Golf

Will MacKenzie watches an approach shot during the first round of the Texas Open golf tournament at TPC San Antonio Oaks Course on Thursday, April 20, 2017, in San Antonio. (Tom Reel/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)(Photo: The Associated Press)

Golf Roundup: Branden Grace leads Texas Open by 1

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — South African Branden Grace had a 6-under 66 and leads by a stroke after the opening round of the Valero Texas Open on Thursday.

Grace had a season-best 11th-place finish last week in defense of his RBC Heritage title. He leads the 5-under 67s of Steven Alker, Stewart Cink, John Huh and Will MacKenzie at TPC San Antonio. Alker, a journeyman New Zealander who played in the final group of the day, birdied the final three holes.

There are 13 players packed two shots back at 4 under. That includes 2010 U.S. Open champion Graham McDowell and 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup member Brooks Koepka.

Two weeks ago, Grace was over par but still survived the cut at the Masters. He played the weekend in 3 under, and his best scorecard last week at Hilton Head was 68. The 66 on Thursday was his best round since Hawaii in January.

“That’s the one round I was waiting for,” Grace said. “I’ve been shooting the 69s and 70s, but not getting that one low round. This is nice.”

His day took off with three consecutive birdies mid-round, including a 22-foot putt at the ninth after missing his only fairway of the day.

It almost wasn’t as nice for McDowell, who’s won twice on the PGA Tour since his U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach seven years ago.

“I made bogey at 11 from the middle of the fairway, (and) I ripped it down the middle of the 12th fairway right in the middle of a divot and duffed it out short of the green and made bogey there,” he said.

“To recover after that with a great birdie at 13 and a nice up-and-down at 14 for birdie, it was nice to bounce back.”

Ian Poulter needs to at least make the cut to keep his PGA Tour card for the remainder of the season. That’s in doubt now — no birdies until his 17th hole and a 75 has him well outside the top 100. He’s playing on a major medical exemption granted after a foot injury caused him to miss most of last season, and he needs to earn $30,624 before the exemption ends this week.

Patrick Reed, who was born in San Antonio and was runner-up here a year ago, is three shots out of the lead after a 69. Ryan Moore, Reed’s Ryder Cup teammate and who tied for ninth at Augusta this month, is another shot back with a 70.

Defending champ Charley Hoffman, co-leader at the halfway point at the Masters, shot 71 and sits just outside the top 50.

U.S. Amateur champion Curtis Luck of Australia opened his first round as a pro with three bogeys, but he holed a bunker shot from 75 yards for eagle later in his round to help him to a 1-over 73.

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European PGA

SHENZHEN, China (AP) — Bernd Wiesberger of Austria fired a bogey-free 7-under 65 to lead by four shots when the second round of the Shenzhen International was suspended due to storms on Friday.

Wiesberger completed his first round in the morning after lightning also halted play on Thursday, and birdied the par-5 17th to get within one of the lead. He added another seven birdies in round two to get to 12 under overall.

“I was feeling comfortable when I was getting the ball on the green and rolling in well on the green,” Wiesberger said.

Dylan Frittelli of South Africa and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark carded matching rounds of 68-68 and were tied for second at 8 under.

Richie Ramsay of Scotland also had a 68 and was a further shot back alongside Gregory Bourdy of France (2 under through four holes) and overnight leader Bubba Watson (1 under through five).

Wiesberger has not missed a cut over the last eight months while claiming seven top-five finishes as he seeks a fourth European Tour title.

Watson had a birdie on the second in his first five holes, while Bourdy birdied the second and fourth and will have 14 holes to complete on Saturday.

George Coetzee, Scott Jamieson, and Jordan Smith were in the clubhouse at 6 under. Haydn Porteous was with them through eight holes.

In all, 75 players were yet to finish round two.

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NODA, Japan (AP) — Jason Knutzon of the United States fired a 2-under-par 69 to maintain a two-stroke lead after the second round of the Panasonic Open on Friday.

Knutzon offset two bogeys with four birdies at Chiba Country Club to finish at 9-under 133, two strokes ahead of a group of four golfers that included Juvic Pagunsan (67) of the Philippines and Hur In-hoi (68) of South Korea.

