Fortunes can change quickly in the world of golf

By Doug FergusonOctober 25, 2017, 3:14 pm

SHANGHAI – The final World Golf Championship of the year is a case study in how quickly the landscape can change.

Jon Rahm had never played in one of these elite events and it wasn't his highest priority a year ago because he had played only one PGA Tour event as a full member. Now he's at the HSBC Champions as No. 5 in the world, making him the highest ranked European.

Hideki Matsuyama was coming off a victory in the Japan Open and a runner-up finish in Malaysia, worthy of celebration because the Japanese star had moved into the top 10 in the world for the first time in his career. He won by seven shots at the HSBC Champions, part of an amazing stretch in which he won five times in nine starts.

Patrick Cantlay had gone two years without even playing because of a back surgery he feared might end his career. He made it back to golf in February, to the Tour Championship in September and to his first World Golf Championship this week at Sheshan International.

Pat Perez?


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Full-field tee times from the WGC-HSBC Champions


Not even he can believe he's No. 18 in the world.

Perez was No. 333 at this time a year ago after returning to golf following surgery on his shoulder. The last time he even qualified for a World Golf Championship was at the HSBC Champions in 2009, the week he said he realized he was ''globally unknown.''

''I pulled up the [current] schedule and saw my name on it twice as the defending champion,'' said Perez, who went from one to three career victories by winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the OHL Classic in Mexico.

''That was so cool,'' he said. ''I can't even believe it's going on. I'm living it, but it hasn't sunk in. I don't see myself with Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson. Those are super athletes. I'm not even in consideration with them. But it's nice to be where they are. It's nice to be on the big schedule. No. 18 in the world. Who in the hell would have thought that?''

Getting into the top class of golf is hard enough. Staying there isn't that easy.

Just ask Jason Day, Adam Scott and Patrick Reed, all of whom were in the top 10 in January and failed to win this year. Bubba Watson isn't at the HSBC Champions because at No. 60, he isn't eligible.

Johnson, Matsuyama and Rahm lead the field when the HSBC Champions begins Thursday in some of the best weather this tournament has ever seen.

It's the end of a three-week Asian swing for Perez and about a dozen other PGA Tour players. It's the stretch drive for a group of Europeans that include Tommy Fleetwood, who is leading the Race to Dubai, and Rahm, who still harbors hopes of catching him.

It won't be long before a new year begins, and based on the way this year has gone, the possibilities are endless.

''I think I've said many times what I think of my year. You know, unbelievable,'' Rahm said. ''Not many players get to say this, but I accomplished a lot more than I set my mind to at the beginning of the year. It's very special. I accomplished a lot of goals that weren't in my mind at the beginning of the year, such as top 10 in the world, winning on the European Tour. There are many things that I set my mind to that I ended up doing.''

Johnson had an idea where he was going at this time a year ago, just not the detour in his path to the top.

He won his first major at the U.S. Open. He won twice more over the next few months and was one round away from winning the FedExCup. He was No. 3 in the world, though his game was pointed in a strong direction and he fulfilled that through the spring with three straight victories against the strongest fields to reach No. 1.

And then he slipped down the stairs on the eve of the Masters, wrenched his back and didn't win again until August.

Matsuyama cooled off in the spring when he went three months without a top 10, but then he was runner-up in the U.S. Open, won another World Golf Championship and contended at the PGA Championship. His game has looked tired since then.

Getting his game in top form was one thing. Keeping it there was even tougher.

''I'm still learning how to do that,'' Matsuyama said. ''That's one of my goals, one of things I'm working on now, is to be able to stay on top of my game.''

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''