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.''

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.