Ochoa Victory Could Signal LPGA Power Shift

By Associated PressOctober 17, 2006, 4:00 pm
PALM DESERT, Calif. -- It might be time for Annika Sorenstam to stop looking ahead at Kathy Whitworth, and start looking over her shoulder at Lorena Ochoa.
The way Sorenstam had been rolling over opponents and piling up trophies, the 36-year-old Swede quickly was approaching Whitworth's 88 career victories. Sorenstam had averaged nearly nine wins a year since 2001 -- at that pace, she could have broken the record before her 40th birthday.
But that sprint has slowed considerably.
With two tournaments remaining on her 2006 schedule, Sorenstam has won three times this year, her lowest output since winning twice in 1999. Part of that is the balance she has found in her life, including a golf academy she is opening in Orlando, Fla.
And part of that is the competition.
Ochoa's victory in the Samsung World Championship was her fifth of the year. It not only denied Sorenstam her 70th career victory, it kept her from setting an LPGA record with six straight years leading the tour in victories.
One tournament doesn't make a season. One victory doesn't mean there's a new sheriff in town.
Sorenstam is the five-time defending champion at the Mizuno Classic in Japan in two weeks, and the two-time defending champion at the season-ending ADT Championship. She could win them both and capture the money title, maybe even LPGA player of the year.
But there was something symbolic about the way Ochoa ran her down in the desert.
Starting the final round three shots behind, Ochoa sensed this was her time. She erased the deficit in three holes with two birdies and a 45-foot eagle putt. The pivotal hole was No. 10, and some luck was involved. Ochoa made a birdie putt from across the green that would have gone well past the hole had it not banged into the back of the cup and dropped in the side.
Even so, it was as if Ochoa saw this coming.
She was asked after the third round whether she could beat Sorenstam.
There was a pause, and a slight smile crept across her face.
'You want more?' she said, as if to say, 'Isn't that enough?'
Then she obliged with a beautiful blend of giving Sorenstam her due and having a quiet confidence in her own game, something not often heard from today's wannabe challengers who grow up talking about wanting to be No. 1.
'I know she is tough. I think she is a great player. She knows this course so much better than me and she has so much experience, and I respect all that,' Ochoa said. 'At the same time, I believe in myself. I'm in a good position right now. I know I can do it.'
Ochoa had played against Sorenstam two other times in the final group. She blew a four-shot lead in the final three holes and lost to Sorenstam in a playoff in Phoenix last year, and Sorenstam birdied the final hole in Sweden this summer to win by one shot.
The young Mexican star has had her share of stumbles.
Along with that collapse in Phoenix, she had a chance to win the U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills last year when she duck-hooked her tee shot into the water on No. 18 and took a quadruple-bogey 8. And while she made eagle on the 18th hole to get into a playoff this year at the Kraft Nabisco, Ochoa blew a three-shot lead in the final round and lost on the first extra hole.
'When you make mistakes your first year or second year, you get them out of your way and then you make good things come,' she said. 'I'm a positive person, and I learn a lot and it's not going to happen again, those bad shots.'
Maybe the best is yet to come, especially in the majors, the one gap in her credentials this year.
And that won't make it easier for Sorenstam.
Motivation has never been an issue with Sorenstam. Even when she failed in her bid to win the Grand Slam, either after the first major or the third, she was a master at redefining her goals and achieving them.
What she has lacked over the last five years is serious competition.
Ever since Karrie Webb eased into the background after dominating the majors for three years, the closest anyone has come to challenging Sorenstam's supremacy during the last five years was Se Ri Pak, a battle that didn't last long.
Just as it is with Tiger Woods, the gap is as big as Sorenstam wants it to be.
Ochoa is different. She set an NCAA record by winning eight straight tournaments at Arizona, and she has never finished lower than ninth on the LPGA Tour money list in her four years. Unlike the American youth getting all the hype, Ochoa delivers.
Sorenstam's swing has not been up to her standards this year, and she said last week that some mechanical issues have cost her length off the tee, problems that she was trying to fix as the season wound down. Ochoa was driving the ball slightly longer than Sorenstam at Bighorn, and she is a superior putter.
Their duel in the desert bore a minor resemblance to Woods and Vijay Singh in Boston two years ago, when Singh beat him head-to-head in the final round to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world. Singh went on to win nine times that year and dominated golf until Woods returned to the top with six victories the next year, including two majors.
Singh, however, was 41 and headed toward the twilight of his career.
Ochoa is 24 and just getting started.
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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.