Pebble now an intimate meeting of land and sea

By Associated PressJune 17, 2010, 2:21 am

2010 U.S. Open

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The bright blue skies at Pebble Beach are almost always deceiving in June, mainly because they’re almost always accompanied by a brisk, humidity-sapping north wind.

Beautiful days like these can be rough on golfers, and can prompt statements like these from the leaders at the USGA: “This golf course will not get away from us.”

That USGA secretary Tom O’Toole felt the need to make that point Wednesday may have been the best sign of where things were on the eve of the U.S. Open. One of America’s most beautiful, memorable and, yes, occasionally devilish golf courses was teetering on the edge between challenging and something more difficult.

2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach
The rough protecting errant tee shots from the Pacific Ocean has been eliminated. (Getty Images)

The forecast for the first round Thursday was more of the same: Mostly sunny, high around 60, northwest wind at around 11 mph.

“I think it’s the best U.S. Open setup that I’ve seen,” said Phil Mickelson, searching for the second leg of the 2010 Grand Slam and his first national championship. “I think the one area of concern I have is the greens. They’re so small and they’re so firm that, given that there’s not any forecast for rain, I’m certainly concerned that we could have 14 potential seventh holes at Shinnecock if we’re not careful.”

Shinnecock, as golf fans remember, was a low point for the USGA. The tiny, tilted seventh green got so baked out in the final round of the 2004 Open that course workers had to water it between groups. At Pebble, they watered liberally Tuesday night and planned on more on the eve of the tournament.

This is not the way the USGA usually likes to do things in the days leading up to its biggest event, but a debacle at Pebble Beach is not in anyone’s best interest.

“Fog will be the players’ friend,” said Roger Maltbie, a Pebble regular who now works for NBC Sports. “If we get sunny conditions with a bit of breeze, this will be a great championship. And I’d be very surprised if anyone breaks par.”

No crime there. The USGA prides itself on identifying its champion by putting him through the most thorough examination of the game he’ll see anywhere. But there is fair and there is unfair, and almost surely, there will be reaction on both sides once the first round is over.

“If the cloud cover passes and we get sunshine like we did today, then you’re going to have to work out exactly the number you’re going to want left and work out how far you’ve got to pitch it to finish with 40 yards of roll,” Ian Poulter said, describing something that sounds more like a British Open than a U.S. Open.

In an era in which courses have been lengthened, strengthened and Tiger-proofed to defend against technology and stronger, better players, the course that gave up a record 12-under-par to Woods in 2000 has undergone more subtle changes for the 2010 Open.

It has only been lengthened by 194 yards, the rough has only been grown to 3-4 inches in some places, and on most holes, the entries to the greens have been generously mowed to allow players to bump and run the ball onto the putting surface.

The tradeoff: On the edges of the seaside holes, fairways have been cropped so closely, they fall with no buffer, straight into the hazards, which in this case means the Pacific Ocean. New bunkers have been built, or brought back into play, and the greens – well, they are about as small as you’ll find in tournament golf.

“Even though it’s the shortest U.S. Open we play, it’s still – it’s getting awfully quick out there,” Woods said. “Just in the last couple days. And if they don’t put any water on these things, come Sunday, it’s going to be very interesting.”

This is the Pebble Beach’s fifth U.S. Open (On Wednesday, they announced a sixth will be played here in 2019) and, unlike other venues, this course always produces big-name champions. Woods, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Kite are the previous winners here – a surprising consistency for a tournament that produces surprises more often than the other majors.

“Pure ball strikers I think more than anything else,” Poulter said when asked what those winners had in common. “Very methodical players. Guys that understand the game probably better than anybody else, to be honest. They know what it takes to win.”

At the U.S. Open, the first 63 holes are more about not losing, especially if the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

Watson said he was somewhat amazed standing on the par-5 sixth hole during practice, watching players hit irons and 3-woods into the area that fronts the huge hill that leads upward to the green. Control is the key when the red hazard line is actually drawn into the edge of the fairway.

“You just don’t hit it there,” Watson said. “I mean, they show it to you. It’s not blind. They say, `Don’t hit it there.’ That’s why the kids were hitting 3-woods and irons off the tee downwind. They can say, `Well, I can get this on in two and I don’t have to force the issue.”’

The course will play at only 7,040 yards, the shortest track for a U.S. Open in seven years. But in this case, short does not mean easy – sort of in the same way that sunny may not mean ideal.

“I think coming into the U.S. Open you are mentally preparing yourself for what you’re going to face,” said Rory McIlroy, who at 21 is ranked 10th in the world. “I know on Thursday I’m probably going to hit it in the rough a few times, I’m going to miss a few greens, but it’s how you deal with that, how you handle it, and hopefully you do your best and make the best of that situation and move on to the next.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.