Sunday, May 8, 2011


Seve Ballesteros was a genius with a golf club in his hands, an inspiration to everyone who saw him create shots that didn’t seem possible. The Spaniard’s passion and pride revived European golf and made the Ryder Cup one of the game’s most compelling events.

Ballesteros, a five-time major champion whose incomparable imagination and fiery personality made him one of the most significant figures in modern golf, died Saturday from complications of a cancerous brain tumor. He was 54.

A statement on Ballesteros’ website early Saturday said he died peacefully at 2:10 a.m. local time, surrounded by his family at his home in Pedrena. It was in this small Spanish town where Ballesteros first wrapped his hands around a crude 3-iron and began inventing shots that he would display on some of golf’s grandest stages.

Ballesteros won the Masters at 23, leading by 10 shots at one point in the final round. He was a three-time winner of the British Open, no moment greater than his 1984 victory at St. Andrews. He was as inspirational in Europe as Arnold Palmer was in America, a handsome figure who feared no shot and often played from where no golfer had ever been.

Clinging to a one-shot lead, Lucas Glover closed with three gutsy pars of the brutal finishing stretch at Quail Hollow, slamming his fist when he made the last one from 7 feet for a 3-under 69 and what looked to be a sure win. Then came Jonathan Byrd, with two great pars of his own, followed by a shot into 15 feet that he made for birdie on the 18th for a 72 to force a playoff with  Glover who wound up a winner with a par on the first extra hole, ending a drought of 41 tournaments that stretched nearly two years back to his U.S. Open win at Bethpage Black in 2009.

It was the eighth playoff this year on the PGA Tour, and the third in a row.
Glover, in his first PGA Tour playoff, felt a sense of calmness playing against Byrd, who had won his last two tournaments in extra holes. And it showed.

In regulation, Glover hooked his tee shot so far left that it settled under a spectator. He was given a drop, then watched the ball roll down the bank toward the stream as he got ready to hit it. Because he never grounded his club  that was his plan, given the lie on a side of a steep hill—he played the next shot without penalty.

He managed a 6-iron just over the green, hit the most difficult chip he had all day to 7 feet and escaped with another par. In the playoff, however, Glover striped his tee shot down the middle and two-putted from 25 feet.

Byrd, who went from a fairway bunker to the hazard left the green—just short of the stream—hit a difficult chip 25 by the hole and wound up with a bogey.

Glover, who finished on 15-under 273, became the first player in the nine-year history of the tournament to post all four rounds in the 60s. He never would have seen this coming.

He has been going through a divorce the past several months and had only one top 10 over the last year. He missed the cut in his last three events and didn’t have much confidence when he showed up at Quail Hollow.

But he figured out Tuesday on the range that the club wasn’t square, it felt better Wednesday in the pro-am and off he went. This wasn’t the U.S. Open, although the way he was tested over the final hour of a wild day, it felt just as difficult.

Rory Sabbatini, who closed with a 65 and was 13-under 131 on the weekend, wound up alone in third and will move into the top 50 of the world. Now he has to stay there for two more weeks to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Bill Haas had a 70 to finish alone in fourth. Pat Perez, who set a tournament record with 26 birdies, had an outside chance at winning until closing with three straight bogeys to tie for sixth.
Glover was four shots behind when he made his move by chipping in for birdie on the eighth and holing a 30-foot eagle on the 10th that gave him the outright lead that he never lost the rest of the way.

Then came a wild ride—bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie—that brought him to the treacherous finish. He saved par from well behind the 16th green. He two-putted from just under 100 feet on the 17th, making a 6-footer for par, then escaped No. 18 with the biggest par of all.
Byrd was back on the tee when he heard the roar of Glover’s par, knowing he needed birdie.

Glover all but predicted he would.

They had joked before the third round that they would be paired together on Sunday late in the afternoon. They probably didn’t have this late in mind.
Sabbatini was among five players atop the leaderboard in a wacky final round, and the action was relentless.

