Adam Scott and Jason Day have injury and health issues to overcome ahead of the Masters beginning on November 12th, but the pair who enjoy fine records in the event appear on track to extend their love affair with Augusta National.

Scott’s recent diagnosis when testing positive for Covid 19 will mean a disrupted preparation ahead of the Masters while Day has bounced back just a few days after succumbing to one of the many career injuries he has faced to record a solid opening round of 68 at the Zozo Championship in California.

Scott is required to self-isolate and will therefore have only the Houston Open the week before Augusta National to prepare for a tilt at a second Masters title, seven years after his first.

Scott has played only four events since a return from a lengthy break in Australia as world golf sat out a Covid 19 enforced layoff.

He has played solidly since, but has yet to record a top ten and the break in continuity of play comes at an awkward time for the 40 year old.

Day was forced to withdraw with a neck injury when contending for last week’s event at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas but after a 4 birdie, no bogey round of 68 at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks today he appears to have at least partially overcome that disappointment.

Day indicated after his round that that while still not fully recovered he is attempting to manage his injury.

“I mean, it’s fine,” said Day post round. “Just obviously not 100 percent, but I’ve got to just keep pushing through it. It’s a quick turnaround, you know what I mean?

“So, I understand kind of what I need to do, so I’ve got to just keep getting treatment and keep moving on. I think overall I’m glad that I got through today, which was good.”

In eight starts in which he has played at least 18 holes at the Masters (he withdrew after round one in 2012) Day has been three times inside the top five, one of those when runner-up on debut in 2011.

In that same period, Scott has been four times inside the top ten including his playoff victory in 2013.

And so these next three weeks ahead of the delayed Masters Tournament are crucial for both players if they are to be as well prepared as possible ahead of the final major title of 2020.

Scott and Day are two of five Australians in the field for Augusta National. Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman and Victorian amateur Lukas Michel, who won the 2019 US Mid Amateur make up the numbers.

Adam Scott – winning in 2013. Courtesy of Getty Images

Hannah Green – file photo

Defending champion Hannah Green improved 13 shots on her opening round of 79 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at the Aronimink Golf Club in Philadelphia, adding a 4 under 66 to jump a massive 79 places, the West Australian now tied for 46th in the third major championship of the year for women’s golf.

Green produced a closing nine of 31 after being under pressure just to make the cut early in her round and as many as three shots out of the eventual cut-line through nine holes.

Green, whose victory in the event twelve months ago was the first of two victories to date on the LPGA Tour, is now nine shots out of the lead and while the chances of her retaining her title appear slim she has shown that a low score is possible on the demanding Donald Ross designed layout.

A repeat of what she produced today over the final two rounds might see her very close to the lead at the completion of 72 holes but that appears easier said than done.

Sei Young Kim emerged as the 36 hole leader late in the day when she added a second round of 65 to move one ahead of a group of four in second place while New Zealander Lydia Ko heads those from down under, just two from the lead.

Minjee Lee heads the Australians at 4 over and one ahead of Green while Katherine Kirk also made the cut on the mark of 6 over.

Hannah Green – awarded the Greg Norman Medal in 2019 for her major breakthrough

The LPGA Tour will this week play the third of its four 2020 major championships when the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is contested at the Aronimink Golf Club in Newton Square in Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.

Only the US Women’s Open in early December remains in terms of major golf for the LPGA Tour but this week’s event, which carries a purse of US$4,300,000, offers yet another chance for one of seven Australasians to add a major to their list of victories.

For New Zealander Lydia Ko and West Australian Hannah Green that feat has already been accomplished, of course, but for the likes of Minjee Lee, Katherine Kirk, Sarah Jane Smith, Su Oh and Sarah Kemp they get the opportunity, at least, to join the elite of women’s golf with a first victory at this level.

Green arrives at the historic Aronimink Golf Club as the defending champion but with only average form since her return to tournament golf in mid-August her chances or retaining her title appear slim.

In her defence, however, was an encouraging week in Portland two weeks ago when she contended through 36 holes in an event, where she was also defending a title, before a struggle in her final round eventually saw her finish 12th.

