Do-or-Die Week for LPGA

By Mercer BaggsNovember 12, 2006, 5:00 pm
2005 ADT ChampionshipThe LPGA Tour caps its season this week with the ADT Championship ' otherwise known as the LPGA Playoffs.
 
The ladies beat the men to the punch in installing a playoff system a year in advance; and unlike the FedEx Cup on the PGA TOUR, this actually is a REAL playoff.
 
Only 32 players ' including two wildcards via the money list ' are in the field. The first half of the field was finalized in mid-July. Points, which were based on top-20 finishes, were then erased and players who hadnt already qualified started anew in trying to earn a chance at the $1 million first-place prize.
 
Paula Creamer
Paula Creamer hasn't won this year, but her presence in Sunday's final would draw fans.
One-million dollars doesnt raise a Paula Creamer eyebrow on the PGA TOUR, but it will be nearly double the largest individual payout ($560,000 to Annika Sorenstam at the U.S. Womens Open) this year for the ladies ' in LPGA history, for that matter.
 
The ADT, which has an overall purse of $1.55 million, will play out like this: the field will be cut in half after the second round and once again after round 3, with all scores cumulative (any ties will be settled by sudden death at the conclusion of each round). Scores will then be wiped clean and the final eight players will slug it out over 18 holes like 35-year-old single women over a brides bouquet.
 
When LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens unveiled the plan during last years Tour Championship, reviews were mostly positive. The major concern was that someone could have one great week and claim the money title.
 
Sorenstam was one who had some reservations about the system. She noted at last years pre-tournament press conference that she had won nine times on the LPGA and, had the Playoffs been in affect in 05, still could have lost the money title.
 
Of course, Sorenstam went on to win the ADT for the second year in row, and the money title for the fifth straight time.
 
This year, the system can work to her advantage. She trails Lorena Ochoa by more than $400K. Only she, Webb and Cristie Kerr can overtake Ochoa.
 
Aside from some player criticisms ' Webb and Juli Inkster were other apprehensive notables ' the playoff concept garnered great public interest. Along with Sorenstams brilliance, global expansion, and a youth movement that featured both beauty and talent, the LPGA was poised to challenge the men on a weekly basis for public interest in 2006.
 
But entering the finale, it appears that the crescendo reached its climax somewhere in the middle months of the year.
 
Certainly, the LPGA has had its fair share of highs this year, most notably Webbs and Paks resurgence, and Ochoa's coming of age. But the season couldnt possibly have played out as well as Bivens would have hoped.
 
Sorenstam, the face of the LPGA, has won only three times. Thats a career season if your first name is Charlotta, but when its Annika, youre supposed to be more machine than mortal.
 
Those three wins are nearly one-third of her AVERAGE victory total over the last five years.
 
Not that anyone else on tour is feeling sorry for Annika. Especially not those who have yet to win even once this year.
 
Heralded youngsters Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Christina Kim, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lang and Ai Miyazato have combined to win one less event than 46-year-old Inkster.
 
Theyve won as much this year as has Michelle Wie. Wie came close in a few majors, but captured more headlines for her repeated failures in mens events than she did for her near-misses with the ladies.
 
Obviously, Bivens has no control over who wins and loses. But if the LPGA failed to capitalize on its early-season fervor, Mrs. Commish has mostly herself to blame:
 
  • Since she took office, seven high-ranking tour officials ' some of who she hired ' have left, including senior vice president of tournament operations Barb Trammell, the first to resign.
     
  • She got into a credential spat with the media over photo rights and article ownership, which resulted in some major outlets boycotting covering the tour.
     
  • She battled publicly with the Tournament Owners Association over sanctioning fees (she wanted to charge tournaments $100,000 for the privilege of holding an LPGA event).
     
  • And, she gave to Ginn Clubs and Resorts, a deep-pocketed newcomer in the sponsorship game, a coveted June date prior to next years McDonalds LPGA Championship. The date had been promised to Shoprite, according to company officials, leading to Shoprite ending its 21-year run with the tour.
     
    Year 1 has been a P.R. nightmare for Bivens. Even the inaugural Rolex Womens World Rankings fell under heavy criticism as Wie debuted at No. 3 despite having never won a tournament (the minimum number of tournaments to qualify for the rankings just happened to be the same number that Wie had played).
     
    And, as Golf Worlds Ron Sirak wrote in a June publication, in the most curious concern about the new commissioner, many players, caddies and media members feel the constant presence of her husband, retired auto executive Bill Bivens, is a form of intimidation and that he serves as the commissioner's eyes and ears to see who is talking to whom and about what.
     
    Her own players have even questioned her leadership. I am quite concerned about some of the decisions and changes I have seen lately. I just wonder where we are headed, Sorenstam told Golf World.
     
    Another curiosity is that the LPGA Playoffs havent registered a blip on the public radar screen. With all the talk of the PGA TOURs FedEx Cup next year, the current ladies system has gone pretty much unnoticed until this week.
     
    Little if any noise was made when the first half of the Playoffs came to a conclusion, and it wasnt as if you were just dying to see who rounded out the field after this past weeks final qualifying event.
     
    One year later and the LPGA seems to have lost all of the momentum that they were just starting to build up.
     
    The tour has a chance to help shift the tide this week if the Playoffs prove compelling. And thats a BIG if.
     
    This event is much like a match-play tournament, in that there is a good chance that some ' if not all ' of the more popular players will get knocked out before the final day.
     
    But, like how an average movie can leave an audience exiting with smiles on their collective faces if the ending is enjoyable, should Annika, Lorena, Karrie, Paula, etc., advance to the final 8, the finish might be the one thing fans most remember about the 2006 LPGA season.
     
    And that could carry over to 2007.
     
    Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
     
    Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - ADT Championship
  • TGC Airtimes
  • Getty Images

    Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

    SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

    The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

    It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

    “It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

    Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

    According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

    “I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


    Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

    And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

    As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

    He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

    “I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

    Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

    “I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

    Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

    Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

    “If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

    Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

    Getty Images

    Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

    After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

    With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.


    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

    “I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

    Getty Images

    Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    “I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

    “I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”


    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


    On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

    Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

    Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

    “We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

    Getty Images

    Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

    The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

    Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.


    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


    Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

    Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

    • Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

    • Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

    • Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1