Fowler had another learning experience.

He fell out of the hunt early with a double bogey on the second hole when he hit three straight shots without losing his turn. From a tough spot in the bunker, he came up well short of the green, barely got his putt up the slope, then ran his bogey attempt a nervy 3 feet beyond the hole. That became a three-shot swing when Watney made birdie, and Fowler never caught up. He finished with a 74 to tie for 13th.

“I just couldn’t get anything going today,” he said.

Watney didn’t give anyone much of a chance. He took the outright lead with a wedge into 10 feet for birdie on No. 2, and holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 fifth. Despite leaving himself in a tough spot in the bunker on the par-5 ninth, he blasted out to 2 feet for another birdie.

Even so, his biggest putts were for par.

Watney saved par from bunkers on No. 4 with a 20-foot putt, and from No. 7 with a putt from about 12 feet. His biggest par save might have been the par-3 eighth, which yielded only two birdies in the final round.

Overton had reached 9 under and was making a move, and Choi had birdied the previous to also reach 9 under. Watney’s shot went over the green, and he putted up the slope to 18 feet. He made the par putt to keep his cushion.

“That was big not to drop a shot after hitting a good shot, and keep momentum heading to the back nine,” Watney said.

The final challenge came from Choi, who trailed by four shots at one point. He slowly made up ground, then closed in on Watney after the turn with a bending, downhill birdie putt on the 11th and a pair of long birdie putts on the 12th and 14th holes, the last one tying for the lead.

Momentum was with Choi, only the South Korean knew better. The par-4 15th played at 503 yards into a slight breeze, following by the par-5 16th that was reachable in two.

“When I tied him on the 14th hole, I knew that there was still a lot of holes to go, and I knew the remaining holes were more favorable to Nick Watney,” Choi said. “I knew the 15th hole would be a turning point. That was a key hole, and I missed it. So I think that was the turning point of the match.”

Choi pulled his shot into the left rough, then tried to hit 5-wood toward the green. The thick grass shut his club and sent the shot into a bunker, some 60 yards from the pin, and so close to the side that his legs were pressed against the edge of the bunker. Choi hit a solid shot, but it took one more hop into the rough, he chipped out to 12 feet and missed the putt.

Watney was just short of the green and lagged his putt from 75 feet to 5 feet, converting yet another important par.

On the next hole, Watney used his power to smash a drive that left him only a 7-iron to the green, and he again hit a good lag for a two-putt birdie. His seventh and final par save came from just behind the 17th green, and his chip stopped 2 feet from the cup.

Watney earned $1.116 million and became the first player this year to top $4 million on tour.

“I’m overjoyed to be in here as the winner,” Watney said. “It was a very difficult, long day. K.J. played great golf and he kept coming and coming. And that makes it even more rewarding.”

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Harrison Frazar wins St. Judes Classic like it was his first tournament

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Harrison Frazar wins St Judes Classic

Harrison Frazar wins St Judes Classic

Harrison Frazar knows he’s supposed to act as if he’s won before. Turns out it’s really tough the first time around, especially for someone who thought he’d missed his chance.

Frazar won his first PGA Tour title in his 355th tournament, beating Robert Karlsson with a par on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He won a month before turning 40 when Karlsson pushed a par-saving putt 3 feet past the hole.

“It was a whirlwind there. This was the first time,” Frazar said. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to keep the seersucker jacket. I don’t know if I’m supposed to carry the trophy. You don’t know who you’re supposed to talk to. I felt bad. I didn’t thank the sponsors. I didn’t thank FedEx. I didn’t thank the volunteers. I was not quite sure really what was happening right then.

“The only tournament that I won is Q-School, you walked in, signed your card in the scoring trailer, and they gave you a pat on the back, ‘Good job.’ You walked out the door. There was nobody there.”

And Frazar had been so ready to quit golf he had plans lined up for a new job at the end of the year.

He turns 40 on July 29, misses his family back in Texas, and is playing this year on a major medical exemption after separate surgeries on his hip and shoulder last summer. Memphis is just the fourth cut he’s made in 10 events, though he just qualified for the upcoming U.S. Open at Congressional.

Now Frazar has the biggest paycheck of his career, taking home $1,008,000. He knows he’ll be playing at least a couple more years now he has a slot in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui in January and in Augusta next April for his first Masters.