“I think because we had such a long time off it was hard to get your competitive drive back,” said Green when asked about her current form. “It was especially hard starting in Scotland where it’s such tough conditions.

“I was in a winter weather when I was back at home, so I at least kind of knew to expect some cold and windy weather, but the British Open this year was really brutal, so that was a bit of a shock to the system. So yeah, just being competitive again, and as much as you try and practice to put pressure on yourself, it’s really hard until you actually get in that moment.

“That’s probably been the biggest thing, but then also not going back to Australia; I won’t be back home until maybe after Christmas, which is probably the longest I’ve ever been away from home, so I’m hoping that I can have a win in the next few events and just book any ticket back.”

Green was asked what she was able to learn about herself as a result of a win in such an event last year.

“I think just the mental toughness. I didn’t really think I was capable to go wire-to-wire in an event, let alone a major championship, just hanging in there, and even though I was kind of crashing a little bit on the back nine, I was trying to give myself as much positive thoughts as possible and worked really well with my caddie to make sure that I knew that I was still in it.”

Hannah Green with her 2019 KPMG PGA Trophy – David Cannon Getty Images

Ko of course has 15 LPGA Tour titles to her name, two of those majors, but this is one that has eluded her considerable talents to date.

There has been glimpses on occasions that the work she is doing with noted coach Sean Foley is beginning to show its benefits having finished 6th at the recent ANA Inspiration and runner-up a few weeks earlier in the Marathon event.

“I had a couple weeks off prior to coming into this week, so hopefully I’m well rested,” said Ko. “I think we’re — obviously this is later than when we normally play this event but I think we’re all super grateful to be able to play and play at this amazing golf course with a lot of golf history. KPMG and PGA of America have taken us to a lot of great golf courses, so I think it’s going to be another great test for us this week.”

West Australian Minjee Lee has displayed some encouraging form since the LPGA returned from their enforced Covid break. She is a proven LPGA Tour event player, but a major title is what she needs to advance to the elite of the game. There is little doubting her consistency and skill will get there at some stage and it may be that on a demanding traditional American golf club layout it could be this week.

Queensland’s Katherine Kirk appears to be playing some of the best golf she has produced in a long while, her last three starts resulting in top tens and there appears little reason that another good week is not beyond her.

Queensland’s Sarah Jane Smith has made only one cut in 2020 and appears unlikely to do much better this week. Smith is attempting a return to a competitive level following the birth of her and husband Dwayne’s first child last year.

Victorian Su Oh is a shadow of her former self at present having missed seven of eight cuts in 2020 and any hopes of contention here appear to be forlorn and New South Wales Sarah Kemp is another who appears to be a long way from where she needs to be to have any chance of performing with distinction.

Lucas Herbert in action today – courtesy of European Tour

Two weeks ago, Lucas Herbert headed the Australians at the US Open, last week he finished 7th at the Irish Open and today he finds himself in the lead at the half-way stage of the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick.

All of this comes on top year which has seen a reduced schedule but one that saw him win the Dubai Desert Classic and finish runner-up at the New Zealand Open earlier in the year.

Herbert began 2020 outside the top 200 in the world but now sits in 79th place and, if he is able to continue to play well this weekend, the Victorian will advance considerably higher in the world rankings.

Herbert leads by one over England’s Robert Rock with another shot back to Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, adding a second round of 65 to his opening 66.

Already 7th in the Race to Dubai rankings for 2020, Herbert would advance to 6th if he was to win this week’s US$7 million dollar event.

Despite his recent good form Herbert was not all that keen on his prospects starting the event.

“Yeah, I’m pretty happy,” said a relieved Herbert. “To be honest I turned up here on Wednesday and hit it all over the place. Sort of not really expecting too much the last few days, but it’s kind of all come together nicely, and yeah, pretty happy.

“Links golf is a lot of fun, and yeah, it’s definitely a different challenge from probably what we play most of the year. I mean, it takes some imagination, and I feel like I’ve got a fair bit of that, so yeah, it’s good fun.

“You come back here every year and you kind of learn new things and add to your knowledge about the golf course, things that you just don’t spot the first time around, so the more times you can play it the better.”

