Annika Wins Again - Any Questions
Last week she was in Japan, and, of course, she won. Incidentally, it was the fifth straight year she has won the Mizuno Classic. No other golfer - man or woman - has ever won the same event five consecutive times. Her buddy Tiger Woods won the same event (Bay Hill) four straight times, as well as Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen. One other woman, Laura Davis, has done it. But five times in succession? That list begins ' and ends ' with Annika.
She has now won 65 times on the LPGA tour, just 23 short of Kathy Whitworths record of 88. Remember, though, that it took Whitworth 22 years. Sorenstam is only in her 12th season at age 34.
What is all the more impressive is that she has won 13 times around the world in addition to the LPGA victories, from Australia to England to France to her native Sweden to Japan. And, at only 5 feet 6, she is far from a large woman. Most of the good players now are 5-9, 5-10. Annika is relatively short. But, her tempo is so perfect and her strength such that she is third in driving distance.
Meg Mallon has long been a confirmed believer in Annika. The longevity of this incredible streak that she's had - I don't think any golfer has ever done this in the history to the level that she's played at, said Mallon.
You've seen Tiger go through it, even Karrie (Webb) a three year stretch - it was amazing. But this has been six years or something. That in itself, I can't think of another. Even in the Jack Nicklaus era, he finished out of the top 20 quite a bit. And this is incredible what she's doing.
I think because it's looking too easy to everyone, they are not appreciating how great it is, and that's what's so amazing is that she makes it look so easy. It's a thing that we all know how hard it is.
To get an idea of just how difficult it is, just look at the next highest number of tournaments won on the LPGA this year. That figure is - two. Are you beginning to get a picture of how dominating this woman is? And, its just a continuation of whats been happening the past five years.
Annika isnt playing this week. But if she wins the LPGAs final event next week ' and she won it last year ' she will have won exactly half the LPGA events she entered this year. She has played 19 times this season, and she has won nine ' plus one in Sweden.
Perhaps nothing says it about Annika like the subdued reaction she displayed last Saturday in the media conference following her 67. She was a shot behind leader Young Kim, and Kim had said earlier that she felt a 6-under 66 would win her the title on Sunday.
Someone asked Annika about the statement, and Annika quickly arched an eyebrow without saying a word. She must have thought ' A 66? I myself shot a 64 in the first round, and surely she knows that Im capable of doing it again.
Annika, though, recovered from the shock very quickly. She gave the standard answer - she didnt want to predict what the final score would be, blah blah blah. But, all you need to know is Sunday she shot that score ' a 64, including a 31 on the back nine. And, she won by three shots.
I love the challenge, she said, and I love coming down the stretch and taking the shots that you need to. It is just the extra excitement, knowing there are only a few more holes until the tournament is over. I know I have to hit the perfect shot. That is when all of my adrenaline starts kicking in, from the back nine, because that is when it matters.
To say that she is mentally tough is really an understatement. She is 15-5 in playoffs, losing only twice since 2000. And she last missed a cut in August of 2002. In fact, she has missed only four cuts since her rookie year of 1994, when she missed four cuts in her first nine events. All four since, incidentally, happened in majors. Annika doesnt miss cuts unless the competition is top grade ' and then only rarely.
Sorenstam is anything BUT a cocky winner. But she is quietly, resolutely determined. Such determination, coupled with such talent, leads to a very successful golfer.
I love to challenge myself, she said, and see if I can do things that nobody else has done. That is what motivates me. That is why I play this game.
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McIlroy gets back on track
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.
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.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.