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The good life is having status on both the PGA and Champions Tours

By Kevin Prise

loop-joe-durant-518.jpgPITTSBURGH -- Wednesday evening, Joe Durant fell asleep during the final game of the College World Series. He woke up happy though, when he saw Vanderbilt -- his pre-tournament pick and his niece's alma mater -- was the champion.

Durant carried his good mood into the Senior Players Championship, where he opened with a six-under 64 at Fox Chapel GC to claim a share of the 18-hole lead. Having turned 50 in April to qualify for senior play but also carrying PGA Tour status via last year's Web.com Tour Finals, Durant is the latest player to simultaneously compete on both the PGA and Champions tours.

This is Durant's fifth senior event, and he has already noticed differing vibes between the two tours. "I'm just coming out [on the Champions Tour] and enjoying being out here, enjoying being with the guys," said Durant, a four-time PGA Tour winner, his last coming in 2006. "I'm just looking at this as a reward for having a good tour career, and I just want to have fun when I come out here and play."

Durant already has three top-10 finishes on the Champions Tour while his best PGA Tour showing in 11 starts this season is a T-31 at last week's Travelers Championship.

After his opening round at Fox Chapel, he reflected on how his desire to keep a PGA Tour card into the future might be having the reverse effect on his game.

"Out there, I'm still trying to keep my job," Durant said. "I think I'm putting way too much pressure on myself out there. It's getting to be overkill. I'm trying so hard to make magic happen in one week, and it's just not working out very well."

The pressure has manifested itself on the greens, where Durant ranks 188th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/putting despite being 24th in greens in regulation. Jeff Brehaut, a friend of Durant from their Web.com Tour days in the mid-1990s, said Durant's ball-striking has always stacked up against the best on tour -- but the putter is a different story.

"He goes as his putter goes," Brehaut said. "He knows he can hit it with the best. When you give yourself so many birdie opportunities, if you don't make some, you get frustrated and it spills over to the rest of your game."

Durant needed only 28 putts in round one at the Senior Players (ranking T-4). If he can handle Fox Chapel's sloping, multi-tiered greens over the weekend, maybe he can channel the positive energy when he returns to the main tour.

Photo: APImages

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News & Tours

A year removed from thoughts of suicide, Ken Green is in a better place emotionally -- and physically

By Bill Fields

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Ken Green is approaching two anniversaries. Five years ago next month, his recreational vehicle crashed, killing his brother, girlfriend and beloved dog and injuring his lower right leg so badly it had to be amputated. A year ago, Green was still plagued by such severe nerve pain in the limb that he contemplated suicide before another surgery last June - his 13th procedure -- finally lessened the discomfort.

"I can honestly tell you, I probably wouldn't have been here," Green, 55, said to a couple of reporters after the first round of the Senior PGA Championship. "I'm not going to say I had a plan and I was going to do x, y or z, but I was really losing. They say everyone comes to that wall. I was reaching that point of collapse."

loop-ken-green-518.jpgThe procedure, performed by Dr. Ivica Duci at Georgetown University Hospital, turned Green's life around. "I'm in half the pain I was in last year," Green said. "That last surgery has really made life livable. When I say I'm in half the amount of pain, if you guys [had] this, you'd probably be screaming, [but] you learn to live with what you have to. I'm psyched to be in half the amount of pain."

Disappointingly for Green, he hasn't had much success gaining sponsor's exemptions into Champions Tour events in an attempt to "tell his story" and inspire others with disabilities. He said he's 0-for-12 in his latest attempts, but got a spot at Harbor Shores as a former United States Ryder Cup team member. The undulating Jack Nicklaus design was a tough challenge for Green, who opened with a nine-over 80.

"I heard the greens were off the charts. I didn't know Jack also did the fairways a litle bumpy," Green said. "For your average two-legged person, maybe they're not [that difficult], but for the one-legged yo-yo that I am, these fairways are nasty. It's discouraging. The one thing I didn't want to do is embarrass me or golf. I know it's not, but in my brain I feel like it is."

