Inkster selects Creamer, Lang with captain's picks

By Randall MellAugust 24, 2015, 10:56 pm

Paula Creamer’s heart trumps her current form.

That’s why Creamer joined Brittany Lang as the two captain’s picks named Monday to the U.S. Solheim Cup team that will meet the Europeans next month in Germany.

U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster filled out her 12-woman roster in a Golf Channel telecast, naming Creamer to her sixth consecutive team despite Creamer’s struggles this year. Inkster named Lang to her fourth team.

“These are the two players that best fit what we’re trying to do,” Inkster told before going on the air Monday night.

Creamer, 29, created some angst Friday, missing the cut at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open with team qualifying concluding, assuring that for the first time in her career she wouldn’t gain one of the 10 automatic roster spots. The fact that Creamer struggled to an 81, ensuring her third consecutive missed cut, caused much handwringing, but Inkster saw what others weren’t seeing. She saw what Creamer’s heart for the Solheim Cup means.

On Saturday near Vancouver Golf Club, site of the Canadian Women’s Open, Inkster and Creamer met for a heart-to-heart talk at “The Keg,” a restaurant bar in the area. They talked over a glass of wine, maybe two, Inkster said. For 90 minutes, they talked about golf, the Solheim Cup and life.

Inkster said she left feeling confident Creamer was the right choice to join Lang.

“I wanted to know where she was at mentally and physically,” Inkster said. “I went with my gut. I really believe in her. The team believes in her. I think she’s earned the right to prove herself, and I wanted to give her a shot to do that.”

Inkster heard everything she wanted to hear from Creamer.

“I feel like she’s not as lost as everyone thinks she is,” Inkster said. “She has a lot of confidence in herself, and that’s what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear she still believes in herself. That was pretty much the deciding factor. There were no tears. No woe is me. She was very outspoken and very honest with me, and I felt like this could really turn her game around.”

Inkster knows better than anyone what Creamer means to the Solheim Cup. She teamed with Creamer six times as Solheim Cup partners early in Creamer’s career, going 3-2-1. Creamer is 12-6-5 in her five Solheim Cup appearances.

Inkster said separating her friendship from her captain’s role wasn’t difficult.

“Paula really made it easy on me,” Inkster said. “She knew she would be a controversial pick. She said, `You do what you have to do. It’s not going to hurt our friendship at all.’

“I don’t have Paula on the team because she’s a good friend of mine. I have Paula on the team because I think she will help the team.”

Creamer has struggled much of the last two seasons to reach the high standard she set in her first nine LPGA seasons. She won her 10th tour title early last year, claiming the HSBC Women’s Champions, but finished the year 22nd on the LPGA money list, the lowest finish of her career. Though she has shown flashes of regaining her best form this season, with three top-10 finishes, she’s 36th on the money list today.

Inkster sees potential parallels with Greg Norman picking Adam Scott on his International squad at the 2009 Presidents Cup. Scott was slumping back then, but he responded to Norman’s confidence in him. It proved a spark to Scott’s resurgence. Inkster can see the same thing happening with Creamer.

Creamer felt good about her conversation with Inkster, too.

“Juli obviously wanted to ask me where I was mentally, and how I was doing,” Creamer said. “I believe in myself. I told her I know you can count on me. It was just a very raw conversation. I felt like I told her everything and didn’t hold anything back, and same with her.”

Inkster said Creamer has strong support from players who qualified. That factored into the decision, too.

Inkster passed over Jessica Korda, Christina Kim, Mo Martin and Austin Ernst. Inkster said that was the toughest part of her role.

Lang, 30, is 5-4-2 in her three Solheim Cup appearances. She has had a solid summer, finishing sixth at the Meijer Classic and fifth at the Marathon Classic.

“I’m so thrilled and excited,” Lang said. “I’ve played well recently, and I’m just really honored Juli [and assistant captains] Wendy [Ward] and Pat [Hurst] had confidence in me.”

Eight Americans made the team off the final U.S. points list: Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel, Angela Stanford and Gerina Piller. Two Americans made it off the Rolex world rankings list: Alison Lee and Lizette Salas.

Eleven of the 12 Americans heading to Germany were part of that historic loss in Colorado two years ago, when the Europeans beat the Americans in a record 18-10 rout. It marked the first time the Americans lost on home soil and the first time they lost the cup twice in a row since the matches began in 1990. Europe defeated the Americans 15-13 in Ireland in four years ago.

“I think a lot of girls that were a part of that kind of have a chip,” Lang said. “We have been doing things a little differently. You can’t do things the same way and expect them to change. Juli, Pat and Wendy have a nice plan, nice setup, and are confident in what they’re doing.”

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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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.