“It just shows you how sometimes when you let your guard down or let your expectations soften, you can free yourself up,” Frazar said.

Frazar hadn’t had a chance to share the news with his wife and three children when he talked with reporters. He said his wife likely was stuck in the Dallas airport, flying to meet him at Congressional.

“I’m assuming her phone is either blown up, or she’s trying to get through the airport with three screaming kids,” Frazar said.

Frazar missed a chance to win on the 72nd hole when he made his first bogey of the day. He shot a 3-under 67 to match Karlsson (68) at 13 under. He became the seventh first-time winner on tour this year and the first to win his first title in Memphis since Dicky Pride in 1994.

“I just wanted to make it interesting,” Frazar joked. “I felt bad for Robert.”

Karlsson led after the second and third rounds, and he has shot below par on his past eight rounds here. Now the Swede has lost in a playoff at the TPC Southwind course for a second straight year, though he said he couldn’t have done much more in what he called a great match.

“He played great, and I played good as well,” Karlsson said. “It’s one of those days where I think most of us had a lot of fun out there. Congratulate him on a great win. He played great in the last round after sort of being injured and stuff like that. He played really well.”

Camilo Villegas (64) tied for third with Tim Herron, Ryuji Imada, Charles Howell and Retief Goosen. Lee Westwood, the 2010 champion here, tied for 11th.

“It’s pretty cool,” Frazar said.

This final round turned into a two-man playoff almost from the opening hole with no one closer than three strokes early, a margin that expanded to six.

Frazar kept catching Karlsson atop the leaderboard, finally getting the lead to himself when Karlsson bogeyed No. 17 after yanking a 3-wood way left off the tee. Frazar promptly gave the stroke back on the 72nd hole when his second shot landed near the green and dribbled into the water.

Karlsson stroked in an 8-foot par putt to set up his second straight playoff in Memphis.

In the playoff, Frazar had a 17-footer for birdie and the win on the first hole at No. 18 where he had just bogeyed. But he pushed his putt a foot past. Karlsson had an 18-foot birdie putt for the win on the par-3 11th only to just miss right, while Frazar two-putted from 45 feet.

Frazar had a nice drive on the third hole, the par-4 12th, that left him 93 yards to the pin. He hit his approach to 22 feet and two-putted.

Karlsson had to chip onto the green, and the ball sped past 11 feet past the hole. Needing to hole out to extend the playoff, Karlsson missed his par putt left.

Frazar tied Karlsson at 12 under through three, at 13 under through eight and at 14 under when he stuck his tee shot on the par-3 No. 11 6 feet from the pin for his fourth birdie of the round. With nobody else closer than six strokes, the men matched par for par over the next five holes.

Frazar had birdie putts of 4 feet and 15 feet to take the lead on Nos. 16 and 17 but couldn’t knock them in.

Still sharing the lead, Karlsson yanked his tee shot on the par-4 No. 17 way into the rough. His 8-iron came up 42 yards short of the pin, leaving him a 6-footer for par. He started it left of the hole, and it never moved off the line rolling 4 feet past the pin.

Frazar gave it right back on 18, taking his drop and knocking his ball to 2 feet to salvage bogey after Karlsson’s par putt from 8 feet.

“Felt more like 12 for me,” Karlsson said. “Really, really big 8 feet. I know that’s a putt to get into the playoff. So you … pick your shot and try to hit it there. Scary thing was I had quite a big spike mark right in the way, but you can’t clip it. That’s the way it is. You take your spot and try to hit it as good as you can, and it went in. It was great.”

DIVOTS: Nine consecutive PGA Tour events have been decided by a stroke or a playoff. … This marks the third time in St. Jude history that the winner has been decided in a playoff in back-to-back years. Don Whitt and Tommy Bolt won playoffs in 1959 and 1960, while Andy Bean and Gil Morgan needed extra holes to win in 1978 and 1979. … Frazar’s 71 in the opening round equals the high start by a winner on tour this year and is just the second over-par opening round by a champion this year. Rory Sabbatini opened the Honda Classic with 1-over 71, and Bubba Watson started the Farmers Insurance Open with the same score. … Frazar is just the sixth player to make Memphis his first win in the 54-year history of the event.

