Travelers Championship: Jordan Spieth leads by one shot at River Highlands

Jordan Spieth

Travelers Championship, second round
-8 J Spieth (US); -7 T Merritt (US), P Reed (US); -6 W Bryan (US), D Summerhays (US), C Seiffert (US)
Selected others: -5 P Harrington (Ire); -4 P Casey (Eng); -1 R Knox (Sco); Even: R McIlroy (NI); +1 L Donald (Eng); +2 J Day (Aus)
Full leaderboard

American Jordan Spieth leads by one shot after the second round of the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.

Spieth, the Masters and US Open champion in 2015, mixed four birdies with a bogey and a double bogey for a one-under-par 69 on Friday, moving to eight under par overall.

One shot behind him is countryman Troy Merritt, who shot a two-under-par 68.

But Rory McIlroy’s struggles continued with five bogeys and two birdies in a three-over-par 73.

Northern Ireland’s four-time major winner trails Spieth by eight shots at River Highlands.

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington scored two birdies and one bogey for a one-under-par 69 and remains three shots behind Spieth.

While England’s Paul Casey finished on two under par with 68 and is one shot further back overall.

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BMW International: Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson trail leaders by one shot

Sergio Garcia

BMW International second round
-9 J Lagergren (Swe), J Stalter (Fra); -8 S Garcia (Spa), H Stenson (Swe), R Bland (Eng), T Detry (Bel), R Karlberg (Swe)
Selected others: -7 M Southgate (Eng); -6 T Fleetwood (Eng) Full leaderboard

Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson are one shot off the pace after the second round of the BMW International.

Spaniard Garcia, playing his first event in Europe since winning the Masters, shot a two-under 70 on Friday, leaving him eight under par overall.

Sweden’s Stenson, the 2016 winner, carded a three-under 69 in his second round as he continued preparations for a defence of his Open title in July.

The pair are a shot behind Swede Joakim Lagergren and France’s Joel Stalter.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who finished fourth at the US Open on Sunday, is tied for 11th, three strokes adrift of the leaders in Munich.

But compatriot Richard Bland moved level with Garcia and Stenson with a second-round 69.

Fellow Englishman Matthew Southgate was one shot further back on seven under par overall.

“I’m not on top of my game by any means but I think it was a good kind of professional fighting display,” Stenson said.

“We kept it pretty tidy, anyway, and made a couple of birdies when we had the chances and didn’t drop too many. You don’t have to be ashamed of three under I guess around here.”

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Irish Open 2017: Andrew 'Beef' Johnston booked in for Portstewart tournament

English player Andrew 'Beef' Johnston is renowned for his humour and unassuming demeanour

Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston has confirmed he will play in next month’s Irish Open at Portstewart, as will fellow Englishman Ian Poulter and Belgian Thomas Pieters.

Johnston, 28, rose to fame last year by winning the Spanish Open and has since come to be regarded as one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the game.

Pieters, meanwhile, made a huge impression on his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine last year.

Poulter has become one of the greats of the modern Ryder Cup era.

Tournament host Rory McIlroy will return home to defend the title he claimed in style last year, while world number two Hideki Matsuyama will make his regular European Tour debut having finished joint runner-up at last week’s US Open.

“This is certainly one of the strongest fields I’ve ever seen for the Irish Open, if not the strongest. It’s really shaping up for an incredible week,” said four-time major winner McIlroy.

“Everybody knows how special this tournament is to me, and to return to Northern Ireland as defending champion, with my Foundation again hosting the event, is a real honour.

“The Northern Irish fans are renowned the world over for their great support. The last two tournaments here in 2012 and 2015 were both sell-outs and the atmosphere was something else.

“I expect it to be the same this time with a field of this depth and such a great venue at Portstewart.”

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Travelers Championship: Padraig Harrington three behind leader Jordan Spieth

Padraig Harrington

Travelers Championship, first round
-7 J Spieth (US); -6 J Wagner, B Stegmaier (US); -5 G DeLaet (Can), T Merritt (US)
Selected others: -4 P Harrington (Ire); -3 R McIlroy (NI); -2 P Casey (Eng); -1 R Knox (Sco); +2 J Day (Aus); +3 L Donald (Eng); +5 B Watson (US)
Full leaderboard

Ireland’s three-time major winner Padraig Harrington scored a four-under-par 66 to trail first-round leader Jordan Spieth by three shots at the Travelers Championship.

American Spieth edged into the lead with a birdie on the final hole that sealed a seven-under-par 63.

Rory McIlroy shot a three-under-par 67, while England’s Paul Casey finished on two under par with 68.

Defending champion Russell Knox of Scotland scored a one-under-par 69.

Harrington, 45, who won the Open Championship in 2007 and 2008, when he also won the PGA Championship, shot four birdies and no bogies on Thursday.

Spieth, the Masters and US Open champion in 2015, scored eight birdies and one bogey on what was his first appearance at River Highlands, Connecticut.

Early pacesetter Brett Stegmaier was reeled in and ended tied for second with fellow American Johnson Wagner, who like Stegmaier mixed seven birdies with a bogey.

