Sorenstam Soars into Seasons First Major
Last year Annika had one of the most successful campaigns in her tours history by winning eight times, including the Nabisco, this weeks major championship. That kind of record is not easy to live up to. Just ask Tiger.
So what has Ms. Sorenstam done lately? Well, Annika started this year by winning the prestigious Australian Masters on the European Tour, beating world No. 2 Karrie Webb in a playoff. Then, one week later, at this tours season-opener, Annika won again. Two weeks, two continents, two tours, two wins. Nice start.
Thanks to her incredible run in March last year, this weeks Kraft Nabisco Championship will mark the fourth week in a row the 31-year-old Sorenstam will be defending a crown. She won the aforementioned Takefuji Classic in Hawaii, then made it to a playoff before losing to Rachel Teske in Phoenix. Last week in Tucson, where Annika played for the University of Arizona, she started poorly, 2-over-par in the first 15 holes. Sorenstam proceeded to play the next 21 holes 8-under to get back into contention.
For, seemingly, the umpteenth time in the last couple of years, she had a chance to make history. Annika had won Tucson each of the previous two years, and if she could make it three in row, Sorenstam would become the first LPGA player to win two different tournaments three consecutive years. She first accomplished the feat in St. Louis at the Michelob Light, winning from 1997 through 99.
Annika failed to meet her own incredibly high standards and finished seventh to Laura Diaz. That win by the 26-year-old American sets up another terrific story line for this week. Most of the visionaries who watch the LPGA closely have been touting young Ms. Diaz as the next American star. Last year, in the former Laura Philos third full year on tour, she glistened, but didnt quite shine, finishing second four times. Now that shes broken through into the winners circle, Diaz undoubtedly will find it easier to return. For historical examples, just think of Lori Kane and David Duval.
I take that as quite a compliment, Diaz said Wednesday. To be mentioned alongside two players with such talent is really something.
The 2000 Kraft Nabisco champion, Webb, comes into the years Dinah with her major already in the bag. The girl from Down Under won the Australian Open the week after she lost to Sorenstam in that Aussie Masters playoff. Karries first start in the States was Phoenix, where the jet-lagged star finished 42nd. This past week in Tucson, it was clear Karrie was getting back to normal as she posted 14-under-par to finish tied for fifth. My confidence grows with every round I play, she said.
Even though the current Kraft Nabisco Championship, the former Dinah Shore, is just the fourth event on the 2002 LPGA schedule, it appears many forces are conspiring to make this first major of the year an intriguing one.
Its a Solheim Cup year, so points earned this week will go a long way for Americans trying to make their much-coveted team. That makes the major even more important to the Yanks. While Diaz may be leading the new breed onto the team, veterans like 84 and 89 Dinah Shore champion Julie Inkster and three-time major champion Meg Mallon showed this past week that their games are far from fading. Jules led in Tucson until late Sunday, when Laura whizzed by; and Meg, who needs to win here to complete the career grand slam, fired a final round 64 as a nice little warm up for the Nabisco.
If 24-year-old Se Ri Pak wins this week, she would supplant Webb as the youngest player to complete that career grand slam. But Se Ris main concern could be an injured right wrist. She hurt it practicing chip shots out of the rough in Phoenix and withdrew from last weeks field to get healthy for the Kraft Nabisco. It doesnt hurt me when I swing or putt, Pak said, just when I have to chip. She laughed and added, So I just wont miss any greens.
As is usually the case here, some entertaining amateurs will fill out a field of elite professionals. The Wonglukiet twins are back for their third Dinah and someone else worth watching this week will be collegiate star Lorena Ochoa. The University of Arizona junior also got a sponsors exemption to play in Tucson and finished tied with Webb for fifth place.
Many knowledgeable and critical eyes will watch the TV ratings that come out of this years Kraft Nabisco Championship with great interest. For years, poor ratings were often blamed on direct competition from the PGA Tours Players Championship. But thanks to a quirk in 2002 schedules, thats not happening this year. If this Dinah Shore lives up to its seemingly enormous potential, those television ratings will go a long way in telling us how far the LPGA has come, or how far it has to go.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.