Playing for fire-ravaged Australia, ‘things just fell into place’ for Smith

After the first two holes of the Sony Open, Cameron Smith was already 4 over par. With two holes remaining, he was still two shots behind Brendan Steele.

But with an eye on the troubles facing his homeland, Smith persevered through both situations and found a way to lift the trophy at water-logged Waialae Country Club, defeating Brendan Steele in a playoff for his first individual PGA Tour victory.

It was an unexpected turn of events given how well Steele played for much of the weekend, and it came despite the 72nd hole being engulfed in drama for the second time in as many weeks. Smith needed to hole a 9-foot putt on the final green simply to force overtime; he did so with gusto, then authored the decisive shot of the week when he escaped from under a tree on the first extra hole and rolled his approach to within 15 feet.

It capped a breakthrough week for Smith, 26, who won the Zurich Classic team event in 2017 when paired with Jonas Blixt but had been searching for his first taste of solo triumph on Tour.

“You just had to hang in there. No one was playing good golf today, it seemed like,” Smith told reporters. “That’s been one that I’ve wanted to tick off for quite some time. I’ve been out here four or five years now, and to finally say that I’ve won an event by myself is quite good.”

With weather a factor all week, Waialae was a soggy shell of its former self during the final round. Mud patches were abundant, the 18th green had to be squeegeed as the leaders lined up their final shots and the playoff was shifted to the par-4 10th because of the poor playability of the home hole.

Several professional golfers are doing their part to raise money for those affected by the Australian bushfires.

Those wet conditions offer a vivid juxtaposition to those experienced in Smith’s native Australia, where brushfires continue to ravage much of the continent. Smith and fellow Aussie Marc Leishman spearheaded a charitable donation effort based on birdies and eagles this week and encouraged other players to join; Smith’s uncle is one of thousands of Australians directly impacted by the fires. The Tour offered to match player donations this week and the International Team from last month’s Presidents Cup chipped in $125,000. 

Smith’s victorious play translated into $10,500 in donations based on his personal scorecard, and he shared with the trophy by his side that his early-week efforts to scrape back into contention were fueled in large part by a desire to chip in as much as he can toward ongoing relief efforts.

“I’ve always been quite good at not giving up. I’ve never felt the need to kind of mentally check out in any way,” he said. “I started bogey, triple bogey (on Thursday), and then finished that day even par and progressed from there. So yeah, I mean, it was a big fight all week basically.”

Just one month after the playing of the Presidents Cup in Australia, the International team announced Saturday that it will donate $125,000 from its charitable fund toward bushfire relief efforts.

Smith has been in and out of the top 50 in the world rankings over the last few years, reaching as high as No. 24 last spring. But despite his team win with Blixt a few years back and numerous triumphs in Australia, he’s largely viewed behind the likes of Leishman and Adam Scott when it comes to Aussies playing regularly in the U.S.He narrowly missed out on a top-50 ranking at the end of 2019, meaning he entered the new year without a Masters invite secured.

But prior to that he was a surprising force in front of partisan crowds at the Presidents Cup, where his normally stoic and soft-spoken persona flashed a rare air of emotion. And thanks to his comeback victory on Oahu, he can safely book travel for Augusta in April.

With an Olympic berth now a realistic goal, Smith can ditch the asterisk that comes with having a lone Tour victory come from a team event. He’s a winner on the biggest stage in his own right, the product of an unlikely comeback during a week when the resiliency of his homeland has been on full display.

“Things just fell into place,” Smith said. “Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck to kind of fall your way, and you never know what can happen.”

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Morgan & Friends raise $1 million to fight cancer

Morgan Pressel started the new year continuing her fight to end the disease that took her mother’s life.

The 13th annual Morgan & Friends Fight Cancer event at St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, on Monday raised $1,000,622. It marked the fifth consecutive year the effort topped $1 million, raising total funding to $9.5 million over the years.

Pressel’s mother, Kathryn Krickstein Pressel, died in 2003 of breast cancer.

“When we first started this, the thought was if we can save one person, one life, one family, everything that goes with breast cancer and all the heartbreak that goes with that, it will be worth it,” Pressel told LPGA.com.