World number four Jason Day of Australia scored a disappointing two-over 72 after three bogeys and one double bogey, with England’s Luke Donald a shot further back on three over.

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BMW International: Sergio Garcia third as Wade Ormsby leads in Munich

Sergio Garcia

BMW International first round
-8 W Ormsby (Aus); -7 T Detry (Bel); -6 S Garcia (Spa), J Luiten (Ned), T Olesen (Den)
Selected others: -5 H Stenson (Swe), R Bland (Eng), T Fleetwood (Eng), J Morrison (Eng), M Southgate (Eng); Full leaderboard

Sergio Garcia shot a six-under-par 66 to share third place at the BMW International, his first event in Europe since winning the Masters.

The Spaniard, whose opening round in Munich contained six birdies, trails leader Wade Ormsby of Australia by two shots and Belgian Thomas Detry by one.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who finished fourth at the US Open on Sunday, is tied for sixth, three strokes adrift.

Defending champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden also carded a five-under-par 67.

Fleetwood’s compatriots Richard Bland, James Morrison and Matthew Southgate matched Fleetwood and Stenson’s score.

“I felt like I played quite well, but not spectacular,” said Garcia, whose Masters triumph at Augusta in April was his first major title.

“There’s still three more rounds to go, so we’re going to keep playing hard and hopefully we’ll be up there on Sunday.”

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PGA Tour: New doping programme to blood test and name recreational drug users

The PGA Tour schedules some of the biggest events in the US

The PGA Tour is to introduce blood testing next season and will align its list of prohibited substances with that of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The Tour will still use urine testing to combat anti-doping but the added use of blood testing will detect substances such as human growth hormone.

Commissioner Jay Monahan said the move would “better substantiate the integrity of golf as a clean sport”.

Suspensions due to recreational drug use will also now be reported.

Currently, misdemeanours related to recreational drugs are kept confidential but this will no longer be the case as part of widespread changes in policy for the 2017-18 season, starting later this year.

The PGA Tour provides the week-to-week competitions for many of the world’s top golfers who base themselves in the US, while the European Tour does so in Europe.

It has operated its own anti-doping programme since 2008 and consulted with both Wada and US Anti-Doping in putting it together.

But its banned list differed to the Wada code in three categories, relating to asthma medications, allergy and anti-inflammatory medications.

The International Olympic Committee urged the PGA Tour to adopt fully Wada’s code before the sport’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016, where players were subject to blood testing.

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Tiger Woods: Ex-world number one getting help to manage medication

Golfer Tiger Woods

Former world number one Tiger Woods says he is getting “professional help” to manage medication for pain and sleep loss as he tries to return to fitness.

Woods, 41, is recovering from a fourth back operation since April 2014.

The American 14-time major winner was breathalysed in Florida in May after being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

He denied alcohol was involved and said it was down to “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medication”.

In a statement released on social media, Woods said: “I’m currently receiving professional help to manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder.

“I want to thank everyone for the amazing outpouring of support and understanding, especially the fans and players on tour.”

Woods has not won a tournament anywhere since 2013, while his title drought in major championships dates back to 2008.

He is due to appear in court in Palm Beach County on 9 August to answer the driving charge.

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US Open 2017: Subtlety of shot making is being lost in professional golf

US Open champion Brooks Koepka

If proof were needed that the golf ball is travelling too far, it was provided during Brooks Koepka’s US Open triumph at Erin Hills.

This low-scoring slugfest was a freakish championship, played at a new and unique venue for America’s national championship.

It would be wrong to draw too many conclusions but the facts surrounding the distance issue are irzrefutable.

The Wisconsin course was designed to be played firm and fast but conditions dictated that the layout was soft and slow.

After tempestuous US Opens at Chambers Bay and Oakmont, organisers were under pressure to deliver a tournament free from controversy.

So the USGA erred on the side of caution to ensure their prime event did not suffer any further loss of credibility.

With strong winds sweeping the course on the final day they, quite rightly, slowed the greens to ensure they remained playable.

All of these factors and especially the pristine putting surfaces ensured low scoring. Koepka’s 16-under-par tally equalled Rory McIlroy’s 2011 record at a rain-soaked Congressional.

But on that occasion the Northern Irishman won by eight strokes, no one else came close to taming the Maryland venue in such a manner. Twenty players broke par six years ago; this time the top 31 were in red figures.

Of course, the fact that Erin Hills was rated par-72 skews the figures (Congressional was par-71) but the scoring on a 7,800-yard course emphatically shows that distance is no longer a barrier in the modern professional game.

Brooks Koepka on the 18th tee at the US Open.

On the final tee last Sunday, Koepka knew he was on the threshold of his maiden major title.

With a subsiding wind at his back he tackled the 681-yard par 5 with a three-wood and promptly dispatched it 379 yards.

In that last round, fifty of the 68 players to make the cut averaged more than 300 yards off the tee.

Professional golfers are, for the most part, gym-honed athletes trained to make the most of the powerful and generous sweet-spots that are the hallmark of modern golf clubs.

This takes nothing away from the undoubted skill they possess in channelling that power. Koepka is the perfect example because it was not just his length from the tee but his accuracy that provided the platform for his win.

