Webb Sorenstam Set for Showdown
Waiting in the wings, however, is the current undisputed best player in the womens game Annika Sorenstam.
Webb took last years Open in convincing fashion, finishing five strokes in front of the field at 6-under-par 282. Only two other players (Cristie Kerr and Meg Mallon) managed to end under par at the Merit Club in Libertyville, Ill. They were tied for second at 1-under when it was all said and done.
In retrospect, the tournament was somewhat a microcosym of Webbs season.
The Australian would finish with seven wins on the year, which not only served as a personal best, but the finest the tour had seen since Beth Daniel won seven in 1990. In addition to her triumph at the Open, she also won the Nabisco, giving her two majors for the year. With her six wins the year prior in 99, it was clear that Webb had become the dominant player in the womens game.
It was Sorenstam whom she had eclipsed, of course.
Preview the U.S. Women's Open
After coming into the limelight at the 95 U.S. Womens Open ' which served as the first win of her LPGA Tour career ' Sorenstam quickly established her name as one of the best on the tour and held that distinction for the next few seasons, winning 16 times through 98.
Over the course of the last two years, however, she has somewhat been in Webbs shadow, winning seven times to Webbs 13.
Until this 2001 season, that is. Sorenstam has returned to the pinnacle of the womens game.
In the ten events that she has competed thus far, Annika Sorenstam has only finished out of the top-3 on two occasions. She has collected five victories, four of which came consecutively. On two other occasions, she finished runner-up. She won the first major of the year, the Nabisco Championship.
Now, she returns to Pine Needles, the site of her second victory at the U.S. Open in 1996.
In the meantime, the defending champion Webb has yet to claim victory this season.
The two players are developing a natural rivalry that is unmatched anywhere else in professional golf, and should it culminate this week at Pine Needles, it may prove to be one of the best Opens ever.
News, Notes and Numbers for the U.S. Womens Open
* The U.S Womens Open began in 1946 and is the currently the longest-running event on the LPGA Tour.
* This years total purse for the Open has been set at $2,750,000.
* Pine Needles plays to a par of 70 and is 6,256 yards in length.
* While 12-year-old Morgan Pressel will become the youngest player to ever compete in the Open, 48-time winner on the LPGA Tour Nancy Lopez failed to qualify and will not play.
* Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls hold the all-time number of victories at the U.S. Womens Open. They have each won four times.
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward the back-right hole location, about 25 feet away, closer than both Fleetwood and Johnson.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."