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Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Low Scoring Continues

Earlier in the week I said it looked like Sergio was back. His play at both the U.S. Open qualifier to make the field and his play in the tournament itself (T7) seemed to point toward good things. The big problem, as most of you who follow him know, has been his inability to play well on the weekend after getting himself into contention and making the cut.

This week represents a huge breakthrough for El Niño. After shooting 69-71 in the first 2 rounds of the BMW International Open, Sergio blitzed the field Saturday with a 64, the lowest score of the day! It puts him in a tie for 2nd, 2 strokes behind leader Mark Foster.

But perhaps the best thing about it came during the after-round interview. Sergio was asked about how it felt to be back in contention, both this week and at the Open last week, and he simply said it felt good. He laughed about how no one could expect to win with Rory "playing out of his head." And he said he felt he let some shots get away early in the round... but he wasn't down about it.

Sergio clearly seems to have turned a corner, both in his play and in his mental approach. It's great to see. And if he should somehow manage to win Sunday (and you may be able to find out if he did by the time you read this), he'll play his way into the Open Championship next month.

I for one wish him good luck. Like I keep saying, golf is better when Sergio is in contention.

Another player also staged a bit of a runaway on Saturday. Yani Tseng was one stroke ahead of Pat Hurst after Friday's round at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, the LPGA's 2nd major of the year. Last year's winner, Cristie Kerr, had the flu earlier in the week and could only muster two par rounds until Saturday. She, like Sergio, struggled early in the round before posting a 67, the round of the day. It put her 4 or 5 strokes behind Yani at the time, but the wind was coming up and Cristie said she thought her 5-under would be good under the conditions.

She was right. It was good for Yani too.

Yani's 67 increased her lead from 1 to 5 strokes. Her closest competitors are rookie Cindy Lacrosse, who may not be used to the spotlight of playing with Yani, and Morgan Pressel, who really wanted to be in that last group but had to settle for playing one group ahead. Even if Yani falters in the final round, Cindy and Morgan are the only two players with a realistic chance of catching her.

I've made some comparisons between Rory and Yani in the last day or so, and here's another interesting one. Yani, like Rory, had a final-round collapse in her last major after having a substantial lead. If she wins today, it will be a "redemption story" not much different from Rory's.

Can she do it? Well, here's the interesting part. Rory's problem at the Masters was clearly a mental one. Yani seemed to stall in Friday's round, missing a couple of short putts that affected her confidence. Her coach Gary Gilchrist is at the tournament, and the two spent an hour on the putting green Friday night. Get this -- Yani didn't hit a single putt. They spent that hour talking about her mindset, about how she isn't expected to win every time she tees it up, and that she needs to stop trying so hard. Yani told GC that she had just learned this week that Jack Nicklaus finished 2nd in majors 19 times, so it was ok if she didn't always win.

Don't look for Yani to stumble in the final round, any more than Rory did. She still has to finish it off, of course, but if she does Yani will become the youngest player, male or female, to win 4 majors.

I guess 22 isn't as young as it used to be. And for Sergio, maybe 31 isn't as old as it used to be. Isn't golf a wonderful game?

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