Stat attack!: Zurich Classic of New Orleans preview

By John AntoniniApril 22, 2014, 8:36 pm

At the 2013 Zurich Classic of New Orleans Billy Horschel (pictured) and D.A. Points took disparate paths to the top of the leaderboard. Horschel impressed in greens in regulation and proximity to the hole, while Points was dominant in fairways hit and scrambling. They were both outstanding once they got to the green, Points finishing second in strokes gained and Horschel third. Horschel was the tournament leader in putting from beyond 10 feet. His 26-foot birdie putt on the last hole, was his 15th putt made from more than 10 feet for the tournament and it provided the margin of victory in Horschel’s first PGA Tour win.

Tournament stats for the leaders at the 2013 Zurich Classic

 Player Distance Accuracy GIR Prox. to hole Scrambling Str. Gained
Putts from
10+ feet
288.3 (27) 55.36% (T63) 81.94% (T2) 28' 2" (4) 61.54% (50) 1.768 (3) 15/45; 33.33% (1)
276.5 (58) 82.14% (1) 69.44% (T38) 35' 6" (41) 90.91% (2) 1.868 (2) 9/34; 26.47% (5)

That’s the type of venue the TPC Louisiana is turning into. It doesn’t favor any particular type of golfer. Winners there have been bombers (Bubba Watson) or shorter hitters (Jerry Kelly). Hit plenty of fairways as Jason Bohn did in 2011, or play the course from the rough as Horschel did a year ago. It hardly seems to matter.

What Horschel did last year was maximize his opportunities. His Sunday 64 included nine birdies and he made 15 on the weekend. The 64 tied the current course tournament record and his weekend rounds of 66-64—130 added up to the lowest last 36-hole total since the event moved to TPC Louisiana. It was the culmination of a grand start to the 2013 season for the Floridian, the victory coming in his 12th-straight cut made and his fourth-straight top 10. But a repeat performance might not be in Horschel’s future. Although eight of the previous 10 winners of the Zurich Classic made the cut, none finished in the top 10. In fact, only 2005 winner Tim Petrovic has a subsequent top-10 finish in the tournament, with a T-7 in 2008.

How the defending champion fared at the Zurich Classic: 2004-2013

 Player Year won Following year
 Jason Dufner 2012 T-42
 Bubba Watson 2011 T-18
 Jason Bohn  2010 T-67
 Jerry Kelly 2009 T-67
 Andres Romero 2008 DQ
 Nick Watney  2007 T-42
 Chris Couch 2006 T-80
 Tim Petrovic 2005 MC
 Vijay Singh 2004 T-21
 Steve Flesch 2003 T-45

Horschel is one of five players who got his first PGA Tour victory at TPC Louisiana. The Zurich Classic was first played at TPC Louisiana in 2006 and moved there permanently in 2008. Among the group in the previous chart, Dufner, Romero, Watney and Petrovic lifted their initial hardware on the Bayou. (Couch and Flesch did too, but they won at English Turn G&CC, the tournament’s home from 1989-2004 and 2006.)

A good percentage of the players in the Zurich Classic are seeking PGA Tour win number one, some have been seeking it longer than others. Eight players in this year’s field have made more than 200 starts on Tour and haven’t won. Three of them – Brian Davis, Jeff Overton and Charlie Wi – came close in New Orleans.

Most PGA Tour starts with no wins among 2014 Zurich Classic field

 Player Starts Runner-ups on Tour Best Zurich finish
 Briny Baird 375 6 T-8, 2003
 Greg Chalmers 349 2 Fifth, 2010
 Brian Davis 293 5 T-17, 2005
 James Driscoll 227 2 2, 2005
 Jeff Overton 226 4 2, 2010
 Charlie Wi 220 5 T-2, 2009
 Tag Ridings 210 1 T-26, 2011
 Chris Stroud 204 1 T-5, 2007

Baird and Stroud are among the group of 11 winless players in the Zurich Classic field who have finished in the top-three of a PGA Tour event this season. (Horschel had a second and a third in 2013 before he won.)

Winless players with top finishes in 2013-14

 Player Best 2013-14 result
 Brooks Koepka T-3
 Chris Stroud T-3 CIMB, T-3 Mayakoba
 Briny Baird T-2 McGladrey
 Graham DeLaet T-2 Farmers, T-2 Phoenix
 Jim Renner T-2 Pebble
 Brian Harman T-3 No. Trust
 Russell Knox T-2 Honda
 Danny Lee 2-Puerto Rico
 Ben Martin T-3 Puerto Rico, T-3 Heritage
 Scott Langley 3 Valspar
 Daniel Summerhays T-2 Texas

Those looking for their first win this week won’t have to deal with a very strong field. None of the top-10 players on the Official World Golf Ranking are playing in the Big Easy. Only nine of the top 50, including the Big Easy himself, are playing. Two players from that group – Horschel and Nick Watney – have won in New Orleans.

Top players on the world ranking in the New Orleans field

 Rank Player Best Zurich result
 11 Justin Rose T-5 in 2004
 21 Keegan Bradley T-26 in 2011
 25 Patrick Reed T-24 in 2012
 31 Graham DeLaet T-4 in 2012
 36 Rickie Fowler T-10 in 2012
 42 Matt Every T-32 in 2013
 44 Ernie Els Second in 2012
 49 Nick Watney Won in 2007
 50 Billy Horschel Won in 2013

One final note: It’s not rare that a player from the same region wins the host tournament, but the last four winners of the Zurich Classic in New Orleans – Jason Bohn, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Billy Horschel – all have ties to the deep south. Although Bohn and Dufner were born in Pennsylvania and Ohio, respectively, they both went to college in Alabama (Bohn in Tuscaloosa and Dufner at Auburn). Horschel and Watson are Floridians. Before that, Louisiana native won the tournament in 2001 and if you want to go stray farther south, a pair of players from South America have won in recent years, Argentina’s Romero in 2008 and Paraguay’s Carlos Franco in 1999 and 2000.




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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.