Asia Grabs Lead in Lexus Cup
After splitting the six alternate-shot matches Friday, Asia won four of six matches Saturday in hot conditions to take the lead on Tanah Merah's Garden Course. The LPGA Tour-sanctioned event will conclude Sunday with 12 singles matches.
'I'm not sure what happened. It just seems like the Asian team outplayed us today,' International captain Annika Sorenstam said. 'A lot of matches went down to 18. It was a tough day for the International team. Obviously, tomorrow is going to be a big day. We have 12 points to grab and we need to grab as many as we can.'
Sorenstam has won both of her matches, teaming with childhood friend Carin Koch on Friday and Natalie Gulbis on Saturday.
Han made a 30-foot birdie putt on 18 to beat Granada and Pressel.
'I knew that if I was paired with her coming down the stretch, she would pull it off,' said Park, one of nine South Korean players in Asia's lineup.
'I'm very proud of my team. They obviously played very well, with a lot of energy, which is huge. ... I think our chances of winning tomorrow are great. We have a lot of girls that are playing very well and they're riding on confidence.'
Han, also from South Korea, won twice this year on the LPGA Tour.
'Grace played pretty good. I just made that putt,' Han said. 'The whole round, we were able to save each other on different holes.'
Granada, coming off a $1 million victory in the ADT Championship, tied the match with a birdie on 16 and the teams halved the 17th with pars.
'We really did give our best and fought very hard out there,' Granada said. 'It just came down to that last putt. We are a little upset, but we know we gave it our all. It's harder to lose that way, but what can you do?'
Park will face Sorenstam in the opening match Sunday. And, if the teams tie, the two captains will have a sudden-death playoff to determine the winner.
'I'm happy to be doing both, but it is a little bit more hard work than you would think, especially trying to put pairings together,' Sorenstam said. 'It's a lot more work, but I'm happy to be here and happy about our position and how they're doing.'
Sorenstam and Gulbis beat Jee Young Lee and Meena Lee 2-up.
'At first, I was nervous,' Jee Young Lee said. 'It was my first time going up against Annika, but we went out and hit some good shots to start off and played well. ... We did well out there. The other team made better shots, but it was a good day.'
Gulbis had two of the best shots, a tiebreaking 30-foot eagle chip on the par-4 16th and a match-ending 15-foot birdie putt on 18.
'Annika was already in there and had a 15-footer for eagle, so it was just chip it in or pick it up,' Gulbis said.
Paula Creamer and Stacy Prammanasudh earned the other point for the International team, beating Shi Hyun Ahn and Joo Mi Kim 3 and 2.
'I thought we played well together,' Prammanasudh said. 'If one of us hit off-line, the other was there to make up for it.'
Se Ri Pak and Seon Hwa Lee beat Sherri Steinhauer and Angela Stanford 4 and 2.
'I played a lot more solid today,' Pak said. 'I putted well. I was striking well. I didn't feel as good, but I just hung in there. She made a good partner for me. She helped me a lot. I helped her a lot. That's why it's a team game.'
In Asia's other two victories, Candie Kung and Jennifer Rosales beat Brittany Lincicome and Nikki Campbell 3 and 1, and Young Kim and Sakura Yokomine held off longtime European Solheim Cup stars Koch and Laura Davies 2-up.
'We both came from USC,' Rosales said. 'We have a good chemistry. We've known each other for so long, so it helps a little bit.'
On Sunday, Creamer will face Kung in the second match, and Pressel will play Lee Young Lee in the fourth. At the bottom of the order, Gulbis will face Joo Mi Kim in the 10th match, Granada will meet Seon Hwa Lee in the 11th, and Lincicome, the HSBC World Match Play winner, will face Pak in the 12th.
The winning team members will each receive $50,000, and the losers will get $30,000. Last year, the International team won the inaugural event 16-8.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile
Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.
The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.
"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."
He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).
Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.
“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."
Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.
Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.
Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.
The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.