SAFEWAY OPEN: Cink roars back to win

Stewart Cink takes a swing on the second tee in the final round at the Silverado North Course. Cink was the winner of Sunday’s Safeway Open PGA Golf Tournament in Napa. (AP News photo)

By Jeremy Harness

A lot has happened since Stewart Cink’s last win on the PGA Tour, which came at the Open Championship in 2009, when he upended the legendary Tom Watson.

His wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, and then Stewart himself was diagnosed with skin cancer. Both, however, have since been given clean bills of health, but it took a lot of courage to get to this point.

Fast forward to this weekend, as Cink shot rounds of 65 on Saturday as well as Sunday, and he came away with the win at the Safeway Open, with his birdie at the par-5 18th being the decisive blow.

He got off to a nice start and never really turned off the momentum. He recorded back-to-back birdies at the fourth and fifth holes and the followed that up with birdies at the eighth as well as the ninth.

He added a chip-in for birdie at the par-3 11th before going birdie back-to-back at the 15th and 16th holes.

However, he did suffer a hiccup at the par-4 17th, as he could not get up and down and dropped a shot. He got that shot right back at the final hole, as he hit two good shots and wound up just past the back fringe.

He pulled out a putter and got it to about four feet and then drained the birdie putt to give himself a two-shot lead with two groups left on the course.

“Well, it has been emotional,” Cink said. “You can’t go wire to wire in the FedExCup year without winning the first one, I would like to point that out right now. In a way that was kind of a goal this week. No, it’s been an awesome time. My son Reagan caddying for me, Lisa was here. This is a really special place, I love being in Napa and I just had a really phenomenal time this week. And on top of that my golf ball was pretty agreeable most of the way, so it was a really great experience top to bottom all week.”

At that point, there were only two guys with a chance to tie Cink, Brian Stuard and Harry Higgs. Higgs was two back and needed an eagle, and his chance evaporated when his third shot landed way right of the hole.

“I would have loved to have hit a tee ball in the fairway on 18. I felt like I needed 3, especially seeing Stewart in the fairway when we got back to that tee,” Higgs said. “I can’t believe the putt on 17 didn’t go in. I was back and forth between does it straighten at the hole, does it keep breaking. I hit it exactly how I wanted to.

“All in all, super positive week obviously. Had a chance to win, great start to a new season. I felt like this was a really, really good chance, and it was nice to be in it at the end versus the last time I finished second.”

As for Stuard, who was four back when Cink sank his final putt, he needed even more. His chance fell through when his birdie attempt at the 17th burned the edge.

SAFEWAY OPEN: Three-way tie for lead

Alameda native and Cal grad James Hahn is in a three way tie for the lead at the Safeway Open in Napa on Saturday (photo from golfweek.com and usatoday.com)

By Jeremy Harness

There are three players who are tied at the top of the leaderboard at the Safeway Open, and there are a total of 11 guys who are within two strokes of each other.

That is the current situation after three rounds at Silverado, and at this point, anything can happen.

One of those players is Alameda native and Cal grad James Hahn, who shot a five-under bogey-free round of 67 to vault himself into a three-way tie atop the leaderboard.

He recorded back-to-back birdies at the second and third holes, but he picked things up on the back nine with a birdie at the par-3 11th, sticking his tee shot to about three feet in the process. He again got back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th holes.

“I just had a goal in mind today, just to kind of have a clean scorecard,” Hahn said. “It would have been nice to birdie a couple of the par 5s, but anytime you birdie three out of the four par 3s I think you’re doing something good.

“It’s good to have a lot of family and friends up here. Unfortunately, there’s no fans, but it would be nice to win the first one.”

Brian Stuard also had a bogey-free scorecard on Saturday, with three birdies in a row at holes three through five, and he scattered three birdies on the back nine for a three-under round of 66.

“This is a course that fits my game,” Stuard said. “You’ve got to drive it straight, you’ve got to kind of shape the tee ball once in a while. It’s important to be on the right side of the fairway to some pins, I think. Reminds me a little bit of Hilton Head in that way and I think that’s another one of my favorites. It should fit my game, yes.”