South Australian, Wade Ormsby, who has missed the cut in his last three starts on the European Tour, has done well to be tied for 9th and five behind Herbert while last week’s third placed Maverick Antcliff is the next best of the Australians in a share of 28th.

Maverick Antcliffe – file photo courtesy of China Tour 

27-year-old Queenslander, Maverick Antcliffe, might not be a name well recognised in Australian professional ranks but it is fair to assume it won’t be long before it is.

Antcliffe, today, earned his biggest cheque in professional golf when he finished in a share of third place at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Ballymena in Northern Ireland.

Antcliffe, in his rookie season on the European Tour, finished three shots behind the American John Catlin who won his second event in recent weeks having won the Andalucia Masters two starts ago.

Antcliffe arrived on the European Tour this season courtesy of his standing on the China Tour in 2019 where he won three times and recorded numerous other top tens to take the top honours in what is a feeder tour to the European Tour.

Antcliffe actually had a share of the lead halfway through today’s final round but consecutive bogeys early in his back nine cost him a winning chance. To his credit he was able to birdie the last to finish in a share of third with Asian superstar, Jazz Wattenanond.

The share of third place earnt Antcliffe a cheque for €66,000 ($A108,000) and moves him 63 places to 83rd on the Race to Dubai standings.

Antcliffe is from just south of Brisbane and like his fellow Queenslander, Jason Day, attended the Hills International Academy in Jimboomba, then playing golf at Georgia State in the USA before turning professional in 2017.

He played the China, Australasian and Asian Tours before focusing on the China Tour in 2019 where he dominated proceedings with an outstanding season.

Making eight of his 15 cuts to date on the European Tour he is beginning to find his feet and now has earnings of €130,000 and appears to have well and truly established himself in Europe.

Lucas Herbert fresh from his performance as the leading Australian at last week’s US Open also had a good finish when he tied for 7th and improved to 7th in the Race to Dubai rankings.

 

Lucas Herbert – in action today. Photo courtesy of Darren Carroll USGA.

Lucas Herbert, playing in his second US Open Championship, has emerged the best of the battle scarred Australians at Winged Foot, a solid final round of 72 on the brutal layout leaving him in 31st position at the completion of 72 holes.

Herbert made the turn in an impressive 1 under today and remained on that score until missed fairways at the 15th, 16th and 17th led to bogeys. He would, though, produce a nice par save after missing the green at the last to finish two ahead of fellow Australians, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Cameron Smith.

Herbert’s rise in world rankings in the last nine months from outside the top 200 to somewhere close to the top 75 highlights an exceptional talent who will be even better for the experience he had gained from surviving one of the toughest tests in the game.

Day and Smith also recorded final rounds of 72 while Scott recorded a roller coaster round of 75 which included four birdies, five bogeys and two double bogeys.

Scott’s stat of 14 birdies for the week was one of the best in the field, bettered only by Justin Thomas who had 15, although the winner, Bryson DeChambeau had 13 along with two eagles.

The only other down under player in the weekend field, New Zealander Danny Lee, had also made the cut but after six-putting the 18th on Saturday he withdrew from the event.

This year’s champion, DeChambeau, began the final day two behind leader, Matthew Wolff but by the 4th the pair was tied and on reaching the turn DeChambeau had moved one ahead after both players had remarkably eagled the 9th.

When DeChambeau birdied the 11th the gap was becoming significant and would become even more so when Wolff double bogeyed the 16th to fall six behind.

DeChambeau would win his first major title by six over Wolff with Louis Oosthuizen two further back and alone in 3rd position.

“I think I’m definitely changing the way people think about the game,” said DeChambeau. “Now, whether you can do it, that’s a whole different situation. There’s a lot of people that are going to be hitting it far. Matthew [Wolff] was hitting it plenty far today.

“A couple of putts just didn’t go in for him today and kept the momentum on my side. So he’s definitely got the firepower and the strength to do it. You’ve got to be looking out for him in the future. There’s a lot of young guns that are unbelievable players, and I think the next generation that’s coming up into golf hopefully will see this and go, hey, I can do that too.”

