Jutanugarn closes with chip-in for share of lead

By Associated PressNovember 4, 2016, 8:20 am

IBARAKI, Japan - Ariya Jutanugarn chipped in for birdie on the final hole Friday for a 6-under 66 and a share of the lead in the Toto Japan Classic, the LPGA's first tournament in the Tokyo area since 1991.

Jutanugarn birdied six of the last 11 holes in a bogey-free round at fan-packed Taiheiyo Club, holing out from 35 feet on the par-4 18th to join Soo-Yun Kang atop the first-round leaderboard. The 20-year-old Thai star leads the LPGA with five victories and has a 13-point lead over Lydia Ko in the player of the year standings.

''I just try to have fun and enjoy every shot that I hit,'' Jutanugarn said. ''That's what I'm trying to do.''

After a week in steamy and stormy Malaysia, the players wore jackets and sweaters in cool conditions on the pine tree-lined Minori Course. Jutanugarn tied for 43rd in Kuala Lumpur after finishing third the previous week in China.

''Last week, I was just a little bit off with my tee shot,'' Jutanugarn said. ''Today, I just tried to be a little bit more positive and not think about last week and try to have more fun.''

Kang birdied three of her final four holes

''I had really good putting,'' Kang said. ''Only 22 putts.''

The 40-year-old South Korean player won the LPGA's 2005 Safeway Classic and is now a regular on the Japan LPGA. She won the Suntory Ladies in June for her second Japanese title.

''I like Japan, people here, foods, and everything,'' Kang said.

Stacy Lewis and Jenny Shin shot 67. Lewis won the 2012 event at Kintetsu Kashikojima

''I think you have to be a good ball-striker to play well here,'' the Texan said about Japan. ''I just like being here. It's one of my favorite countries that we visit. I think you just kind of come with good vibes.''

Wearing a jacket and rain pants to keep warm on the sunny day, Lewis rebounded from a bogey on the par-4 15th with a birdie on the par-5 17th. The 11-time tour champion is winless in 61 starts since June 2014.

She tied for 33rd in Malaysia in her first start since September.

''I took five weeks off,'' Lewis said. ''I didn't play a lot this fall and only played two over in Asia. I just needed a break. It was like starting the year again.''

She married University of Houston women's golf coach Gerrod Chadwell in August.

''Things definitely are changing,'' Lewis said. ''I've changed my schedule. Changed the way I do things. You just have different priorities and kind of realize there are other things to life other than just playing golf all the time. The schedule is going to change because of it, but that doesn't change how you play on the golf course. You can still win. You just have a little bit more enjoyment off the course.''

Ha Na Jang and Sandra Gal were two strokes back at 68 in the sixth and final event on the LPGA's fall Asian swing. Jang won last month in Taiwan for her third victory of the year.

China's Shanshan Feng, the winner in Malaysia, topped the group at 69 along with Minjee Lee, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, So Yeon Ryu and 2008 and 2010 winner Jiyai Shin. Lee won two weeks ago in China for her second victory of the year. Shin won the JLPGA event last week in Saitama.

American Lexi Thompson birdied the final hole for a 73. In May in Japan, she won the JLPGA's World Ladies Championship Salonpas Cup.

The top-ranked Ko had a 74, making two birdies and four bogeys.

''I didn't strike the ball very well,'' Ko said. ''The driver and irons, nothing was really clicking and when it's like that overall it's really hard to give yourself a lot of birdie opportunities. I struck the ball a little better on the back nine, but still it wasn't great.''

Gary Matthews caddied for Ko and also will carry her bag in the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Ko fired Jason Hamilton and used Sargunan Suntharaj last week in Malaysia. Hamilton teamed with Jang after his firing.

''We had a few days to work with each other and I think it's been going pretty good,'' Ko said. ''I think when I'm out there I need to trust him and he trusts me. It's been fine. I need to do my role better. Hit the ball better and all that, but it's been good and he's got a lot of experience and he brings that to the game.''

Getty Images

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.

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.