Annika the Great Back in Action

By Lpga Tour MediaFebruary 13, 2008, 5:00 pm
2006 SBS OpenKAHUKU, Hawaii -- Annika Sorenstam has lofty goals after her worst season in years.
 
The world's former No. 1 player failed to hoist a trophy last year for the first time since her rookie season in 1994. Her scoring average of 71.27 was the highest and her earnings ($532,718) was the lowest since she was a rookie.
 
So her goals this year?
 
'I'd like to win the money list. I'd like to win tournaments. I want to go back to the top,' Sorenstam said.
 
The Hall of Famer's quest to regain dominance in a sport that is quickly being taken over by younger stars such as Lorena Ochoa, Suzann Pettersen and Paula Creamer begins Thursday at the LPGA Tour's season-opening SBS Open.
 
'It is tough out here. There's no doubt about it,' she said. 'I'm just looking forward to playing my own game. I haven't good golf for quite some time so that's really my goal, to play 'Annika golf.''
 
The 37-year-old Swede is playing at Turtle Bay for the first time and beginning her season a month earlier than usual. In the past, Sorenstam usually took a skiing trip to unwind and relax before returning full time to the tour.
 
'But now I feel like I didn't play as much last year and that I really didn't need a long break,' she said. 'I'm happy to be back.'
 
Sorenstam was limited to 13 events last year because of neck and back injuries. She had six top-10s finishes, including a playoff loss to Meaghan Francella in the MasterCard Classic in Mexico.
 
Sorenstam plans to play a full schedule of 20 to 22 tournaments this year.
 
'No more kinks,' she said. 'I feel great. I've had a good two months off where I've just been working out a lot, working on my game.'
 
The 69-time LPGA Tour winner has enjoyed success in the Aloha State.
 
Sorenstam won the last time she played here in the 2002 LPGA Takefuji Classic at Waikoloa. At the event, a 12-year-old girl named Michelle Wie made her LPGA Tour debut through a qualifier.
 
Wie, who tied for second at Turtle Bay in 2005, will open the season next week in the Fields Open at Ko Olina.
 
Sorenstam finished second in the Takefuji in 2000 and 2001 when it was played at Kona Country Club and had four top-five finishes in the Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open. She also won a couple of University of Hawaii tournaments when she starred at the University of Arizona.
 
Now, it's Ochoa who is missing.
 
Ochoa, an eight-time winner last year, is skipping the Hawaii swing and will start her season at the HSBC Women's Champions, a new tournament in Singapore.
 
Creamer won the SBS last year for her first victory since 2005, holing a long birdie putt on the 17th hole to beat Julieta Granada by a stroke. Creamer also won the Tournament of Champions in November.
 
Creamer, who finished third on the money list, said the Turtle Bay win helped with her confidence for the rest of the season and immediately helped relieve the burden of winning, which she failed to do in 2006.
 
'I'm just going out this year with the same mind-set, trying to win every tournament and let's see what happens,' she said.
 
Pettersen is hoping to continue her success after a breakout season last year when she won five times, including the LPGA Championship. She finished second to Ochoa on the money list with more than $1.8 million, nearly doubling her career earnings.
 
'I just tried to make the game as simple as I could,' Pettersen said. 'When you win once, you get confidence. And then twice, you get more confidence. Then you feel like you can do whatever you want.'
 
Pettersen said she doesn't feel pressure to repeat her performance. But she does have her sights on moving up a spot to No. 1.
 
'My big dream is to be the best golfer in the world,' she said. 'But there's one ahead of me who's very good and lots of other great players.'
 
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.