Ernst leads at LPGA finale; Ko three back

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2015, 8:06 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Austin Ernst leads the tournament, Sei Young Kim leads the race for $1 million and Lydia Ko has edged closer to everything else that's at stake this weekend.

So as expected, the LPGA's finale for 2015 is off to a hectic start.

Ernst shot a 6-under 66 Thursday to take a one-shot lead over South Korea's Mi Hyang Lee after the opening round of the CME Group Tour Championship. Kim, part of a group two shots off Ernst's pace, would win the season-ending $1 million bonus if the tournament ended in its current order. Ko shot a 69 to move closer to earning Player of the Year honors, plus the scoring and money titles.

''I've just got to think of it as another tournament,'' said Ko, the 18-year-old from New Zealand who holds the No. 1 ranking. ''That's what I said for all the majors. I've got to focus on one shot at a time and not think like it's a major so it's more special and all that. Obviously, it is, at the end of the day. But it's another tournament. We've got the world's best golfers here, the top players are here, it's a great field, it does feel like a major.

''And with everything that might come along on Sunday, it might be more than that.''

She would know, after sweeping the tournament and the bonus a year ago. Ko opened with a 71 at Tiburon last year and was five back after the first round; she was two shots better, and two shots closer to the lead, after Thursday.

Meanwhile, Ernst – who has struggled mightily in her past trips to Tiburon – took a new and simple approach to the course this time. All she tried to do was stay out of trouble, and she made it look easy.


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''I drove it pretty well today,'' said Ernst, an American who hit 17 greens. ''I've been hitting it well this year. It's really just a matter of I needed to get myself in better positions. I didn't really put too much stock in how I've played here the last two years.''

Lee was alone in second. At 68, Kim was in a six-way tie for third with five Americans -  Jennifer Song, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, Jaye Marie Green and Gerina Piller.

''It's great to come in and have a good round on the first day,'' Lincicome said. ''My dad always told me, you can't win it on the first day but you can definitely lose it. So I put myself in contention a little bit.''

Kim, a three-time winner this year, already has wrapped up rookie of the year honors and entered the week as one of the nine players with a shot at winning the 'Race to CME Globe' and the accompanying $1 million bonus. Ko, Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis would all capture that bonus by winning the season finale; Park struggled with the Bermuda greens and shot 71, while Lewis opened her last chance at winning a tournament this year with a 72.

''Just wasn't very good,'' Lewis said. ''Didn't really hit the ball very solid and never gave myself a lot of good birdie chances. Just didn't play very well.''

Ko and Park will decide the world's No. 1 ranking this week, along with the scoring title, player of the year and the money crown. For Ko to ensure she goes into the offseason with all those, she needs to finish two shots ahead of Park.

''I don't know how they are sleeping at night, to be honest with you,'' said Lincicome, who isn't one of the nine with a shot at the $1 million. ''It's a lot of pressure, especially Lydia, she is so young and she handles it so well. To have so many different prizes on the line, I don't think I would sleep.''

DIVOTS: Michelle Wie (75) was tied for 61st and Morgan Pressel (78) was last in the 71-player field. ... Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer and Julieta Granada (who lost a playoff here last year) were among those who shot 70. ... The LPGA is expected to announce its 2016 schedule on Friday.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.