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Woods passes on US Open Golf due to injuries

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Tiger Woods passes on US Open

Tiger Woods passes on US Open

Tiger Woods pulled out of the U.S. Open on Tuesday because of lingering issues with his left leg, leaving him uncertain how soon he can resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record for major titles.

 

It will be the first time Woods has missed the U.S. Open since 1994, when he had just graduated high school.

“I am extremely disappointed that I won’t be playing in the U.S. Open, but it’s time for me to listen to my doctors and focus on the future,” Woods said on his website. “I was hopeful that I could play, but if I did, I risk further damage to my left leg. My knee and Achilles tendon are not fully healed.”

Woods said he hoped to be ready for the AT&T National, which starts June 30 at Aronomink, and the next two majors. Then again, he said two weeks ago he would do everything possible to be ready for the U.S. Open, which is far more significant.

“We’re very disappointed that he won be playing in the National Open,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said, whom Woods called Tuesday morning. “He certainly brings excitement to the event. He’ll be missed, but the U.S. Open will go on. The event is bigger than one player, but he certainly will be missed.”

The U.S. Open starts June 16 at Congressional, where Woods won the AT&T National two years ago and tied for 19th when the U.S. Open was last played there in 1997.

He hasn’t won since the 2009 Australian Masters, a stretch of 22 tournaments. He not only lost his No. 1 ranking late last year, he has plunged to No. 15 in the world, his lowest spot in the ranking since the spring of 1997.

Woods announced his decision on Twitter: “Not playing in US Open. Very disappointed. Short-term frustration for long-term gain.”

The Masters is now the only major Woods has played every year since turning pro. He was recovering from knee surgery in 2008 and did not play the British Open and PGA Championship.

“It’s been a frustrating and difficult year, but I’m committed to my longterm health,” Woods said. “I want to thank the fans for their encouragement and support. I am truly grateful and will be back playing when I can.”

The question is when he returns.

Woods is recovering from injuries to his left knee ligaments and left Achilles’, and his Achilles’ is believed to be giving him more trouble.

“My man is hurting,” Arjun Atwal, a close friend and frequent practice partner, said last week at the Memorial. “He’s in a boot, he’s on crutches. Not doing good.”

The most recent of four surgeries on Woods’ left knee came a week after the 2008 U.S. Open, which Woods won in a playoff for his 14th major. He had reconstructive surgery and was out for eight months, then returned and won seven times the following year before his personal life imploded on Thanksgiving night in 2009.

Woods was tied for the lead at the turn in the final round of the Masters this year and wound up in a tie for fourth. But he said he hurt his knee and Achilles’ hitting from an awkward stance in the pine straw on the 17th hole of the third round at Augusta National, and he was limping toward the finish on Sunday. He described it as a “minor injury” in April.

Woods sat out the Wells Fargo Championship, then tried to play in The Players Championship, only to withdraw at 6-over par after nine holes because of what he called a chain reaction of pain in his knee, Achilles’ and eventually his calf.

He later said he tried to come back too early.

The U.S. Open will be the 12th straight major without Woods winning, the longest drought of his career. He remains four majors short of the 18 professional majors that Nicklaus won, the ultimate benchmark in golf.

“I still have plenty of time, and I feel that going forward, I’m excited about playing major championships and playing golf again,” Woods said two weeks ago while promoting the AT&T National. “I just want to be healthy and solid, and I feel like I can give it a go.”

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Luke Donald and Jack Nicklaus chat at Memorial

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Luke Donald

Luke Donald

Jack Nicklaus played his last round in a major alongside a 27-year-old from England with a quiet demeanor and efficient game. He had no idea that Friday afternoon at St. Andrews that Luke Donald one day would be No. 1 in the world.

 

Is he surprised six years later to see Donald atop the world ranking?

Not from what Nicklaus has seen in recent months.

Nicklaus, as he does with most tour players who move to Palm Beach County, offered Donald a membership at The Bear’s Club, which has one of the most complete practice facilities around. Donald has been putting it to good use.

“Luke’s game has come a long way,” Nicklaus said. “But I will have to tell you that Luke is a member at The Bear’s Club down in Florida, and he’s there all the time. There isn’t anybody who spends more time working on his golf game than I’ve seen in Luke Donald. And he spends his time chipping and putting, chipping and putting. I mean, he wears out the practice greens.