Forty-six-year-old Cameron Percy did not have as clean a scorecard as Hahn’s, but it was good enough for a share of the lead heading into the final round on Sunday. He had a bogey-free front nine that saw him scatter three birdies, but he ran into trouble on the back side with bogeys on each the 11th and 14th holes.

However, he rebounded by picking up shots on both the 16th and the 17th for a third-round of 68, and with that, comes with a chance to pick up his first win on the PGA Tour.

“It would mean the world to me,” Percy said. “Yeah, it would be fantastic. It would mean I get to go to Augusta (for the Masters in November), 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.”

SAFEWAY OPEN: Burns takes over lead with second-round 65

(photo from pgatour.com) Sam Burns who has a two shot lead at the Safeway Open on Friday in Napa 

By Jeremy Harness

Sam Burns shot a seven-under round of 65 and grabbed a two-shot lead at the Safeway Open Friday afternoon during the second round of play.

Burns, who finished last season 111th in the FedEx Cup race, was only one shot behind the lead after the first round, but he did not start out very well. After making par at his starting hole, the 10th, he suffered a damaging double bogey at the 11th.

That seemed to give him a jump start, as he birdied three holes in a row and then went on to birdie two of the next four holes. He kept that momentum going with four more birdies on his second nine.

“Yeah, I think it pissed me off a little bit, woke me up, I guess,” Burns said. “It was early, cold. It was kind of like it picked me up, like hey, let’s go. Just kind of stuck with it and the golf course opened up for me the rest of the day.”

He is two shots ahead of Harry Higgs, who made a huge charge on Friday. He had the shot of the day at his very last hole, when he holed out from 230 yards out at the par-5 ninth for a double eagle, otherwise known as an albatross.

Before that, he had a special, bogey-free round going, with six birdies on his first nine, including four birdies in a row at holes 15 through 18. His back none was rather quiet, other than a birdie at the par-4 third, before firing the big shot at No. 9.

He carded a 10-under round of 62, which was the low round of the day and launched him right into the thick of things at Silverado.

“What a wonderful way to end the day,” Higgs said. “(But) I was looking forward to a nap all day long, but now I might be too jacked up now to actually fall asleep.”

Russell Knox, who was the leader after the first round, shot a second-round 69 and is now three behind the lead, along with Cameron Percy and D.J Trahan.

“I hit the ball well today. I played fairly conservative into some holes,” Knox said. “I was kind of in between yardages, but I felt like I played well. I could have shot a lower score than I did. I didn’t really hole the putts today, but to finish birdie-birdie 3 under was very satisfying.”

NOTES: Five-time PGA Tour winner John Daly, who currently plays on the PGA Champions Tour, was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

The 54-year-old said he has undergone a procedure to remove the cancer as well as eight days of chemotherapy, and he was reportedly positive about the treatment despite an estimated 85 percent chance that it will eventually come back.

He is in the field at the Sanford International in Sioux Falls, S.D, and he is currently tied for 11th after a two-under round of 68 in the first round.

SAFEWAY OPEN: First round gets underway despite smoky skies

Russell Knox shown at the Silverado North Course at the Safeway Open during the first round at 13th course at the PGA Tournament on Thursday Sep 10th in Napa (AP News photo)

By Jeremy Harness

On Wednesday, golfers practiced under skies that looked more like a movie than real life. We’ll put it this way: During the hours that would normally feature bright sunshine during this time of year, lights had to be flipped on to the practice green.

Because of the numerous fires that have all but surrounded Northern California, the streets have been covered with ash and there has only been a faint view of the sun over the last few days.

Somehow, the first round of the Safeway Open, the first event of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, got underway at Silverado Golf Resort, although play was delayed by about an hour.

Due to the darker skies, play was called off at 4pm PST, with a few groups left on the course, with those players scheduled to play the remaining hole or two early Friday morning.

However, most were able to finish in time, including Russell Knox, who leads the field after shooting a nine-under bogey-free round of 63. He went five-under on the front nine, including an eagle at the par-5 fifth, and then went on to scatter four more birdies on the back side.

Three guys are only one behind Knox, including relative unknowns Sam Burns, Bo Hoag and Cameron Percy. Burns made three birdies on the front nine and then got hot on the back side. He made three birdies in a row on holes 10 through 12 and then went eagle at the par-5 16th.

