Els survives scare wins Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Doug FergusonMarch 29, 2010, 9:17 pm

Arnold Palmer Invitational

ORLANDO, Fla. – Ernie Els made two clutch par putts, escaped trouble from a buried lie in the bunker and wound up wearing a blue blazer Monday for winning the rain-delayed Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Suddenly, it’s easy to picture him in a different color jacket two weeks from now.

Els overcame a few nervous moments with four solid pars to wrap up a 1-under 71 and win by two shots at Bay Hill, giving him back-to-back victories for the first time in seven years and setting himself up as a favorite at Augusta National.

“I’d like to put this jacket in some dye,” Els said at the trophy presentation. “Some green dye.”

Coming off a four-shot victory in the World Golf Championship at Doral two weeks ago, Els had to work harder than he should have for his 18th career victory on the PGA Tour.

He had a five-shot lead Sunday afternoon with six holes remaining until hitting into the water on No. 13 for a double bogey and hitting into the sand on the next hole for a bogey. Then came the thunderstorms, halting the final round until it resumed at noon Monday.

Els immediately felt pressure as he stood over a 6-foot par putt, but he made it.

With his lead down to one shot over Kevin Na, his 4-iron came up short of the 17th green and plugged into the face of the bunker. Els blasted out to 6 feet and made that one for par.

“The whole thing changed from being very comfortable to being just as tense as I’ve been for a long time,” Els said. “So it was a hard struggle today. If I can say it, I really earned this one.”

He finished at 11-under 277 and moved to No. 7 in the world rankings. Els earned $1.08 million, giving him more than $3 million for the year and putting him atop the PGA Tour money list.

Na missed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole for a share of the lead, then drove into the right rough and had to lay up short of the water. He hit a wedge within 8 feet and missed the putt, giving Els some breathing room.

Na closed with a 69 and shared second with Edoardo Molinari of Italy, who also had a 69.

Els blasted out of the buried lie in the bunker on the 17th and was knocking the sand from his spikes when he saw that Na, in the group ahead of him, had driven into the right rough. When he reached the 18th tee, Els could hear the groan from the gallery around the green and realized Na had made bogey.

“Even Tiger Woods couldn’t have gotten over the water,” Na said, referring to his decision to lay up. “With the lie as wet as it is, there’s absolutely no chance.”

Facing a difficult tee shot on the 18th to secure the victory, Els pretended to be at the Masters.

“It’s always in my head this time of the year,” he said. “You try and downplay it, but you do think about it. Today, I thought about it on the 72nd hole. I was like, ‘OK, you’re standing at Augusta and you’ve got to hit this hard fade.”’

And he nailed it.

Playing cautiously away from the water, he pulled his approach into the rough near a bunker, chipped to 8 feet and holed the par putt.

It was his second victory at Bay Hill, the other coming 11 years ago in a 36-hole Sunday because of rain. Els became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 to win twice on the Florida Swing. Woods won at Bay Hill and The Players Championship, then made it three in a row when he captured the Masters.

Els has had nothing but heartache at Augusta National.

“I know the history of Augusta pretty well, and there’s been a lot of nice stories,” Els said. “There’s been a lot of cruel ones – thinking of (Tom) Weiskopf and (Greg) Norman and myself – but there’s also been some really great ones. So we still are hoping for the great one.”

Els planned to fly up to Augusta on Tuesday for a practice round before playing in the Houston Open.

“I think he’s going to be tough at Augusta,” Palmer said after greeting Els behind the 18th green.

Retief Goosen (69) and Chris Couch (71) tied for fourth. Ben Curtis, who started the final round one shot out of the lead, closed with a 74 and finished alone in sixth.

“It’s great to see Ernie playing well again,” Goosen said. “He’s really settled in after moving to America now. His game has seemed to really come around.”

Els had gone two years without winning – the longest drought of his career – and now has consecutive wins for the first time since he won the Heineken Classic and Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia early in the 2003 season. Earlier that year, he won the PGA Tour’s first two events in Hawaii.

“I want to make this a special year, especially after these two wins,” Els said. “But I still have a lot of work left, and there are a lot of majors left. And that’s going to be fun now.”

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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.