 

Bryson DeChambeau – relieved and ecstatic after the  final putt drops. Photo courtesy of Chris Keane USGA

 

Cameron Smith anxiously watches his tee shot at the 15th today – photo USGA Simon Bruty

Queensland’s Cameron Smith, playing in his 5th US Open Championship heads the Australasians into the weekend at Winged foot in New York, the 27 year old adding a second round of 73 to his opening 71 to be in a share of 28th place and eight shots from the 36 hole leader, Patrick Reed.

Smith was out in the morning field on day two but the conditions were no easier than those faced by those out later in the day, strong breezes buffeting the Winged Foot layout for much of the day.

After a wayward tee shot at the first had led to a bogey, Smith hit a stunning approach at the second to set up a birdie and despite a bogey at the 7th he was still only 1 over par for the day and 2 over for the tournament through 14 holes.

Bogeys at the 15th and 17th holes took some of the gloss off what might otherwise have been a very strong round but he is still well placed and heads those of his fellow Australians who made the cut into the final 36 holes.

Adam Scott plays his tee shot at the 3rd today – photo – Kohijiro Kino USGA

One shot behind Smith is Adam Scott, who overcame a horror start in which he bogeyed his first three holes to finish with a round of 74 to go with his opening 71 and at 5 over he is safely inside the cut line which fell at 6 over.

“It’s just very, very hard to get in a rhythm out there because if you’re just off the fairway, you’re just slashing and scrambling,” said Scott, describing the day.

“I did an okay job of it. I mean, I just got off to a slow start. It’s a hard start and a hard finish, and I got off to a bad start. I finished well, hung in there. I still like my chances for the weekend. I’ve got to play a great round tomorrow. If I shoot under par tomorrow, I’ll be right in the mix for Sunday.”

Jason Day bogeyed three of his first 5 holes and at that stage was in serious jeopardy of missing the weekend. He fought hard throughout his closing nine and when he birdied the 17th, he appeared safe. A wild drive at the last however would lead to a bogey and he has finished on the cutline at 6 over and ten from the lead.

Also at 6 over is US Open debutant Lucas Herbert who had the luxury of playing the opening 36 holes with fellow Australians, Matt Jones and Lukas Michel.

Herbert made a shaky start in his quest to be around for the weekend when he double bogeyed the par 3 10th (his first hole of the day) and when he would also double bogey the 10th hole of his round his chances appeared slim of making the cut.

He immediately birdied the next two holes however, the second of those from off the green at the 3rd hole of the golf course.

To have made his first US Open cut on such a demanding golf course in just his second appearance in the event is a reflection on how far the Victorian has progressed in 2020 including of course his win in Dubai in February.

New Zealander Danny Lee is tied with Scott at 5 over and in a share of 33rd place.

Matt Jones, Marc Leishman, Curtis Luck, Lukas Michel, Scott Hend and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox were others from down under although they will have the weekend off to ponder their performances.

 

Jason Day in action at Winged Foot on Wednesday – photo Chris Keane USGA

Jason Day will start tonight’s US Open as the Australian player most likely to perform well, his record in this particular event by some way the best of the nine Australians teeing it up at Winged Foot in New York.

Day has played this event on nine occasions and since and including his remarkable debut at Congressional in 2011, when he finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy, Day has finished inside the top ten on four other occasions including when also in the runner-up position at Merion in 2013.

The debut finish in Washington behind McIlroy typified Day’s game, producing some remarkable up and downs and although he trailed the winner by eight shots it highlighted the now 32 year old’s great capacity to grind it out when the going gets tough.

Another outstanding performance by Day came at Chambers Bay in 2015 when, despite collapsing with a bout of vertigo during the second round, he was able to finish 9th behind the eventual winner that year, Jordan Spieth.

Day with his runner-up medal in 2011, can he again contend in 2020.

Day has done enough in recent starts to suggest he might again perform well. Although he struggled in his two appearances in the FedEx Cup Playoffs there was a lot to like about the way he played in earlier events when producing four consecutive finishes inside the top ten including an impressive share of 4th at the PGA Championship.

Day has always shown a capacity play the big events well and if he was to continue that trend this week then it would be no surprise.

Adam Scott will play the US Open for the 19th occasion, only Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia in this week’s field having played the event on more occasions.

