Ancer regrets Tiger comments being ‘twisted’ by media

It may be a new year, but Abraham Ancer is still facing questions about what he considered an innocent remark he made months ago.

It was at the Mayakoba Golf Classic that Ancer was asked by reporters who he might like to face in singles’ play when he made his Presidents Cup debut at Royal Melbourne.

“I would like to play against Tiger (Woods),” Ancer said. “But the truth is that our objective is to do everything we can to win. Winning a match in the singles would be very special, so we need to try to get the cup.”

Ancer got his wish last month in Australia, having gone 3-0-1 through the first four sessions as the International team built up a lead. But Woods was well aware of Ancer’s quip, placed himself against the Mexican in Sunday’s opening match and took the point, 3 and 2, to spark an American comeback victory.

“Abe wanted it, and he got it,” Woods said.

Abraham Ancer said at last month’s Mayakoba Golf Classic that he wished to play against Tiger Woods at the Presidents Cup. He got his wish, but it didn’t go the way he had hoped.

Teeing it up this week for the first time since the Presidents Cup, Ancer explained to reporters at the Sony Open that his initial comment that made the rounds was given in Spanish and that some of his intent was lost in translation when the comments were transcribed.

“I was like, well, out of the 12 guys who I would like to play on a big stage in a big event like that … obviously I would like to play my hero growing up, Tiger Woods. (It would) be an incredible experience,” Ancer said. “And so I didn’t only learn from the golf course and from golf. I learned a lot about media and how it can get twisted. Yeah, definitely got twisted and just the context of how I said things. And maybe Tiger didn’t know the way I said it.”

Ancer won the 2018 Australian Open but remains in search of his first career PGA Tour win, a drought he hopes to end this week in Honolulu coming off a season in which he made his first trip to the Tour Championship. Despite the loss to Woods and the American comeback, he took plenty of positive memories from his Presidents Cup debut Down Under.

“Playing on a big stage like that was a lot of fun,” Ancer said. “It was a week that I will never ever forget. The feeling of playing in front of the Aussie crowd and really the people from all over the world made the trip, it was really special.”

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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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On a roll: Na rides hot putter to 54-hole Shriners lead, but Cantlay lurks

LAS VEGAS – Kevin Na has been so brilliant on the greens the last two days that he actually had to justify why he only made 177 feet worth of putts Saturday.

You know, compared to Friday’s 202 and an inch.

“I hit it closer,” he said. “That’s probably why.”

Good answer.

After rounds of 68-62-61, Na leads the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open by two at TPC Summerlin, where he just set a new 54-hole tournament scoring record of 191.

On Sunday, he’ll take a shot at winning is fourth PGA Tour title and at rewriting the circuit’s record book. With 445 feet worth of putts made so far this week, he needs 107 more to set a new record and pass Ben Martin’s 551 feet from the 2015 Charles Schwab Challenge, the highest total since the Tour began keeping track in 2003.

Na’s weapon of choice since the Masters has been an Odyssey Toulon Madison model with a graphite shaft. It’s the same putter he won with earlier this year at Colonial. So, why graphite?

“It’s a very stiff shaft,” he explained. It’s stiffer than steel, and it’s helped me and given me the consistency of good speed. … When you hit good putts at a good speed, you’re using the whole hole.”

Asked back-to-back questions about the putter, he had to interject:

“How about giving me some credit?” he implored.

Of course, when it came to his short miss for birdie at the par-5 16th, he took a different tact.

“[Caddie Kenny Harms] had a bad read,” he joked.



Na (61) sets Shriners 54-hole scoring record with 445(!) feet worth of putts made

Na (61) sets Shriners 54-hole scoring record with 445(!) feet worth of putts made

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Full-field scores | Full coverage


Na is now 18 holes from his fourth win, his third in the last three seasons and his second in 2019. He similarly took the 54-hole lead back in 2011, when he broke through for the first time. He also converted earlier this year at Colonial. But in total, he’s 2-for-7 closing. And with the scores TPC Summerlin is yielding – the third-round scoring average was 67.75 Saturday – he’s not going to have the luxury of playing defense.

Not with another past Shriners champ like Patrick Cantlay giving chase.

Two back, Cantlay won this event in a playoff two years ago and was runner-up last year to Bryson DeChambeau. Las Vegas has become his personal playground, although he says he doesn’t go out much – just to dinner, really.

While Na has been torching the greens, Cantlay has been leading the field on the way there. He’s first in strokes gained: off the tee, second tee-to-green, and first in driving distance.

“I just didn’t make any of those 15-, 20-, 25-footers,” he acknowledged.

If those start dropping on Sunday, and Na cools off even a little, then it might be Cantlay who walks away a two-time Shriners champ.