The effort’s impact has reached far beyond that, with the monies raised supporting patient care and research at the Boca Raton Regional Hospital, funding the Kathryn Krickstein Mammovan and also helping efforts at the Sylvester Cancer Center at the University of Miami.

Juli Inkster, Paul Creamer, Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson, Brittany Lincicome, So Yeon Ryu, Jessica Korda, Gerina Piller, Billy Horschel and Martin Hall joined Pressel in the effort.

Pressel grew up at St. Andrews and still lives there today with her husband, Andy Bush. She credits the tight-knit community for continuing to inspire her with its level of support in honor of her mother’s memory.

“I’m so thankful for all the people who have been here from the beginning,” Pressel said.

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Morikawa’s 3-putt from 4 feet costs him more than $100K

Lost in the craziness of Sunday night’s wild finish at the Sony Open was a most disappointing end to an otherwise-solid week for Collin Morikawa.

Morikawa, who won his first PGA Tour title as a non-member last summer at the Barracuda Championship, was 1 over for the day but appeared headed for a final round of even-par 70 as he stared down a short putt for birdie at the par-5 18th.

Instead, he three-putted from 4 feet, racing the first putt by the hole and lipping out the comebacker for bogey and a round of 2-over 72.

Just how expensive were those short misses?


Sony Open in Hawaii: Full-field scores | Full coverage


A birdie, a 7-under finish and a four-way tie for ninth would have netted $173,250.

A par, a 6-under finish and a 10-way tie for 12th would have still paid out $112,530.

As for Morikawa, his bogey, 5-under finish and seven-way tie for 21st amounted to $64,350.

That all said, the 22-year-old has already earned more than $2.3 million in 15 starts as a professional and is arguably the most promising prospect on Tour. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

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Thomas headed home after playing ‘like crap’ at Sony Open; Reed also MCs

In the span of two days, Justin Thomas has gone from favorite to off the board.

Thomas entered this week’s Sony Open as the clear betting favorite to win at Waialae Country Club, but rounds of 72-71 led to an early exit in Honolulu.

“I mean, played like crap so I deserve to have a weekend off,” Thomas told reporters after Friday’s round.

Thomas’ 3-over performance was surprising, especially considering Thomas’ current form and past Sony record. Last Sunday, Thomas outlasted Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele in a playoff to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, and in 2017, Thomas shot 59 in the opening round before winning at Waialae, where he also has posted finishes of T-16 or better in each of the past two editions.

Reed also missed the cut at 3 over after shooting 4-over 74 in Round 2.

“Playing plenty good enough to still be winning this week,” Thomas said. “Probably was a little exhausted from last week.”

Thomas’ missed cut would be his first since last summer’s U.S. Open and just his third since the beginning of the 2017-18 PGA Tour season.



JT (MC): ‘Didn’t execute’ in tough conditions at Sony Open

JT (MC): 'Didn't execute' in tough conditions at Sony Open

Sony Open in Hawaii: Full-field scores | Full coverage


In windy conditions at Waialae, Thomas struck the ball decently well, even leading the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee on Thursday. However, his short game and putting let him down majorly, as Thomas needed 66 putts in two rounds and ranked near the bottom of the field in strokes-gained categories both on and around the greens.

Thomas’ second-round 71 included four birdies, though three of them came on his final five holes. Thomas also recorded two doubles.

“Just didn’t execute,” Thomas said. “I mean, it’s really, really tough out there. But I played fine. I played plenty good enough to be at 4 or 5 under and right in contention. I missed about every putt. I think honestly playing in course as often as I have in the past hurt me this year because it’s just so weird the greens being as soft as they are, especially out of the rough when the ball flies as much as it does. So much top-spin and it’s still coming back, so sometimes you have to get adjusted to that. But everybody has to; it’s not just me.

“Yeah, just was a rough couple days.”

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200 days away: Here’s how Tokyo Olympic standings look

While the PGA Tour season is still getting back to full speed following a brief holiday off-season, the meat of the schedule will be here in no time – and this year, that includes the Olympics.

