After stepping away from golf, Wie playing with renewed confidence

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2014, 4:24 pm

Michelle Wie is playing with a renewed bounce in her step so far in this new season. The former phenom is playing with an intensity and desire we haven’t seen for awhile.

We saw it Saturday at the Honda LPGA Thailand, where Wie’s 3-under-par 69 moved her into a tie for second place, four shots behind Anna Nordqvist.

The effort puts Wie in the final pairing Sunday with a chance to win her third LPGA title, her first in more than three years. She’ll tee it up with Nordqvist and Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park, who is also tied for second.

“It’s fun being in contention,” Wie said after Saturday’s round.

Those words were music to the ears of her swing coach, David Leadbetter, because he has watched the joy leave her game the last couple seasons.

He saw her grinding too hard to find the form that led so many to believe she would dominate the women’s game. He could see the disappointment wearing her down when the hard work wasn’t rewarded.

“I think she fell out of love with the game to an extent,” Leadbetter said. “If you’re not in love with the game, the work it requires can become drudgery.”

So at the end of last year, Leadbetter advised Wie to take five weeks off. She did. She stepped up her fitness routine, but she didn’t play or practice for five weeks.

“I think it’s the first time since she was 5 years old that she has gone that long without touching a golf club,” Leadbetter said. “We had a little boot camp before the start of this year, and you could see she was really refreshed, really ready to go.”

Wie, 24, didn’t just take a break from the game. She also took a break from her parents.

B.J. and Bo Wie did not accompany her to the LPGA season opener in the Bahamas last month, Michelle’s first start of the 2014 season. It might well have been the first time her parents didn’t escort her to a tournament.

“Everyone knows her parents have been very involved,” Leadbetter said. “Sometimes, she rebels. She’s a young woman now, and she has demanded more freedom.”

Wie tied for 13th at the Pure Silk Bahamas. Sunday’s test in Thailand will be different. She hasn’t won since the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2010. Final round nerves will really test where her game’s at this early in the season. She could get a giant boost of confidence playing well in the final round, or learn just how much more work is left to do.

“I know I want it,” Wie said of winning. “It’s not a question to me how much I want it. I really want that win, but I’m not going to put added pressure on myself."

Ask Wie her goals for 2014, and she won’t say winning. She’ll say it’s being consistent. She believes that will lead to winning.

“I think mentally she’s in a great place now,” Leadbetter said.

Wie is hitting the ball better, especially her driver, which has betrayed her the last few seasons. Wie led the LPGA in driving distance in 2010, averaging 274 yards per drive. She was 33rd in driving distance last year, averaging 253 yards per drive.

A lot of the falloff is due to the fact that she hit so many more 3-woods and 5-woods off the tee last year. That’s a function of her driver betraying her too often, and losing confidence in the club that helped make her dominant as a young teen.

In Thailand, Wie’s bombing her driver everywhere. Yes, it’s a course with plenty of room, but it’s more than that. Leadbetter sees her confidence returning with the driver.

“When she has confidence hitting her driver, that’s a good sign,” Leadbetter said.

When her driver was not cooperating last year, she played more conservatively, gearing down with those 3-woods and 5-woods.

“With confidence in her driver, she will be able to play more aggressively when she needs to do so,” Leadbetter said. “She can play to her strengths.”

Of course, Wie’s putting will likely have the final word on whether she wins again. Her move to the unusual “table-top stance,” has helped. She jumped from 119th in putts per greens in regulation in 2012 to 25th last year. Her stance is evolving. She isn’t bent at 90 degrees at the waist anymore. She jokes that she’s got a little more “drawbridge” action now, becoming slightly more erect.

“She’s comfortable with it,” Leadbetter said.

Come Sunday, we will see how comfortable Wie is being back in contention.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.