Predicting the top 25 Open finishers

By Jason SobelJuly 17, 2012, 11:42 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – He who finds the fewest bunkers wins.

At least, that’s what most of this week’s Open Championship competitors would have us believe. There are 205 total bunkers at Royal Lytham & St. Annes which range from “hazardous” to “like hitting one out of bounds.”

With that in mind, driving accuracy will certainly be a key component to the makeup of this week’s leaderboard, but it’s hardly the only factor. From an ability to shape shots to being creative around the greens to a propensity for holing clutch putts, the course should stand as a stern test throughout the week.

But who will win? As always, the prediction game is an inexact science – and on a venue with so many twists and turns, where a good bounce results in a green light to the flagstick and a bad bounce means a death sentence in a bunker, there’s a lot more “inexact” than “science” at play this week.

With that in mind, here is my predicted order of finish for the top 25:

1. Justin Rose: Fits the mold of recent major champions. Rose is a major talent without a major win. An excellent driver off the tee, he could make it 10 straight first-time major winners.

2. Tiger Woods: Looking relaxed and confident in the days entering this tournament, the 14-time major champion says, “I’ll win major championships” once again.

3. Lee Westwood: If the stars are aligned, this could finally be his week. The Open serves as Westwood’s best chance at a major and his driving prowess should keep him out of too much trouble.

4. Graeme McDowell: His failure to capture a second U.S. Open remains an open wound, but McDowell has proven himself worthy of consideration for any major championship title.

5. Adam Scott: With a major record that is finally starting to look respectable, Scott just turned 32 – prime age for players to start winning these things.

6. Charl Schwartzel: Mark these words: The best player nobody ever talks about will win another major to go along with his Masters title – and it may come sooner rather than later.

7. Rafael Cabrera-Bello: Looking for a serious dark horse who could seriously contend? Look no further, as RCB owns four top-three results on the Euro Tour already this season.

8. Rickie Fowler: Youngster has performed well in what he calls his favorite tournament, with a T-14 and T-5 in his first two appearances.

9. Padraig Harrington: When he’s pessimistic, he plays his best golf. But the two-time champion is optimistic this week. What does it mean? Well, not necessarily the opposite.

10. Jim Furyk: Anytime accuracy is at a premium, expect Furyk to finagle his way onto the leaderboard. Should add to his six career top-10s in 17 starts at this event.

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11. Francesco Molinari: Obviously disappointed by last week’s Scottish Open playoff loss, Molinari should still enter this week with plenty of confidence.

12. Jason Dufner: Time to stop thinking of the world’s seventh-ranked player as an underdog. Dufner owns top-five finishes in three of the last six majors.

13. Ian Poulter: Since finishing runner-up in 2008, he has followed up MC-60-MC the past three years. Simply put, Poulter is too good for that trend to continue.

14. Rory McIlroy: Tough to know which Rory will show up: The one who can dominate tournaments or the one who has appeared complacent at times? If he’s on, he has as much talent as anyone.

15. K.J. Choi: This could be one of those “slow and steady wins the race” type of weeks. If so, keep a close eye on Choi, who can tread water with the best of ‘em.

16. Ernie Els: He isn’t among the best in total driving on the PGA Tour, but leads the Euro circuit, which portends big things with the big stick for the Big Easy this week.

17. Zach Johnson: Fresh off his John Deere Classic victory, the two-time winner this year is obviously in great form and should be comfortable on a course that seems to suit him.

18. Luke Donald: With accuracy so important at this venue, the world’s No. 1-ranked player may struggle to put himself in the right position off the tee every time.

19. Martin Kaymer: The game’s Human Disappearing Act seems like he may be on the verge of reappearing, finishing in the top 30 in four of his last six starts.

20. Hunter Mahan: Would be sweet justice if he could return to the U.K. and avenge that duffed chip at the 2010 Ryder Cup which haunted him for so long afterward.

21. Keegan Bradley: When asked about there being 15 straight different major champs, Bubba Watson said, “We're going to change that this week. Keegan Bradley, he's going to win.”

22. Richie Ramsay: Consider this one a bit of a flier, as the former U.S. Amateur champion doesn’t have a very strong recent results table, but he could sneak his way onto the leaderboard come Sunday.

23. Aaron Baddeley: Another guy who fits the recent major champion profile. Just a good, solid player who may be waiting for his moment in the spotlight.

24. Ben Curtis: Currently third on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, Curtis won’t be able to sneak up on people the way he did nine years ago – but it would still be close.

25. Tom Lehman: Call it a sentimental choice, but elder statesmen have shown a propensity for playing well at the Open and none know this course better than Lehman, who won here in 1996.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.