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New putter doesn’t do much for slumping Tiger Woods

POTOMAC, Md. (AP) — The guy who has been fiddling with putters because he wasn’t happy with the results finally saw his share of putts go in.

If only Tiger Woods could have looked behind him, he might have seen J.J. Spaun match his best score of the year with a 7-under 63 to share the lead with Andrew Landry in the Quicken Loans National.

Spaun, who has gone back-and-forth with putters four times in his last six tournaments, quietly went about his business Thursday while most of the attention was on Woods in the group ahead of him using a mallet-style putter to help him shake out of a slump.

A new putter gave Woods a better feel, but the same middling results. He had six birdie chances from 10 feet or closer and made two of them to offset a double bogey early in his round, and he had to settle for an even-par 70.

“I shot about the score I should have shot today,” Woods said.

Landry shot his 63 in the morning when the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm was soft, though still punishing with its thick rough. Spaun did his work in the windier afternoon, even if no one noticed. He played in the group behind Woods, and didn’t even get leftovers from thousands of fans watching golf’s biggest draw.

“Hell, no,” Spaun said with a laugh. “They don’t even know who I am. They played so fast, actually. They were a solid hole ahead of us. … I was kind of nervous, but I was more excited. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get to see his second shots from looking back from the tee.’ But they played so fast, I didn’t even see him at all. I just saw his pink shirt way in the distance.”

He would have seen solid play early, some wild shots off the tee by Woods in the middle and flawless work from tee-to-green late.

Spaun wouldn’t have seen many putts go in.

Woods had five straight birdie chances from 8 feet or closer on the back nine. He made two of them — one of them from 3 feet — and didn’t make a putt longer than 10 feet the entire round. Woods kept the round from getting away from him two big par saves to start the back nine, both times having to chop it back to the fairway. He got up-and-down from 147 yards on No. 11 by making a 6-foot putt.

“I rolled it well,” Woods said. “I mean, hey, if I’m hitting putts on my line with my speed, then I’m happy. They’ll go in eventually.”

It was the first competitive round for Woods on the TPC Potomac, and his first time playing the tournament since 2015. This also is the last edition, and the field is among the weakest this year on the PGA Tour. Rickie Fowler is the only player in the top 10 in the world, and he also rallied for a 70.

•••

SMOLTZ STRUGGLES, KELLY SHINES AT US SENIOR OPEN

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Though John Smoltz may have felt very much alone on the wind-whipped, sun-baked Broadmoor course, he wasn’t.

The pitching Hall of Famer spent Day 1 at the U.S. Senior Open in much the same position as the rest of the field — gouging out of ankle-high rough, then scrambling to put himself in position for par putts on tricky, mountain greens that left player after player shaking his head.

“I’m just being honest,” Smoltz said after a round of 15-over 85 that left him tied for 150th place. “I don’t have enough game for this course yet.”

He wasn’t alone.

The ultimate test for the seniors produced only eight below-par scores Thursday, and not a single player — not even leader Jerry Kelly — finished 18 holes without a bogey on his card.

Kelly gave it a run, though.

After saving par from the rough on the 559-yard, par-4 17th — he was holding his right elbow after digging out the approach — Kelly was one 4-foot putt away from going bogey-free. But when that slid a fraction to the right at the cup, his flawless day was history.

Kelly still shot 4-under 66, which was good enough for a two-shot lead over Miguel Angel Jimenez, Kevin Sutherland, Deane Pappas and Rocco Mediate.

•••

SUNG HYUN PARK SHOOTS 66 TO TAKE KPMG WOMEN’S PGA LEAD

KILDEER, Ill. (AP) — Sung Hyun Park sees herself rounding back into form.

Winning a second major sure would be a good way to prove it, and to that end, the 24-year-old South Korean player is off to a good start.

Park shot a bogey-free 6-under 66 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The 2017 U.S. Women’s Open Champion birdied three of the four par-5 holes at Kemper Lakes in the third of the LPGA Tour’s five majors.

Canada’s Brooke Henderson, the 2016 KPMG winner and runner-up last year, was a stroke back with Jessica Korda, Jaye Marie Green and Brittany Altomore.

The 24-year-old Park won the weather-shortened LPGA Texas Classic in May, but followed that with three missed cuts and a tie for 61st last week in Arkansas. After a switch in putters, she believes she is rounding back into form.

The long-hitting Park birdied the par-5 15th to reach 5 under and parred the tough final three holes, finishing with a short putt on 18.

“I felt like something little was missing, especially my putting,” Park said through an interpreter. “But this week, I (feel) comfortable.”

The course favors long hitters not only because of the distances by the soft conditions. The leaderboard reflected that.

“I feel like that was really beneficial,” Henderson said. “None of the par-5s I can really get to in two, but there’s some long par-4s out here. And having a few shorter clubs than my competitors I feel like is a big advantage, and I can take some bunkers out of play, too, which makes the fairway a lot wider, which is a good thing.”

Korda was also glad to be playing on a course like that.

She has five tour victories and her sights set on becoming the second member of her family to capture a major championship. Her father, Petr Korda, won tennis’ Australian Open in 1998.

After tying for fourth at the ANA Inspiration this year, Korda missed the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open. But she’s off to a good start in this one.

“Oh, It was great,” said Korda, the winner in Thailand in February in her return from reconstructive jaw surgery. “Finally, a golf course that benefits the long-hitters. The last couple weeks it’s definitely been a lot of 3-woods or even 4-irons off the tees, so this is really, really nice.”

Korda birdied three of the first six holes and ended her round on a rather strong note. She birdied Nos. 14 and 15 before making pars on the final three holes.