While Green, a five-time PGA Tour winner, used to play wearing colorful shoes to match his name, his personality now comes through with green tape wrapped around his prosthetic. "When you see me wearing the all-green shoes, you'll know I consider myself good again," he said. "That's the motivation I'm throwing out for myself."

Green was going to meet Thursday night with a boy suffering from brain cancer, to give him a pep talk, to tell him to keep fighting as Green has tried to do. What happened on that Mississippi highway never leaves him though. "That expression that time heals all wounds, to this point, is a crock," he said. "I still think everyday about everybody I've lost."

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News & Tours

In case you hadn't noticed, Kenny Perry is trying to make history this week at the Senior PGA

By Bill Fields

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- In an event with a long history, there is a chance for a significant chapter to be written this week. There isn't anyone at the 75th Senior PGA Championship with more on the line than Kenny Perry, nor anyone with more motivation.

The 53-year-old Kentuckian has a trio of reasons to be the man holding the gigantic Alfred S. Bourne Trophy come Sunday evening.

Having won the last three senior major championships that he has played in -- the 2013 Constellation Senior Players and U.S. Senior Open and last week's Regions Tradition -- a victory at Harbor Shores would allow Perry to become the first golfer to win four straight senior-major starts, passing Gary Player, who won three majors in a row in 1987-88.

"Call it the 'K.P. Slam' or whatever you want to call it," said Perry, who did not play in the 2013 Senior British Open, "it would be something people would remember me for."

loop-kenny-perry-518.jpgA victory would also be redemption for Perry having blown the Senior PGA at Bellerive CC a year ago, when he led by three strokes with six holes left but struggled to finish and lost by two to unsung Kohki Idoki.

Beyond the trophy and self-satisfaction, though, would be potentially Perry's most valuable potential payoff: an automatic exemption into the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla GC.

"I told everybody this is my 'one-spotter' this week because I've got a lot of history at Valhalla in my home state of Kentucky back in Louisville," Perry said. "To me, if I can get back there, it would be a great way to say bye to everybody. I've given 30 years of my life to the PGA Tour, and it would be a great way to kind of end my chapter on the PGA Tour there."

Perry lost a playoff to Mark Brooks in the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla and was a member of the winning United States team when the Ryder Cup was held there in 2008. Even without a victory this week, Perry would be a logical special exemption from the PGA of America given his strong ties to the state and the strong state of his game. He has lobbied for the opportunity.

"I politicked pretty hard for it," Perry said, "I really have. I talked to a lot of people. I had them send letters to Ted [Bishop, PGA president]. I really want to get back there pretty bad."

Given that Perry shot a championship-record 62 in the final round of the 2012 Senior PGA at Harbor Shores, the salesmanship might not be necessary. "I just feel confident, I feel it is my time," Perry said. "I feel like I'm ready to excel at this deal and take on the challenge."

A man who knows a few things about majors thinks history is possible.

"I would like to have a little bit of his length and his height is what I would like," said Tom Watson. "He rolls the egg beautifully. He gets that ball in play, [his approaches] can come in soft to these tight pin positions. So this course sets up very well for Kenny Perry."

Photo: Getty Images

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News & Tours

A shot away from that elusive number, Michael Allen settles for a record-tying 60

By Bill Fields

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Nobody said anything, but everybody knew.

As Michael Allen played his second nine at the Allianz Championship Friday afternoon, he was flirting with something special.  

Although eight golfers had shot 60 on the Champions Tour -- the first being Isao Aoki at the 1997 Emerald Coast Classic -- no one had gotten to golf's magic number, 59, which had been posted multiple times on the PGA and Web.com tours and once, by Annika Sorenstam, on the LPGA.

In the first round on the Old Course at Broken Sound, on a calm, warm day kind to scoring, Allen birdied his 14th hole to go 10 under. If he could play the last four holes in three under, he would join the elite 59 club. (He wasn't aware no one had done it on the Champions Tour.)

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The others in Allen's grouping, Tom Kite and Anders Forsbrand, went about there business.

"It's kind of like that perfect game in baseball," Allen said. "You don't talk about it. You kind of let the guy go sit in the corner."

He faced a 12-footer for birdie on the par-5 sixth, his 15th hole. He had watched Kite putt from a similar line. He knew the break. He knew the situation.

