Choi hangs on to win Women's Open

By Associated PressJuly 8, 2012, 10:30 pm

KOHLER, Wis. – Na Yeon Choi was cruising to victory in the U.S. Women's Open when her trademark consistency suddenly deserted her.

After yanking her tee shot into the woods on the 10th hole, Choi wound up making a triple bogey – cutting her lead over playing partner Amy Yang from five to two strokes.

'That moment, maybe I thought I might screw up today,' Choi said. 'But I thought I needed to fix that. I can do it. So I tried to think what I have to do.'

Choi birdied the next hole, danced around a few more potential pitfalls on the back nine and went on to win by four strokes Sunday at Blackwolf Run.

It's the first major and sixth career LPGA Tour victory for the 24-year-old South Korean star, who came into the tournament ranked fifth in the world.


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Photos: The week at Blackwolf Run


Choi shot a 1-over 73 on Sunday and finished at 7 under. Yang, also from South Korea, had a 71 to finish second.

Choi's victory comes at the same course where Se Ri Pak won the Open in 1998, a victory that inspired Choi and many other young South Koreans to try to make it on the women's tour.

'And 14 years later I'm here right now, and I made it,' Choi said. 'My dreams come true. It's an amazing day today, and like I really appreciate what Se Ri did and all the Korean players, they did. It's really no way I can be here without them.'

Pak was among a group of friends who met Choi after she putted out on the 18th green, showering her with hugs – and victory champagne.

'She (said), `Hey, Na Yeon, I'm really proud of you. You did a really good job, and you (were) really calm out there,'' Choi said. 'She talked to me a lot, and she was hugging me.'

Choi is the fourth South Korea player to win the event in the five years, following Inbee Park (2008), Eun-Hee Ji (2009) and So Yeon Ryu (2011).

And while Choi's performance on the 10th wasn't pretty, she could afford to have one bad hole Sunday thanks in large part to her remarkable performance Saturday when she matched the fifth-lowest round in Open history with a 65.

Choi and Yang were the only players to finish the tournament under par.

Yang was expecting Choi's best effort.

'I knew she was going to play well,' Yang said. 'She's very consistent player.'

Sandra Gal of Germany shot a 74 and finished at 1 over. Il Hee Lee of South Korea, Shanshan Feng of China and Italian Giulia Sergas finished 2 over.

Michelle Wie finished at 10 over. After shooting a 66 on Friday to close within a stroke of the lead, she had weekend rounds of 78 and 80.

'Contention for me kind of got my juices flowing and kind of made me want it more and felt like what it was like again,' Wie said. 'So I'm really looking forward to the next tournament and there's a lot of positives to take from this week.'

Top-ranked Yani Tseng finished 14 over, and still needs an Open victory to complete a career Grand Slam.

The afternoon belonged to Choi, who was even through the front nine, making bogey on No. 1 and making a birdie putt on No. 4.

Then she found trouble.

It started on the par-5 10th hole, when she put her tee shot way left into woods and deep rough. Choi was 8 under at that point – five strokes ahead of Yang, who was 3 under.

After a long delay for a fruitless search for her ball, she went back to the 10th tee with a penalty. Choi wound up with a triple-bogey 8 and appeared to be on the verge of unraveling. Yang made a par on 10, cutting Choi's lead to 2 strokes.

Choi birdied No. 11 but got in trouble again on No. 12, putting her approach shot in the long rough short of the green. She managed to chip out of the rough and hit the green, then rolled in a putt of about 20 feet to save par – and, perhaps, her Open title.

Choi then came within inches of putting her tee shot in the water on No. 13, but her ball bounced to safety – appearing to skip twice off of a wall that lined the water hazard – and she made another par.

She then made birdies on No. 15 and 16.

After taking the lead with her big round on Saturday, Choi talked about how Pak's dramatic 1998 victory was one of the main things that inspired her to success in golf. Choi recalled watching that tournament on television and remembered how it changed her goals, helping her dream of something bigger.

Pak, who finished at 4 over after a 71, was holing out on No. 18 at about the same time as Choi was finishing No. 9. But Pak intentionally stayed out of Choi's way at the time.

'I don't want her to lose her focus, so I'm trying to not give her (a) look,' Pak said. 'But you know, she's already been there many times. She won five times already, and of course, this is a little different than a regular event. But of course, having a lot of pressure herself, but she's good enough to be out there.'

Pak is happy to hear that her victory in 1998 inspired so many people in her country.

'They were watching TV back then, and they didn't know what's going on in golf,' Pak said. 'And after I won the U.S. Open, they're watching this moment here, and they know what is golf and they think of their dreams.'

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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.