Sunday marked exactly 200 days until the opening round of the men’s Olympic competition in Tokyo, a 72-hole, stroke-play event that will feature 60 of the top players in the world. As was the case for the Rio games in 2016, countries can be represented by a maximum of two players unless all are ranked inside the top 15 in the world, in which case the cap is raised to four.

Olympic qualification will be based on the June 22 Official World Golf Rankings, meaning that the closer we get to June the more in line the Olympic and OWGR standings will become. For now, here’s a look at the 60 players who would qualify for Tokyo if the standings were locked today:

1. Brooks Koepka (USA)

2. Rory McIlroy (IRL)

3. Jon Rahm (ESP)

4. Justin Thomas (USA)

5. Dustin Johnson (USA)

6. Patrick Cantlay (USA)

7. Justin Rose (GBR)

8. Tommy Fleetwood (GBR)

9. Adam Scott (AUS)

10. Francesco Molinari (ITA)

11. Shane Lowry (IRL)

12. Louis Oosthuizen (RSA)

13. Hideki Matsuyama (JPN)

14. Bernd Wiesberger (AUT)

15. Henrik Stenson (SWE)

16. Marc Leishman (AUS)

17. Shugo Imahira (JPN)

18. Sungjae Im (KOR)

19. Abraham Ancer (MEX)

20. Sergio Garcia (ESP)

21. Jazz Janewattananond (THA)

22. Byeong-Hun An (KOR)

23. Victor Perez (FRA)

24. Adam Hadwin (CAN)

25. Erik van Rooyen (RSA)

26. Joaquin Niemann (CHI)

27. Corey Conners (CAN)

28. Mike Lorenzo-Vera (FRA)

29. Haotong Li (CHN)

30. C.T. Pan (TPE)

31. Andrea Pavan (ITA)

32. Alex Noren (SWE)

33. Matthias Schwab (AUT)

34. Lucas Bjerregaard (DEN)

35. Thomas Pieters (BEL)

36. Rory Sabbatini (SVK)

37. Joost Luiten (NED)

38. Danny Lee (NZL)

39. Viktor Hovland (NOR)

40. Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN)

41. Sebastian Munoz (COL)

42. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA)

43. Emiliano Grillo (ARG)

44. Thomas Detry (BEL)

45. Martin Kaymer (GER)

46. Scott Vincent (ZIM)

47. Xinjun Zhang (CHN)

48. Mikko Korhonen (FIN)

49. Carlos Ortiz (MEX)

50. Ryan Fox (NZL)

51. Jhonattan Vegas (VEN)

52. Kristoffer Ventura (NOR)

53. Darius Van Driel (NED)

54. Kalle Samooja (FIN)

55. Sebastian Heisele (GER)

56. Adrian Meronk (POL)

57. Rashid Khan (IND)

58. Gavin Kyle Green (MAS)

59. Fabian Gomez (ARG)

60. Shubankhar Sharma (IND)

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Bogey-free Morikawa (65) shines at windy Sony Open

With the Sony Open blown upside down, it was one of the youngest players in the field who set the early pace.

A trip to Waialae Country Club is usually an easy way to start the year. Birdies are aplenty on the old-school, Seth Raynor layout, where distance is hardly a requirement for success. The winning score has been at least 17 under each of the last seven years, with Justin Thomas breaking all kinds of records with his 27-under total in 2017.

But those records likely won’t be touched this week, with Honolulu buffeted Thursday by 20-30 MPH winds that aren’t expected to lighten up much over the weekend. The conditions turned a typically tame test into anything but during the opening round.

“We’ve all probably experienced wind like this at some point, but it’s rare,” 2009 winner Zach Johnson told reporters after a 1-under 69. “I’ve not experienced it here.”

But sometimes ignorance is bliss. Making his tournament debut at age 22, Collin Morikawa had never seen Waialae in its usually benign state. With nothing to compare it to, he tackled the blustery conditions without hesitation, carving one accurate iron after the next en route to a 5-under 65.

It was the only bogey-free round of the morning wave, and it moved the former Cal standout to the top of the leaderboard.



