Hawk's Nest: Collapses bookend Florida swing

By John HawkinsMarch 24, 2014, 2:30 pm

Golf can do worse than to have Adam Scott emerge as its mainstream poster boy. The guy is James Bond handsome, thoughtful and articulate, and if Scott doesn’t have charisma oozing from his pores, nobody ever accused Tiger Woods of owning a 10-gallon personality, either.

As the Woods Dynasty staggers toward destinations unknown, our game finds itself in search of a new superhero. Tiger hasn’t worn the cape in a while, anyway, but with the Florida swing in the rear-view mirror and the Masters just a mile or two up the road, it has become increasingly difficult to identify the world’s best player.

You could make a case that it’s still Tiger, but when you haven’t won a major title in 5 ½ years – or a tournament of any size in eight months – you’ll need a good lawyer. Meanwhile, Florida began with the game’s brightest young star blowing a huge Sunday lead at PGA National, then ended with the best semi-young player squandering an even bigger lead at Bay Hill.

Scott and Rory McIlroy have proven, yet again, that greatness is a tough fish to hook – and no easy chore to haul into the boat. Woods never drifted back to the field in his heyday. Bob May almost killed the Tiger Slam. Chris DiMarco came close to slaying the beast a couple of times, but it wasn’t until Y.E. Yang that a vastly inferior player caught Red Shirt on a day when he wasn’t wearing his bulletproof vest.

The less these would-be superstars accomplish, the more astounding Woods’ feats of superiority become.

I THOUGHT THOSE things were illegal,” my buddy, a non-golfer, said of Scott’s putter during our phone conversation Sunday afternoon.

“Not yet,” I explained. “The rule doesn’t go into effect until 2016, so the USGA guys have plenty of time to move to a deserted island before the pros start missing 3-footers.”

There are times when those who don’t play this game see it with more clarity than those who do. “This guy [Scott] ought to think about switching before then,” Mike replied. “Tomorrow wouldn’t be a bad time.”

Scott’s putting woes obviously cost him in a big way at Bay Hill – not just a victory, but the No. 1 spot in the world ranking and a perfectly timed bolt of Masters momentum. “It was nice, the first couple of days,” he said. “But it’s a different story when you’ve got to hit a bunch of 6- and 10-footers with the pressure on.

It’s easy to think that a 33-year-old guy who carries a broomstick will have his confidence shaken by such a poor final-round performance, and that was certainly the message conveyed by the NBC fellas who handled the telecast. I would beg to differ. Scott suffered one of the most unsightly collapses in major-championship history down the stretch at the 2012 British Open, then rebounded to win at Augusta National 8 ½ months later.

He has dealt with crises before and figured out a way to overcome them. Ranked third in the world in mid-2008, Scott had become a forgotten man just a year later, and then rebuilt his career largely because he committed to the long putter. The question isn’t what he’ll do in two weeks, but what he’ll do in 2016.

Scott hasn’t finished among the PGA Tour’s top 100 putters since 2007. Some of the rankings during that stretch have been ghastly: 178th in ’08, 180th in ’09, 186th in 2010. The numbers have gotten a little better since, but as top-tier players go, Scott has been giving back at least three strokes per week to his primary competition for a long time.

Here’s the funny thing – Scott led the Tour in putting in 2004, his second full season. He slipped to 102nd the following year and has never really recovered. Because he drives the ball so effectively, he has continued to win tournaments and gradually ascend to a spot among the elite, but he’s still the worst putter on anyone’s list of the game’s 10 best players.

“I read the greens poorly, I must say,” Scott said of Bay Hill. “You need confidence in that, too, and after missing a couple, doubt starts to creep into your reads. You need to be certain, and I just wasn’t 100 percent on.”

Hey Adam, that caddie of yours has seen a few putts holed at Bay Hill over the years. It wouldn’t be the dumbest thing ever if you called in Steve Williams for a look.

SOMETHING HAD TO be done. Not because the World Golf Hall of Fame is a bad idea or poorly operated, but because the induction process was flawed. At some point soon – some might tell you it happened five years ago – golf was simply going to run out of worthy candidates, which could have led to compromised standards and other credibility issues.

So change was needed, and change has occurred, with commissioner Tim Finchem revealing the alterations this past weekend. The biggest is that the induction ceremony will now be a biennial event, which alleviates the aforementioned problem, although it stands to reason that you didn’t have to enshrine someone just because you had a big party scheduled.

The idea of a 16-person Selection Sub-Committee also makes sense. When you send out a bunch of ballots in the mail and let grandma in on the voting process, strange things are bound to happen. The new eligibility requirements are also a good idea, although I’m a trifle disappointed the minimum age of 40 wasn’t raised by at least 10 years.

I’m not a fan of active, highly visible tour pros going into the Hall when they’ve still got a lot of golf left. That said, this was a big step forward for the WGHOF overall. You can’t measure the effect these changes will have on the product, but if perception is 90 percent of reality, this was a 90-percent success.

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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.