Record-equaling round lifts Kerr into second in Lotte

By Associated PressApril 15, 2017, 5:26 am

KAPOLEI, Hawaii – Su-Yeon Jang heads into the final round of the Lotte Championship on Saturday playing bogey-free golf, finishing the third round with a 7-under 65 for a three-stroke lead.

The 22-year-old sponsor invite from South Korea took the lead during the completion of the rain-delayed second round Friday morning and opened a cushion Friday afternoon. She had a 17-under 199 total - two strokes off the tournament record for 72 holes - at Ko Olina Golf Club.

Cristie Kerr and Alena Sharp, the 35-year-old Canadian looking for her first LPGA Tour victory, were tied for second. Kerr had a 62 to tie Lizette Salas' tournament record in 2013. Kerr, who turns 40 this year, played the back nine in 29, with birdies on seven of her last eight holes.

''I was just kind of being myself,'' said Kerr, who had eight putts on her last eight holes. ''Yeah, everybody says being in the zone. I just kind of stayed out of my own way today, which is what I have to do to have a chance tomorrow.

''I stayed in the moment and started walking them in.''

Sharp stayed with Jang, birdie for birdie, until a bogey on the final hole left her with a 66. She was just one back after sinking a 15-footer from the fringe on the 16th.

Sharp has not won in 240 LPGA starts, but is coming off her best year. The only LPGA player with more starts without a win in this field is Becky Morgan (315). She is tied for 10th, seven shots back. Morgan's last Top 10 was in 2009.

Sharp admits ''It's hard to win out here,'' but has never wanted to stop trying.

''I just love playing golf, so I don't think about it as I need to win,'' she said. ''I just love the competition. I love traveling to all the different places we play and the amazing courses we play. I just have a lot of passion for the game itself.''

In Gee Chun, the 2015 U.S. Women's Open champ, was 12 under after a 65.

''I was able to hole some longer putts in my front nine, which is the back nine,'' said Ko, whose 14th - and last - win came in July. ''When you get to hole the putts that you don't necessarily think they're birdie range, it's always nice. It's kind of a bonus.''

Top-ranked Lydia Ko, looking for her first win since July, was tied for seventh at 9 under after a 65. She was eight strokes behind the leader, a shot behind second-ranked So Yeon Ryu (69) and two back of third-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (70).

Jang, who doesn't have a bogey this week, also played in the final group last year at Lotte and finished fifth.

Hawaii has thrown its share of surprises at this year's field. For the third day in a row there was a weather delay Friday. The wind and rain, and thunder and lightning, have made Ko Olina a tropical adventure.

When darkness halted play Thursday, Jang had two holes remaining and a share of the lead at 9 under with Ariya Jutanugarn and In-Kyung Kim. Jang birdied her 17th hole early Friday to claim the second-round lead, then had ''some real good food my dad cooked up'' before teeing off in the third round.

After the leaders played their first hole, play was halted for an hour. Jang came back with four quick birdies and added three in a row on the back nine. She needed just 25 putts.

''Because I had to finish up the second round this morning and play another 18 I was a little bit tired,'' she said through an interpreter. ''But I know I'm so far away from home and I travel so long to play this tournament, so I try to tell myself just to suck it up and have a good time and play a good round today.''

She was brilliant, and has been in nearly every round she's played at Ko Olina the last two years. The exception was last year's final round, when a 71 in the final group wasn't nearly enough to keep up with Minjee Lee.

Instead Jang, ranked 68th in the world, won twice on the Korean LPGA tour last year and finished third on the money list.

''Obviously I've gained a good amount of experience doing that,'' Jang said. ''Hopefully tomorrow I won't get too nervous. I think that experience will help me play in the rest of the round tomorrow.''

The last time a sponsor invite won on the LPGA it was Ko at the 2013 CN Canadian Women's Open. Ko turns 20 in 10 days and was born the same year Kerr debuted on the tour.

The cut came Friday morning at 1 under, with 78 golfers playing on. Michelle Wie, the 2014 Lotte champion, made the cut on the number. Lindy Duncan holed out on the 18th early Friday for eagle to make the cut.

Nicole Broch Larsen was also one of the 15 players who came back to finish their second round Friday morning. She had a hole-in-one on her 17th hole (No. 8).

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.