Sony leader Morikawa (65): ‘Made the ones I needed to’

Sony leader Morikawa (65): 'Made the ones I needed to'

Sony Open in Hawaii: Full-field scores | Full coverage


“I think the harder conditions are better for me,” Morikawa told reporters. “Ball-strikers just want to control everything, control the ball, and I had complete control today. That’s what you want to do.”

Very little has been outside of Morikawa’s control in his first months as a pro. Since making his debut in June, he has compiled six top-10 finishes including a breakthrough win at the Barracuda Championship, all while making the cut in each of his 15 worldwide starts.

That streak doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy this week in Hawaii, where Morikawa birdied four of his final 10 holes. With gusty winds making it difficult to hole lengthy putts, he worked around it by stuffing one approach shot after the next and setting the early pace despite not holing a putt over 10 feet.

“The driver wasn’t great, but didn’t put me in places that were awful,” Morikawa said. “I still had shots where I was. The rough is up, so you’ve just got to get lucky some places where you put it.”

Morikawa’s win in Reno didn’t earn him a Masters invite, but he’s got still got a chance to rectify that. Of course, a victory in Honolulu will send him down Magnolia Lane, but Morikawa is also rocketing up the world rankings with each passing week. A T-7 finish at Kapalua moved him up to No. 55 in the world, and another strong finish this week could get him into the top 50 for the first time – a position that, should he retain it in April, would mean a spot in the year’s first major.

But for now, he’s focused on taming a suddenly difficult layout in the first full-field event of 2020.

“It’s tough out here,” Morikawa said. “Playing last week got me prepared for today in the wind, and look forward to the next few days.”

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Hangover-less Ancer launching his own brand of tequila

Abraham Ancer says he learned a lot about the media and how quotes can get twisted after last month’s Presidents Cup, but he’s trying to do the educating when it comes to other things.

After talking about his highly publicized singles loss to Woods on Tuesday at the Sony Open, Ancer turned his attention to a much more fun topic of conversation – tequila.

Ancer, 28, is hoping to make 2020 a big year. Not only is he looking to build on a season that saw him make it all the way to the Tour Championship, but he is launching a brand of tequila, Flecha Azul, with partner Aron Marquez.

“We’re both Mexican. Both love tequila. We just said, You know what? Let’s give it a whirl. It’s been in the works for over a year, and we’re really excited. We’ve been nonstop working on it, so really happy with all the profiles of our tequila and everything.”

While Ancer may be excited about the prospect of launching his own brand of tequila, he also thinks the world at large is uneducated when it comes to the adult beverage. He took the time Tuesday to give a short lecture, since he doesn’t really drink “anything else.”

“It’s just remove the stigma of people like have tequila when they’re in college and they’re already kind of drunk, and then they have tequila shots that are pretty bad and then you mix it and end up throwing up. (Laughter.) You wake up with the worst hangover,” Ancer said. “What you remember is like, Wow that tequila got me.

“Yeah, we’re trying to get the culture to really understand how tequila works and good it can be. If you just had have on the rocks and don’t mix it with anything – I mean, I can throw down – for my size, I can throw down some tequila and the next day 7:00 in the morning I’m hitting balls and I’m completely fine, which is amazing.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Abraham Ancer … officially the best alcohol salesman since Cosmo Kramer.

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Fowler sports matching pineapple-print outfit, bucket hat

Nothing says “new year” like Rickie Fowler pushing the boundaries of golf apparel.

In each of the past two seasons, Fowler began his year by wearing button-up, untucked Hawaiian-style shirts. This week, Fowler will make his 2020 debut at the Sentry Tournament of Champions sporting another style of button-up.

The look is part of Puma’s latest collection, Island Time, which features two signature prints inspired by the tropical vibes of Hawaii. Fowler wore the pineapple-print Islands Shirt during Wednesday’s pro-am.

However, the shirt wasn’t the only noticeable fashion statement made by Fowler, who also wore matching shorts. And while he typically sports a flat-billed hat and wore one on the course, Fowler traded that in for the collection’s reversible bucket hat for his press conference.

