Notes: Walker stays hot with Round 1 Match Play win

By Associated PressFebruary 20, 2014, 1:22 am

MARANA, Ariz. – Jimmy Walker has been at the front of the pack all season on the PGA Tour. He got a jump on the field in the Match Play Championship, too.

The Texan was the first player to reach the second round Wednesday at Dove Mountain, finishing off South Africa's Branden Grace 5 and 4 before the last dozen matches even started.

''You want to get the first one out of the way and move on to the next round,'' Walker said. ''You just want to keep doing that. It's nice to get a win early. ... I've been playing a lot of golf and it will be nice to kind of relax a little bit this afternoon.''

Walker won at Pebble Beach two weeks ago for his third victory in nine starts this season. He also won the season-opening event at CordeValle in October and at Waialae in January. Before this season, he was winless in 187 PGA Tour starts.

''It's just validation for me, a lot of years being out here and working hard,'' Walker said. ''And to see it all kind of pay off, that's what I've been waiting for.''

Walker will face Rickie Fowler in the second round. Fowler beat Ian Poulter 2 and 1, playing directly ahead of Walker in the first match of the day.

''Rickie and I have a lot in common,'' Walker said. ''He's a good dude.''

Walker and Fowler work with instructor Butch Harmon.

''Jimmy Walker is hands down the best player in the world right now,'' Fowler said. ''It's going to be a tough match. I know he's a great ball-striker, he's been making a lot of putts and has a lot of confidence right now.''

Walker is playing his first match-play event since the 2000 U.S. Amateur Public Links – the summer between his junior and senior seasons at Baylor.

''I made it to the quarters,'' Walker said. ''So, did pretty well. And was at U.S. Am, but missed match play by a shot or something. But it's been a while.''

Walker won Nos. 3-5, the last two with birdies, to take a 3-up lead and went 4 up with a par on the par-5 eighth. He lost the par-5 11th, took the par-5 13th with a conceded birdie, and finished off Grace with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-4 14th.

''I feel like I'm hitting well,'' Walker said. ''I feel like I'm playing well. So, yeah, I'm feeling confident and excited about the rest of the week.''


WGC-Accenture Match Play scoring

WGC-Accenture Match Play bracket

WGC-Accenture Match Play: Articles, videos and photos


MATCH-PLAY MAESTRO: Defending champion Matt Kuchar beat Austria's Bernd Wiesberger 3 and 2 to improve to 16-3 in the event.

''I feel like my strengths are not giving holes away,'' Kuchar said. ''This is a unique golf course and it's real easy to get on the wrong side of things here, real easy to miss a green and just put it in a place where you can't get it up-and-down.

''So, I feel like I know the course pretty well. And I strategically feel like I can work my way around and not give away too many holes.''

He did give away the par-4 14th when he forgot to move back his coin on the green after moving the marker out of Wiesberger's line.

''I kind of just fell in love with watching his ball roll out and getting the line,'' Kuchar said. ''And then I think the situation took over that here I was with a 16-footer to win the match and felt really good about the line, and I completely forget to move the mark back. ...

''So made the putt, thought that was the end of the match, shook hands. And there were a couple of questions. I think Bernd asked my caddie, Lance (Bennett), had I remembered to move the mark back. And it came to me and I said, 'Son of a gun, I did not move the mark back.'''

Instead, of a 5-and-4 victory, Kuchar needed two more holes to finish off Wiesberger.

Kuchar will face Ryan Moore in the second round. Moore beat Joost Luiten 1 up.


MEDAL COUNT: Fifteen of the 27 U.S. players advanced to the second round, with the Americans going 10-6 against European opponents.

Only 10 of the 25 European players reached the second round.

Five of the six South Africans – Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, George Coetzee and Richard Sterne – and all three Swedes – Henrik Stenson, Peter Hanson and Jonas Blixt – advanced. Justin Rose was the only one of the five English players to win, and Sergio Garcia was the lone Spaniard in the four-player contingent to advance.


WEATHER REPORT: A year after snow covered the cactus-lined course, play opened in partly cloudy conditions with a high around 80 degrees.

On Thursday and Friday, the forecast highs are around 75. It is expected to be a little warmer over the weekend, with forecast highs of 78 on Saturday and 79 on Sunday.

Last year, first-round play was suspended when rain gave way to snow from a storm that dumped close to 2 inches and dropped the temperature to 33 degrees. In 2011, the championship match was delayed by snow.


DIVOTS: Hunter Mahan improved to 16-5 in the event, beating Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano 3 and 2. Mahan won the 2012 title and finished second last year. ... The first-round losers received $48,000. The winner will get $1.53 million from the $9 million purse. Second place is worth $906,000, third $630,000 and fourth $510,000. The quarterfinal losers will get $280,000, the third-round losers $148,000, and the second-round losers $99,000.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.