Lewis, Wie trail Blumenherst, M. Jutanugarn at ShopRite

By Associated PressMay 31, 2013, 11:21 pm

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Being near the top of leaderboard is familiar territory for Stacy Lewis the past two years.

Week in, week out, Lewis is there and nothing changed in the opening round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The players near Lewis aren't in their comfort zone, however, and it remains to be seen whether three-time NCAA player of the year Amanda Blumenherst, LPGA rookie leader Moriya Jutanugarn and the perplexing Michelle Wie can stay with her in the $1.5 million event near the Atlantic City casino resort.

Blumenherst and Jutanugarn shot 5-under 66 to share the lead, a stroke ahead of Lewis and two in front of Wie.

Beating Lewis is not going to be easy. The world's No. 2 player has won twice and posted eight top-10 finishes in 11 events.

''I guess you just get more confidence being there, you start trusting yourself more, but it's really cool to think how far I've come,'' said Lewis, who has zipped up the ranking over the past two seasons. ''I wasn't even the top-ranked American this time last year, and now I'm kind of going back and forth for No. 1 in the world. It's just nice to keep that consistency going. I've had a bunch of top 10s over the last year, and that's what I'm trying to do every week.''

Lewis had three tap-in birdies, including two at par 5s. She made two 20-footers. A bad drive led to her bogey.

Wie, who a decade ago made one of her first appearances on the women's tour as a 13-year-old in this event, has never lived up to expectations, winning twice since joining the tour in 2009. She has missed five of 10 cuts this year and her best finish was a tie for 28th in Hawaii. Her other four starts have resulted in no better than a tie for 41st.

''I think nothing really goes exactly the way you plan,'' Wie said after making five birdies and two bogeys to tie her lowest numerical score for the season. ''There may be hiccups in the way and little adjustments along the way, and I think I did that.''

The biggest adjustment Wie has made is with her putting stroke. She looks like a backward inverted L when putting and one has to wonder whether her back will stand up to that style. Of course, there has been criticism.

''You can't please everyone,'' Wie said. ''I'm not going to go around my way living my life trying to please everyone because in the end it doesn't really matter. They're not the ones that are living my life. They're not the ones that ultimately are in my life. So I just am so grateful for my friends, my family and for the people inside my circle that believe in me. ''

For Wie to stay close, she needs to keep her drives in the fairway.

''I mean, it's not really surprising to see Michelle play well,'' Lewis said. ''This golf course, I am a little surprised on this course because if you can get some shots going sideways you can make some pretty big numbers. That's good. She needs those good rounds.''

Blumenherst, who is married to Oakland Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman, has missed cuts in six of eight events. The former Duke star has never finished better than a tie for fifth since joining the tour in 2010 after winning at qualifying school.

''It feels amazing,'' said Blumenherst, who had an eagle, four birdies and a bogey. ''It's been a while since I've had a very solid round of golf and felt like I just played well throughout the entire day. It was a lot of fun out there because it's been a challenging start to the season.''

Jutanugarn, whose 17-year-old sister, Ariya, was the halfway leader at Kingsmill in Virginia this month, has missed the cut in two of her last four events after getting off to a quick start. The 18-year-old Jutanugarn, from Thailand, made two of her six birdies on her first two holes. She had one bogey.

The Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club was the big winner. Only 18 of the 143 players who finished, including just five in the afternoon round, broke par on the 6,155-yard course that played tougher because of wind and bumpy greens.

Beatriz Recari of Spain and Hee Young Park headed a group at 2 under after posting the best rounds of the players who teed off in the afternoon. Park's South Korean countrywoman, Cella Choi, played her first eight holes in 5 under, but gave four shots back as the afternoon wore on and finished at 1 under.

Many of the tour's leading players struggled with the wind coming off Reed's Bay and the tough greens, which are bumpy because the recent cold weather has helped the poa annua thrive.

World No. 1 Inbee Park was in a group at 74 along with Paula Creamer and Na Yeon Choi. Third-ranked Suzann Pettersen had a 76. Among the other notables, Jiyai Shin had a 71, Lizette Salas and I.K. Kim shot 72, and Cristie Kerr had a 73.


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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.