"I really kind of thought I had a chance to shoot 59 if I made that," Allen said. "First time that had ever entered my mind. I really knew the line. One of those ones you wish you had back. The pressure was off after I missed the putt on six. Just like my career, almost."

Still, what a day it was for the 55-year-old who has five Champions Tour victories. Allen birdied his 16th and 18th holes, the latter with a seven-foot putt, to join Aoki and the other seniors -- Walter Morgan, Bruce Fleisher, Jim Thorpe, Nick Price, Tom Purtzer, Craig Stadler and Jay Haas -- who have shot 60. Allen's is the first 12 under of the bunch.

Allen hit 11 fairways and 14 greens, and required only 22 putts. And when things are going well, they're going well.

Related: More from Bill Fields

On his 13th hole, Allen badly chunked a wedge approach from 85 yards. He skulled his 30-foot chip from in front of the green but it hopped into the hole for an unlikely birdie. "That's kind of where you know things are going pretty well for you," said Allen, whose 60 gave him a three-shot lead over Scott Dunlap, with Tom Lehman, Wes Short Jr. and Chien Soon Lu five behind.

"When you play a great round like this, it's easy -- it's not that hard," Allen said. "You're playing good shots and you're making putts. Shooting 70 or 72 when you're not playing well can be a struggle. Hopefully tomorrow I can have some of this feel."

Thriving in contention under pressure hasn't always been the easiest of positions for Allen, who won once on the European Tour but never on the PGA Tour. "I haven't led that many times," he said. "Out here [on the Champions Tour] I've been better. I've not been as bad. Out here, it's a great challenge, it's a lot of fun. Out there, I was scared if I was leading."

Related: Best Champions Tour players

In the final round of the 1993 Nestle Invitational at Bay Hill, he was T-8 and grouped with Tom Watson after 54 holes. Watson, his career full of cups and cash at that point, got a deservedly windy introduction on the first tee. "I literally took a seat," Allen said. "And then they [say], 'This is Mike, he's from Arizona.' That's not really a great feeling. You kind of know who you're with. That day didn't work out great for me." (He shot 75 to finish T-25.)

Allen knows the competitive window is closing for him. Hale Irwin being the biggest exception to the rule, most seniors don't make much of a mark in their late-50s and beyond. Because he uses a long putter with an anchored stroke, which will be illegal come 2016, Allen knows the confluence of the ban with the clock won't make things any easier.

"I realize I have a couple of good years left," Allen said. "No. 1, the [not being able to anchor the] putter is going to hurt me. Right now, I don't think I'm necessarily a much better putter with the long putter than the short putter, but coming down the stretch when it matters, I may not make 'em all, but I don't hit bad putts just 'cause  I'm all nervous. That will happen more with the short putter. And I'll be 57, 58. It's pretty much proven your time is short out here. I want to make it while I can."

For a day, Mike from Arizona was the toast of Florida, that much was certain.

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News & Tours

The freewheeling Couples is hungry for his first win of the season


SAN FRANCISCO -- Fred Couples earned eight victories in his first three years on the Champions Tour, at least two a season. He has been shut out during 2013, but that could soon change. 

With his second consecutive 65 at TPC Harding Park, Couples is 12 under and leading Peter Senior by two strokes through 36 holes at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. (Bernhard Langer, who must win the tournament and have Kenny Perry finish out of the top five to overtake Perry in the season-long Schwab Cup points competition, is five strokes behind in fourth place after a 68. Perry is T-11.)


"It's my last chance, it's a big event," Couples said. "The top 30 players [are here] and I want to win, there's no doubt. I certainly am not playing better this week because I want to win. I wanted to win at Birmingham and Seattle and Chicago and Newport and everywhere else I finished second."

Couples -- who has been a runner-up four times in 2013 -- has piled up 15 birdies over two days, including six in a bogey-free round Friday on a glorious fall afternoon. He is making it look easy as he can do, his power allowing short approaches and his putter (only 53 putts through two rounds) capitalizing on them. He two-putted for a birdie on the 525-yard, par-5 ninth hole after a 4-iron second shot and hit a wedge into the 480-yard, par-4 12th hole. 