It started with  Sabbatini who posted at 14-under 274, and it looked as though it might be enough for a playoff as  Glover, Byrd, Haas and Perez kept finding trouble along the last five holes.

Byrd looked to be in control until closing out the front nine with back-to-back bogeys, then making another one on the 14th when his shot from the right rough also found the water. But he followed with a birdie on the 15th, then punched out of the trees on the 16th and hit his shot from 167 yards to 2 feet for an unlikely par, and closed with a dramatic birdie.

In the end, Glover held true and took home the trophy.

Thomas Aiken earned his first European Tour title with a two-shot victory at the Spanish Open on Sunday, and promptly dedicated the victory to golf great Seve Ballesteros.

The South African player shot a 2-under 70 on the El Prat course for a 10-under total of 278 to edge Anders Hansen  of Denmark

Scott Jamieson of Scotland and Spanish player Pablo Larrazabal were another shot back in third.
Aiken went into the final round enjoying a two-shot advantage and carded birdies at holes 2, 6 and 11 to extend his lead.

He wobbled a bit with two bogeys and one birdie from there, but closed out the round with three straight pars to take home more than $450,000.

Hansen started with eight straight pars to fall four shots behind, and his three birdies were offset by a lone bogey on the 13th.

Aiken is the fifth South African to win an event this season, including Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

Jose Maria Olazabal’s emotional weekend ended with a 77 to finish 18 shots back in 56th. Olazabal and Ballesteros were the Ryder Cup’s most successful pairing, and the Spanish player wept openly on Saturday after his friend’s death.

Steady and patient, Tom Lehman won the Regions Tradition for his third victory in seven Champions Tour events this year, beating Peter Senior with a par on the second hole of a playoff Sunday.
Senior, from Australia, missed a 5-foot par putt when it lipped out on No. 18. Lehman two-putted from about 20 feet, polishing off his second bogey-free day at the first Champions Tour major of the season. They quickly walked over to shake each other’s hands without much reaction after the relatively anticlimactic ending.

Both parred the first playoff hole, also No. 18 at Shoal Creek.

Lehman and Senior finished at 13-under 275. Lehman had a 3-under 69, and Senior shot a 68.
Senior also missed a potential winning putt on the first playoff hole by a couple of inches to the right, then had an even closer one from the other side.

Lehman won his second Champions Tour major and fifth overall title on the 50-and-over circuit. He has more than doubled up No. 2 Nick Price in the points standings.

Lehman won the Senior PGA Championship last year, beating Fred Couples and David Frost in a playoff after the Minnesotan parred and they both double bogeyed.

Loren Roberts  was third at 11 under after a closing birdie, and Michael Allen  was 10 under. Third-round leader Mark Calcavecchia shot a 75 to fall into a tie for fifth at 9 under.

University of Georgia senior Russell Henley became the second amateur winner in Nationwide Tour history Sunday, shooting a 3-under 68 for a two-stroke victory in the Stadion Classic on the Bulldogs’ home course.

The three-time All-America selection finished at 12-under 272 on the University of Georgia Golf Course.

Daniel Summerhays is the only other amateur winner since the tour began in 1990, taking the 2007 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in between his junior and senior seasons at BYU.

Henley will remain an amateur through the Walker Cup in September.

Troy Kelly shot a 70 to finish second—and take the $99,000 top prize.

Monday qualifier Will Wilcox and Matt Hendrix tied for third at 9 under.

Geoff Ogilvy  withdrew from the Wells Fargo Championship because of a sore left shoulder.

Ogilvy says his shoulder was bothering him slightly toward the end of the Masters and at the Texas Open. He figured it would be fine when he got to Quail Hollow in Charlotte, but says he wants another week of rest to make sure it doesn’t become a problem.

Geoff Ogilvy of Australia hits a shot on the 14th hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

He is expected to play next week at The Players Championship and in Texas, the home state of his wife.

