Chella Choi tops crowded LPGA leaderboard

By Associated PressMay 18, 2013, 11:31 pm

MOBILE, Ala. – Anna Nordqvist was putting like a rookie again - and that's a good thing.

The Swede said she had perhaps her first ''really good putting day'' since her rookie year in 2009 with a course-record 61 on Saturday in the third round of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic.

South Korea's Chella Choi shot her second straight 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead over Jessica Korda and Nordqvist, who is seeking her first win since capturing the LPGA Championship and season-ending LPGA Tour Championship as a rookie.

''I just felt like I tried to trust myself and trust my line and just hit it,'' Nordqvist said. ''Usually, I'm very close to making a lot of putts but it's just the difference of making them. It just felt like sometimes I couldn't miss.''

Choi twice made three straight birdies to move to 17 under, and has made only two bogeys in three rounds on The Crossings course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail's Magnolia Grove complex. Her best finish in four-plus years on the tour is a tie for second in the Manulife tournament in Canada last March.

Choi, who had three top-five finishes last year, said she started checking out the leaderboard ''every hole'' at the start of the tournament and feels mentally stronger now in her bid to finally get a win.

''I know my shot and my putting,'' she said. ''I think just my mental and my experience and just confidence ... so I think I can do it. Hopefully.''

Nordqvist broke the course record of 62 set by Sydnee Michaels on Friday. Korda, the second-round leader, shot a 69. The American had a bogey on No. 11 when the ball landed in a divot and she tweaked her right wrist, and a double bogey on No. 12.

She rebounded with a 33-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole.

''It was left to right and it was pretty,'' Korda said, laughing.

That was set up by what she said was a 325-yard drive sparked by the mentality that: ''Oh, I haven't hit the green in two almost all day, I need to go for it.''

Nordqvist had a run of five birdies starting on the third hole and added a 10-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th hole. Nordqvist, who did have one bogey, holed a par-saving bunker shot from some 10 yards on 12.

''Today was a lot of fun,'' she said. ''I started out with a couple birdies, hit a lot of good shots, and I think I missed one green. And then I made that bunker shot and it was just like, I couldn't stop smiling, couldn't stop laughing.''

Win drought aside, the former Arizona State player thinks her game has improved substantially since making the splash as a rookie because she's more consistent.

''It's fun being in contention and having people watch,'' she said. ''That's what you work hard for. It's a lot more fun playing up there than playing for 50th or 60th, so it's a good place to be.''

Defending champion Stacy Lewis was four strokes back with a 63 after opening the day in 35th. She won both Alabama tournaments last year.

Lewis had a string of four straight birdies from Nos. 5-8 to start a stretch of eight in 10 holes.

Gone were the mistakes of the previous two days when she had a double bogey and two bogeys each round for 70s.

''It was one of those stress-free days,'' Lewis said. ''I needed something like that to get back into the tournament.''

Webb and Korda will play together for the fourth straight round. Webb had her first bogey since early Thursday but already had three birdies in the first six holes.

''I got off to really quite a nice start,'' the 38-year-old Australian said. ''I was cruising along and then threw a three-putt in there on No. 7 and sort of lost a bit of my momentum there and didn't really get it going again. I had a lot of in-between numbers today and just wasn't guessing right.''

The course's low round entering the week was 64 by Danielle Downey in 2008 and Webb and Sjodin in 2011. In fact, Lewis's low round in last year's win was 67.

That might not cut it on a weekend when Webb pointed out, ''I nearly got lapped at 69.''

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

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.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


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.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

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.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


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.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

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.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.