“And I think that the effort he has put into it has been rewarded.”

The rewards are more than even Donald once imagined. By winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in a playoff over Lee Westwood, he became only the 15th player to be No. 1 in the 25 years of the world ranking.

It was his second win in three months against a world-class field, to go with a playoff loss at Hilton Head and another runner-up finish in the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain. Donald hasn’t finished out of the top 10 — a streak of nine tournaments — since he missed the cut at Riviera in his return from a three-month winter break.

Donald makes his debut as the new No. 1 on Thursday, when he tees off at the Memorial with the last two Masters champions, Charl Schwartzel and Phil Mickelson.

The field also includes Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney and Players champion K.J. Choi. Missing is Tiger Woods, who is recovering from left leg injuries.

Donald is not a physically imposing figure — not along the lines of Woods, Vijay Singh or Martin Kaymer — yet there is no disputing the results he has put together over the last two years. He only has three wins, but he has finished in the top 10 in just over 50 percent of his tournaments.

Most importantly, he feels like he’s No. 1.

“I do,” Donald said. “I think the way that the world rankings are, consistency is highly weighted. If you can keep playing well week in and week out, keep earning those points, then you’re going to climb in the world rankings. And I don’t think there’s anybody who has been more consistent in the last nine months than me.”

There’s another factor that Donald willingly points out: Woods’ downfall has given the rest of golf a fighting chance. That’s one reason Donald never spent much time dreaming about being No. 1 in the world. With Woods around, it didn’t seem mathematically possible.

“As a kid you dream about winning majors and winning tournaments,” he said. “But for me, I always kept an eye out on the world rankings and had an interest in it. But I supposed for the bulk of my career, Tiger was so far ahead that it never really crept into my mind.

“But in the last year or so, there’s been more of an upheaval in the rankings, and there’s been a lot more movement. So I knew the opportunity was there.”

With Woods out of the way — he slipped to No. 13 this week — Donald, Westwood and Kaymer have been No. 1 over the last three weeks. That’s the highest turnover in the ranking since 1997, when Woods, Ernie Els and Greg Norman took turns over three weeks. Woods eventually established himself as the undisputed No. 1 in the ranking.

This could take longer to sort out, although Donald is in the right place.

He reached the top in style, winning the European Tour’s flagship event despite not having his best game on the weekend, and beating the former No. 1 in a sudden-death playoff.

“I would have loved to have won by 10 and not had to go through all that stress,” Donald said. “I didn’t have my best golf last week. I think that’s what was more satisfying to me than anything else, that even without really feeling totally in control of my game, I was able to get it done. And obviously, to do it in that circumstance, going head to head with Lee and to have everything on the line, made it that much more special.”

The last time No. 1 changed hands with the top two players going head to head was at the 2004 Deutsche Bank Championship, although Vijay Singh easily defeated Woods in regulation without having to go to a playoff.

The biggest change for Donald was a short game and the shortest space in golf — between the ears. Along with working on his fitness following a wrist injury in 2008, he hired performance coach Dave Alred, best known in rugby circles as a kicking coach for the likes of Jonny Wilkinson.

Kaymer, after losing to Donald in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, said Donald’s short game was better than Mickelson’s. Along with trying to keep it in the fairway to compensate for his lack of power off the tee, Donald has worked endlessly with longtime coach Pat Goss on chipping and putting.

Nicklaus, the tournament host at Memorial, can attest to that from what he sees at The Bear’s Club.

“I’ve worked very hard down there,” Donald said. “They have such great facilities that I feel guilty if I don’t work hard.”

Does he ever see Nicklaus hitting balls?

“Not very often, no,” Donald said with a smile. “I think he spends a lot of time on the tennis courts.”

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Darren Clarke captures his 13th. European Title at Iberdrola Open in Mallorca

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Darren Clarke wins again

Darren Clarke wins again

Darren Clarke came from four behind to capture his 13th European Tour title at the Iberdrola Open in Mallorca.

The Northern Irishman used all his experience to grind out a final round 69 and deny Chris Wood his maiden victory.

