Déjà Vu All Over Again at McDonalds LPGA

By Associated PressJune 9, 2007, 4:00 pm
McDonalds LPGAHARVE DE GRACE, Md. -- Hardly anyone recognized the name Na On Min on the leaderboard, and even more surprising was the number of birdies she strung together Saturday at the LPGA Championship.
 
When the 18-year-old from South Korea finished a 7-under 65, she was poised to make a name for herself in the record books.
 
Karrie Webb
Karrie Webb is trying to atone for last year's playoff loss. (Getty Images)
Playing in only her sixth professional tournament and her first major championship, Min ran off four birdies on the last six holes for the best round this week at Bulle Rock, giving her a one-shot lead over Suzann Pettersen and a chance to become the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history.
 
Only 10 weeks ago, Morgan Pressel became the tour's youngest major champion by winning the Kraft Nabisco. Pressel was a decorated amateur, however, and nearly won the U.S. Women's Open two years earlier.
 
Min didn't even learn to play golf until she was 12. Like other South Korean juniors, she was inspired by the success of Se Ri Pak, whose Hall of Fame career began at this tournament 10 years ago.
 
'I'm just really excited,' said Min, who was at 10-under 206. 'This is my first major. I'll do my best to keep focus on each shot.'
 
She will play in the final group with Pettersen, who recovered from two double bogeys and her torturously slow play -- it took more than 4 1/2 hours as a twosome -- to shoot 71.
 
Karrie Webb stayed in the mix with a 10-foot par save on the 17th hole and shot 71. She was two shots behind at 208, along with Angela Park (68), another 18-year-old rookie.
 
Pressel, bidding for the second leg of the Grand Slam, shot 70 and was only three shots behind.
 
Asked if she knew who Min was, Pressel was honest as ever.
 
'I did not,' she said.
 
But the score sure got her attention. Wind that brushed off overnight rain stuck around Bulle Rock and made it play as tough as it has all week. Min wasn't the least bit bothered, overcoming a bogey on the par-5 second hole by keeping the ball in play, and close to the hole.
 
Michelle Wie finished before the leaders even arrived at Bulle Rock, and left unanswered whether she would return. She shot 83, her highest score against men or women since she was in the ninth grade, and was in last place among 84 players. Her left wrist, which she broke during a fall in late January, clearly bothered her and Wie wrapped it in ice after signing her card.
 
'I really want to play,' she said. 'I just have to see how it goes tonight.'
 
Among those still with a chance is Lorena Ochoa, the No. 1 player in the women's golf. She birdied her last hole for a 69, hopeful it would give her a chance. Moments later, Min finished off her 65 and was five shots clear of Ochoa.
 
'Five shots is not too far behind. It's been done before,' Ochoa said.
 
Like several players, Ochoa was not too familiar with Min, and for good reason.
 
She went to South Africa at age 12 to spend two years learning to play golf and speak English, played on the South Korean amateur team and then went to LPGA Q-school as an amateur. She missed her card by two shots and was given non-exempt status.
 
Min tried Monday qualifying without much luck, and finally made her pro debut in Mexico, where she tied for fifth. Min did well enough at the Sybase Classic and Corning Classic to earn a spot in the McDonald's LPGA Championship.
 
And she's making the most of it.
 
She birdied two of the toughest par 3s, Nos. 3 and 12, with putts inside 10 feet and hit 6-iron to 12 feet on the par-4 13th, a hole where Pettersen took one of her double bogeys.
 
Pettersen, deliberating over every shot and every putt, looked as though she might build a big lead, taking advantage of the wind and her power to birdie two of the first four holes and stretch her margin to three shots. She reached in two at the par-5 second with a 3-wood that hopped out of the rough and up 6 feet onto the green, and a wedge on the fourth spun sideways to 6 feet.
 
The par 5s were friend and foe, however.
 
Pettersen went for the eighth green in two, even though the stiff breeze was into her, and it sailed right into grass up to her knees, the lie so buried that she had to stand over the ball and stoop over just to see it. She did well to hack it out across the fairway to the collar or a bunker, chipped nicely to 4 feet but missed the putt and turned birdie into bogey.
 
As Kim and Min surged ahead of her, Pettersen answered with more power. With the wind at her back and 255 yards to the hole, she hit 3-wood on the 11th and watched it bound onto the green and stop 6 feet behind the cup for eagle, giving her a one-shot lead.
 
But she pulled a tee shot into high weeds on the 13th and had to take an unplayable lie, leading to double bogey. Pettersen made a birdie on the 17th to at least get her in the final group with a player nobody knows -- for now.
 
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    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 a trip to Augusta.

    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.

    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.

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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.