Ogilvy says it wouldn’t be sensible to try to play at Wells Fargo with so many big tournaments coming up, from The Players Championship to three majors this summer.

Sean O’Hair not only is looking for his game, he’s now looking for a new swing coach.

O’Hair, who has missed his past five cuts and has not finished among the top 20 all year, has decided to split with Sean Foley after a relationship that began nearly three years ago in the Canadian Open.

During their time together, O’Hair won the Quail Hollow Championship and played in the Presidents Cup. But whatever had been going right started going very wrong this year, and it was time for a change.

O’Hair fired caddie Paul Tesori at the end of last year, and recently split up with caddie Brennan Little. Foley was next to go.

Rory Sabbatini could face suspension from the PGA Tour for what was described as a profanity-laced argument with Sean O’Hair during last week’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

According to multiple players and officials, it was the second time this year that Sabbatini has run into trouble because of his behavior on the golf course. The first incident was at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open, where Sabbatini was said to have spoken harshly to a teenage volunteer who was trying to help him find a lost ball.

The players and officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the tour keeps all disciplinary matters private.

O’Hair also was in Sabbatini’s group at Riviera. Two people familiar with the incident said the volunteer wrote a five-page letter to the PGA Tour, but Sabbatini escaped punishment by offering to apologize to anyone he offended.

Sabbatini won two weeks later at the Honda Classic.

Webb Simpson called it a “bad rule.” He was penalized a stroke because the ball moved as he was addressing it on the green, costing him one stroke and perhaps his first PGA Tour victory.

The U.S. Golf Association appears to agree. Vice President Thomas O’Toole said Monday there will be talks to modify the rule, with any change taking place at the start of 2012.

“If some other agency—wind or gravity—is known to cause that ball to move, no penalty would be applied,” O’Toole said at the U.S. Open media day at Congressional Country Club.

Simpson, leading by one shot, was less than a foot from the cup at the 15th hole on Sunday at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans when the ball moved. Simpson said it was probably caused by wind, combined with relatively dry and hard greens.

Regardless, the rule as currently written offers no leeway, and the one-stroke penalty proved vital when he finished tied with Bubba Watson after 72 holes. Watson then won in a playoff.

The potential change will now be discussed in earnest over the next several months with the R&A. O’Toole sounded confident it would pass, but he stressed that “it’s not a done deal.”

O’Toole said the change—much like the one regarding scorecards announced at this year’s Masters—is in part a result of the impeccable quality of video that is available. Television viewers can now see every little movement of the ball.

O’Toole said the change would modify Rule 18-2b and would declare that “if it was known or virtually certain that the player did not cause that ball to move, then the (penalty) does not apply.”

“Now we’ve got some latitude,” O’Toole said. “Deeming the player to cause it to move applies in 90 percent of the situations, but it doesn’t apply sometimes. And, in that case, the exception applies and no penalty

This year the U.S. Open
will be played at the Blue course at Congressional Country Club.  The layout will be the second longest in the championship’s history when the event returns to the suburbs of the nation’s capital on June 16-19. If all the back tees are used, it will be some 350 yards longer than when Ernie Els won in 1997 and more than 500 yards longer than when Ken Venturi overcame the stifling heat for his legendary 1964 victory.

“We want the U.S. Open to be a rigorous test,” U.S. Golf Association Executive Director Mike Davis said at Monday’s media day.

There are eight new tee boxes, set way back to increase the yardage. The par-5 ninth can now play up to 636 yards—and will have worst rough on the course in a gully right in front of the green. Such a layout poses a problem for the shorter hitters.

There is one concession in favor of the field. The 555-yard sixth hole will play as a par 5 instead of a par 4. Par for the course was 70 in ’64 and ’97, but this time it’s 71.

Overall, though, the course had to be altered to bring its hazards back into play to match the longer game of today. Davis said his goal was to make it so the golfers would be using the same clubs the architect had in mind when the holes were designed nearly a century ago.

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