LPGA winners outshining male counterparts in '14

By Jason SobelApril 28, 2014, 2:31 pm

Let’s call this A Tale of Two Tours, which is sort of like A Tale of Two Cities, except without the peasantry and the revolution is only a metaphorical one.

So far this year, the LPGA has been everything it’s needed to be – fun, exciting, dramatic and relevant. The last three tournaments, in order, have featured teenage sensation Lexi Thompson topping Michelle Wie in a major; then Wie, the tour’s most recognizable star, winning on home turf; followed by another teenager, Lydia Ko, prevailing for a mind-numbing third time just days after her 17th birthday.

The way things are going, we should all start consulting commissioner Michael Whan for Powerball numbers.

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has been a tedious hodgepodge of snoozer Sundays, save for the rare hole-out by a Matt. (Kuchar in regulation at Harbour Town; Jones in a playoff in Houston.) The champions’ list is confoundingly eclectic, with few winners this side of Bubba Watson drawing more than just the most diehard fans to the television screen.

It’s like the golf gods are playing Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the, uh … less rich.

It’s like one tour’s season has been scripted in Hollywood, while the other’s was scripted by Ed Wood, king of the low-budget films.

It’s like we all have selective memories.

No, that last one doesn’t necessarily fit the theme, but that’s because this theme – to an extent – is misguided.

Based on the collective objection that this year’s PGA Tour winners are largely unknowns and journeymen, I crunched some numbers to see how they compare with last year’s list to this point.

What I found will probably surprise you.

(For the sake of keeping things uniform, I didn’t include the six winners during last year’s portion of the 2013-14 schedule, instead just matching up the first 18 of the last two calendar years, from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions through this past week’s Zurich Classic.)

This year’s champions have held an average position of 83.5 on the Official World Golf Ranking at the time of their victories. None of them were ranked inside the top five when they won and six (Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Russell Henley, John Senden, Steven Bowditch and Seung-yul Noh) were ranked outside the top 100.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It does to me.

And yet …

Last year’s champions to this point had an average world ranking of 99.4, with eight of them (Henley, Brian Gay, John Merrick, Michael Thompson, Scott Brown, Kevin Streelman, D.A. Points and Martin Laird) ranked outside the top 100 at the time of their wins.

Based on the numbers alone, this year’s winners have been less eclectic and more calculable than those of last year.

Of course, then there’s the Tiger Factor.

By this point a year ago, Tiger Woods had already claimed three titles – the Farmers Insurance Open, WGC-Cadillac Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational. His smiling face gleaming in the reflection of a trophy on a Sunday evening (or Monday afternoon, as was the case in two of those wins) can obviously do wonders for public perception on the state of the PGA Tour.

Looking at it another way, though, last year’s champions’ list was even more unpredictable. Take out Tiger, who was ranked second when he won each of those three tournaments between January and April, and the average world ranking of the other 15 winners increases to 118.9.

Not that world ranking should serve as the be-all, end-all for this debate. Compare them based on previous wins and you’ll find that this year’s 18 champions (which includes two apiece from Watson, Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker) had won a combined total of 36 titles prior to their most recent one.

Last year’s number looked decidedly different. Those winners had previously won 294 career PGA Tour titles, if we correctly include Woods, who owned 74, 75 and 76 wins, respectively, before each his three titles. Again, as always, he skews the stats. Remove him from this list and last year’s other first 15 champions had a combined 69 career wins, largely buoyed by the 40 from Phil Mickelson prior to his victory in Phoenix.

What does it all mean? Well, a few things.

First and foremost, having a couple of Hall of Fame members combine for a win each month during the year’s first quarter can do wonders for soothing whatever perceived ailments are affecting the Tour. A victory by a guy ranked 176th is deemed more palatable when it’s preceded or followed by one from a household name. (And that’s not to invalidate the importance of a win from Noh, a 22-year-old up-and-comer, whose roots in the burgeoning golf hotbed of Asia should be viewed in Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters as an unmitigated success.)

Second and perhaps just as important, is that these numbers should help quash the notion that the PGA Tour is undergoing some type of never-before-seen transitional phase that’s led to a half-dozen first-time winners already. Sure, we can argue that fields are deeper and it’s more difficult to win than ever before and anything can happen on the proverbial Any Given Sunday, but we can’t portray this as a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon zipping through the atmosphere like Halley’s Comet.

The level of excitement on the LPGA in recent months has unquestionably surpassed that of its gender counterpart. The tournament finales have featured more drama and the winners’ list reads like a “Who’s Who” rather than a “Who’s He?”

The disparity is evident, but that doesn’t mean times have changed on the PGA Tour and we’re venturing into an unfamiliar frontier where randomness is the new norm. It doesn’t mean this tale of two tours has to end in Dickensian fashion, either.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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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.