Longer Tougher Pine Needles Awaits Women

By Associated PressJune 28, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. WomenSOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- Plenty has changed since the last time the U.S. Women's Open visited the sandhills of south-central North Carolina.
The course is 400 yards longer than it was for the Women's Open's last visit in 2001, with the 15th hole now 125 yards longer and increased to a par 5.
The new Bermuda grass surface allows for bouncy fairways and treacherous rough, and it wouldn't be a Donald Ross creation without a set of challenging, topsy-turvy greens.
The best women's players in the world are back on the revamped track at Pine Needles, and with play set to begin Thursday, the new-look course promised to test their abilities both to strike accurate shots and remain mentally sharp.
'It's a little different from what you expect from a U.S. Open course,' LPGA Championship winner Suzann Pettersen said Wednesday. 'Just off the tee, it doesn't look that tight. You've still got room. You have long par-4s, but the fairways are fairly wide. And the rough is kind of patchy, so you can get lucky if you miss a shot. ... If you can hit it dead center in the fairway and dead center in the greens this week, you'll do fine.'
Easier said than done. The 6,644-yard course is a par 71 and is the longest championship course at sea level, the result of reverting to Ross' original design plan from the 1920s.
'If we don't get a few gripes during a championship ... we're not quite sure we set the championship up right,' said Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competition. 'For what we're trying to do for their championships and really trying to test every aspect of their game for the nth degree, it is going to be a hard test. In theory, it's the hardest test they have all year.'
Four holes have been altered since the Women's Open was last here, with the most notable being the change of the 523-yard 15th. The par-4 No. 2 was extended to 450 yards -- 40 yards longer than before -- to prevent players from booming their drives over the hill.
'We've moved it back a little bit to really put what Donald Ross wanted back into play, kind of the flat drive zone,' Davis said.
The 10th hole is 60 yards longer and, at 518 yards, is 'a legitimate par 5,' Davis said, and there's a new tee on the par-4 12th.
The design seems to suit Annika Sorenstam well -- each of her three Open titles have come on Ross-designed layouts, including one at Pine Needles in 1996.
'I obviously love old, traditional courses,' Sorenstam said. 'When you play an Open, just like this, you have to drive the ball well. You have to hit -- you have to have such good control with your irons, and you have to have an incredible short game.'
For the third time in 11 years, the Women's Open has come to the golf hotbed that also hosted the men's U.S. Open twice since 1999 at nearby Pinehurst No. 2.
Both of the previous Women's Open winners at Pine Needles are back in the fold. Sorenstam's second title came five years before Karrie Webb claimed an eight-stroke win here.
'Coming back to Pine Needles is something I've been looking forward to since the last time we played here,' Webb said.
Pettersen could have been seeking her third straight major, had she not blown a three-shot lead on the last four holes of the Kraft Nabisco in April and losing to Morgan Pressel. She bounced back earlier this month by holding off Webb to win the LPGA.
'It felt like I've been very close for the last three months, two months,' Pettersen said. 'It wasn't a big surprise that my game was good enough and ready to win. Since then I've just trying to maintain and get a little better on everything. Now it's the U.S. Open, and this is the big test.'
It also wouldn't be a Women's Open at Pine Needles without some fresh faces.
This is where Pressel, then 13 years old, in 2001 became the youngest qualifier in the tournament's history. Pressel -- the youngest player to win a major -- no longer has that title, which belongs to Alexis Thompson, who at 12 has taken her place.
In all, 25 players younger than 20 are in the field of 156.
'I feel old out here, and I'm 26,' Pettersen said.
Related Links:
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    Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

    DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

    Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

    One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

    Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.

    Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

    Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

    Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

    He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

    ''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

    ''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

    ''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

    ''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

    Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

    ''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

    ''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

    Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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    Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

    Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

    ''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

    ''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

    Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

    Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

    ''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

    Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

    Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

    ''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

    She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

    Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.