The Ryder Cup Vice Captain had reduced Wood’s overnight advantage to one within three holes, but a double bogey at the 11th after finding water looked to have cost him a first win since the 2008 KLM Open.

But Wood encountered numerous problems on the back nine – three-putting the 12th and 13th and driving out of bounds at the 15th as he came back in 40, despite coming within millimetres of a hole in one at the last.

And Clarke finished in style, holing a putt from the fringe at the 14th, nailing his approach to six feet at the 15th, saved par with a brilliant approach from a fairway bunker and then chipping in to scramble par at the next.

The 42 year old finished with a six under par total at the Pula GC course designed by his final round playing partner José Maria Olazábal, with Wood tying for second with compatriot David Lynn.

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Family and friends of a true champion of golf, honor him at his funeral

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Seve's Funeral Procession

Seve's Funeral Procession

To the mournful wail of a lone bagpipe, some of Europe’s greatest golfers joined family, friends and local residents Wednesday at the funeral of Seve Ballesteros, paying an emotional final tribute to the dynamic Spaniard who revived the European game.

Ryder Cup captains Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Sam Torrance and Jose Maria Olazabal and players including Miguel Angel Jimenez marched together in silence as part of the procession from Ballesteros’ family home to the church of San Pedro de Pedrena.

Young boys and girls wore replicas of the navy blue outfit that Ballesteros wore for his first British Open win in 1979. They each held a 3-iron, the only club Ballesteros owned when he learned to play golf.

About 400 people packed the church to provide Ballesteros with one final send-off before his ashes were spread under a magnolia tree at the family home in this tiny fishing village in northern Spain.

Ballesteros, a five-time major winner and Ryder Cup stalwart, died Saturday at age 54 from complications of a cancerous brain tumor.

“He was so young and such a great man. A great champion — the best Europe ever had,” Torrance said.

Ballesteros’ oldest son, Javier, carried the urn holding the Spanish golf great’s ashes at the front of the procession, with the somber notes of a single bagpipe punctuating the occasion on an overcast day in the village off the Bay of Santander.

The crowd of up to 1,000 gathered outside the church burst into applause as Ballesteros’ ashes reached the church. Locals, friends and others watched from one of the three giant screens set up outside.

“With hard work he went from nothing to everything, realizing his dream to be the best and to be in the heart of the people,” said nephew Ivan Ballesteros, who was flanked by the golfer’s sons Javier and Miguel on the church altar. “In the end he decided when and where it ended. Rest my friend, rest Seve.”

Relatives inside the church wept and embraced, and so did friends and Pedrena residents watching outside after applauding heartily.

“It’s not a goodbye — we know you’ll always be here by our side,” Ballesteros’ son Miguel said.

Ballesteros’ brother Vicente picked up the urn — which had been set above two golf clubs and a golf ball at the foot of the altar — and carried it out of the church back to the family home, where a private family ceremony was held before the ashes were placed under the magnolia tree overlooking the nearby Real Club de Golf Pedrena course where his career began.

“We all wanted to be here to support Seve and wish him the best. We loved him, he was great,” Faldo said. “It’s a sad time, we lost someone very special. European golf owes Seve a great debt. He was the best frontman we could have ever dreamed of.”

Woosnam said Ballesteros did for European golf what Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus did for the American game. The Spaniard won a record 50 European Tour victories and led Europe to victories in the Ryder Cup both as a player and captain.

His British Open victory at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s in 1979 was only the second for a European player in 28 years and first from the continent since 1907. The hot-tempered Spaniard with a flair for theatrics went on to win the Open again in 1984 and ’88 and the Masters in ’80 and ’83 .

“He put Europe on the map going traveling around the world,” said Woosnam, a fellow Masters champion. “The Ryder Cup is one of the biggest events in the world and that’s thanks to Seve.”

Ballesteros will be remembered not just for the many victories but also the manner in which he achieved them, with daring and courageous shot-making. Faldo said Ballesteros’ 3-wood that helped him halve the final hole at the 1983 Ryder Cup was the greatest shot he’d witnessed.

Coming from a humble background, Ballesteros learned to play golf using only a 3-iron, part of the reason he was inventive in coming up with shots most other players couldn’t imagine.

