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PGA leaders make early start while Tiger, McIlroy out late

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ST. LOUIS: Leader Gary Woodland and many of his closest pursuers were set to tee off early as today’s second round of the 100th PGA Championship began while Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy make afternoon starts.
Woodland, who has never finished better than 12th in 27 major starts, fired a six-under-par 64 Thursday to seize a one-stroke lead over fellow American Rickie Fowler at Bellerive Country Club.
“I’ve started to feel pretty comfortable this week and it was nice to see results,” 44th-ranked Woodland said.
“I’ve been hitting the ball very well. Now when I get out of position I have the short game to give myself a chance. And to see putts go in was very, very cool.”
Woodland sank a career-high 153 feet of putts in round one and begins round two in the seventh group off the 10th tee with Spain’s Sergio Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion, and Kevin Kisner, among a pack of 11 golfers sharing fifth on 67.
Two-time major winner Zach Johnson and South African Brandon Stone, who share third on 66, will be in hot pursuit quickly. Stone was in the first group to begin on the back nine while Johnson is two groups behind Woodland.
World number one Dustin Johnson, Britain’s Justin Rose and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters are also early starters in the pack on 67.
Woods, a 14-time major champion in his comeback season after spinal fusion surgery, drew the largest crowds in a supergroup with McIlroy and second-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas. But Woods and McIlroy grinded out par 70s to share 48th place with Thomas little better on 69.
“Just hung in there. I was able to grind out a score,” Woods said. “It kept me in the golf tournament.”
They figure to command attention again as the fifth-to-last group off the first tee but moving their way up the leaderboard will be the bigger challenge on greens that were iffy even before absorbing two days of tournament punishment.
“They’re bumpy, for sure,” Woods said. “The shorter putts are a little more interesting because they’re a little chewed up.”
World number nine Fowler, this year’s Masters runner-up, has eight top-five major finishes without a victory but matched the low major round of his career with a 65.
He starts in the fifth afternoon group off the first tee with Britain’s Ian Poulter, in the group on 67, and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, another shot back.
“It was fun to feed off each other,” Fowler said of his trio’s success. “Hopefully we can do that again.” Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, ranked eighth, can complete a Career Grand Slam with a victory this week. But the 25-year-old American opened with a double bogey and shot 71 Thursday to share 62nd.

Relevant piece: American Gary Woodland, who has never cracked the top-10 in 27 major starts, fired a six-under-par 64 Thursday to grab a one-stroke lead over Rickie Fowler late in the opening round of the 100th PGA Championship.
On a day when Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy ground out level par, unlikely Woodland – who snapped a five-year PGA win drought by winning in February at Phoenix – unleashed the best-putting round of his career at Bellerive Country Club.
“When I see putts go in, that just gets me going,” Woodland said. “It’s really starting to click. I thought I was putting well. It was nice to see them go in.”
World number 44 Woodland, whose best major finishes have been shares of 12th at the 2011 PGA and 2016 British Open, sank seven birdie putts in 10 holes to pass Fowler, who matched the best major round of his career with a 65.
Ninth-ranked Fowler, twice a top-five finisher in every major, is without a win to show for it, having finished second at the Masters in April.
“I always have hope. It’s not something I necessarily worry about,” Fowler said. “Keep putting ourselves in position, get in contention. We’ll just keep beating down that door.”
Woodland, 34, opened with a bogey but closed the front nine with back-to-back birdies then sank a 44-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th and added 23-foot birdie putts at 12 and the par-3 16th.
At the par-5 17th, Woodland dropped his approach three feet from the cup and tapped in for a birdie to seize the lead, then closed with a par.
“It was nice to get the jitters over early,” Woodland said. “I really settled in. I played great all day.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion making a comeback after spinal fusion surgery, battled back all day to overcome a bogey-double bogey start.
“It kept me in the golf tournament,” Woods said. “I could have easily gone the other way, but I hung in there and turned it around.”
The 42-year-old American battled back with birdie putts from four feet at 18, nine feet at the first and eight feet at the par-5 eighth.
“Just hung in there. I was trying to chip away at it, pick away at it,” Woods said. “I was able to grind out a score today.”
Four-time major champion McIlroy found a bunker at 10 and made bogey, then sank birdie putts at 11 13, but made bogey at 18 and parred in from there.
“It wasn’t that easy out there,” said McIlroy. “I gave myself a few chances. I finished off with nine pars. It could have been a little better.”
Fowler, a back-nine starter, found 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation. He birdied 14 but landed in a bunker at the par-3 16th and made bogey, then bounced back with a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-5 17th, a 14-footer at the first and six-footer at the third.
Fowler followed with a 31-foot birdie putt at the par-4 seventh hole and blasted from a bunker to eight feet to birdie the par-5 eighth.
“I’m definitely happy about the start and we’ll see if we can keep that rolling,” Fowler said. “I kept it very stress-free. Just play within me.”
South African Brandon Stone, who won July’s Scottish Open, shot 66 to share third with US two-time major winner Zach Johnson.
“The game felt really good,” Stone said. “Just tried to stay calm and I made a few great putts.”
Johnson saved par at 17 from a bunker and dropped his 155-yard approach two feet from the cup to set up a closing birdie.
“That was big at 17 and then I had the right distance at 18,” Johnson said.
Among those in a pack on 67 was Britain’s Ian Poulter, who birdied three of his first six holes in quest of his first major title.
“I got off to a flying start,” Poulter said. “It was a good day. I feel pretty comfortable.”
Also on 67 was Australian Jason Day, the 2015 PGA winner who birdied two of the last three holes.
“I’m very happy with how things progressed out there,” Day said. “It’s always nice to get a round in like this, start your week knowing that you’re in the right direction.”

