Lewis wins ShopRite by 6; takes over No. 1

By Associated PressJune 1, 2014, 9:28 pm

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Stacy Lewis is back on top.

And this time, she's ready to stay there for a while.

Lewis won the ShopRite LPGA Classic on Sunday to take the top spot in the world ranking from Inbee Park, finishing with a 4-under 67 for a six-stroke victory.

No. 1 for four weeks early last year, Lewis ended Park's 59-week run in the top spot.

''It feels great,'' Lewis said. ''I feel like I've played a lot of good, consistent golf over the last year and I felt like I deserve to be here. I didn't feel like I stumbled into it.''

Lewis finished at 16-under 197 on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club and earned $225,000 for her second victory of the year and 10th overall. Also the 2012 winner at Seaview, she won the North Texas LPGA Shootout last month after finishing second six times in her previous 16 events since winning the Women's British Open in August.

She joins Sorenstam (1998, 2002, 2005), Juli Inkster (1986, 1988) and Betsy King (1987, 1995, 2001) as the only multiple winners in the tournament.

''That's a pretty good list of people there,'' Lewis said. ''That's not too bad. Wow, that's really cool.''

Christina Kim was second after a 72, marking her best finish since 2010.

Park closed with a 70 to tie for eighth at 7 under. She's winless in 10 tour starts this season after sweeping the first three majors last year and finishing the season with six victories.

''It is a little bit relief not to have the big heavy crown on my head,'' Park said. ''It's not the end of the world.''

Lewis finished a stroke off the tournament scoring record set by Annika Sorenstam in 1998 and 2005. The 29-year-old Texan opened with a 67 and had a 63 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead over Kim into the final round.

On Sunday, she was hardly threatened, using birdies on the third and fourth holes to open up a two-stroke lead before picking up two more consecutive birdies to open the back nine - holing a 25-foot putt on No. 10 and a 15-footer on No. 11.

Despite her first bogey in 42 holes at No. 12 and then missing two short putts on No. 17 for another bogey, Lewis had built up enough of a cushion to cruise home with the largest margin of victory in the tournament's 26-year history.

''I don't know what it is about this place,'' Lewis said. ''It's just really special to me. I've played some really good golf here, and it's just mind-boggling to think I have 10 wins.''

Jennifer Johnson (72), Haeji Kang (69), Anna Nordqvist (70) and Gerina Piller (70) tied for third at 9 under.

Johnson opened with a course-record 62 and followed with 70 for a spot in Sunday's final pairing with Lewis and Kim. But the 22-year-old Californian had a double bogey and two bogeys on the back nine to fall out of contention.

Kim had a run of three straight birdies on No. 9-11, but shot 3 over on the final seven holes, including a double bogey on 18.

''I hadn't been in contention in a while so I kind of forgot what it was like having nerves,'' Kim said. ''And it kind of showed on the last hole.''

Lewis smiled and pumped her fist to the crowd as she walked down the fairway at 18, relishing her new place atop the world ranking.

Her brief stay as No. 1 last year was a rocky one, with Lewis admitting that she had trouble dealing with the extra obligations that came with the top spot.

''With a good team of people around me,'' Lewis believes she's more prepared to handle those duties and be the face of the LPGA.

''The last time it was taken away from me in an off-week when we weren't even playing, so I'm definitely just not going to take it for granted and really enjoy it this time. Now I know all the extra things that come along with it. But I'm ready for it this time.''

Karrie Webb, last year's champion, tied for eighth after a 67. Third-ranked Lydia Ko bounced back from a second-round 75 to shoot 69 and finish at 1 under.

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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.