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The contrast in styles between the long-hitting Couples (leading the field in driving distance through two rounds with a 307.5-yard average) and the less powerful Senior (272.8 yards, 13th in the 30-man field) should make for an interesting third-round grouping.

"We enjoy playing together," said Senior, who is looking for his first Champions Tour victory. "I think Freddie enjoys it more because he gets me about 70 yards off the tee. But he's a great guy and we get on pretty well together."


Like Corey Pavin, another control player, Senior has never known anything different.

"Corey Pavin and I talk about this a lot," Senior said. "He even said that he was getting out-hit by a girl 50 yards last week, so we sort of had a giggle about that. But something we've always done, we've put a score on the board. I've never been afraid of guys who hit it past me. If you put a score on the board, you're going to do pretty well."

Besides his length, Couples feels at home at Harding Park, a public (if now upscale) layout like Jefferson Park, the Seattle muny where he got his start in the game. 

"The similarity is there's trees down the right and left, they gobble up balls and the greens are really small," Couples said. "Most courses in Seattle, the greens are teeny. I don't know, it's just nice. The cypress trees are spectacular."

Through 36 holes, the same could be said of his golf.

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Kenny Perry looks to cash in on "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity

By Bill Fields

SAN FRANCISCO -- For Kenny Perry, who sometimes drag races in his spare time, the cliche is apt.
 
Going into Thursday's first round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at TPC Harding Park, the 53-year-old Kentuckian is in the driver's seat as far as the season-long Schwab Cup points race is concerned.
 
Thanks in part to his playoff victory Sunday over Bernhard Langer at the AT&T Championship, Perry has a 612-point lead over Langer in the competition for which the winner earns a $1 million annuity. (The runner-up gets $500,000.)

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To surpass Perry -- the two are the only players in the 30-man field with a chance -- Langer must win at Harding Park in concert with Perry finishing no better than a  five-way tie for fourth place or a two-way tie for fifth.
 
Langer knows the math.
 
"Second's not going to do it for me," he said. "The key is, I have to win and then we'll have to see how he plays."
 
So does Perry.
 
"My job's not even over," said Perry, who arrived at Harding Park Monday to be informed Langer -- known for his meticulous preparation -- was hard at work.
 
"I flew in here yesterday afternoon. I'm at my locker and the locker attendant says, 'Bernhard got here, he's already teed off Monday morning,' " Perry said. "I'm like, 'Can't that guy just take a vacation, just relax a little?' So he's very motivated, I'm very motivated. It's a great competition. When you've got two guys trying to receive the ultimate prize out here and it's within each's grasp, it's very compelling and fun to watch."


Perry's AT&T triumph was his third victory of the year, one more than Langer and six others (Michael Allen, Russ Cochran, David Frost, Rocco Mediate, Esteban Toledo and Mark Wiebe). His previous two wins, at the Constellation Senior Players and the U.S. Senior Open in back-to-back majors were dominating performances on the heels of a disappointing Sunday at the Senior PGA Championship.
 
Langer's consistently good form (a Champions Tour-leading 17 top 10s in 23 tournaments) has him in position to win his fifth Arnold Palmer Award as leading money winner. He leads Perry by about $106,000 arriving at Harding Park, where the winner receives $440,000. If not for a couple of final-round letdowns, the Schwab scenario could easily be flipped heading into the last event of 2013.
 
"I always analyze what I could better, try to learn from my mistakes, but I don't live there," Langer said. "I don't ponder for months and years what could have been, should have been. That's not what the bible tells us, that's not where I want to be and that's not what a sport psychologist would tell you either. You learn from the past and move forward. There were some events where I didn't play my best or missed a putt or I hit a bad shot. And there were other events where somebody finished with four birdies or just played better than me."
 
Arguably no one has played better this season on the senior tour than Perry in his consecutive major triumphs, during which he shot three 63s and two 64s. But the driver he used so effectively in those victories was broken (head and shaft) during a flight from New York to Seattle and he hasn't found one yet that he hits as far. Perry also has nagging hip, knee and foot pain that has caused him to ride a cart in recent weeks. Carts aren't allowed this week, and Perry will have to walk five rounds (including Wednesday's pro-am). He has lost about 20 pounds. 

