Sorenstam Eyeing Three-Peat
The Swede looks to match Founder and LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member Patty Bergs three consecutive Western Open victories as an amateur from 1937-39. With a win this week, Sorenstam will become the first LPGA player to win three consecutive titles at an LPGA major championship, a feat she attempted in 1997 at the U.S. Womens Open after winning back-to-back titles in 1995-96. No player has done so in LPGA Tour history, and the last time someone did so on the PGA Tour was 1954-56 at the British Open (Peter Thomson).
Sorenstam has had success with winning back-to-back-to-back titles, although not at a major championship (1997-99 Michelob Light Classic). The other five players to win the same event on three consecutive occasions are: Louise Suggs (1959-61 Dallas Civitan Open); Kathy Whitworth (1968-70 Orange Blossom Classic); Sandra Haynie (1973-75 Charity Golf Classic); Karrie Webb (1998-2000 Australian Ladies Masters); and Laura Davies with a record four consecutive wins (1994-97 Standard Register PING).
Testing Sorenstam this week are 2003 tournament winners Wendy Doolan and Se Ri Pak. Up-and-coming players Lorena Ochoa, who finished in eighth place at the 2002 Kraft Nabisco Championship and leads the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race, Christina Kim and Beth Bauer, who grabbed last years top rookie honor, will also put Sorenstam to the challenge. Three players are vying for more than the $240,000 first-prize check.
Meg Mallon, Laura Davies and Se Ri Pak could complete the LPGA Career Grand Slam with a win at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, joining an illustrious list of LPGA greats: Louise Suggs (1957); Mickey Wright (1962); Pat Bradley (1968); Juli Inkster (1999); and Karrie Webb (2001). No player has ever completed the Career Grand Slam at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Pak, at age 25, would become the youngest player in LPGA history to complete the Career Grand Slam. Davies, a 20-time LPGA tournament champion, would not only complete the Career Grand Slam with a victory this week, but would also earn the two points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame.
The Kraft Nabisco Championship is a limited-field event, hosting 94 of the worlds top women professionals and six amateurs. Six past champions and LPGA Tour and World Halls of Famers are in the field this year: Amy Alcott (1983, 1988, 1991); Pat Bradley (1986); Betsy King (1987, 1990, 1997); Juli Inkster (1984, 1989); Nancy Lopez (1981); and Patty Sheehan (1996). Other past champions include Helen Alfredsson (1993); Nanci Bowen (1995); Pat Hurst (1998); Alice Miller (1985); and Sally Little (1982).
Thai twins Aree and Naree Song (formerly Wongluekiet), 16, are making their fourth appearance in the Kraft Nabisco Championship as two of the six amateurs invited to compete; a total of eight sponsor exemptions are in the field. The other four amateurs invited to the event are 13-year-old sensation Michelle Wie; 2002 British Amateur Champion Lindsey Wright; 2002 U.S. Womens Amateur Champion Becky Lucidi; and 2002 NCAA Individual Champion Virada Nirapathpongporn.
Wie played three LPGA events in 2002 after becoming the youngest player in LPGA history to Monday qualify for an LPGA event at the age of 12 at the LPGA Takefuji Classic. Last year, Sorenstam sported the famed red shoes and showed that Tiger Woods is not the only professional golfer that can make a statement with red on Sunday, firing a 68 (-4) and finishing one stroke ahead of Liselotte Neumann. It marked the first time in history that Swedes finished first and second in an LPGA major. On the par-5 18th, Neumann gave herself one last chance to claim her first victory in nearly four years when she hit a pitching wedge to 16 feet. Her birdie putt, however, just missed, and Sorenstam two-putted for par and the victory.
Sorenstam once again took the ceremonial dip in Champions Lake off the 18th green'although her entry into the shallow water was a little more subdued than her belly flop of 2001. Sorenstam hopped in feet first with her caddie, Terry McNamara, and his 4-year-old daughter, Reilly.
Neumanns runner-up finish was her best since placing second at the 1999 McDonalds LPGA Championship. Rosie Jones, who began the day one shot off the lead, carded a 69 to finish tied for third with Cristie Kerr (68). Another Swede, Carin Koch, and Japans Akiko Fukushima, a runner-up at the event in 2001, posted the low rounds of the tournament with 66s in the final round, finishing at 283 (-5) and in a tie for fifth.
Statistical Preview of the Kraft Nabisco Championship
Whan details LPGA changes for 2018 and beyond
NAPLES, Fla. – The Race to the CME Globe’s season-long series and its big-bang finish at the CME Group Tour Championship are secured for another six years.
Tour commissioner Mike Whan announced a contract extension with CME Group through 2023 in his annual state-of-the-tour address Thursday at the Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club.
Whan also outlined changes to next year’s tournament schedule and detailed specifics of the revamp of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament, with a new Q-School Series devised as the final stage beginning next year.
Highlights from Whan’s address:
Extending the CME Race . . .
The Race to the CME Globe, a season-long competition for a $1 million jackpot, will be played at least six more years, with Whan announcing a contract extension through 2023.
“We’re pretty excited about that,” Whan said.
The LPGA is also close to finalizing details that will keep the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club.
2018 schedule will include two new West Coast events . . .
The LPGA is likely going to lose three events next year, but it will gain three new ones, leaving the tour with 34 events, including the UL International Crown. That’s the same number of events being played this year. Total prize money is expected to reach $69 million, up from the record $65 million played for this season.
The Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada is off next year’s schedule, and the Lorena Ochoa Match Play also is not expected to return. The McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open is not returning, but only because it is sliding off the schedule to move up early on the 2019 schedule.
Whan said two new West Coast events are being added, and they will be positioned on the calendar next to the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, to give players more reasons to stay out west.
Whan said there’s also a new international event being added to the schedule, but details of the new events won’t be released until the full schedule is released sometime after Thanksgiving.
“I hope you’ll agree that stability and predictability haven’t always been the calling card of the LPGA, but it has been the last few years,” Whan said. “I’m proud to tell you that the revenues of the LPGA in the last five or six years are up almost 90 percent. We have added 20 title sponsors and over 20 official marketing partners in the last five or six years. Don’t know too many sports that could claim that.”
Q-School officially overhauled . . .
Whan said the LPGA Qualifying Tournament will still be played in three stages next year, but the final stage will get a makeover as the Q-School Series.
The LPGA will continue to host first and second stages, but instead of a five-round final stage, there will be an eight-round finals series, with two four-round tournaments scheduled in back-to-back weeks in the same city, with cumulative scores used over eight rounds. The new Q-Series site will be announced early next year.
A field of 108 will make the Q-Series finals, with 40 to 50 LPGA tour cards up for grabs.
The Q-Series field will be filled by players finishing 101st to 150th on the LPGA money list, players finishing 31st to 50th on the Symetra Tour money list, with up to 10 players from among the top 75 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings who don’t have LPGA membership. Also, the field will include the top five in the Golfweek Sagarin College Rankings. The rest of the field will be filled by players advancing through Q-School’s second stage, which could be anywhere from 23 to 33 players, depending how many from the world rankings and college rankings choose to go to the Q-Series.
Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards
NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.
The awards and winners:
William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”
Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.
“I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”
The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.
“The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”
Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.
The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.
“This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”
Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”
Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.
Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.
At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.
Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.
In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.
Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.
Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.
Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.
Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.
''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.
''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''
Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.
''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.
''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''
Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.
Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.
''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''
Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.
Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.
''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''
The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.
''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''
The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.
''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'
Joel Dahmen had a 64.
''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.
''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''
Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.
''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''
He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.
''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.
Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.
''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.
Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.
Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.
Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.