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Tiger Woods awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

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WASHINGTON: Donald Trump has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tiger Woods on Monday here at White House Rose Garden.

Praising Woods’ “relentless will to win, win, win…” the President held: “These qualities embody the American spirit of pushing boundaries, defying limits and always striving for greatness.”

President congratulated the Golfer on his amazing comeback and his amazing life and for giving sports fans a lifetime of memories: “We can’t wait to see what’s next, Tiger.”

Speaking on the occasion Tiger Woods said: “I have tried to hang in there and I have tried to come back and play the great game of golf again,” Woods said. “I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to do it again.”

Presidential Medal of Freedom that was established by John F. Kennedy in 1963,  is bestowed upon those who have made an ‘especially meritorious’ contribution to US security or national interests, world peace, cultural pursuits or other non-specified endeavors.

It is pertinent to mention here that Trump himself is a golfer who owns a number of golf courses all over the globe.

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Golf: Stallings and Mullinax lead storm-hit Zurich Classic

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NEW ORLEANS: The duo of Scott Stallings and Trey Mullinax finished their round with an 11-under 61 before storms and then darkness prevented the completion of the opening round of the Zurich Classic on Thursday.
Only 13 teams were able to complete their first rounds at TPC Louisiana following a weather delay that included lightning in the area. Play will resume at 7 am local time (12 noon GMT) today.
Martin Laird/Nick Taylor and Brian Gay/Rory Sabbatini were tied for second at 10 under. Laird and Taylor finished their round while Gay and Sabbatini still have four holes to play.
Another shot off the pace were the teams of Joel Dahmen/Brandon Harkins and Brice Garnett/Chesson Hadley, who were both able to complete their rounds.
Tournament officials said they are hopeful of getting the round completed today. “We’re going to play as much golf as we can today and finish up what we have to tomorrow,” said PGA TOUR rules official Gary Young. “Hopefully not into Saturday. But I think we’ll have enough time to get it done by tomorrow.”
The two-player team event includes Four-ball (best ball) rounds on Thursday/Saturday and Foursomes (alternate shot) on Friday/Sunday. The field will be cut from 60 teams to 35 following the second round.

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Golf: Masters’ Final Round begins

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AUGUSTA (USA): Tiger Woods teed off in today’s final round of the Masters chasing his 15th major title, trying to capture his fifth green jacket to end an 11-year major drought.
The 43-year-old American superstar, back on form after 2017 spinal fusion surgery following years of nagging back pain, played alongside compatriot Tony Finau and Italy’s Francesco Molinari in the last group at Augusta National Golf Club.
Reigning British Open champion Molinari seized the 54-hole lead on 13-under par 203 with Woods and Finau two strokes behind.
Brooks Koepka, last year’s US Open, and PGA Championship winner, began three adrift with fellow American Webb Simpson, the 2012 US Open, and England’s Ian Poulter four off the pace.
“It’s golf, so the favorite is probably the golf course out there waiting for us,” Molinari said.
“We’re all very close. It’s nice to be a little bit ahead, but you might just need one hole to change. You never know how it’s going to go, especially around a course like here.”
Augusta National advanced the final round to Sunday morning in a safety move with thunderstorms expected to arrive Sunday afternoon, when leaders would typically be battling for the Masters crown.
The storms, with hail and high winds producing tornadoes, led to three deaths and severe damage in moving across the southeastern United States.
The Masters, which has not had a Monday conclusion since 1983, decided to cancel its green jacket ceremony after the finish in order to hurry spectators to the exits faster due to the approaching storm.
Racing nature’s fury to finish on the weekend added more tension to the unfolding Masters’ drama, which centered on Woods and his chance to win his first major title since the 2008 US Open on the same course where he won his first-ever major in 1997.
“At 23, I had a lot more years in front of me,” Woods said. “At 43 I don’t. It’s just reality.”
Woods, who could move nearer Jack Nicklaus’s the all-time major win record of 18, contended last year at the British Open and PGA before snapping a five-year win drought by capturing the Tour Championship, his 80th career US PGA title leaving him two shy of matching Sam Snead’s all-time record.
Electrifying shotmaking this week at Augusta National cheered on by supportive crowds anxious to witness history, has Woods on the verge of a fairytale conclusion to a fightback from back pain so crippling he was unable to play with his children.
Woods has never fired so low in a Masters and not won the title but he has also never won a major title when not leading after 54 holes.
Plenty of rivals were in place to deny Woods his long-sought next major trophy.
Molinari, whose first Masters appearance was as a caddie to older brother Edoardo in 2006, outfought Woods last year at Carnoustie to win his first major title. The Italian then went 5-0 in a heroic Ryder Cup turn in France over an American team on which Woods went 0-5.
“The key for me is really going to go out and just do my thing. Staying aggressive,” Molinari said. “Hit the shots. Hit the middle of the clubface as often as I can and make smart decisions, and we’ll just take it from there.”
Finau, the US PGA’s first player of Tongan and Samoan heritage, leads the week in driving distance with 318.8 yards.
“I’m driving the ball nicely,” Finau said. “And on this golf course, I can attack the golf course if I’m hitting my driver well.”
Lurking as well is Koepka, who seeks his third victory in the past four majors — a success rate seen only by Ben Hogan’s three in a row in 1953 and the “Tiger Slam” four in a row by Woods in 2000-01.
“I’m pretty comfortable being up there on the leaderboard in a major come Sunday,” Koepka said. “I feel good and I like my chances.”

 

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