Fowler will debut several other Puma collections this year, including at the Farmers Insurance Open, Masters, The Players, PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

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Morikawa (65) grabs first career 18-hole lead at Sony Open

Collin Morikawa set the pace during a blustery opening round Thursday at Waialae Country Club, taking a two-shot lead at the Sony Open. Here’s what you need to know:

LEADERBOARD

1. Collin Morikawa (-5)

T-2. Ted Potter Jr. (-3)

T-2. Matt Jones (-3)

T-2. Ryan Palmer (-3)

T-2. Sam Ryder (-3)

Click here for full leaderboard.

WHAT IT MEANS

Morikawa seems to be enjoying his fortnight in Hawaii. After tying for seventh in his debut last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Morikawa fired the only bogey-free round of the day at Waialae, a 5-under 65, which marks the best round of his young PGA Tour career and ties his best Tour round in relation to par.

For as much as Morikawa has been compared to peers Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland since turning pro last summer, the Cal product is well ahead of both in the world rankings (Hovland is No. 92, Wolff No. 98) and top-10s (Morikawa has six while Hovland has three and Wolff has one, albeit a win at the 3M Open).


Sony leader Morikawa (65): ‘Made the ones I needed to’

Sony leader Morikawa (65): 'Made the ones I needed to'

But despite winning the Barracuda Championship last season, Morikawa, unlike Wolff, is not yet in the Masters field. However, at No. 55 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Morikawa is on the cusp of earning his invite to Augusta National. The top 50 as of March 30 qualify. He is already qualified for the PGA Championship but he could also secure U.S. Open and Open Championship berths via his world ranking. Two top-60 cutoffs remain for Winged Foot while top 50 earns a ticket to Royal St. George’s.

A victory – or even another top-10 – could go a long way in getting Morikawa a spot in every major this year.

HOW IT HAPPENED

On a windy day in Honolulu, Morikawa hit half his fairways and missed five greens. He also led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green – that’s how tough the conditions were Thursday. Morikawa also topped the field in proximity to the hole (23 feet, 6 inches), which explains why he also didn’t make a single putt of 10 feet or longer.


Sony Open in Hawaii: Full-field scores | Full coverage


Morikawa birdied Nos. 11 and 18 before adding three on his second nine, at Nos. 4, 5 and 9. Three of those birdie putts came from 7 feet and in.

SHOT OF THE DAY

The wind tried to help Brian Harman at the 183-yard, par-3 17th hole. Instead, Harman, who fired 68, settled for a tap-in birdie.

BEST OF THE REST

While the 22-year-old Morikawa tops the leaderboard, the chasing pack, for the most part, is anything but youthful.

Aside from 30-year-old Sam Ryder, the three other players tied for second have a combined age of 108 – Ryan Palmer (43), Matt Jones (39) and Ted Potter Jr. (36). Palmer has three straight top-20s entering this week while Jones is coming off his victory at the Australian Open. Potter, though, has missed five straight cuts and has just one top-10 finish since his victory at the 2018 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

The group three shots back includes Rory Sabbatini (43), Pat Perez (43), Tim Wilkinson (41) and Brendan Steele (36).

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

A week after winning in a playoff at Kapalua, Justin Thomas bogeyed three of his first five holes and ended up with an opening 2-over 72. Shockingly, Thomas led the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee. He also lost more than two strokes on the field on and around the greens.

Fourteen players did not finish their first round before play was suspended due to darkness at 6:10 p.m. local time. Those players will resume play at 7:45 a.m. Friday morning to finish their opening round. 

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McIlroy to begin year at Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines

Rory McIlroy has confirmed he will begin his year at the Farmers Insurance Open, which will be played Jan. 22-26 at Torrey Pines.

Ranked No. 2 in the world, McIlroy will join 12 of the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking in San Diego, including notable names such as Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Justin Rose and Gary Woodland. 

McIlroy, who has 18 PGA Tour titles to his name, finished T-5 in his Farmers Insurance Open debut last year. 

In his first start of his Tour season, he won the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, besting Xander Schauffele in a playoff. 

The field is not yet final, as the commitment deadline is Friday, Jan. 17. 

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