Clearly that leaves Scott with plenty of experience of the USGA style set-ups but with only three top tens in those eighteen previous appearances, it is perhaps his least productive major championship.

Scott has done well enough since his lengthy break in Australia to wait out the US PGA Tour’s Covid inspired break and could play well although it is perhaps a bit much to expect him to contend.

Scott in practice this week – photo Darren Carroll USGA

Cameron Smith, like Day, produced a remarkable performance on debut at the US Open when 4th at Chambers Bay in 2015, a three wood to three feet at the 72nd hole setting up an eagle and a finish that would play a big part in gaining access to the PGA Tour.

In three starts in the event since, Smith has finished no better then 59th but while his recent form has not been outstanding it has not been poor, playing his way to the Tour Championship courtesy of a couple of solid finishes during the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Of the other Australians, Marc Leishman appears to be struggling with his game at present, while Matt Jones, Lucas Herbert, Scott Hend, Curtis Luck and Lukas Michel all get their chance to play a major, for Luck his second and for Michel his first.

Recent Korn Ferry Tour winner  Curtis Luck plays his first US Open – photo USGA

Winged Foot has been the home of six previous US Opens, the first being when Bobby Jones won in 1929 and last in 2006 when Geoff Ogilvy became the second Australian to win the title, remaining the last man standing when Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie squandered late opportunities to win.

The winning score in 2006 was a massive 5 over par and indications suggest that the layout will again prove more than a handful.

Winged Foot looking a picture this week – photo Darren Carroll / USGA

 

 

 

Cameron Percy- a form turnaround provides a share of the lead – file photo Henry Peters

Victorian Cameron Percy shares the 54 hole lead at the Safeway Open in Napa in California, the now 46 year old chasing his first win on the PGA Tour after first becoming a member in 2010.

Percy is tied at the top of the leader-board with Americans James Hahn and Brian Stuard, but after a season on the PGA Tour where he has been unable to finish better than 25th in any event since this very same tournament last year, his showing is a major turnaround and if he is able to go and win tomorrow then it will provide a career changing moment.

“It would mean the world to me,” said Percy when asked what a win tomorrow would mean.

“It would be fantastic. It would mean I get to go to Augusta, which is a goal. I’ve never been to Augusta, which is the biggest goal you have when you come over here. I just thought I’d get there, I haven’t got there yet, so it’s a big deal.”

Percy finished 7th in this event last year, soon after regaining his playing privileges via the then Web.Com Tour Finals but in 15 PGA Tour events since he has missed eight cuts and been forced to withdraw from events on two occasions.

He has been able to retain his playing privileges for the new season because of the carry over aspect of status due to the Covid 19 crisis however and is making the most of it thus far.

Percy’s best finish to date on the PGA Tour came in that rookie year of 2010 when finishing second after a playoff against Jonathan Byrd in the Justin Timberlake event in Las Vegas. Byrd actually holed his tee shot at the 4th extra hole during the playoff to end the battle as darkness fell.

Injury free after a series of issues with a broken wrist and his ribs, Percy has clearly found form and tomorrow offers a chance to re-establish himself on the PGA Tour and improve his standing so early in the new season.

He puts his improvement down to being injury free and a new putting device and putter he has adopted of late.

“I saw Justin Rose practicing at Wyndham and he had this laser that he would line his putter up and his caddie would take his ball away and see where he’s lined up. I used his laser and then I bought one in the time I had off. I got it and my putter was nowhere near where I thought I was lined up.”

A new putter has also played its role. “I had a few putters at home and I noticed a few guys use those SIK putters and I asked them for one and they gave me one and it was the one I line up the best every time. So that’s half the battle, lining up where you’re looking. I hit a lot of putts online this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m at the top of the putting, for sure.”

Percy gets to play in the penultimate group tomorrow with 4th placed Kristoffer Ventura ahead of the final pairing of Stuard and Hahn.

The playoff to end Percy’s hopes of a first PGA Tour win in 2010.

 

 

 

Jason Day has enjoyed a good record at the US Open since his debut in 2011 (pictured)

The US Open is now just a week away and with nine Australians and two New Zealanders having played their way into the field there is much interest in the event from this part of the world.

