Ochoa Sorenstam Set for Desert Showdown

By Associated PressMarch 22, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 Safeway International pres by CocaColaSUPERSTITION, Ariz. -- A year ago, Lorena Ochoa broke Annika Sorenstam's five-year stranglehold on the LPGA Tour's player of the year award.
Now Ochoa is looking to start a streak of her own.
'My goal is to maintain that position to be No. 1,' the 25-year-old Mexican said. 'I can only tell you it's going to be a big challenge.'
Ochoa and Sorenstam are among the players to watch in the Safeway International, which begins Thursday at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club on the eastern outskirts of Phoenix. Nestled in the foothills, the course is about 100 miles north of the University of Arizona, where both women had standout careers.
They've collided here before, with dramatic results. In 2005, Ochoa blew a four-stroke lead with three holes to play and lost a playoff to Sorenstam.
Both have played well on Superstition Mountain's Prospector Course, the site of the tournament the last three years. Ochoa tied for third in 2004, finished second in 2005 and tied for 24th a year ago. Sorenstam won in 2004 and 2005 and tied for 19th last year.
But while their competition appears to be an obvious storyline, Ochoa downplayed the potential rivalry with Sorenstam.
'It's not about Annika, about one player,' Ochoa said.
Still, the 36-year-old Sorenstam remains No. 1 in the world rankings and is the prime target on an increasingly competitive tour.
'Last time I looked, she was still ranked No. 1 in the world,' said Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, the tournament's defending champion. 'So I think she's always the person to beat.
'If I was a betting person, and Annika was in the field, I'd probably take her every week and probably make out pretty good at the end of the year.'
Last year, Ochoa was often the best bet. She won six tournaments and earned $2,592,872, becoming only the second player, after Sorenstam, to surpass $2 million in a single season. Karrie Webb became the third later in the year.
Ochoa's scoring average, 69.24, was the fourth-lowest in LPGA Tour history.
'I will remember that year for the rest of my life,' Ochoa said. 'And I've been dreaming for so long to be No. 1.'
For her part, Sorenstam would just as soon forget the whole year. Although she won her third U.S. Open title and finished third on the money list at $1,971,741. Sorenstam's three victories were her fewest in a season since 1999, when she won twice.
'I was quite frustrated with the way I was playing last year,' Sorenstam said after her practice round Wednesday. 'I tried so hard and I really tried to make it work. I scrambled in a lot of events just to hit fairways and hit greens. It was tough.'
Sorenstam said she spent the winter trying to 'find my swing again.' If her last tournament was any indication, she may have found it. Sorenstam lost a playoff to Meaghan Francella in the MasterCard Classic in Mexico, and she came away happy about everything but the outcome in her season debut.
'I feel like my game is as good as I can ask it to be,' Sorenstam said. 'I felt like my swing is back. The distance is back. The accuracy is also back.'
Both Ochoa and Sorenstam hope a good performance here will give them a boost heading into next week's Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the season.
With 10 major victories, Sorenstam is tied with Babe Zaharias for fourth on the career list. Patty Berg holds the record with 15.
'I'm aware of the record, but I never felt like I would compare myself to the other players,' Sorenstam said. 'I've always tried to play the best I can. It would be nice to do it. I think it's possible. That's not really what drives me.'
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.