“I’m so pleased everyone’s all talking about 3-iron because that’s how he started golf,” Faldo said. “I think the 3-iron has to live on. He wanted to give the world a bunker lesson.”

Faldo, Woosnam and Montgomerie said they all hoped the European Tour would consider suggestions to change the tour’s logo to encompass the iconic image of Ballesteros pumping his fist after sinking the putt that clinched the 1984 Open at St. Andrews.

“We will look at it nice and calmly, and if we do consider any single player’s image at the moment it would be Seve’s,” European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady said.

Ballesteros had 87 tournament victories in his career and won 22 1/2 points from 37 matches in eight Ryder Cups. He captained Europe to victory on home soil at Valderrama in 1997.

Homages to Ballesteros were found all along the procession route, mostly in the form of Spanish flags with black ribbons tied to them. Photos and messages of support were also on show in the town of nearly 1,500,

“His roots were here in Pedrena, he never forgot that,” said Asuncion Sota, a cousin of Ballesteros’. “Seve may have passed but his soul lives on here forever.”

Ballesteros’ ashes were to be laid to rest under a magnolia tree in the family garden after the service.

“In golf we never had anyone like him,” five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain said. “He was an innovator.”

Indurain was among a number of Spanish personalities attending, which included former Real Madrid player Emilio Butragueno and bullfighter Enrique Ponce.

For Olazabal in particular, of course, the tears have flowed since the news came at the weekend. He was the other half of the most successful Ryder Cup partnership in history — 11 wins, two halves and only two defeats between 1987 and 1993.

Ballesteros’ final wish was for the funeral to take place in a familiar setting, open to everyone, in his home village and he said he wanted to be treated “like any other neighbor” during the ceremony. With the 400-capacity church packed, three big screens were provided so that others could follow the ceremony from outside.

The family took the opportunity to thank everyone for the support shown during his long illness and, of course, for their condolences since his death.

Spanish state TV broadcast the event live from the village — population 1,500 — where many homes paraded Spanish flags with black ribbons attached.

Every golf club in Spain had a minute’s silence, and at the European Tour’s Iberdrola Open in Majorca, to where Montgomerie and Olazabal were travelling after the funeral, black ribbons were placed on every flag for Wednesday’s pro-am and a service was held in the chapel alongside the course.

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Byrd takes a one shot lead into final round of Wells Fargo Championship

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Jonathan Byrd

Jonathan Byrd

The crowd was so big and boisterous Saturday that it made Jonathan Byrd a little uncomfortable. Seeing his name atop the leaderboard? Byrd is getting used to that.

 

The guy who only last October was worried about keeping his PGA Tour card ran off a blistering stretch of birdies in the Wells Fargo Championship for a 5-under 67, giving him a one-shot lead as he goes for his third win in seven months.

“Twelve months ago, I would never have thought that could happen,” he said. “But now, the way my game is, why couldn’t it happen? I’m playing well. I feel like I have all the tools to play well. I’m just going to play, and then when it’s all over, I’ll enjoy whatever I’ve done.”

Byrd was at 15-under 201, a score he didn’t imagine until his hot streak.

He was in the mix with a half-dozen other players who were trying to keep in range of Pat Perez when Byrd ran off five birdies in six holes to start the back nine. The one hole he didn’t birdie might have been his best putt — a 7-footer that broke sharply to the right.

“You won’t believe how much this putt breaks,” Phil Mickelson said, standing to the back of the green after his own remarkable par. Byrd poured it into the heart, birdied the next two holes and was on his way.

Perez had a hard-fought 70, missing fairways early in the round and rarely converting birdie chances throughout the back nine until a slight mistake turned into his best-looking shot. Taking a little off a 7-iron, he pulled it slightly on the 17th and saw it sail right at the flag and stop some 5 feet behind the pin for a birdie.

“It was kind of scrappy all the way around,” Perez said. “I played pretty good to shoot 70, I guess.”

Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover (69) and former British Open champion Stewart Cink (68), who have not won since capturing their majors in the summer of 2009, were three shots back.

The top eight players were separated by five shots, which isn’t much on a Quail Hollow course where last year Rory McIlroy closed with a 62 for his only PGA Tour victory.