"I was 240 [pounds], now I'm like 218, so that's helped alleviate some pressure off my feet and knees," Perry said. "I think I'm OK. We'll see."

 
Harding Park, which hosted the season-ender in 2010 and 2011 before the tournament shifted to Arizona's Desert Mountain Club last year, should be a stout test. The ball doesn't go as far in the cool, Bay Area air, and the rough is penalizing. "Very punishing rough, so you have to keep it in the short grass," Langer said. "The setup is pretty punishing. The greens will be firm and fast.  It's set up like a real major. You're not going to have somebody play mediocre golf and win this championship."
 
Punishing or not, Langer knows he can't afford to be tentative.
 
"I think I'm going to have to be fairly aggressive from the get-go," he said. "You don't win tournaments being cautious. You can't. There's always somebody that's going to play well and putt well."

It will be no surprise if either Langer or Perry is that somebody this week.
 
"My putter woke up last week," Perry said. "I putted beautifully and I was able to win. Hopefully it will carry over into this week and keep the good ball-striking going and keep my thoughts in check and hopefully make this thing happen. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime deal for me. I might never get in this position again, and I need to try to take advantage of it while it's here."

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News & Tours

Nick Faldo withdraws from Champions Tour event with elbow injury

By Jim Moriarty

After a good experience in the British Open at Muirfield in July, six-time major champion Nick Faldo decided to come out of the CBS television booth long enough to play a smattering of Champions Tour events. His best laid plans came undone at the SAS Championship when he had to withdraw after hitting his tee shot on the 13th hole at Prestonwood CC in Cary, NC, with an elbow injury.

Related: 10 golfers we'd love to see in the broadcast booth

Playing in last year's PNC Father/Son Challenge, Faldo got a pretty good idea of all the broken bits and pieces. "That's when I discovered all my injuries, tears in my shoulder and all sorts of things," said Faldo. "I had a really good rehab but I've got a tear in my capsule in my left elbow."

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After making a simple forward gesture with his putter on the sixth green, Faldo felt the elbow flare up. He tried to play but couldn't continue after losing tee shots straight left on the 10th and 13th holes.

"I really wanted to play. I was really looking forward to it, gearing up to do this. But this is a bad one," said Faldo. "I can't hit the darn thing. You don't know whether you're going to flinch and hit it left or right. Tournament golf asks a little bit more, doesn't it?"

The only thing Faldo will be able to do is rest the injury and, "be sensible," he said. "So, we'll see how sensible I am."

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News & Tours

Scott Langley a First Tee success story

By Tim Rosaforte

From the September 30 edition of Golf World Monday:

Scott Langley returned to Pebble Beach last week to offer testimony on what The First Tee can do for a life -- and a career.

Langley was a 2012 PGA Tour rookie who won the pro-junior event at the Champions Tour's Nature Valley First Tee Open in 2006. He also tied for low amateur honors in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and to show how far he has come in the past seven years, Langley was invited to play with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Jay Haas at Cypress Point last Thursday, the day he was also scheduled to address The First Tee and Champions Tour participants at a Legends and Leaders dinner.

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Coming to the 18th hole, Langley was told by Sam Reeves, their host, that if he holed his second shot, it would mean tying the course record 63 held by, among others, Ben Hogan. From 125 yards out, Langley hit the flagstick with his shot and made a 2¿-footer for the 64.

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That night Langley looked out over the audience at The Beach Club, and said to the young men and women sitting nervously in their chairs, "I know how you feel. Seven years ago, I was sitting where you are."

Langley made an impression on the audience not only for the way his career panned out, but also for the way he embodies The First Tee's core values. He grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, a blue-collar golfer who hit scarred range balls off mats until a First Tee chapter was established.

"I wouldn't say I came from a poor background," Langley said. "But I didn't have a silver spoon in my mouth. I didn't have a chip on my shoulder, but I knew I had to work hard at everything I was going to get."

