Poor Start for Sorenstam Ochoa on Track

By Associated PressMarch 29, 2007, 4:00 pm
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Lorena Ochoa took her first step toward overtaking Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the world.
 
Even though her putting wasn't up to her standards, Ochoa hit it close enough Thursday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to make five birdies and open with a 3-under 69 in tough conditions, leaving her one shot behind Shi Hyun Ahn in the first major of the year.
 
The 25-year-old Mexican star needs a victory this week to become No. 1.
 
Unlike a year ago, when Ochoa tied an LPGA major record with a 62 at Mission Hills, the greens were too firm and the rough too thick to allow for that kind of scoring.
 
And as hard as she tried, defending Karrie Webb couldn't repeat her 18th hole magic.
 
Webb holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards for eagle on the final hole of the fourth round last year to make up a seven-shot deficit, eventually beating Ochoa in a playoff. She was only 82 yards away Thursday, hit a full sand wedge that rode the slope and flirted with going into the hole. It stopped a few inches away.
 
Webb feigned disgust, slamming her sand wedge to the turf with a smile on her face. The tap-in birdie gave her a 70, putting her in a group that included Maria Hjorth of Sweden and Catriona Matthew of Scotland.
 
Sorenstam, meanwhile, struggled.
 
Even after finishing with a birdie, she jammed her putter into the bag with disgust, then stood behind the ninth green with hands on her hips after her worst start at a major in seven years. She opened with a 3-over 75, a score that could have been higher if not for a few par saves.
 
'I'd like to forget this day,' she said.
 
At this rate, Sorenstam might have to forget about that No. 1 ranking.
 
Ahn took the lead on a sun-soaked day in the desert, overcoming some jitters about being in a major and staying true to her plan of not taking her golf so seriously. She made six birdies in her round of 4-under 68.
 
It was a strong round for Ahn, the LPGA rookie of the year in 2004, for Mission Hills was tougher than ever. The course was lengthened by 104 yards to measure 6,673 yards, the rough was thick enough to be a half-stroke penalty and the greens were so firm that Paula Creamer hit a wedge heavy with spin and it took a few hops forward before stopping.
 
It was tough on everyone.
 
Sorenstam's score was her highest in the opening round of a major since she shot 76 at the Kraft Nabisco in 2000. Even more frustrating was that she wasn't sure how it happened.
 
'I felt good. I felt ready. And then I got off to a really terrible start,' she said.
 
Starting on the back nine, the 36-year-old Swede hit her approach stiff on the 12th for a birdie to go 1 under, then split the middle of the 13th fairway and had 123 yards to the hole.
 
She chunked her second shot. Her chip was about 20 feet long and above the hole. And she three-putted for double bogey.
 
That was the start of Sorenstam missing five consecutive greens, and she did well to save par with a 20-foot putt on the 15th and a chip from across the green on the 16th to about 3 feet.
 
'It wasn't anything in particular,' Sorenstam said. 'But I'm not going to let this round ruin the rest of the week. I'm going to get some lunch, hit some balls and this day is forgotten.'
 
Sorenstam played with Creamer, who struggled with the speed on her putts and shot 73.
 
Ahn shot into the lead with three straight birdies around the turn, her best hole at the par-3 eighth with a 5-iron into 12 feet. She hit a gap wedge into 8 feet to close out the front nine, followed with a wedge into 20 feet on the 10th and traded two birdies with two bogeys the rest of the way for a solid start.
 
She has tried to change her attitude this year to have more fun.
 
'I do put pressure on myself, but it's not to the point where I'm coming down hard on myself,' she said. 'I'm taking it lighthearted and having fun with it, so that has changed my game a lot.'
 
And she if hopeful she can learn from her experiences in the majors, especially last year at Bulle Rock.
 
Ahn was one shot out of the going into the final round of the LPGA Championship and came to the last hole needing a birdie to join the playoff. But her approach was long, left and into the water.
 
'My goal was to come through, and I didn't,' she said of her first brush with a major. 'I don't want to make the same mistake.'
 
DIVOTS
While it's not ideal to play a pro-am round the week of a major, there are two pro-ams at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, one of them on the adjacent Palmer Course. That means players only have one day of practice to themselves, which is Monday, and many of them had to travel from Phoenix to get to Mission Hills. 'It would be interesting to see the guys do that before a major,' Inkster said. 'We need to change that.' ... Seven players failed to break 80, including former U.S. Women's Open champion Birdie Kim. ... Meg Mallon, missing only this major to complete the career Grand Slam, is making her '07 debut after recovering from a foot injury in the offseason.
 
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  • Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

    The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

    The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

    In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

    Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

    Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

    Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

    By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

    RISING

    Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

    Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

    Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

    Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

    Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


    FALLING

    J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

    Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

    Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

    DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

    LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

    Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

    Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

    In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

    "Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

    Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

    "The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

    The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

    "Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

    Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

    Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

    By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

    We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

    God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

    We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

    Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

    There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

    It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

    Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

    Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

    BORN IN 1912

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
    May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
    Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

    Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


    BORN IN 1949

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
    Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
    Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

    Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


    BORN IN 1955

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
    Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
    Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

    Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

    Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
    Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
    Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
    Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
    Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

    A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


    EUROPE'S BIG 5

    Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
    April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
    July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
    Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
    Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
    March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

    The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
    Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
    May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
    May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
    June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

    Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


    BORN IN 1980

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
    July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
    July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

    Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

    Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.