It starts with Byrd and Perez, who players whose contrast starts with their pace of play. Byrd is on the deliberate side, while Perez wastes no time. On the sixth hole, with Byrd in the group ahead, the caddies were no more than 10 feet off the green when Perez had hit his tee shot into the par 3.

Perez isn’t the least bit worried.

“I wait every single shot, every single day on the PGA Tour, so I’ve gotten really used to doing that,” Perez said.

Missing from the mix is Mickelson.

The three-time Masters champion was in range and was poised to make a move with a brilliant par save on the 12th, a mini-flop from a downhill lie to a green that ran away and broke sharply to the left. It stopped inches away.

But he hit flubbed a bunker shot on the 14th to lose an easy chance at birdie, then hit tee shots into the water on the par-5 15th (bogey) and the par-3 17th (double bogey) on his way to a 74. Mickelson has hit five balls in the water this week.

J.B. Holmes had an amazing stretch on the back nine — five shots to play two holes when he holed a 5-iron on the 15th for an albatross, the rarest score in golf, and followed that with a birdie on the 16th. That led to a 65, although he was six shots behind, along with U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III, who had a 68.

The excitement was almost too much for Byrd.

He was playing with Mickelson, the biggest draw at Quail Hollow, and while it wasn’t the first time, he could feel the energy. The gallery caved in around him going from green-to-tee on just about every hole, with young fans holding out hands to be tapped.

Mickelson gets that all the time — Byrd, not so much.

“I’ve never high-fived so much in my life,” Byrd said.

That only concerned him because he doesn’t play with a glove, and part of him wondered if fans had just put on sunscreen.

“Phil is used to that,” he said. “He just flashes that smile. I want to keep my head down.”

The buzz in the crowd contributed to a slow start, a bogey on the opening hole and failing to birdie the par-5 fifth. But he hit a nifty chip from the side of the seventh for a tap-in birdie, nearly drove the short eighth hole and made birdie, then took off on the back nine.

His longest birdie putt was a 10-footer on the 13th. The rest was about taking advantage of the par 5s and the short par-4 14th. In the middle of that stretch was the 7-foot par on the 12th, which Byrd called his toughest putt on the back nine.

Watching Mickelson hit his chip allowed him to see the degree of break, and he poured it in the center cut. Then came two more birdies, and Byrd was surprised to hear after his round he had made seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch.

He needed them all to get the 54-hole lead. No one is sure how many he’ll need Sunday to collect another win.

“Somebody is going to have to get off to a good start,” Glover said. “Jonathan is a great front-runner. He’s playing so well. I played with him Tuesday and saw him at home the last couple weeks. He’s playing great. It’s going to take a good start and a low round because he’s playing well enough to where he could shoot in the 60s again tomorrow and blow everybody away. But we’ll see.”

Players wore black ribbons in honor of Seve Ballesteros, who died early Saturday in Spain. PGA Tour officials said play will stop at 3:08 p.m. on Sunday for one minute in memory of the Spanish great.

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Scott Jamieson leads second round of Open de Esparia after shaky start

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Scott Jamieson

Scott Jamieson

European Tour rookie Scott Jamieson battled back from a shaky start to set the early clubhouse target in the second round of the Open de España in Barcelona.

 

After opening with a pace-setting 66 in only his 11th event on The European Tour, the 27 year old Scot had three bogeys in his first six holes but then birdied the seventh, 12th and 16th to return to six under par with a 72.

However, Pablo Larrazábal, playing on his home El Prat course, and South African Thomas Aiken were quick to join Jamieson out in front when they teed off again.

Former Open de France champion Larrazabal birdied the long second while Aiken, back this week from a seven-week lay-off, resumed on the back nine and picked up strokes at the tenth and 14th.

Indian Jeev Milkha Singh was another who started with a 67, but he fell back to three under with a 74.

Title favourite Miguel Angel Jiménez, second to World Number One Lee Westwood in Korea on Sunday, was on the same mark but then double-bogeyed the eighth – his 17th – and had to settle for a 72 and one under aggregate.

Colin Montgomerie had hopes of being right in the thick of things as well when he resumed two under, but he followed an opening birdie with three bogeys in the next five and by parring in from there handed in a 74 and level par total – the same as his successor as Europe’s Ryder Cup Captain, Jose Maria Olazábal

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