Ochoa in Familiar Position in Vegas

By Associated PressApril 13, 2006, 4:00 pm
LAS VEGAS -- Lorena Ochoa collected two eagles on Thursday en route to a 9-under-par 63 and the first-round lead at the LPGA Takefuji Classic.
Ochoa, who lost a playoff to Karrie Webb two weeks ago at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, equaled her own course record at Las Vegas Country Club on Thursday. She originally set the mark in the second round last year.
Wendy Ward
Defending champion Wendy Ward is four back after a 5-under 67.
Shi Hyun Ahn matched the course record of Ochoa in the final round in 2005, and she kept her momentum going in the first round this year. Ahn fired a 7-under-par 65 on Thursday and is alone in second place.
This is a rare 54-hole event that begins on Thursday and ends on Saturday.
Ochoa, who registered a double-eagle in Wednesday's Pro-Am, started poorly on Thursday. She knocked her second shot over the green at the par-4 first, and two-putted for bogey from 5 feet. That would be the last blemish on the scorecard for the fifth-ranked player in the world.
At the par-3 third, Ochoa hit a 7-iron to 10 feet to set up birdie. She made it two in a row thanks to a beautiful wedge shot at the fourth that left Ochoa with a tap-in birdie.
Ochoa recorded her first eagle at the par-5 sixth when she hit a 5-wood to the back fringe with her second shot. She rolled in the 30-footer and parred the next three holes to make the turn at 3-under-par 33.
Ochoa picked up where she left off on the back nine. She two-putted for birdie from 35 feet at the par-5 10th, then wedged her approach to 12 feet to set up another birdie at No. 11.
She parred the 12th, but hit a pitching-wedge to 3 feet at 13. Ochoa rolled in the short birdie putt, then collected her second birdie in a row at the par-3 14th. Ochoa pulled an 8-iron and landed the ball 13 feet from the hole. That birdie putt moved her into a tie for the lead at minus-7.
Ochoa's second eagle of the round came at Las Vegas Country Club's closing hole. At the 495-yard hole, Ochoa hit a 5-wood to 12 feet and drained the eagle putt to move into sole possession of the top spot on the leaderboard at 9 under par.
'It was a really good day,' acknowledged Ochoa, a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour. 'I hit all of the fairways, and I keep looking at the flag and making putts, so it was a great run. I enjoyed it.'
Ochoa is not just riding a hot streak from her play two weeks ago. She fired a final-round, 7-under 65 last year, but ultimately came up two strokes short as Wendy Ward went on to the winner's circle.
'I enjoy playing here,' said Ochoa. 'The conditions were perfect in the morning. It is a tricky golf course. You have to think about the hole and make the right decision on the tee and get the right line.'
Ahn was inconsistent on the front nine as she traded three birdies and two bogeys. On the back nine, Ahn used an amazing run, starting at the 11th, to soar up the leaderboard.
Ahn rolled in four straight, 12-foot birdie putts. At the par-4 15th, Ahn hit a pitching-wedge to 10 feet to set up her fifth consecutive birdie. Her final birdie came at 16 when her 7-iron stopped nine feet from the flagstick.
'I wasn't trying to make birdies,' admitted Ahn, whose only win on the LPGA Tour came at the 2003 CJ Nine Bridges Classic. 'I was just trying to stay calm and focus, then play it shot-by-shot.'
Ward opened her title defense impressively with a 5-under-par 67. She is tied for third place with Teresa Lu, Miriam Nagl, Jee Young Lee, Maria Hjorth, Jimin Kang, Mi Hyun Kim, Ashli Bunch and Seon Hwa Lee.
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - LPGA Takefuji Classic
  • Full Coverage - LPGA Takefuji Classic
  • Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.