“I drove the ball really well this week, so that really helps,” the champion noted.

“Obviously the fairways were a little bit wider and to have that where some of the misses typically would be in a bunker or deep rough, like a typical US Open.”

The Floridian champion averaged 322 yards with his drives, the seventh longest, but hit 88 percent of fairways (fourth) throughout the week. That is a major-winning combination on a course characterised by length both in terms of yardage and rough.

Koepka made the most of the generous fairway widths as he became the seventh successive first-time major champion.

This run stretches back to Zach Johnson’s Open triumph at St Andrews in 2015. The American winner at the Old Course is a rarity in not being known for his prowess from the tee.

Subsequent major winners; Jason Day (PGA), Danny Willett (Masters), Dustin Johnson (US Open), Henrik Stenson (Open), Jimmy Walker (PGA) and Sergio Garcia (Masters) are all powerful, long hitters.

Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee

Kopeka continues the trend and now pundits such as the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee are advocating courses that break the 8,000 yard barrier.

It is an ill-affordable nightmare scenario. Layouts would need more land, more resources for maintenance and more time to play.

The emphasis is all on power and the subtlety of shot making and shaping is being lost.

Amazingly, the authorities insist the golf ball is not travelling any further. They claim to have put the brakes on technology but the evidence of last week and most other professional tournaments tells a different story.

Something needs to be done to rein back the ball to ensure courses remain relevant and the sport becomes more nuanced.

In the mid-90s, tennis realised it had a problem because fans were being put off because there were too few rallies at tournaments such as Wimbledon.

What did they do? They slowed down the ball and transformed the sport.

It was their ball and they had control. In golf it does not work that way because manufacturers hold sway.

The time is long overdue for the rules-makers to assume proper control. The R and A and USGA have to come up with a blueprint for a tournament ball appropriate to whichever course is being used that week.

Dictate the specifications and limits to the manufacturers and let them come up with the best ball they can.

The emphasis would shift from raw length to feel and playability while we amateurs could still use balls that give us the sort of distance that makes the game more enjoyable for us.

It might be possible to build monster courses such as Erin Hills in the wide open spaces of Wisconsin to accommodate the power of the modern game but it is inconceivable for golf’s future to be based on such exceptional sites.

It is time to act.

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US Open 2017: Brooks Koepka wins from England's Tommy Fleetwood

Breaking news

American Brooks Koepka equalled the US Open’s lowest winning score of 16 under to claim his first major at Erin Hills.

Koepka had three successive birdies from the 14th to match the total set by Rory McIlroy when he won in 2011 on a par-71 layout compared to this par 72.

His five-under 67 was only bettered by Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama who posted 66 to tie for second on 12 under with overnight leader Brian Harman (72).

England’s Tommy Fleetwood, shot a level-par 72 to end fourth on 11 under.

The 26-year-old from Southport, playing in just his second US Open, was unable to keep pace with playing partner Koepka on the front nine.

The pair started Sunday’s final round one off the lead but Koepka holed three birdies in his first eight holes, while Fleetwood followed a birdie on the second with three bogeys in his next six holes for a five-shot swing.

Fleetwood, ranked 33rd in the world, steadied his round with a birdie on the ninth and returned to 11 under by picking up another shot on the par-five 14th.

More to follow.

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US Open 2017: Tommy Fleetwood backed to win at Erin Hills

Tommy Fleetwood

US Open round three leaderboard, Erin Hills
-12 B Harman (US); -11 J Thomas (US), B Koepka (US), T Fleetwood (Eng); -10 R Fowler (US); -9 K Si-woo (Kor)
Selected: -8 P Reed (US); -6 H Matsuyama (Jpn); -4 E Pepperell (Eng), S Garcia (Spa) C Champ* ((US), P Casey (Eng); -3 M Fitzpatrick (Eng); -1 M Laird (Sco), A Johnston (Eng); +3 L Westwood (Eng); +4 J Spieth (US); +5 E Els (SA)
* denotes amateur

Tommy Fleetwood has been backed to win the US Open by coach Norman Marshall, who first taught him as a six-year-old.

England’s Fleetwood, who has never won a major, is one shot off the lead going into the final round on Sunday.

“Knowing Tommy as I know him and seeing what he has done in the past, every time he has got within a sniff of winning a big tournament, he’s gone for it 100%,” said Marshall.

“There’s no backing down in Tommy and that’s what the exciting thing is.”

Southport’s Fleetwood, 26, won the Abu Dhabi Championship to claim his second European Tour title earlier this year.

“Give him a chance on that back nine and I know he will go for it,” added Marshall, who was speaking on BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek programme.

“I think he is going to do it. There is something different about him. Winners are cut from a different cloth and he is.”

Marshall said he became aware very soon of how talented Fleetwood was after measuring him in some of the drills he used.

“We had a vinyl target which laid on the floor – it looked like an archery target – and me and the other golf pros were always competing against each other,” he said.

“It made a noise when a ball landed on it. We used to hit 25 balls – three metres by three metres the target was – and my best ever was 14 and when Tommy was eight he hit it with 21 out of 25 balls.

“It was at that point that I realised he was totally different.”

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