His only blemish was on the very next hole, when he made bogey before rebounding with a birdie at the par-5 18th.

Former Safeway Open winner Brendan Steele is among the players at seven-under, along with Pat Perez.

MadBum returns to SF as opponent

The photo proves it that this Diamondback is back . After suffering from back problems that kept him out for much of this season Bumgarner seen here threw against the San Diego Padres Sun Aug 8th Bumgarner will be into pay a visit to his former team the San Francisco Giants for the weekend series and will be getting the start on Saturday night (AP News file photo)

By Jeremy Harness

In spring training, Giants fans undoubtedly anticipated seeing Madison Bumgarner toe the rubber at Oracle Park as a member of the opposing team.

That moment will come this Saturday, as his Arizona Diamondbacks visit the Giants for a three-game series that starts Friday night, with the left-hander starting the second game of the series.

We witnessed Cavaliers fans giving a hero’s welcome to LeBron James during his second return to Cleveland as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers last season. In 2002, the Chicago crowd gave former Bulls great Michael Jordan a minutes-long standing ovation when being introduced in his first game in Chicago with the Washington Wizards.

Cutouts, and whatever kind of fake crowd noise that the Giants brass can think of will be in the crowd to greet Bumgarner this Saturday.

Cutouts.

Fake crowd noise.

Another reason why this joke of an MLB season should have been shut down for good. That, along with the COVID-19 outbreak that ravaged the majority of the Miami Marlins team earlier in the season, as well as an employee of the A’s organization testing positive for the virus, which forced the postponement of their series with the Houston Astros and put the brakes on the ensuing series in Seattle before it even started.

Partially because of this, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was caught saying that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred “just doesn’t get it.” Van Wagenen is almost certainly not the only one who feels this way.

Yes, baseball is being played, but there is next to no energy and a severe lack of enthusiasm for obvious reasons, with seemingly the only reason to go on with the season is for owners to line their pocketbooks and to justify paying their players.

And because of that, here we are. There will be no fans in the stands, and that is an absolute shame. Giants fans will not get to see Madison Bumgarner in person to give him the hero’s welcome that he deserves. And that is an injustice.

Brodie Van Wagenen is right. Rob Manfred does not get it. And he has had many chances to figure it out, and he has come up short each time, and this is perfect example of that.

Giants bullpen blows lead vs. Rox in 9-6 loss

Colorado Rockies Kevin Pillar has second base stolen after the throw is late to the San Francisco Giants second baseman Donavan Solano in the fourth inning of the second and concluding game of the two game series (AP News photo)

By Jeremy Harness

A day after pounding the Colorado Rockies into submission, Thursday afternoon looked very good for the Giants.

Then starter Logan Webb exited the game, and in came the Giants’ bullpen, which has been lights-out in recent weeks. Not this time, however.

The relievers imploded, as two runs crossed the plate in the sixth while five more scored in the seventh inning to surrender their once-sizable lead. The Giants offense, which was dominant in a 23-5 win Tuesday and piled up a 6-1 lead after four innings, could not come up with anything in the last two innings, as the Giants fell 9-6 at Coors Field.

Webb pitched brilliantly for much of the afternoon, going 5 1/3 innings and striking out five while walking only two and was in line to get his third win of the season, but he was ultimately charged with four earned runs.

Mike Yastrzemski continues to swing a hot bat, as he went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI on Wednesday. He started the scoring with a solo home run over the right-field wall, and then he singled in Joey Bart in the fifth.

For the Rockies, shortstop Trevor Story also had three hits and knocked in a run in the fifth with a double. He also made a fine diving stop and threw from one knee deep in the hole in short to rob Bart of a hit.

Center fielder Kevin Pillar, who spent last season with the Giants, had a nice afternoon against his former team, collecting a pair of hits, including a triple in the seventh that gave Colorado the lead for good.

Battle of the Bay getting ready to commence

The grinding of teeth as the San Francisco Giants pitcher Caleb Baragar is lifted in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game in Houston after the Astros Martin Maldonado tags Baragar with a three run homer. The Giants host the Oakland A’s at Oracle Park in San Francisco tonight (AP photo)

By Jeremy Harness

The Giants just dropped a series to the defending American League champs. Now they have to contend with the hottest team in the game.

