Annika with Yet Another Title Defense

By Lpga Tour MediaSeptember 27, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 Office Depot ChampionshipRANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- If there is one thing Annika Sorenstam does better than successfully defend tournament titles, which she seems to do with almost flawless consistency, it might be winning 54-hole events. This week at the Office Depot Championship at Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles, Sorenstam will have the opportunity to do both.
 
The tournament heads to the brand-new and pristine Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles this year, but the storyline from the previous year remains the same. The player to beat is two-time defending champion Sorenstam, who also sits atop the ADT Official Money List, Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy standings.
 
This year, Sorenstam is three-for-four in title defenses, and in her well-documented career, she has successfully defended a tournament 17 times. Additionally, she has won the last four 54-hole events in which she has competed and is 16-of-25 in three-day tournaments since 2002.
 
Her worst finish in her last 14 three-round events is a tie for fourth.
For her career Sorenstam has won 24 tournaments that have ended after 54 holes of competition, and she has an additional 15 runner-ups.
 
Not bad for someone who has publicly stated she prefers competitions that span four days and 72 holes. 'I'm more of a marathoner, not a sprinter,' Sorenstam has said on more than one occasion.
 
But Sorenstam has won the 'sprint' at the Office Depot Championship the past two years, and a win this week would be the fourth of her career.
 
Sorenstam has won 18 tournaments in her career more than once, but she has only gone back-to-back-to-back three times and has only won two tournaments four times. She could do both this week.
 
However, let's not hand the hardware to Sorenstam just yet. A new course and new challengers await her this year. The equally posh and difficult Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles is hosting the tournament for the first time, which would seemingly take away some of Sorenstam's advantage since she won two of her titles at El Cabellero Country Club, which hosted the tournament the previous three years.
 
Besides a new course, Sorenstam will also have to contend with 143 other players, who all want to knock her from her perch atop women's golf.
 
First among them is Paula Creamer. At 19, Creamer is the youngest player on Tour, but her game is anything but immature. With two wins this year and an additional seven top-six finishes, Creamer has already wrapped up the Louise Suggs Roles Rookie of the Year honors and now has her eyes set on Sorenstam's number-one ranking.
 
Creamer is fearless on the course and has the attitude and mindset to be number one. Now all she has to do is get there, and to do that she has to take down Sorenstam. She has already done that once this year, at the Evian Masters, when she cruised to an eight-shot victory with Sorenstam in the field.
 
She also led the U.S. Team to a victory over Europe in The Solheim Cup.
Her 3-1-1 record was second best in the competition, but it was Sorenstam who tallied the most points with a 4-1-0 mark. Then two weeks ago, at the John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic, Creamer made a Sunday charge at Sorenstam but faltered late with bogeys on two of the last three holes. Sorenstam would also drop two shots on the final three holes, but she still salvaged a one-shot win over Creamer.
 
With seven wins and nearly $2 million in earnings, Sorenstam has gotten the best of the young Creamer, but with every new week arises new opportunities, and Creamer is sure to be ready to capitalize on that opportunity this week. Of course, Sorenstam, who appears to forget about her previous 63-career LPGA wins the moment she steps on the course, will be ready too.
 
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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.