Ko beats Pressel in playoff to defend in San Fran

By Doug FergusonApril 27, 2015, 1:57 am

DALY CITY, Calif. – Lydia Ko twice thought someone else would leave Lake Merced with the trophy this year.

She was on the putting green listening for a cheer if Morgan Pressel were to make a 15-foot birdie putt in regulation to win the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.

Ko heard nothing.

In a playoff, she could only watch as Pressel stood over a 10-foot birdie putt for the win.

It grazed the edge of the cup.

With the tournament finally in her capable hands, Ko rolled in a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to beat Pressel on the second playoff hole and cap off another birthday week in style. She turned 18 on Friday and is only getting better.

She played the par-5 closing hole at Lake Merced three times and made birdie twice, the first one an 8-foot putt in regulation for a 2-under 70 that set up the playoff. Pressel played it three times and made par. Knowing that Ko was in tight for a likely birdie on the second playoff hole, Pressel missed from 8 feet.

The finish was inevitable. If the South Korean-born Kiwi isn't winning, she's always around the top of the leaderboard. Given one too many chances, Ko converted.

''It's always a close one whenever I play this event,'' Ko said. ''Last year was the first time that every little shot counts.''



A year ago, Ko had to make a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th to hold on for a one-shot victory. This one was even tighter, and Ko had reason to believe this wouldn't be her week when she followed a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th by making a sloppy bogey on the 16th and missing a 6-foot birdie putt on the 17th.

''I said, 'If I want to put some pressure, I need to make a birdie or better on 18,''' Ko said. ''Ended up being good for that. But yeah, this tournament always makes my heart clench. I got so nervous. It's a good thing they're going in the hole.''

It was a tough loss for Pressel, whose last victory was in 2008 at the Kapalua LPGA Classic. She had a two-shot lead with four holes to play until making back-to-back bogeys, and then failing to make a birdie on the 18th.

The par-5 closing hole could not be reached in two, so it effectively came down to a wedge and a putt.

''I just couldn't convert the putts,'' Pressel said. ''It all comes down to putting. She birdied it twice and I didn't.''

Brooke Henderson, the 17-year-old Canadian, holed a bunker shot for eagle on the par-5 14th to stay close to the lead and she had a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole to join the playoff. It missed on the low side and she had to settle for a 74.

Ko, already the No. 1 player in women's golf, moved to the top of the LPGA Tour money list with her second LPGA Tour win this year. But it was hard work. She opened with a pair of bogeys. She never had the lead until making her winning putt on the 20th hole of the day.

''At the start of the day, I didn't know how it was going to go,'' Ko said. ''It's been a great birthday week again.''

Ko, who matched Pressel at 8-under 280, earned $300,000.

She played slightly more aggressively the third time around on the 18th, going with a 3-iron hybrid on her second shot that allowed her to close the face on a 54-degree wedge and swing hard, instead of easing off a pitching wedge the previous two times. It paid off for her.

Henderson made two bogeys in three holes to fall out of the lead for the first time since Friday morning. The Canadian never caught up, though she was never out of it until missing her birdie putt on the final hole.

''It was one of the least nervous putts I had all day,'' Henderson said. ''I could see it going in in my mind, but it didn't happen in real life.''

She headed for Texas to try to Monday qualify for the next LPGA event. Finishing in the top 10 only makes a player eligible for the next tournament if she is an LPGA member. Henderson last year was denied a waiver to the LPGA's minimum age requirement of 18.

Pressel took the lead by making pars, and she started to seize control when she rolled in a 45-foot eagle putt on No. 6 for a two-shot lead. But she missed three short putts on the front nine - two for birdie, one for par - that kept her from getting a little more separation.

The final hour took shape with three big shots. Henderson holed her bunker shot for eagle on the 14th to reach 8 under and get within one shot of the lead. Moments later, Pressel got up-and-down from behind the green to get to 10 under and, in the group ahead of them, Ko made her big birdie putt to reach 8 under.

But then it got messy.

Pressel dropped shots on the next two holes. Henderson chunked a chip on the 15th and made bogey. Ko went well long on the 16th and missed a 10-foot par putt.

Ko said she was nervous. It just doesn't show.

''At her age, she plays with so much poise and calmness I don't think you see from other kids her age,'' Pressel said, pausing before she added with a smile, ''I guess she's not a kid anymore.''

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.