Yujiro Ohori of Japan shot the day’s lowest score of 65 and was also two strokes back with Panuphol Pittayarat (68) of Thailand.

Defending champion Yuta Ikeda, who struggled to a 73 in the opening round, had a 69 to make the cut at even par.

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Woods has 4th back surgery; likely to miss majors this year

One day after saying his back was progressing, Tiger Woods had a fourth back surgery to alleviate pain and will go through another year without playing a major.

The surgery was Wednesday at the Texas Back Institute.

Woods was in Missouri on Tuesday to announce plans to design a public golf course at Big Cedar Lodge, and he even tried hitting a few shots to a par 3. The first one rattled around in the rocks, and the second shot was about 10 feet from the flag.

Asked about his health during the ceremony, Woods said he had good days and bad days. And then he flew to Dallas for fusion surgery to create space in his lower back.

The announcement on his website Thursday said typical recovery from a single-level fusion surgery is six months.

“The surgery went well, and I’m optimistic this will relieve my back spasms and pain,” Woods said. “When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long.”

The 41-year-old Woods first had back surgery — a microdiscectomy — a week before the 2014 Masters, and he tried to return in three months. He sat out three months at the end of 2014 to let his body fully heal.

But after a 2015 season in which he missed the cut in three majors, he had back surgery in September and another one in October.

He went 15 months without competition before returning in December at his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, where Woods made 24 birdies in 72 holes and swung freely.

But then he missed the cut at Torrey Pines in January, and he withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic on Feb. 3 after opening with a 77, citing back spasms.

And now he’s gone through a fourth surgery.

“You see him in the Bahamas, and he looked pretty good,” said Mark Steinberg, his agent at Excel Sports Management. “And then you see him in Dubai. It can happen any time. You heard him say two days ago, ‘I have good days and bad days.’ This surgery, we hope, eliminates the bad days.”

Questions about the 14-time major champion have shifted from if he will win another major to if he will play another major.

The statement on his website said Woods’ bottom disc in his lower back has severely narrowed, causing sciatica and severe pain in his back and legs. Woods opted for a fourth surgery when more conservative therapy, such as rest and injections, failed to solve anything.

“He had consulted with a number of top people that had recommended this was the way to go if he wanted a clear and final path,” Steinberg said. “Everything he had done in the past was a temporary fix, so to speak. At that point, they thought there were other alternatives than fusion.”

Steinberg said they were advised fusion surgery was the best option if Woods wanted an active lifestyle and was willing to sit out the rest of the season.

“He should be better than he’s been in the past five years,” Steinberg said. “He’s pretty encouraged.”

The surgery was described as “anterior lumbar interbody fusion” at the L-5 and S-1 of his spine. It was performed by Richard Guyer of the institute’s Center for Disc Replacement, and involved removing the damaged disc and lifting the collapsed disc space to normal levels.

“After he recovers from surgery, he will gradually begin his rehabilitation until he is completely healed,” Guyer said on the website. “Once that’s accomplished, his workouts will be geared to allowing him to return to competitive golf.”

Guyer said the bottom of the spine is the best place for single-level fusion to occur.

Woods’ first surgery in 2014 was in Park City, Utah, by neurosurgeon Charles Rich, who also did the second operation. This is the first time Woods has gone to the Texas Back Institute.

Woods was to begin therapy and treatment after several weeks of rest.

He won his 79th PGA Tour event in August 2013 at the Bridgestone Invitational. Three weeks later, he was in contention late in the final round at the Barclays when he dropped to his knees after experiencing what he described as back spasms.

Woods is exempt for life at the Masters and PGA Championship, and until he is 60 at the British Open. He has a 10-year exemption for the U.S. Open from his 2008 victory at Torrey Pines, which was his 14th and last major. He had reconstructive knee surgery a week later.

He has started just 19 events worldwide since that first back surgery, and he has completed 72 holes in just nine of them. His best finish was a tie for 10th in the Wyndham Championship in August 2015, a month before his second back surgery.

With so many injuries and inactivity, Woods now is No. 788 in the world ranking.

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