It’s tempting to think of this as a two-man race, but six players shot 63 or better Saturday. Na and Cantlay will have a nice head start, but that’s about it.

“I’ve still got to keep the pedal to the metal,” Na said “A lot of low scores out here. Anybody can shoot 8 or 9 under.”

You saw today … 8-, 9-, 10-under is totally possible around here,” Cantlay echoed. “The lead is at 22. It will probably take around 26-27 under par, I would imagine. Get to a number like that, and you’ll probably be in a good spot.”

As comfortable as Cantlay has proven himself here in Vegas, it’s Na who is the local resident. He’s been leaving tickets for friends all week and will play tomorrow in front of his family, which includes a recent addition.

“It would mean a lot, especially with having a newborn, my son Leo,” Na said. “I won in front of [my daughter] Sophia, so it would be nice if I could get another W in front of both of them.”

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Champ in contention at Safeway, but his heart back home with grandpa

NAPA, Calif. – Cameron Champ’s shoes belie a heavy heart this week at the Safeway Open.

Champ strolled the fairways Friday in a pair of white Nikes, having written across the bottom “POPS Champ” with a marker. The inscription is an ode to his grandfather, Mack, who taught him the game at a young age and is currently in hospice while battling terminal, Stage IV stomach cancer. 

The quick deterioration of the illness has thrown Champ’s schedule upside down this week in Napa, which sits about an hour away from his hometown of Sacramento. Rather than stay on-site early in the week at Silverado Resort and Spa, Champ skipped Wednesday’s pro-am and has opted to make the commute each day in order to maximize his time with family. He’ll stay on-site Friday night but remains undecided about his plans for Saturday.


Safeway Open: Full-field tee times | Full coverage


“We didn’t know how severe the cancer was. About 10 days ago, he wanted to go to hospice, so that’s what he wanted,” Champ said. “He hasn’t eaten in 2-3 weeks. Basically from there, it’s just timing. We just want to make him as comfortable as possible and just spend as much time with him as we can.”

Champ has used the situation to fuel a run into contention at Silverado, where he sits in a tie for third after rounds of 67-68. Known for his prodigious length off the tee, Champ has birdied seven of the eight par-5s this week and trails leader Bryson DeChambeau by three shots heading into the weekend.

Mack Champ, a 78-year-old Vietnam veteran, battled racial discrimination to learn the game in Texas in the 1940s and 50s. He passed that knowledge on to Cameron, who began hitting balls in his grandfather’s backyard at age 2 and last fall earned his first PGA Tour victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Steve Burkowski reports on the special relationship amateur Cameron Champ and his grandfather Mack share on and off the golf course.

Champ’s rookie season didn’t pan out as he had hoped following that breakthrough triumph, with just one top-25 finish since early January. But he picked up some life lessons along the way that he’s planning to put to use this week as he keeps part of his energy and thoughts with his grandfather a few miles away.

“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes with a lot of us. But I think it just frees me up to realize that there’s a lot more to life than golf. It’s just golf,” Champ said. “I think last year I put way too much pressure on myself with that, thinking that it defines me or that if I shoot this, people will think that. But it really doesn’t matter. I think with this experience, I have a better outlook on things.”

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Na (61) ties career low on Moving Day, leads Cantlay by two in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Kevin Na made 10 birdies on Saturday, and the one putt that came to his mind after matching his best score was a par.

Na was in a bunker right of the green on the par-3 fifth hole, and he blasted out some 20 feet by the hole leaving a par putt with about 6 feet of break. He made the putt for par and was on his way.

”I thought that was the biggest putt today,” Na said.

He finished with three birdies on the last four holes for a 10-under 61, tying his personal best on the PGA Tour. It gave him the 54-hole record in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and a two-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay.

”Somebody asked me that yesterday. They said, ‘Do you feel like over the ball you’re just going to make everything?’ No, it’s not that,” Na said. ”I feel comfortable and I feel confident. And all I’m trying to do is hit good putts.”

They’re ending up in the right spots. Na has gained about 5.5 strokes on the field in putting in his last two rounds of 62 on Friday and 61 on Saturday. He finished at 22-under 191.

Na lives in Las Vegas and captured his first PGA Tour title at this tournament in 2011. He was pumping his fist after every putt down the stretch at the TPC Summerlin, which yielded six scores of 63 or better and produced an average score of 67.75.

Cantlay was staying with him until he failed to get up-and-down from a bunker on the reachable par-4 15th and made bogey from the bunker on the par-3 17th. He closed with a 15-foot birdie putt for a 63.

Cantlay won the tournament two years ago and was runner-up last year. He wasn’t bothered by sharing the lead going into the third round, shooting 63 and finishing two shots behind.

