2012 LPGA season full of plot twists

By Randall MellNovember 23, 2012, 8:32 pm

You never knew what lurked around the corner this past LPGA season.

From surges to swoons, from breakthroughs to comebacks, from heart-thumping moments to heart-breaking ones, the women’s game offered up a series of storylines with more plot twists than a Brian De Palma film.

Here’s a look back at some of the surprising turns in 2012:

The American woman’s return: Nobody was talking about Stacy Lewis when the year began, even though she broke through to win her first major championship (Kraft Nabisco) in 2011. Lewis noticed that, and she gave everyone something to talk about at year’s end. She was the LPGA’s story of the year, becoming the first American woman to win the Rolex Player of the Year award since Beth Daniel 18 years ago. Lewis led an American surge with her four victories helping U.S. women claim eight LPGA titles this year. It was the most LPGA victories by American women in a single season since they won 10 times in ’08.

Photos: LPGA player portraits

Kimchi power: Korean cabbage (kimchi) apparently has the same mystical powers as Popeye’s spinach. Na Yeon Choi won the two biggest first-place checks in women’s golf this year. She took home $585,000 winning the U.S. Women’s Open and $500,000 winning the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. Choi told reporters her mother cooked her kimchi all week at the Titleholders, leading her caddie (Jason Hamilton) to credit “kimchi power” for her biggest drives. Choi wasn’t the only South Korean feasting on success this year. South Koreans won eight LPGA titles, equaling the Americans for most by any nation in 2012. South Koreans won three of the four majors with Choi, Sun Young Yoo (Kraft Nabisco) and Jiyai Shin (Ricoh Women’s British Open) claiming them. Fellow countrywoman Inbee Park didn’t win a major this year, but she won the LPGA money title and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. So Yeon Ryu was the Rolex Rookie of the Year winner.

Yani’s rough patch: After opening the year with three more LPGA titles, giving her a terrific run of 15 worldwide titles in 15 months, Yani Tseng stumped everyone, including herself, with an unexpected swoon. She missed back-to-back cuts in the summer, went 12 consecutive rounds without breaking par and five months without recording a top-10 finish. Nobody saw that coming, but Tseng showed signs she’s close to returning to form with two third-place finishes and a fourth-place finish on the Asian swing this fall. She’s still the No. 1 player in the world, a title she carried nobly this year, even in her struggles, but she will have to find her winning form to hold on to the top spot next year with so many players picking up their games.  

Another Far East force: Ten years from now, we may be talking about “Shanshan’s kids” the way we talk about “Se Ri’s kids.” Shanshan Feng’s victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship may prove to have the same inspirational effect Se Ri Pak’s U.S. Women’s Open victory had on young South Korean female golfers. Feng, 22, became the first player from mainland China to win an LPGA event, and she made it doubly impressive doing so in a major. “I think, in the future, China will be one of the strongest countries in golf,” Feng said after winning.

A shocking miss: Blame the Indio effect. How else do you explain I.K. Kim missing a 12-inch putt at the 72nd hole that would have won the Kraft Nabisco Championship? The mysterious force blamed for drawing putts toward the city of Indio in the Coachella Valley pulled so much more with it in the year’s first major. It pulled a player’s most cherished hopes and dreams with it. The dizzying finish was so stunningly inexplicable it made Kim’s head hurt  as much as it made her heart ache. At least that’s what it looked like as Kim staggered off the 18th hole after missing a putt that couldn’t be missed. She put her hands on her head as if she were trying to contain a memory more brutal than a migraine. Kim’s nightmare became Yoo’s dream come true as Yoo claimed her first major.

Baby-faced closer: Lydia Ko became the youngest winner in LPGA history at 15 years, 4 months and 2 days old when she claimed the CN Canadian Women’s Open this summer. Ko, born in Asia and raised in New Zealand, won holding off the best women in the game on a nerve-racking Sunday. “You would never have known it was the final round of an LPGA event,” said playing partner Stacy Lewis. “She played like she had been there before.”

The hardest kind of loss: Two months after being diagnosed with West Nile virus, long-time LPGA rules official Doug Brecht died in October. “Few people truly make the world a better place,” Dottie Pepper said. “We just lost one.” Brecht, 62, was devoted to the tour in his 22 years with the LPGA.

The graduate: Michelle Wie pulled off an impressive feat in spring, graduating from Stanford while playing the LPGA. Now there’s the difficult business of graduating to another plane on the tour. Wie found fulfillment pursuing life as a Stanford undergraduate; now comes the challenge of finding fulfillment as an LPGA pro. Wie missed 10 cuts in 23 starts this year with just one top-10 finish. What she needs most now is a doctorate in putting.

Slow-play blues: Thinking she was 3 up with six holes to go in a Sybase Match Play Championship semifinal this summer, Morgan Pressel was hit with a slow-play penalty at the 13th tee. She was stunned to learn the loss of hole meant she was just 1 up on Azahara Munoz. Pressel lost her momentum and then the match. “Pace of play is an issue, but in that situation, I’m not sure it should have been called,” Pressel said. “I’m a little upset, and I think I have a right to be. It was an unfortunate situation that could have changed the whole outcome of the tournament.” Pressel looked like a good bet to claim her third LPGA title, but her season would only grow more difficult with a hand injury making it the toughest year of her seven years on tour.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.