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.”

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Web.com Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”

Rookie Cook (66) handling RSM like a pro

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:24 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Of all the impressive statistics Austin Cook has put up this week at the RSM Classic – he is first in strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach to the green and scrambling – the one number that stands out is 49.

That’s how many holes Cook went this week without a bogey or worse, a moment that prompted his caddie, Kip Henley, to joke, “The dream is over.”

That loss of momentum at the 14th hole didn’t last long, with the PGA Tour rookie making birdie at the next hole on his way to a third-round 66 and a three-stroke lead.

“Bouncing back from any bogey with a birdie is nice and helps get the number right back. Being my only bogey of the week so far, it was really nice to be able to get that back on the next hole,” said Cook, who leads Chris Kirk at 18 under par. “Going into tomorrow with a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead I think is crucial.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Although this is the first time Cook has held a 54-hole lead on the Tour, in fact it’s just his fourth start as a Tour member, he has experienced Sunday pressure before. In 2015, he began the final round at the Shell Houston Open one stroke off the lead held by Jordan Spieth.

“Back then my game was good as well, but mentally I've grown a lot and matured a lot and been able to kind of just let small things on the golf course roll off my shoulder instead of getting tied up in one little small mistake,” said Cook, who closed with a 75 at the ’15 Shell Houston Open to tie for 11th.

Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.