”It’s a four-round tournament. It’s what I expect out here,” Cantlay said. ”Everybody can shoot the lights off this place, especially with the weather like it was today. That’s the attitude for tomorrow. I know it’s going to take a lot of birdies. Fortunately, that’s an attitude I’m comfortable with, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”



Na (61): I feel comfortable, confident and had a little luck out there

Na (61): I feel comfortable, confident and had a little luck out there

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Full-field scores | Full coverage


Pat Perez had a 62 and was four shots behind. Sam Ryder (64) and Lucas Glover (66) were another shot back.

Conditions were warm and calm, ideal for scoring and it showed. Tony Finau had a 62 to take the lead as the final groups were teeing off. He finished the day seven shots behind. Denny McCarthy and Luke List each posted 63.

”It’s hard to look at some of those numbers when you haven’t even teed off – you see 8s and 9s (under) out there – and not play impatient,” Ryder said after a bogey on the 18th for his 64.

Na and Cantlay came out firing.

Na has been doing his damage on the greens.

He doesn’t see any change for Sunday, when he goes for his second victory of the year. Na won at Colonial in May.

”Still got to keep the pedal to the metal. Anyone can shoot 8 or 9 under,” Na said. ”I believe we’re going to get a little more wind tomorrow. Got to go out and post a good number.”

Na also shot 61 in the 2010 Wyndham Championship and at Colonial in 2018. He posted this number despite settling for par on the 16th hole, the par 5 over water that played as the easiest on the TPC Summerlin. His tee shot was blocked by a tree and he had to lay up short of the water, but he hit wedge to a tight pin on the front of the green to about 4 feet.

Cantlay had six birdies on the tougher front nine – none longer than the 8-foot range, three of them tap-ins – for the lead. Na played in the group ahead, made birdie on the 10th to tie and then pulled away in the final hour.

Na drove to the back of the 15th green and converted the long two-putt birdie from just off the green with a 6-footer. Cantlay put it in the right bunker and missed his 8-foot birdie putt. That was the separation Na needed, and he stretched it with a pair of closing birdies.

Low scores weren’t available to just anyone. Phil Mickelson started the third round just four shots behind and was 5 over through 11 holes. He rallied with a few birdies to salvage a 74.

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Inspired by Niemann, Munoz wins first PGA Tour title

JACKSON, Miss. – Sebastian Munoz made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff, and then beat Sungjae Im with a par on the first extra hole to win the Sanderson Farms Championship for his first PGA Tour victory.

Munoz, who closed with a 2-under 70, made it two straight weeks for South American winners, following Joaquin Niemann winning last week at the Greenbrier.

“Jaco’s win gave me the belief I needed, the little extra belief I’m good enough, I’m here,” Munoz said.

Niemann won by six shots at the Greenbrier. Munoz had it far more difficult.

He was among four players in the mix over the back nine at the Country Club of Jackson, and it looked as though the 21-year-old Im would snatch his first victory when he made a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 14th, got up-and-down from a bunker on the reachable 15th for birdie, and made it three straight birdies with a 12-foot putt.

He closed with a 66, and that looked like it might be enough.

Byeong Hun An made consecutive bogeys to fall out of the mix. Carlos Ortiz couldn’t get a putt to fall.

Munoz lost two good scoring opportunities with a drive well right of the fairway on the 14th, and then flubbing a lob shot left of the 15th green that went into the bunker, leading to bogey. Down to his last hole, he played it to perfection with a big drive, an approach to 15 feet below the hole and the most important putt of his young career.

The 26-year-old from Bogota, who played his college golf at North Texas, poured in the birdie putt to join Im at 18-under 270.


Sanderson Farms Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage


“We just decided on a line, kept it as as simple as can and just strike the putt,” Munoz said.

The playoff on the 18th hole wasn’t as clean.

Im went left into the Bermuda rough and caught a flier, sending the ball well over the green against the grandstand. Munoz was in the right rough and, expecting the ball to come out hot, he abbreviated his swing and it came out some 30 yards short. His chip-and-run rolled out to just under 4 feet. Im did well to pitch out of rough to just over 6 feet by the hole, but his par putt didn’t even touch the cup and he started walking soon after he hit it.

Munoz rolled in the par putt and the celebration was on.

“I’m speechless,” he said.

This is the first time since the tournament began in 1986 that it was not held the same week as another PGA Tour event with a stronger field. That means it gets full FedEx Cup points, and Munoz earned a spot in the Masters for the first time.

Im, voted PGA Tour rookie of the year last season for reaching the Tour Championship, is still looking for his first win.

An wound up alone in third with a birdie on the final hole for a 69, while Ortiz had to settle for a 71 and a tie for fourth with Kevin Streelman (64).

The playoff ended a peculiar streak of 38 consecutive PGA Tour events that were decided in regulation, dating to Charles Howell III winning in a playoff at Sea Island at the end of last year.

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