In order of world ranking, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Jason Day, Cameron Smith, Lucas Herbert, Matt Jones, Danny Lee, Ryan Fox, Scott Hend, Curtis Luck and Lukas Michel, will tackle the demanding Winged Foot beginning on September 17th, that group attempting to become the first Australasian since Geoff Ogilvy’s win at the same venue in 2006 to take the title.

Adam Scott will play his 19th US Open having recorded a best of 4th when a last round of 64 at Chambers Bay in Washington State saw him tied for that pace with fellow Australian Cameron Smith.

Scott has made the cut in each of his starts since returning to tournament golf at the PGA Championship in August with a best of 22nd at the PGA Championship at Harding Park. He was 25th in his last appearance at the BMW Championship in Chicago two weeks ago.

Marc Leishman will play his 9th US Open with a best finish of 18th at Oakmont in 2016. Leishman has struggled with his form in recent weeks and will need a significant form reversal if he is to better his Oakmont effort.

Jason Day enjoys an impressive record at the US Open with five top tens in his nine appearances to date, two of those when runner-up including when on debut in the event in 2011.

Day has displayed some encouraging form of late with four top tens in seven starts since the PGA Tour’s return to competition in July. His game is perfect for the demands of major championship golf over demanding layouts and, if injury free, then he stands a chance of contending.

Cameron Smith debuted at the US Open in 2015 when he produced a remarkable 4th place finish at Chambers Bay. He has not fared as well since, his best in three starts since that amazing first appearance being 59th.

Smith’s most recent form, however, has been solid enough, making it all the way to the Tour Championship where he finished 22nd in the 30-man field. He recorded two top twenties in the two other FedEx Cup Playoffs.

Lucas Herbert will play his second US Open after a disastrous debut at Shinnecock Hills in 2018. He is a far more credentialed player now, however, and gets his place in this field courtesy of his impressive improvement in world ranking due mainly to his win at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.

The current Australian Open Champion, Matt Jones, has yet to make the weekend in his four appearances to date at the US Open, having missed the cut in three and being forced to withdraw when on debut at Bethpage Black in 2009.

Jones, who is also in the field courtesy of his world ranking, has hardly set the world on fire of late and faces a big task if he is to better his record in the event.

The first of the two New Zealanders in the field is Danny Lee, who plays the US Open for the third time although he was also eligible to play in 2009 as the 2008 US Amateur champion but turned professional and relinquished his exemption.

Lee gets his place in the field as a result of his standing amongst those on the FedEx Cup points table and not already exempt for the event.

Lee missed the cut at Chambers Bay and finished 57th at Oakmont in 2016 so this will be his first appearance since then. His most recent form has been encouraging but it is hard to imagine him contending for a potential second New Zealand victory in the event following that of Michael Campbell’s win in 2005.

Michael Campbell’s win in 2005

Ryan Fox will compete in his third US Open having performed well when 41st at Chambers Bay on debut and then he missed the cut at Pebble Beach last year.

Fox, who is in the field as a result of his efforts on the Australasian Tour in 2019, has played well in European Tour events in the last couple of months but this is clearly another level.

Scott Hend played his first US Open in 2004 and his last in 2011 but the only time he made the cut in his three starts in the event was when 32nd at the 2006 edition at this year’s venue, Winged Foot.

The Queenslander, who gains his start in 2020 as a result of his fine efforts on the Asian Tour in 2019, has not played well since his return to tournament golf in events in Europe so his chances of a good week appear slim.

Curtis Luck gained his start in this year’s event courtesy of his performances in recent Korn Ferry Tour events, more especially his win Ohio three weeks ago.

This will be his US Open debut although he was eligible to play in 2017 after winning the US Amateur the year before but turned professional beforehand.

Victorian amateur, Lukas Michel, is in the final Australasian in the field his inclusion as a result of his impressive win at the 2019 US Mid-Amateur Championship in Colorado.

This will be an amazing experience for the now Victorian based but Perth raised 26 year old.

One of only two Australians to win the event, Geoff Ogilvy at Winged Foot in 2006.