Green closed with a birdie on No. 9.

Michelle Wie shot 71, U.S. Women’s Open champion Ariya Jutanugarn had an even-par 72, and top-ranked Inbee Park and defending champion Danielle Kang followed at 73.

Lexi Thompson also shot 72, acing the 166-yard sixth hole with an 8-iron. Brittany Marchand also had a hole-in-one with a 5-iron on the 175-yard No. 17. She shot 71.

The winner last year at Olympia Fields, Kang fought through a stomachache after she couldn’t resist the chocolate chip waffles at breakfast. She knew that was a bad idea no matter how good they looked, and it didn’t take long for her to start paying for it.

Kang was already starting to feel sick before she teed off. It bothered her throughout the round, and she even threw up after the ninth hole.

“Just that constant contraction, your stomach contracting,” said Kang, who was planning to have oatmeal and cereal for breakfast Friday. “When I’m putting and if I contract too much, I smashed one on 10. I go, ‘Oops.’”

She felt it in a double bogey on the par-4 16th. The 419-yarder is a nightmare, with water running the entire right side of the fairway before forming a pond in front of the green. There are also two fairway bunkers on the left as well as a deep one by the green. Kang’s stomach was acting up as she sent her third shot sailing over the green, just missing the water.

“I was feeling it over it, and then I just tried to hit through it and hit it way too hard,” she said.

Mediate found himself in the mix again for a national championship 10 years after his epic, 19-hole playoff loss to Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Whether it’s the regular Open or the seniors, Mediate insists the tough USGA setups suit him, even though he missed the cut the last two years in this event.

“It looks like a U.S. Open golf course,” Mediate said about the Broadmoor. “It is a U.S. Open golf course. It will show you quickly that it is, if you hit it in the wrong place. That’s what I love most about the setup.”

Also lurking was defending champion Kenny Perry, whose 71 included only a single birdie.

“Here, the greens, they’ve got you on edge,” said Perry, whose title last year gave him entry into the U.S. Open earlier this month. “I feel like I’m at Shinnecock again.”

The USGA took its usual drubbing for the course setup earlier this month at Shinnecock Hills, and though the spotlight isn’t nearly as bright here, the record-high forecast for this week (high 90s) along with wind gusting above 30 mph have left tournament organizers ‘pacing” themselves when it comes to firming up the Broadmoor, according to the USGA’s daily course setup notes.

Even when softened up for resort players, conquering this course takes its fair share of local knowledge. Virtually every putt — even those that appear to be aimed uphill — break away from the Will Rogers Shrine towering above the course on Cheyenne Mountain.

“You have to hit them a few times to trust you know what you’re doing,” said Lee Janzen, who shot 69.

Janzen and Mediate trekked to Colorado Springs last month to play a few practice rounds and gain some of the valuable local knowledge.

Smoltz, whose day job is broadcasting baseball games for Fox, walked onto the Broadmoor for the first time this week. He hired a local caddie, Colin Prater, who was a Division II All-American at Colorado-Colorado Springs.

Almost immediately, though, the pitcher-turned-golfer received a crash course in the difference between casual rounds of golf and the sport at its most difficult.

“I never expected to get that many bad lies,” he said. “Nothing I could do about it. And I had a lot of tough shots that I have not practiced and that I am not used to hitting.”

A few times during the round, Smoltz had to stop, take off his shoes and tape up his toes, which were raw and aching. Lesson: Don’t break in new golf shoes at the U.S. Open.

“It was fun to have him out here,” said Bob Ford, who was in the threesome with Smoltz. “But I didn’t expect him to break 80. I know how good he is. But this is just another world. It’s not his world.”

Smoltz’s first turn through this world will end after Friday’s round.

Kelly — he set himself up to be in a good spot heading into the weekend.

“I hit three bad shots, and I shot 85,” Smoltz said. “It just tells you, from an amateur standpoint, and for people sitting at home, how great these players are.”

ven when he kept it in the short grass off the tee, Woods didn’t have a reasonable birdie chance until No. 5, and he missed from 10 feet.

And then he ran into trouble on the par-4 sixth, starting with a tee shot he pulled left that caromed off a tree and landed in a the mown path that leads from the tee to the fairway. Woods tried to hit a 3-wood to the green and it came up short and into the hazard. He had to drop it in more rough, came up just short of the green and wound up making a 4-foot putt to escape with double bogey.

Going with an iron off the tee at the par-5 10th, he pulled that into the hazard but at least was able to chop it back to the fairway, rip fairway metal around the green and chip it close to save par. On the next hole, he blasted a tee shot well right, over the gallery, and had to pitch out back into play again. That par felt like a birdie.

“That kept the momentum somewhat on my side,” Woods said. “I knew I had some birdie holes coming up to try to get back to under par for the day, and I was close.”

The course was the fourth-toughest on the PGA Tour last year, trailing only three majors, though it was soft enough and the wind was mild so that low scores were available. Kyle Stanley won at 7-under 273 last year. Landry and Spaun shared the lead at 7 under after one round.

“I expect that if we don’t get any rain the next few days, the course is going to firm up, greens get firm, get a little bit quicker, but it’s not going to be like last year,” Billy Horschel said after his 64. “So you’re going to have to go out with the mindset that it’s a little bit different course, you can’t be as conservative, you’ve got to still try and make birdies.”

Andrew Putnam also was at 64 while playing in the afternoon. Beau Hossler and Abraham Ancer were another shot behind.

Woods has been at least six shots behind — and no better than a tie for 29th — after the opening round of his last six tournaments dating to the Masters.

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