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Whan looking to move Evian back to summer

By Randall MellNovember 7, 2017, 5:33 pm

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan talked about his continuing interest in pursuing ownership of the Ladies European Tour, about next year’s LPGA schedule and a possible extension of the tour’s Race to the CME Globe and about future plans to improve the Evian Championship during his visit Tuesday to Golf Channel studios.

Whan on the LET ...

Whan said his proposal to take over ownership of the Ladies European Tour in partnership with the European Tour and R&A isn’t dead yet. He’s hoping to revisit the possibility in the spring.

Whan told GolfChannel.com that the LET is committed to continue governing itself, but that he hopes to renew discussions in April or May.

Whan teamed with the European Tour and R&A in September to make a formal pitch for taking over the struggling LET.

“The LPGA, the European Tour and the R&A came together with a plan where the three of us would fund the LET over a three-year period,” Whan said.

Whan said the proposal would require the LET to give up ownership of its tour and move under the LPGA’s umbrella in a partnership with the European Tour and the R&A.

It’s a big call for the LET.

“We told the LET if they wanted us to come in and invest this kind of money and make this kind of difference over the next few years, then it’s going to have to be a property we are going to own and run,” Whan said.

Whan said the timing of the proposal late in the year added pressure to the discussions with the 2018 season nearing.

“We agreed to reconvene in the late spring,” Whan said. “We will see where things stand then.”

Whan said with just three months left before the new year, the LPGA and its partners would have required a quick decision to be able to launch a rebuild for the 2018 season.

“I felt like I was adding pressure instead of relieving it,” Whan said. “I told them if the timing was bad, I can step away from the table at this time.”

On the Race to the CME Globe and 2018 LPGA schedule ...

With the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., next week, Whan strongly hinted the Race to the CME Globe’s season-long point series may be securing a long-term future.

“Next week, we will have some news about the CME Globe,” Whan told Morning Drive. “We will be racing for the Globe for a lot of years in the future.”

Whan will unveil the LPGA’s 2018 schedule during next week’s CME Group Tour Championship. He said it will feature 35 events, as it did when he released the schedule last year, though there will be significant changes.

“We will lose a couple events and add a couple,” Whan said.

The Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada lost its sponsorship and won’t be on next year’s schedule. Whan said the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open, played at the start of the fall Asian swing, also will not be on next year’s schedule, but only because it is moving up into an early slot on the 2019 schedule.

Whan hinted the two new events in ‘18 may include a second tournament in Hawaii, to add to the Lotte Championship, or at least be a location to easily twin with Hawaii and help travel plans for players making that long trip west.

“We are going to add another opportunity to stay out there a week longer,” Whan told Morning Drive.

On the Evian Championship ...

With bad weather plaguing the Evian Championship again in September, Whan faced criticism over his decision to scrub scores from the first round in France and then to shorten the major championship to 54 holes.

Whan said he’s going to make a significant schedule change in hopes of improving tournament conditions.

“We will get Evian back to a summer date,” Whan pledged. “It may not be in ’18, but certainly by ’19.”

Whan said he believes in Evian as an LPGA major, but he regrets his decision to move the event to September, with its rainy season and its shorter days.

“The challenges we’ve faced are man-made,” Whan said. “And I’m the man who made them.”

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Pepperell wins his first European Tour title in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 25, 2018, 3:31 pm

DOHA, Qatar - Eddie Pepperell survived a tense finish to win the Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club on Sunday for his maiden European Tour title.

The 27-year-old Englishman held off a spirited challenge from compatriot Oliver Fisher, who needed a third successive birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff, but had his putt from six feet slip past the hole for a par.

Pepperell shot a 2-under-par 70 for a four-day tally of 18 under 270, while Fisher, who started the day tied for the lead, could only manage a 71.

Sweden's Marcus Kinhult (68) finished third at 16-under.

The No. 154-ranked Pepperell made things difficult for himself with a bogey on the 15th hole, but hit a superb wedge to three feet on the next to get back to 18 under again.

Fisher, who appeared to have fallen out of contention with three bogeys starting on the third hole, stormed back with birdies on the 14th, 16th and 17th holes.

On the last, Pepperell laid up with his second into the thick rough, made wet and unwieldy by rain in the Qatar capital, but found the green in three and two-putted for the win when Fisher missed his birdie putt.


Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters


''I did the things I needed to do, I didn't play fantastic but I won ugly and for the first win to be ugly is good. Hopefully, I'll have some prettier ones in the future,'' said Pepperell.

''I knew I was playing well, especially tee to green, so I expected a lot of myself this week and I guess to pull it off is amazing. When Oli birdied the 17th, that was when it really caught up with me that I was only one ahead. I was in my own zone, I knew I had a couple of shots of lead but Oli did great. It was a tough front nine for him and I had to stay right in my own way and out of the two guys' way because they were struggling a bit and it's sometimes easy to get dragged into that.''

Fisher was disappointed, but saw the silver lining in the way he fought back.

''It went all the way to the last hole which, after my front nine, was what I was hoping for on the back nine,'' said Fisher, who won the 2011 Czech Open, but recorded his first top-three finish since the 2014 Africa Open.

''I hit a lot of good shots coming down the back nine and gave myself a lot of good chances, but there were just too many bogeys today, four in total, so you're never going to win a tournament making that many mistakes on a Sunday. But at least I pressed him all the way.''

Italian Renato Paratore (66) had the low round of the day and finished tied for fourth place at 15 under par, where he was joined by the Spanish pair of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal along with Gregory Havret of France.

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J. Korda sets record in LPGA Thailand win

By Associated PressFebruary 25, 2018, 3:23 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand - Florida's Jessica Korda set a tournament record to win the LPGA Thailand at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course on Sunday.

Korda held off Lexi Thompson and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn for a four-stroke win after a final-round 67 for an overall total of 25 under 263, smashing the previous mark of 22 under set by Amy Yang of South Korea in 2017.

''It's an incredible thing to be able to win again. I haven't won in two years. And who knows? It's so hard out here. These girls are so good. I mean, look at the scoreboard. I had to shoot 25 under just to win,'' said Korda after claiming her fifth LPGA win.

It was Korda's first trophy since winning in Malaysia in 2015.

Ranked No. 26, Korda had surgery on an overbite in December and was playing in her first tournament since November.


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


''I just came with no expectations after surgery. It's really hard for me to move. All this stuff is just still really hard, but I'm really, really happy that I chose to come back in this event exactly where I started my rookie year in 2011. I don't think I could have asked for a better win,'' she said.

Thompson, who won here in 2016, turned in a bogey free round that included eight birdies to sign off with a 64 for a 21 under 267.

''I had to just fire at everything today and make a lot of birdies because Jessica has been playing amazing, along with a lot of other people. So that's what I did. I just went after it,'' said No. 4-ranked Thompson.

Moriya, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, almost caught up with Korda after nine holes when she closed to within two shots, but her challenge faded and she failed to become the first Thai winner of the tournament. Moriya finished with a final-round 67 for an overall 21 under 267.

''I wasn't sad at all. It was fun playing with Jessica. It's been a fun week. I already tried my best. Whatever happened this week is cool,'' said Moriya, who has yet to win on the LPGA tour.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”