Sorenstam Quietly Goes About Win Business

By George WhiteJune 4, 2002, 4:00 pm
One hundred years from now, people may be looking back at the year 2002 and say, That was when the greatest golfer in history was playing. Most people assume they will be talking about Tiger Woods. That may very well be ' but then again, they may be talking about Annika Sorenstam.
Sorenstam tied another all-time record last week. She shot 21-under in a 54-hole tournament. She missed a 15-foot putt on the last hole for 22-under. Records, though, have become so pass for her, though her modesty confounds most of the people who are expecting an athletic blunderbuss when they meet her.
There are those who believe Nancy Lopez was the greatest woman golfer ever. Some say Mickey Wright. Others believe it was Kathy Whitworth or Babe Zaharias, maybe Patty Berg. And they may be right. But it may well be Annika Sorenstam, who is just 31 years old but has won 35 times going into this weeks LPGA Championship.
There is no way of computing the greatest according to wins alone because, according to Beth Daniel, winning is so much more difficult today. Whitworth won 88 times, but would she have won that much if she played today? Wright won 82 times, Lopez 48 times, but would each been just as successful if they were trying to carve out victories today? Maybe ' but maybe not.
I think its much more difficult now, because I think the depth of players that are capable of winning is much greater, said Daniel. This is not to say that those players werent great ' only that Sorenstam deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. Daniel herself has 32 wins in a career that started back in 1979, certainly another generation.
Sorenstam, though, is a victim of Tiger. She happened to come into her own just as he did. Tiger has won 31 times on the PGA Tour since he turned pro late in 1996. It just so happens that Sorenstam has won ' surprise! ' 31 times over the exact same timespan. Tiger has won by some pretty audacious margins ' 15 in a U.S. Open, 12 in a Masters. But Sorenstam shot a 59 ' an LPGA record ' and has set or tied 31 records. And last week she won by 11 while shooting her record-tying 21-under.
Sorenstam is neither particularly long (she ranked 26th in driving last year) nor a particularly good putter (she finished 100th last year.) But she is such a deadly iron player. She hit nearly 80 percent of the greens last season, and that was five percent better than the second-place player ' Karrie Webb.
It was Webb who, just a couple of years ago, was considered the best player in the LPGA. But people underestimated Sorenstam, who deep inside has a smoldering to be The Best. She never was a particularly strong putter, but she made up for it by being the greatest iron player the LPGA has ever seen. She wants it so badly that she stayed in the gym, she went on a strict diet, and she has become an exercise maven in her own home. Today, she is No. 1, not because Webb is necessarily worse, but because Sorenstam has gotten appreciably better.
Im happy for her because shes really, really put in a lot of hard work, said Webb. And its paid off for her.
A lot of us have put in a lot of hard work, and some of us arent as fortunate as others. You know, she really wanted to be the best. She went out and did it. I mean, Im happy for anyone that puts in that amount of work and does what she has done.
Annika won eight times last year alone. For anyone outside of Tiger, thats phenomenal. She has won four times already this year. Webb is one of the players who is trying to keep her from winning eight in 2002, and she realizes that if Sorenstam reaches that number again, there wont be that many left for Webb herself.
Shes not going to try any less, said Webb. Shes not going to be any less determined, I dont think. I can tell you now, I will eat my hat if she wins eight tournaments from now on. I knew I wasnt going to do it. Im pretty sure shes not counting on winning eight tournaments.
Well, Sorenstam may be thinking of it now. She has four at the halfway point. She could easily win four more the second half. Doesnt that make eight for the second year in a row?
At 31, Sorenstam is just rounding into her prime. And she has never played better for three rounds than she played last week.
The combination of everything, this is probably the best Ive played, she said at the Kellogg-Keebler Classic in Chicago last week. Earlier in the year, I hit the ball really well. A month, I was putting well but not hitting it well.
This week, the way I hit it was as good as I have in a long time.
Danielle Ammaccapane was her playing partner Sunday when Sorenstam, leading by five after Saturday, shot a 65 to wind it up. She admitted she was awestruck as she watched the precision in Sorenstams shots.
Shes every bit as good as they say she is, Ammaccapane said. She leaves herself good angles to the green and doesnt mishit a lot of shots. She has everything.
Everything except the respect a player should have whos mentioned in the same sentence as the greatest in the game. Its about time for that to change, dont you think?

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.