Cindy Feng and Anthony Paolucci prevail at Thunderbird

By Ajga StaffJune 1, 2010, 5:20 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Yueer Cindy Feng of Orlando, Fla., became the first player to successfully defend her title at the Thunderbird International Junior by defeating Laetitia Beck of Caesarea, Israel, in a four-hole sudden-death playoff Monday afternoon. Anthony Paolucci of Del Mar, Calif., posted a 12-under-par total and claimed a three-shot victory in the boys division for his first AJGA title at Grayhawk Golf Club's Raptor Course.

For Feng, her third Invitational victory was anything but easy. Playing in the group ahead of Beck, Feng was 6-under-par on the day and built a two-shot cushion with one hole to play. An errant tee shot on No. 18 forced her to take an unplayable lie, and after taking her drop, her third shot found another bush in the desert.

Feng took a second unplayable lie, and when she found the green with her sixth shot, she had to make a six-foot putt for double-bogey and to force Beck to make birdie to win.

“I just got the news that I was up two, so I thought ‘It's not over yet,'” Feng said. “I was just trying my best to play for bogey or par, but after the first drop I went into another unplayable lie, so I was just looking for double-bogey really,” Feng said.

Fifteen minutes after Feng posted her 3-under-par total, Beck narrowly missed a birdie putt that would have secured the victory in her final AJGA event. Her ensuing par sent the girls division to a playoff for the second straight year.

In the playoff, each player had makeable birdie putts that would have ended the match on Nos. 11 or 12, but pars sent the duel to the par-3 13th hole. Feng hit her tee shot to 10 feet, and after Beck failed to save par from the greenside bunker, Feng two-putted her way to her ninth AJGA title.

“It was my first Invitational win last year and it's definitely an honor to be able to win it again this year,” said Feng, who is ranked No. 3 in the Polo Golf Rankings.

Rachel Morris of Carlsbad, Calif., finished third at 2-under-par after she missed an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have put her in the playoff. Stephanie Meadow of Jordanstown, Northern Ireland, finished fourth at 1-under-par, while two-time Rolex Junior Player of the Year Victoria Tanco of Buenos Aires, Argentina, finished fifth at even-par.

In the boys division, Paolucci's wire-to-wire victory wasn't without a bit of trepidation. When Paolucci made bogeys on Nos. 4 and 6, Denny McCarthy of Burtonsville, Md., took a brief one-shot lead. When he responded with an eagle on No. 7 and a birdie on No. 8, Paolucci regained his edge and never looked back.

“I've been in a similar position before going into the last round and won a couple and lost a couple, and I hadn't won an AJGA event before, so I wanted to get that monkey off my back,” said Paolucci, who notched three birdies and an eagle in his final-round 69. “I really wanted to win one before I got too old and I'm glad it happened today.”

Paolucci's 12-under-par total was the third-lowest winning score in tournament history, and he was the only player in 2010 to record three rounds in the 60s.

“I played last year and the scores were really low, so I knew it could be done,” Paolucci said. “I just wanted to give myself a chance to win today – that was my main goal.”

McCarthy finished three shots back at 9-under-par, while Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos, Calif., and Gavin Hall of Pittsford, N.Y., tied for third at 8-under-par. Justin Thomas of Goshen, Ky., and Franco Castro of Alpharetta, Ga., finished fifth at 7-under-par. Last week's Byron Nelson participant Jordan Spieth finished tied for eighth.

Complete results from the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior.

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.