The Giants and A’s will now head to Oracle Park to play a three-game series in front of an undisclosed amount of cardboard cutouts and synthetic, non-authentic crowd noise, a series that starts Friday night.

The A’s are sitting atop the American League West with a 13-6 mark, having won 10 of their last 12 games in the process. The momentum really kicked into high gear when they swept the defending American League champion Houston Astros last weekend.

The Giants, on the other hand, are in last place in the National League West with an 8-12 record, and have dropped eight of their last 11 contests. They have lost games in different ways, with subpar defense, bad bullpen and the meager offense that Giants fans have grown used to for the past few years.

They have also been bitten by questionable pitching changes by manager Gabe Kapler, which was the main sticking point of his getting fired by the Philadelphia Phillies last season.

With all of this in mind, things are not looking good for the Giants and their overmatched lineup, and it does not figure to get any better in the foreseeable future.

Frankie Montas will go for the A’s on Friday, and he will go head-up with Giants starter Johnny Cueto, who had a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his most recent outing, which is one positive that the Giants can take into this series.

If there is another for the Giants, A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano is currently appealing a six-game suspension that he drew after his altercation with Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron over the weekend. He could very well miss part of, if not all of, the weekend series.

Astros don’t need sign-stealing to beat listless Giants 5-1

Houston Astros’ Martin Maldonado hits a three-run home run against the San Francisco Giants during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By Jeremy Harness

The Giants got off to a nice start on Wednesday, but they could not get any further momentum going, and they fell to the Houston Astros, 5-1, at Minute Maid Park.

In the process, they dropped two of the three-game series to the defending American League champions, who have been found to have used different elaborate forms of sign-stealing over the course of at least three years, including the World Series-winning 2017 season.

After Alex Dickerson singled in Mike Yastrzemski to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in the first inning, the Astros, who didn’t need the help of a banging garbage can to tell them what pitch was coming, began to tee off on the Giants’ bullpen starting in the fifth inning.

Houston tied it in the fifth on Alex Bregman’s single off Dereck Rodriguez scored George Springer.

The following inning, the Astros continued to tee off. Carlos Correa, who last week was struck out and then mocked by Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly, which touched off a benches-clearing confrontation (social distancing was not maintained, by the way), scored on a wild pitch to give Houston the lead.

Martin Maldonado quickly followed with a three-run homer off reliever Caleb Baragar to extend the lead to four runs.

The only thing that the Giants did well following the fifth inning was that they did not get into a benches-clearing incident – unlike the Astros and Dodgers last week – to put themselves in danger of contracting COVID-19.

On the other hand, things were so good for the Astros that starting pitcher Zack Greinke called out a pitch he was to throw to Mauricio Dubon – yeah, he actually did that – and Dubon took the gift and promptly flied out to center to end the inning.

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP Harding Park: Cal product Morikawa captures title

Collin Morikawa holds the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

By Jeremy Harness

Collin Morikawa is a rookie on the PGA Tour. But the only rookie move he pulled this week came when he nearly dropped the championship trophy after his triumph at TPC Harding Park.

The 23-year-old from the University of California started Sunday’s final round two shots behind leader Dustin Johnson but came up with the shots and the putts when he needed them, as he fired a bogey-free, six-under round of 64 to claim the PGA Championship crown in only his second-career major start.

“It’s amazing,” Morikawa said. “It’s been a life goal, obviously as a little kid, kind of watching everyone grow up, all these professionals, and this is always what I’ve wanted to do. I felt very comfortable from the start. As an amateur, junior golfer, turning professional last year, but to finally close it off and come out here in San Francisco, pretty much my second home where I spent the last four years, is pretty special.”

On the back nine, he had a chip-in for birdie at the par-4 14th, and two holes later, he drove the green at the driveable par-4 16th and then sank the ensuing six-footer for eagle, and that proved to be the difference.

“It just fit my eye,” Morikawa said. “We were just hoping for a really good bounce, and we got it, hit a really good putt, and now we’re here.”

Johnson, who held the 54-hole lead, got off to a nice start by birdieing the first hole on Sunday, but he traded a birdie for a bogey at the third and fourth holes and could not get any real momentum going.