Among the 81 First Tee participants listening intently to Langley was Brittany Ferrante, a 5-foot-2, 100-pound, 16-year-old high school senior who plays No. 1 on the Walt Whitman High boys' team in Huntington Station on New York's Long Island.

Brittany didn't have a stable life at home the way Langley did. Her parents had issues. As part of her essay, she wrote about her mother attempting suicide. Constantly in between jobs as a civil engineer, her father went on the Internet and found a First Tee chapter near their home at Eisenhower Park.

"I have no idea where we would be [without the First Tee], but we wouldn't be in a good spot," Ferrante said, acknowledging her brother, Dominick, who made the trip as her caddie.

Related: Photos of Pebble Beach

She played alongside Rocco Mediate and although she did not make the cut, it was still the experience of a young lifetime. Golf Channel featured Brittany, even using her silhouette against the beach in the closing credits Friday. Billy Ray Brown made the comment on air, "Don't be fooled. She hits it miles."

Like Langley, Ferrante has aspirations of playing college golf, then pro golf. Plan B is to be an elementary school teacher or open a golf academy. She heads back to New York this morning with dreams of returning to Pebble Beach, maybe as head of a First Tee chapter.

"It wasn't what I expected," she said. "It was more."

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News & Tours

Steve Elkington apologizes for offensive tweets, starts third round with police escort

By Derek Evers

steve-elkington-racist-tweets.jpgSteve Elkington raised some eyebrows when he sent out a series of offensive tweets on Friday evening and again on Saturday morning.

"Things about Southport ... fat tattooed guy, fat tattooed girl, trash, Pakistani robber guy, s**t food," Elkington tweeted late Friday, before chiming back in on his own thread to poorly explain his frustration. "Couple caddies got rolled by some Pakkis, bad night for them." 

After the controversial tweets, the winner of the 1995 PGA Championship actually began his third round with a police officer in his group for the first few holes. Elkington issued a statement to the media at 2:15 pm, or roughly 20 minutes after he teed off, sounding like a man who realizes he may face disciplinary action from both the Champions Tour and European Tour.

"I am prepared to adhere to any disciplinary action that the Championship sees fit," the statement read. "In my tweet I was referring to an unfortunate incident involving a caddie earlier in the week. Being Australian, I was unaware that my use of language in relation to the Pakistani people would cause offense, but having been made aware I now deeply regret the use of that terminology.

Related: Golf's most regrettable interviews

"Southport is a beautiful place and I have enjoyed playing at Royal Birkdale, as my positive content on Twitter has shown. My comments were born out of frustration over what had happened to a colleague."

Elkington finished his round with one-over 71 and headed straight to his car after signing his scorecard. He is currently tied for 11th place heading into tomorrow's final round.

The European Tour issued a statement to say that it had spoken to Elkington about his "inappropriate and regrettable comments" and said the matter will be reviewed before the Championship considers disciplinary action. "Steve has expressed his regret at his comments and wishes to apologize to the Championship and the people of Southport for any offense caused."

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News & Tours

Cheat Sheet: What you need to know for Saturday in golf

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Mahan hunting down the Canadian Open
At the British Open last week, Hunter Mahan shot 68 in the third round and played his way into the final group at Muirfield. This week, he shot an eight-under 64 in the second round, which included six birdies in seven holes.

It's still early, so who knows if he's going to win, but one thing is for sure: Mahan's consistency this season has been pretty breathtaking. In 19 events he's made 16 cuts, finished in the top 25 12 times, and has been in the final group after 54-holes in two consecutive majors. He's still looking for his first win of the season, but if he continues doing what he's doing, he won't be waiting for much longer.


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Ball-strikers vs. scramblers at the Senior British Open
There's a mighty brawl unfolding at the Senior British Open this week. Among those in the top 5 after 36-holes is Bernhard Langer, who's averaging 14 greens each round of this tournament, and Gene Sauers, who's averaging 15. They're joined by David Frost, Mark Wiebe and Mark McNulty who are averaging 10, 10.5 and 11 greens respectively. That may sound like a lot, but it's not by tour standards, so what we're about to witness at Royal Birkdale is a case study of scramblers vs. ball-strikers under major championship conditions. Buckle your seat belts.  

  ... Read

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July 28, 2014

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