LPGA Back After Long Break
Trade winds have gusted to 40 miles per hour here on the Big Island, which should make for some interesting rounds once play begins on Thursday. And heres a surprise: Annika Sorenstam has blown in as well with victory in tow.
Last weekend Sorenstam outlasted Karrie Webb in a four-hole playoff to win the Australian Ladies Masters. Fifteen or so hours on a plane and Sorenstam begins her 2002 LPGA season trying to somehow match or better the eight-win, six-runner-up finish season of a year ago.
As for the win Down Under, Sorenstam told me it was 'fun and exciting to make the comeback in the final round.' Sorenstam began the final round four shots back of the lead, but caught Webb and eventually beat her in the playoff.
As for this week, Webb is not here. Shes still in Australia competing in the Australian Open. Canadian Lorie Kane defends this week, although not on the same course that she conquered a year ago at the Takefuji Classic. Last years event was played at the Kona Country Club, but Kane told me shes 'worked very hard on her game recently, and might just be a bit motivated by the Canadian hockey gold medals.' Those who know the LPGA Tour realize that Kane is more than able to win, regardless of familiarity with the golf course.
Also in the field are the likes of Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, Swedes Carin Koch and Helen Alfredson, Grace Park and an interesting mix of younger players looking to establish themselves on tour.
Tampa's Beth Bauer makes her debut as an official tour member. The former Duke Blue Devil whos won just about everything as shes worked her way to LPGA Tour status is joined by heralded Natalie Gulbis from Sacramento, Calif., and Catherine Cartwright, whos gone from high school to the LPGA Tour.
But perhaps the most intriguing story of the week is a 12-year-old from Honolulu named Michelle Wei. Thats right, 12! The amateur became the youngest to ever Monday qualify for an LPGA Tour event, having shot 83 in the 40 mile-per-hour gusts to edge veteran tour players Leigh Ann Mills (84) and Jean Zedlitz (85). The other spot went to amateur Sally Soranka, who shot 79.
For the record, prior to Weis effort, now tour rookie Gulbis was the youngest to Monday qualify. She did it at the age of 14 at the 1997 Longs Drugs Challenge.
Being that they are amateurs, neither Soranka or Wei can collect on the $900,000 purse which will pay $135,000 to the winner.
This weeks Takefuji Classic is the first of 22 full-field events in 2002 that will pay out a total of $38.8 million. Thirteen official money events have announced purse increases this year, with the average prize money being $1.19 million.
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi
What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.
Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.
McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.
He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.
McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65).
Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds.
“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder
Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.
Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.
Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:
Filling in tomorrow for Corey Pavin that WD today @cbgolfchallenge I do things like this a lot to help events and asking for sponsors exemptions here but didn't get any help.— Ken Duke (@DukePGA) January 18, 2018
Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.
Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.