Final-Four Set in Melbourne

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 5, 2001, 5:00 pm
Top-seeded Ernie Els survived another tough match to advance into the semi-finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Melbourne, Australia.
Els outlasted 57th-seeded Craig Stadler 1-up. The South African will now face Sweden's Pierre Fulke, seeded 21st, who defeated American Brad Faxon in 19 holes at the Metropolitan Golf Club.
The other Final-Four match will pit Steve Stricker against Japan's Toru Taniguchi. Taniguchi bettered fellow Japanese standout Shigeki Maruyama 2-and-1, while Stricker defeated local favorite Nick O'Hern in 20 holes.
Els grabbed an early advantage on his American counterpart, but a pair of failed attempts to get out of bunkers at the fifth and sixth holes turned a 1-up lead into a 1-down deficit.
Els managed to win the eighth hole to pull All Square, and then spun back his approach shot on the par-4 12th to two feet. The win gave Els a 1-up lead, which he maintained entering the 17th.
At the penultimate hole of regulation, Els was forced to sink a 10-foot par putt to maintain his advantage. He did just that.
Then, in equally dramatic fashion, with Stadler inside him, the Big Easy dropped in a 15-foot birdie at the 18th to win the match in the narrowest of margins.
'I kinda felt a little flat,' said Els, who defeated Jean Van de Velde over an emotional 19 holes in the Round of 16. 'I think both of us weren't really on our games. I just persevered.
'I know I've got another gear to put it into.'
Els will test that resolve against Fulke in Saturday afternoon's (Australian time) semi-finals.
Fulke overcame an early 2-down deficit to pull All Square through eight holes. The Swede looked to grab his first lead of the match at the ninth, until Faxon holed his greenside bunker shot for a halve.
One hole later, however, Fulke did take the lead after hitting his tee shot to within five feet of the hole.
Fulke then turned the tables on Faxon by holing his own bunker shot at the par-5 12th, this one for eagle. Fulke was now 2-up with six holes remaining.
Faxon won the 15th to move within 1-down, and then pulled All Square when Fulke found problems off the tee at the 17th.
After halving the 18th, Faxon appeared to have the advantage at the 19th hole, the par-4 14th. In the middle of the fairway, with a wedge in hand, Faxon flew the green and finished in the back bunker.
Fulke was short of the green in two, but putted from some 80 feet up to gimme range on his third shot. With a par secured, Fulke watched as Faxon blasted his bunker shot 20 feet past the pin, and then failed to convert a par of his own to extend the match.
'I started off pretty bad,' Fulke said. 'Once I got going I hit some pretty good shots. Hopefully, I can bring the good stuff into the afternoon round.'
Of the 34 Americans to make the trip to Melbourne, only Stricker remains. After defeating Justin Leonard 6-and-5 the day prior, the Wisconsin native struggled mightily against O'Hern on Saturday. Fortunately for Stricker, so too did the Australian.
Deadlocked through 18 holes, Sticker made a 12-foot birdie at the 19th hole, the 14th, to extend the match, and then stuck his approach shot at the 20th hole, the 15th, to three feet for the eventual victory. It was Stricker's only lead of the day.
'I struggled in the middle part of the round, but when I had to, I started to hit some good shots,' said Stricker.
Stricker will now face Taniguchi, who has yet to trail in any of his four matches thus far. The little-known Japanese player bettered his more famous countryman, Maruyama, in the quarterfinals.
Taniguchi was 4-up through seven holes, before Maruyama began to battle back on the back nine. Maruyama, who had never lost a match in Melbourne, going 5-0 in the 1998 Presidents Cup and 3-0 prior to facing Taniguchi in the Accenture, won the 10th, 13th and 14th holes to move within 1-down.
Maruyama appeared to be 20 feet from tying the match at the 16th, until his opponent rolled in a 50-foot birdie putt to ensure at least a halve of the hole. Maruyama then lipped out his birdie effort. Taniguchi had regained his 2-up lead, which he held onto for a 2-and-1 triumph.
Each of the four quarterfinal losers will receive $150,000. The winners are now guaranteed at least $300,000.
Following a brief rest, the four remaining survivors will square off in the semi-finals, Saturday afternoon.
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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.