Pak Places Title on the Line at Bulle Rock

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 5, 2007, 4:00 pm
McDonalds LPGAHARVE DE GRACE, Md. -- A race for the record books will be underway at this week's 53rd annual McDonald's LPGA Championship Presented by Coca-Cola, as both Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak will be battling for what could be their historic fourth victories in the event at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md.
Upon the completion of Thursday's first round, Pak will officially be the first South Korean to enter the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame. With 23 career victories, the defending champion Pak has more than enough points to be eligible for the Halls of Fame. The 1998 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year only needs to complete 10 events in 2007 to fulfill the final requirement of 10 years of Tour membership.
Se Ri Pak
Se Ri Pak is seeking her first win since the 2006 McDonald's LPGA Championship. (Getty Images)
Should Sorenstam (2003, 2004, 2005) or Pak (1998, 2002, 2006) win this week and take home the $300,000 first-place check from the $2 million purse, it would tie either of them with Mickey Wright (1958, 1960, 1961, 1963) for the most wins at this event in LPGA Tour history. In 2005, Sorenstam's win made her the first LPGA player to win a the same major in three consecutive years, while Pak's one-hole playoff victory over Karrie Webb in 2006 broke a two-year streak without a win.
In 1998, Pak became the first rookie since Liselotte Neumann (1988) to win a major as her first Tour victory after posting a wire-to-wire win. Pak's win at the event in 2002 made her the youngest player to win four majors at 24 years, 8 months and 11 days.
Also headlining the week's event is Rolex Rankings leaders and world number one Lorena Ochoa, who tops the 2007 LPGA Official Money List with $1,200,982 and is the only player to earn more than $1 million this year. Ochoa has two wins to her name this season and is the only player in 2007 to successfully defend a title after winning the Sybase Classic presented by ShopRite. Ochoa has yet to win a major despite tallying 11 victories since 2004.
On April 1, Morgan Pressel became the youngest player to win a major at 18 years, 10 months, 9 days, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She is the only player on Tour with a chance at the season Grand Slam, in which a player wins all four LPGA Tour majors in the same season.
The winner of this week's McDonald's LPGA Championship will earn a spot in the season-ending ADT Championship that features a $1 million first-place check, as well as the 2007 Samsung World Championship and Mitchell Company LPGA Tournament of Champions.
Here are the favorites at the second major championship of the LPGA Tour season:
Se Ri Pak
We start with the defending champion. In nine career starts at the McDonalds LPGA, Pak has three wins, including last years career reviver at Bulle Rock. Pak missed the cut last week at the Ginn Tribute, but prior to that, she hadnt finished worse than tied 13th in her previous five starts. She will try and become the sixth player to successfully defend her title in this event.
Karrie Webb
Meanwhile, Webb will try and accomplish something that has happened four times prior at the McDonalds LPGA. Webb is trying to go from runner-up one year to winner the next. Webb won this tournament in 2001 and has a tie for 20th and a playoff loss in two starts at this site. Webb began 2007 by winning back-to-back weeks in Australia, but she is still in search of her first win of the season on the LPGA Tour.
Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa is trying to overcome a playoff loss last week. (Getty Images)
Lorena Ochoa
Upsets are not the norm at this major championship. In fact, Chris Johnson, back in 1997, is the last winner who isnt a current Hall of Fame member (Pak will officially be eligible after this event). Ochoa isnt a surefire Hall of Famer, but shes headed in the right direction. She just needs to add a few majors to her resume. She would love to start this week. Ochoa, who lost in a playoff last week, has finished inside the top 10 each of the last three LPGA Championships.
Cristie Kerr
Another player whose career could use a major boost is Kerr. Despite having eight wins over the last three full seasons, the 29-year-old has yet to be crowned a major champion. Kerr has nine top-5 showings in majors, including a tie for fifth at this event a year ago. She wilted a little bit under the back-nine pressure Sunday in South Carolina, but her third-place finish was her best of the season.
Pat Hurst
Hursts name doesnt usually come up when talking about major favorites, but she has a good track record in the big events. Hurst won the 1998 Kraft Nabisco and has seven other top-10s in majors. Hurst lost to Sorenstam in an 18-hole playoff at last years U.S. Womens Open and has cracked the top 10 each of her two appearances at Bulle Rock.
Four more to keep an eye on at Bulle Rock Golf Course:
Annika Sorenstam
It almost seems sinful to not include Sorenstam among the top 5 favorites. But given her layoff due to injury and her relatively poor showing last week in her own event, it would seem unlikely that she would be able to contend for four rounds. Still, she worth keeping an eye on this week as she has won this event from 2003-2005, the last of which occurred at Bulle Rock. She also tied for ninth last year.
Morgan Pressel
Pressel technically is the only player with a chance to win the seasonal Grand Slam, having already won the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She has played this tournament only once, tying for 69th.
Laura Davies
A win this week would put Davies into the Hall of Fame. She is a two-time LPGA Championship winner, doing so in 1994 and 96. She tied for third on this course in 2005.
Michelle Wie
It will be quite interesting to see how Wie fares this week. Anything, it would seem, is possible. Given her record in this event (T5 in 2006; T2 in 2005), it wouldn't come as a huge shocker if she contended for the title. Given her recent performance, it also wouldn't be too surprising if she didn't make it to the weekend -- or maybe even to Friday.
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    Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

    By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

    Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

    ''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

    Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

    Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

    ''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

    It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

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    Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

    Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

    The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

    ''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

    PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

    Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

    ''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

    It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

    He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

    ''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

    Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

    Later, he laughed about the moment.

    ''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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    Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

    Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

    Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

    The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

    “They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

    The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

    “Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

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    Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

    “As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

    Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

    “Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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    McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

    “It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

    He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

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    Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

    The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

    The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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    Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

    Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

    He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

    It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

    And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

    Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

    The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

    “I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

    “I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

    The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

    But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

    The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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    But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

    So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

    “That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

    "I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

    To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

    They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

    A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

    “He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

    Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

    But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

    Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”