Lewis shares 1-stroke lead in Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2017, 12:05 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Wei-Ling Hsu holed out a 7-iron for an eagle on the very first hole she played, setting the tone for a terrific start.

At the end of the day, the unheralded golfer from Taiwan was tied atop the leaderboard with one of the LPGA's most successful players.

Hsu shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday and shared the lead with Stacy Lewis after the first round of the LPGA Volvik Championship. Hsu eagled two of her first five holes and was 6 under after six. She and Lewis finished a stroke ahead of 18-year-old Nelly Korda.

''I have a very tough year last year,'' Hsu said. ''I just want to improve more. This year I'm able to see my shot going to the hole, going to making the green in regulation more.''

Hsu has only one top-10 LPGA finish, and that came in her rookie year of 2015. She finished tied for 43rd last week in the Kingsmill Championship after missing the cut in the previous four events.

Lewis, meanwhile, is a former world No. 1 with 11 LPGA victories - although she's winless in 72 events since June 2014. She has 12 second-place finishes since her last win.

Lewis birdied three of her first four holes and reached 15 greens in regulation on the 6,734-yard course at Travis Pointe Country Club. She eagled the par-5 14th and capped her round with a small fist pump after a birdie on 18.

''I looked up at the leaderboard and saw I was tied for the lead, so I kind of just wanted to get out there ahead,'' Lewis said. ''It's always nice to see yourself atop the leaderboard.''

Lewis was a shot ahead of Korda when she finished, but Hsu later caught up at 7 under.

Hsu began her round on No. 10, and she holed out from 155 yards for an eagle on the 394-yard par 4.

''I don't see very well. I just hear my mom and gallery on the side,'' she said. ''My caddie just tells me, 'Oh, you got it in. You got eagle.'''

Korda, a rookie who has joined sister Jessica on the tour, hit only eight of 14 fairways, but she was able to scramble her way to a 34 on the front nine before birdieing four of the first five holes on the back.

''It was a slow start and I saved a couple of long par putts,'' she said. ''Just getting those, making those two pars and just getting my round rolling really helped.''

Korda finished her round with a par on the par-5 18th - after hitting her second shot out of the dirt in a hazard.

''I didn't even know if I could chip it out, and my caddie was like, 'Oh, maybe you should drop,''' she said. ''I was like, 'No, I'm going to hit this.' So I hit it out and then I had 200 into the green and I hit a 4-rescue. It was a good par.''

It rained a good deal Wednesday, and although the weather wasn't too much of an issue Thursday, the course was still quite wet. Lewis said hitting greens was especially crucial.

''They're pretty small to begin with, and then with the weather, there's spots around the greens that were pretty wet, kind of muddy almost,'' she said. ''You had some weird lies. So I think today I hit a ton of greens. I only think I had to chip once or twice.''

Brittany Lincicome, Ilhee Lee, Sung Hyun Park, Suzann Pettersen and Sarah Jane Smith all shot 67. Lexi Thompson, coming off her first victory of the season last week, finished at even par. So did Ariya Jutanugarn, the defending champion, and So Yeon Ryu.

Ryu is trying to extend a streak of 11 top-10 finishes in a row.

 

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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.

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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.