The Big Easy says Lytham will be anything but

By Doug FergusonJuly 16, 2012, 8:34 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Ernie Els walked toward the century-old clubhouse that sits squarely behind the 18th green at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Just the sight of it Monday evening was enough to bring back a memory. It wasn't a particularly good one.

Els made a furious charge on Sunday in 1996, his first time in serious contention at the British Open. He chipped away at an eight-shot deficit to Tom Lehman until he was slowed by a bogey on the 16th and another on the 18th for a 67. That left him two shots behind, having to wait around to see if Lehman would somehow make a double bogey on the 16th hole.

''I was sitting in that damn locker room there,'' Els said, smiling as he pointed toward a darkened glass window in the clubhouse.

He wasn't alone.

Next to him that day was a 20-year-old amateur, Tiger Woods, who had a 66 in the second round and was low amateur for the week at Lytham.

Woods was asking Els for advice on whether he was ready to turn pro.

''He was trying to figure out his future, and I was trying to figure out if the guy was going to make double bogey or not,'' Els said. ''Tom made par, and Tiger turned pro. I was (doomed) either way.''

Els broke into easy laughter. He eventually captured the claret jug six years later at Muirfield. As for the kid at his table? Woods turned pro and now has three claret jugs among his 14 majors. Els has been a runner-up to Woods seven times, the most of any player.

They are at different places in their careers coming into the 141st British Open, which returns to Lytham for the 11th time when it starts Thursday.

Woods has won three times this year on the PGA Tour, again is the betting favorite whenever he plays and needs only another major championship to shut up the skeptics who wonder whether he will ever return to being a force in golf. Els last won a tournament at Bay Hill two years ago, though he has given himself a chance in four tournaments this year, including the U.S. Open last month at Olympic.

The state of their game might be defined by this British Open.

Royal Lytham & St. Annes is identified mainly by its size and its views, or lack thereof in both cases. It is situated on the smallest piece of property of any links course in the Open rotation, and it is the only course that does not offer a glimpse of the water - the Irish Sea in this case. A railway runs along the right side of the outward nine, with homes surrounding the rest of the property. And then there are the bunkers - now under debate whether there are 206 or 205 of them. Masters champion Bubba Watson counted 17 bunkers on the closing hole.

But perhaps the most compelling characteristic of the course is the list of Open champions it has produced.

Bobby Jones in 1926, the year he became the first player to win the British Open and U.S. Open in the same season. Bobby Locke and Peter Thomson, who combined for eight Open titles in 10 years. Tony Jacklin, the last Englishman to win an Open on English soil. Lehman, nine months before his brief stay at No. 1 in the world. David Duval, two years after he dethroned Woods atop the world ranking.

Els recently told Scotland on Sunday that advances in equipment ''have had a huge effect on the ability of anyone to separate himself from the rest.'' But in links golf, he's not sure that's the case. Royal Lytham & St. Annes, at only 7,060 yards as a par 70, is not a course that can be overpowered, even in green conditions.

Links golf is at its best when the grass is brown from sunshine and dry spells, such as Royal Liverpool in 2006 when Woods hit driver only once.

This year, when the rain never seems to stop in England, the course is softer and not running quite as fast.

Regardless, it's about keeping the ball on the grass instead of in the bunkers. And it's about keeping it out of the rough, which Watson described as hay, and he wasn't joking. With rain comes high grass, and it's so lush that Woods told reporters on Sunday that some spots were unplayable.

That much is certain. Aaron Townsend hit a shot into the rough to the right of the 15th green on Sunday, and it took a marshal standing only a few yards away nearly five minutes to find it.

Watson went around Monday morning before the heavy rain arrived, and he rarely showed off his pink driver. Even on the 592-yard seventh hole, he hit iron off the tee when a big drive would allow him to get home in two shots. It's all about staying in the fairway and not deep in a pot bunker or buried in native grass.

''It's a course where there's a certain way you've got to play it,'' Els said, referring to tee shots having to be in the right spots in the fairway. ''It's a lot like Hoylake. You'll have a lot of guys doing the same thing. So it's the guy with the best nerves, the best shotmaking, the guy with the best putter. It's going to come down to the final bit here. If you're not sure what you're doing, you're going to get yourself in trouble. You've got to be sure of yourself.

''It's a fair test,'' he said. ''You're going to get somebody good this week.''

The way the majors have gone, that could be just about anybody. The last 15 majors have gone to 15 players, a streak of parity not seen in golf since 15 different winners from Nick Price at the 1994 PGA Championship through Lee Janzen at the 1998 U.S. Open.

Of those 15 major champions, eight have not won another tournament since capturing their major. That includes Webb Simpson, the U.S. Open champion who has played only twice since Olympic, and is not at Lytham because his wife is expecting.

The weather this week could determine how Lytham plays, with rain in the forecast and a chance for some dry weather during parts of the weekend.

Lytham may look little, but it can play big.

''Like on the sixth hole,'' Els said of the 492-yard hole that will be a par 4 for the first time. ''You've got the bunker left, so I took 2-iron off the tee, and I still had a 2-iron for my second shot. You can do that. Make sure you get it in play. Or, you can take a chance and try to feather it through. There's all kinds of options here. This is great. This is the best one I've seen in a long time.''

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.


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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.


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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.


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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.