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.
Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.
Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.
“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”
The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.
“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”
Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.
Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.
Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.
''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''
It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.
''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''
Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.
''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''
After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.
''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''
He's making his first start in the event.
''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.
Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.
''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''
Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.
''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.
The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.
''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''
Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.
''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.
Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.
Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.
John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.
Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years
Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.
He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.
How rare is his missing the cut there?
The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.
The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.
The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.
Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.
Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.
Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur
Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.
The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.
They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.
It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.
“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”
The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.
The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.