Kapalua kickoff: New year, new faces

By Doug FergusonJanuary 5, 2012, 10:49 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Steve Stricker is back on Maui, a familiar place for a guy who has won on the PGA Tour in each of the last three years to qualify for the season-opening Tournament of Champions.

Not so familiar are some of the guys he’ll be trying to beat.

Twelve players in the 28-man field are at Kapalua for the first time, more evidence of change on the PGA Tour. A year ago, Stricker didn’t know who most of them were.

Keegan Bradley? He was known more as the nephew of LPGA great Pat Bradley until he won two times, including that unlikely comeback in Atlanta to capture the PGA Championship in his first try at a major.

Jhonattan Vegas was the first PGA Tour member from Venezuela. Scott Stallings? Brendan Steele?

“I know them now a little bit,” Stricker said Thursday on the eve of the opening round.

The PGA Tour season gets under way Friday. It wants to get away from the NFL playoffs on Sunday, so the final round will end Monday just before the BCS Championship game starts.

The Tournament of Champions will be missing 11 players who didn’t or couldn’t make it to Hawaii. It’s the biggest list of no-shows since this tournament moved to Kapalua in 1999, though it’s a product of the changing world of golf.

Three of the players are recovering from injuries, five of them are based overseas and Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, just finished a whirlwind trip around the world that took him deep into December. Like many other players, this is his offseason.

That’s not the only change.

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are no longer part of the top 10 in the world ranking. There are no Americans among the top five in the world ranking for the first time in nearly two decades. And even without the likes of U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel or Martin Kaymer in Hawaii, the young guys are making a strong push.

There were 13 winners in their 20s last year, and nine of them are at Kapalua.

“There’s been a transformation of players out here, and it was going to happen eventually,” said Stricker, who turns 45 next month. “We saw Tiger and Phil slip out of the top 10, and we have some European players coming in there – young European players and young Americans – playing well and stepping right up early on in their careers. So it’s fun to see.

“Right now it seems that young is good.”

His hope is that experience still counts for something, especially on the Plantation Course at Kapalua that is unlike any other course the players will see all year. The course was built on a mountain, offering severe changes in elevation, massive greens with slope and grain, and uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean.

The surf has been particularly strong on Maui this week, and it creates quite the contrast. Players working their way along the back nine can look down the cliffs and see the ocean littered with surfers off the point at Honolua Bay.

It’s relaxing, but it’s still work.

The winners get a small head start on the rest of the PGA Tour in a short field with no cut, essentially free money from the $5.6 million purse and a jump in the FedEx Cup standings.

It worked beautifully last year for Jonathan Byrd, who won his final event of 2010 to qualify for Kapalua, then opened his season with a playoff win over Robert Garrigus.

Byrd was walking through the Maui airport when he saw promotional posters of him on the wall. His son, Jackson, looked at the poster and said, “Dad, I think you’re famous.”

“I said, ‘At least for this week I am,”’ Byrd replied. “You get out there and you just get excited to get the year started.”

So many of these players are looking for an encore – especially Bradley.

A year ago, he was getting ready for his rookie season to begin at the Sony Open and being more nervous than he cares to remember. He never would have imagined winning a major, much less returning to Hawaii a week earlier to start his season.

“I was a mess. I was so uptight about it,” Bradley said. “At this time last year, I wasn’t thinking this tournament at all. I was thinking about how I wasn’t ready to play on the Tour, how I needed to practice 12 hours a day to get ready. So it’s pretty remarkable to be here.”

Now comes the hard part.

Bradley will try to build on his big year, the same as FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas and Webb Simpson, who was second in the FedEx Cup and lost out on the money title to Donald in the final event. Simpson didn’t qualify for this tournament until the week before the FedEx Cup playoffs began.

Vegas won the Bob Hope Classic, and then didn’t do much the rest of the year. Woodland won in the Florida swing and made the cut in every major. He has big potential to go with his big swing, though he starts the year by taking on a new agent (Mark Steinberg) that wound up costing him his old coach (Randy Smith).

And while the 28-man field ties the Kapalua record for the smallest number of players, it could get even smaller. Lucas Glover sprained his right knee while paddle boarding over the weekend and is not sure he will be able to play.

“I hate to come out here and not be able to compete,” he said. “But it could be worse. I could be somewhere not as pretty.”


Watch live coverage of the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Golf Channel: Fri.-Sun., 6-10 PM ET; Monday, 4-8 PM ET.

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 also one shot off 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 and Shanshan Feng 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.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''


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J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''