He suffered a damaging bogey at the par-4 14th but he got some rhythm back with a birdie at the 16th and another at the 18th, but by then, it was too late.

Paul Casey made a bit of a charge, but like Johnson, came up a little short and finished tied for second, two shots behind Morikawa.

He birdied both the fourth and fifth holes, and then ran off three more birdies on the back nine. His only blemish is a bogey at the par-4 13th, where he failed to get it up and down.

“I played phenomenal golf and there’s nothing I would change,” Casey said. “I’m very, very happy with how I played. Great attitude. Stayed very calm and stayed in the present. Wasn’t enough. The glorious shots Collin hit like on 16 to make eagle, you have to tip your cap. When he popped up on Tour not that long ago, those guys who were paying attention like myself knew that this was something special, and he’s proved it today.

“He’s already sort of proved it but he’s really stamped his authority of how good he is today.”

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: DJ takes lead, but Koepka still in the hunt

Dustin Johnson hits from the fairway on the 18th hole during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

By Jeremy Harness

Dustin Johnson grabbed the 54-hole lead on Saturday, shaking off a damaging double bogey with an impressive back nine in the hopes of winning the second major title of his career.

Johnson, who won the U.S Open in 2016, dropped two shots at the par-four ninth hole while having trouble around the green but rallied very quickly thereafter. He birdied the 10th and picked up three more shots in a four-hole stretch to card a five-under round of 65.

“I putted really well,” Johnson said. “That was key. But I hit a lot of good shots to give myself some good looks because the flags are tucked. The greens are firm and fast. So I did hit a lot of quality iron shots.

“Tomorrow I think I need to go — I definitely need to hit some more fairways, because it’s really tough playing this golf course from the rough. Obviously the bunkers, too, are very tough. A couple — had a few nice up-and-downs out of the bunkers, but also a few poor ones.”

One shot behind him, however, is another long hitter in Sacramento native Cameron Champ, who has made a steady climb toward the top of the leaderboard after a first-round score of 71.

He rallied the next day with a 64 and finished Saturday’s round at TPC Harding Park with a three-under 67 that featured six birdies against three bogeys.

“I’ve been really feeding off my driver,” said Champ, who won last year’s Safeway Open in Napa. “That’s been the key for me. Obviously today, I missed a few more fairways than I did yesterday, but I still was able to manage it from the rough. The drives I did hit well and I did hit in the fairway, I was able to take advantage of and make some putts.”

Among those a shot behind Champ is Brooks Koepka, who has won the PGA Championship twice in a row and is in the hunt for a third.

He was two-under for the first 12 holes but got on a bogey train on holes 13 through 15 before hopping off with a birdie at the par-4 16th. He finished his round with a birdie at the 18th to finish with a one-under 69 and well within striking distance.

“I thought I played a lot better than my score reflected,” Koepka said. “Really made one bad swing. But I left it in a good spot and just hit a poor chip. The other ones I was in the semi a lot, and I think sometimes in the semi, it can come out without spin or it can come with spin, and if you’re going to do that in the wind, it’s kind of tough to judge.”

“Maybe took a little bit too aggressive of lines on those out of the semi, but I just missed them in the worst spot possible, but they were good shots, so I felt like I played really well, putted really well, and the driver I hit great. It’s just sometimes they didn’t move with the wind, hit them too good.”

Koepka certainly has experience on his side going into Sunday’s final round. Of those who are currently in the top-six, only Koepka and Johnson have won majors, as Koepka also has two U.S Open titles to his credit.

Also at seven-under for the tournament is Cal product Collin Morikawa, who played TPC Harding Park numerous times during his tenure as Golden Bear and has a little local knowledge going for him.

“I felt really good,” Morikawa said. “I didn’t practice yesterday after the round, but I kind of had some thought of what I wanted to do before the round. Obviously playing with Adam Scott, great ball-striker, great swing, and it kind of helps when you play with someone like that just to kind of get the momentum.

“I hit some really good shots off the first few holes and had a little stumble on 12 and 13, but knew I had to regroup especially with 15 coming up, or 14 coming up. It’s not an easy hole. So definitely want to get out with at least a par. But overall, I felt really good. Rolled the putter really well, and keep that into tomorrow.”