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Despite no wins since, Hull ready to defend CME title

By Associated PressNovember 15, 2017, 12:44 am

A year has passed since Charley Hull, the toast of English golf and one of the world's up-and-coming players, captured the CME Group Tour Championship at the age of 20 to claim her first LPGA victory.

Since that breakthrough triumph at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla., Hull has not returned to the winner's circle, but her 2017 campaign has still been a success.

Hull has finished in the top 10 three times this season - most recently forging a tie for sixth at the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship in South Korea. She also had three top 20 showings in the Tour's recent Asia swing.

Last year, Hull played brilliant golf when she turned in back-to-back 66s in the final two rounds to claim the championship. She finished at 19-under-par to defeat South Korea's So Yeon Ryu by two strokes.

"I was really buzzing to get my first win on the LPGA at the end of 2016," Hull said. "The field at the CME Group Tour Championship was really strong and I had a great week from start to finish and a lot of good shots that paid off."

Given her recent form, Hull has a lot of confidence as she heads back to Naples and the LPGA Tour Championship to defend her crown. She has a matter-of-fact strategy that allows her to play golf and compete at the highest level with minimal pressure.


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"I don't really like to set too many goals," Hull said. "I will keep focusing on good shots, as each good shot leads to a good hole and lots of good holes lead to a good round, which leads to a good tournament. This is my second full year on the LPGA, and it means I've had a bit more flexibility about which events I wanted to play in."

Hull has been a force in the women's game since before she turned professional at the age of 17. She was first introduced to golf when she was 2 years old and began playing with her father at Kettering Golf Club in England. She left school when she was 13 to be home schooled and started playing in amateur tournaments.

She made her professional debut in March 2013 and reeled off five consecutive second-place finishes on the Ladies European Tour. With five additional top-10 finishes that season, Hull finished sixth on the tour's Order of Merit despite playing in just 15 official events and won the LET Rookie of the Year award.

In August 2013, Hull was selected by European Solheim Cup captain Liselotte Neumann to compete in the 2013 edition of the event. Then 17, she became the youngest person ever to play in the tournament.

The team was the first European Solheim squad to win on United States soil, with a final score of 18-10. Hull contributed two points, including a 5 & 4 singles win over Paula Creamer.

On March 16, 2014, four days shy of her 18th birthday, Hull won her first professional title at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco. She overcame a five-shot deficit to the overnight leader, Gwladys Nocera of France, via a bogey-free round of 62 that forced a playoff. Hull birdied the first sudden-death hole to secure the victory.

Hull has battled a wrist injury for her entire career and learned earlier this season that it's a situation that can't be repaired.

"I saw a guy who works with a lot of NFL players and he told me my wrist is fractured," Hull explained. "It's more like a chip is out of the bone and it's been there a while. He told me it's always going to be there, but that I will be able to play with it."

Hull must now obey a strict routine to protect her wrist.

"I sleep with a brace on my wrist and do everything else with it strapped up," Hull said. "That way I can take it off when I play golf."

Hull is blessed with the ability to leave her profession at the golf course and practice range, spending most of her time away from the course doing things that most other women enjoy.

"Honestly, I don't even think about golf, not even when I'm playing in competition," Hull claimed. "Sometimes I will be thinking about the dress I'm going to wear out next weekend or something to do with my friends and stuff.

"It's cool because I got to the point a few years ago where all I did was golf and all I thought about was golf, golf, golf, and it made me kind of ill - it was really weird. After that, I kind of loosened up and it's helped me."

While only 21 years old, Hull has already competed in three Solheim Cups representing Team Europe (2013, 2015 and 2017), and feels the best is yet to come.

"I'm happy with the way my game is progressing," Hull said. "I will just keep taking it one step at a time. I want to be playing and enjoying competitive golf for as long as possible. I know I have many more successes ahead of me."

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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: Joaquinn 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.