No. 1 ranking, awards at stake in Evian

By Randall MellSeptember 12, 2017, 5:14 pm

There’s more than a major championship at stake at the Evian Championship in France this week.

The Rolex world No. 1 ranking and Rolex Annika Major Award are also up for grabs.

No. 1 So Yeon Ryu, No. 2 Lexi Thompson and No. 3 Sung Hyun Park will be grouped together in the first two rounds.

Thompson and Park are both in position to end Ryu’s 12-week reign at world No. 1 at Evian Resort Golf Club. The trio is scheduled to go off Thursday at 2:18 a.m. ET.

Ryu, Thompson and Park are also all in the running to claim the Annika Major Award for the best performances in the majors this year. Thompson has to win this week to be eligible for the award.

Plus, the trio is in position to make a big move at the Rolex Player of the Year Award, with double points up for grabs. Ryu leads the points standings, but Thompson, Park and I.K. Kim could overtake her this week.

As far as the world rankings go, Thompson could move to No. 1 with a finish of fourth or better this week, depending what Ryu and Park do.

Park can go to No. 1, but only if she wins.

Ryu said Tuesday that the No. 1 ranking has come with more pressure than she has let on, and it may have been showing up in her performances this summer. Ryu has two victories this year, including a major (the ANA Inspiration), and she leads the LPGA in top-10 finishes (10), but she said she hasn’t felt comfortable over her last four starts. She missed the cut at the Cambia Portland Classic in her last start two weeks ago.


Evian Championship: Articles, video and photos


“After the U.S. Open, to be honest, I haven’t played well,” Ryu said. “I always feel comfortable in Scotland, but even though I was feeling great, I couldn’t play well there.”

Ryu said she resolved to arrive this week with a new mindset, to better accept and embrace the pressures that come with the No. 1 ranking.

“Before, I didn’t really want to take that pressure, and I just wanted to ignore that,” Ryu said. “Now, I’m just trying to face the pressure.”

Ryu said she has felt escalating pressure from fans, who she knows only mean to encourage her, to cheer her toward the Rolex Player of the Year Award and other honors. She said she also has felt escalating internal pressure.

“I expect a lot from myself,” Ryu said about carrying the No. 1 ranking. “I never allow myself to make bogey, or finish outside the top 10.”

How is she changing her thinking? She said she isn’t expecting perfection.

“I’m a human being,” she said. “As long as I did my best, I should let that go.”

Thompson and Park arrived in France coming off victories in their last starts. They are co-favorites among the bookmakers. SkyBet, Paddy Power and SportingBet make both 8-to-1 favorites to win. Ryu is 14-to-1 with SkyBet and 16-to-1 with Paddy Power and SportingBet.

Thompson won the Indy Women in Tech Championship last weekend. She has two victories and five second-place finishes this year.

The No. 1 ranking, Thompson said, is a goal she is pursuing, but . . .

“A lot of us out here want to be No. 1, but it’s not something we can put on our minds and put that pressure on ourselves,” Thompson said. “We just have to work on our games and let it go once we get to tournaments and show the hard work pays off.”

Park won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in her last start. She has won two of her last four LPGA starts, dating back to the U.S. Women’s Open in July. She is in position to make a run at joining Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win both the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.

Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.