Ko, 17, becomes youngest to reach No. 1

By Associated PressJanuary 31, 2015, 11:00 pm

OCALA, Fla. – During a closing stretch that featured one of the more tumultuous final hours in recent LPGA tour history, teen wunderkind Lydia Ko faced a series of tough predicaments. But a query that came after the final round gave her the biggest pause of all.

After reclaiming the lead late Saturday to set herself up for a double payoff of sorts, the 17-year-old double-bogeyed the 71st hole in the inaugural Coates Golf Championship to lose by a shot to Na Yeon Choi.

However, Ko secured a piece of history that could be remembered long after the details of the tour's season opener are forgotten. The transplanted New Zealander became the youngest player of either gender to climb to world No. 1, breaking the record set by Tiger Woods by almost four years.

As the ramifications of the distinction finally took hold, the sting of defeat at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club wasn't quite so bad. The notion of celebrating, which first set her back for a moment, didn't seem so crazy after all.

''It's going to be good,'' Ko said. ''I was here to focus on the tournament itself, but I guess I got a great outcome at the end of the day, too.''

After leading by as many as four shots on the front nine, Ko trailed Choi by a shot as they played the par-3 15th. With Choi facing a 6-footer for birdie, Ko slammed in an improbable 60-footer and Choi promptly three-putted for a two-shot swing.

The teenager's lead didn't last long. Ko drove into a fairway bunker, then fanned a hybrid shot into a stand of pine trees down the right side of the 17th hole, scrambling to make a double bogey.


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As the steadier Choi finished with a 4-under 68 and 16-under total, Ko had to salvage a par on the 18th to finish in a three-way tie at 15 under, but it was good enough to secure a piece of the record book.

Woods, previously the youngest golfer to reach No. 1, was 21 years, 5 months, 16 days when he reached the top in 1997. Ko reached the mark 3 years, 8 months, 14 days earlier. The men's rankings date to 1986 and the women's list is nine years old.

''It's a nice consolation, if you want to call it that,'' said Ko's swing coach, David Leadbetter.

Ko finished with a 71 to match Jessica Korda (66) and Ha Na Jang (70) at 15 under.

Ko, whose pulse rate seems to be frozen at about 75 beats per minute whether she's making an eagle or double bogey, hardly seemed derailed by the 71st-hole meltdown. Her indefatigable nature is her biggest asset, Leadbetter said.

''We sent her to anger management school to learn how to get angry,'' Leadbetter laughed.

Choi, on the other hand, was clearly caught up in the emotion of her first victory since late 2012. The 27-year-old topped the LPGA money list in 2010 and won the 2012 U.S. Women's Open, but had fallen out of the world top 15.

''I think I was so nervous out there,'' said Choi, who recorded her eighth LPGA victory and was fighting back tears. ''I was waiting so long for this moment.''

Choi, one of the game's elite players before the two-year victory drought set in, admitted that the pressure to succeed wore her down to the point that she stopped reading Korean sports websites and considered downgrading her cellphone plan so she could not download stories about her play.

''I think I had a lot of stress from the result,'' Choi said. ''Even if I was top 10 or top five, not many people said you did a good job if you finish as runner up. They say you are a loser and that hurts me a lot.''

As for Ko, her ascent seemed ordained when she won her first LPGA tour title as an amateur at age 15, the youngest in tour history.

''I can't say I'm surprised,'' American star Stacy Lewis said of the new No. 1. ''It was just a matter of time.''

Ko, a native of South Korea who moved to New Zealand as a youngster, unseated Inbee Park in the top spot.

''She's probably the straightest player out here,'' said Park, who tie for 17th. ''The golf gets easier if you hit the ball straight and you can roll the ball in.''

Ko hit a few crooked shots down the stretch, which ultimately cost her the first-place trophy, but once the magnitude of the moment took hold, she was all smiles.

''There was obviously a loss,'' Ko said. ''But there was a huge positive, too. That's pretty awesome.''

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.