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Power Rankings: 2018 Valspar Championship

By Will GrayMarch 5, 2018, 8:23 pm

The PGA Tour returns to Florida this week for the Valspar Championship. A field of 144 players will tackle the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort, home of the famed "Snake Pit" stretch from Nos. 15-17.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to to submit your picks for this week's event.

Adam Hadwin won this event last year by one shot over Patrick Cantlay. Here are 10 names to watch near Tampa:

1. Jordan Spieth: Spieth won this event in a thrilling playoff over Patrick Reed three years ago, the highlight of a four-year run where he has never finished worse than 20th. With many other big names racking up early-season victories, Spieth has quietly continued to improve with three straight top-20s including a T-14 finish in Mexico.

2. Sergio Garcia: Garcia may be making his final start before his first child, due later this month, is born. But there's reason to think he'll make it a good one considering his T-7 finish last week in Mexico and his sterling record around the Copperhead Course, which includes finishes of T-16 or better in each of his last three trips (2011-13).

3. Henrik Stenson: This is a ball-striker's course and Stenson is the consummate iron specialist, so it's not surprising to see that he has finished T-11 or better each of the last three years. The Swede skipped last week's WGC event and hasn't played since a T-60 finish last month in Malaysia. Otherwise, he might be topping this list.

4. Adam Hadwin: The defending champ faded from the spotlight down the stretch last season, but he's once again playing some of his best golf. Hadwin has racked up three top-10 finishes in his last five starts, including a T-9 finish last week in Mexico, and seems poised to make a strong title defense.

5. Justin Rose: Rose has played sparingly this year, and his T-37 finish in Mexico was a bit lower than expected. But the Englishman did close with a final-round 67 and now returns to a course where he has played sparingly, but well. Rose has made six starts at Innisbrook since 2008, compiling four top-15 finishes in that time.

6. Tony Finau: Finau is known for his prodigious length off the tee, but he has also demonstrated an ability to play small ball. That includes last year, where he surged to a T-5 finish on the Copperhead Course, and as he closes in on his maiden Masters appearance Finau has a T-6 (Torrey Pines) and T-2 (Riviera) finish among his last four results.

7. Rory McIlroy: The Ulsterman was considered the main attraction until Spieth and Tiger Woods committed at the last minute, but he'll still draw plenty of crowds as he makes his tournament debut. Unfortunately for McIlroy, his early-season weakness (iron play) could be accentuated by the tight fairways and rolling hills at Innisbrook.

8. Jason Dufner: Like Stenson, Dufner is a ball-striker who traditionally plays some of his best golf on this demanding layout. Dufner has finished inside the top 25 each of the last six years at Innisbrook, including last year's T-11 result, and he hasn't been outside the top 30 since 2008. He also finished T-17 just two weeks ago at PGA National.

9. Kevin Na: Na enters this week at No. 65 in the world, firmly on the bubble for the 64-man WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with one week until the cutoff. He nearly won this event back in 2014, finishing second to John Senden amid a run of three straight top-25s, and will be teeing it up for the first time since his runner-up finish last month at Riviera.

10. Paul Casey: The Englishman doesn't win often, but he remains a reliable paycheck for fantasy purposes. Casey finished T-12 in Mexico, his seventh straight finish of T-16 or better in a WGC event. He'd be higher on this list were it not for his mediocre course form that includes missed cuts in his last two trips (2012, 2014).

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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.