After three wins in a row, Jutanugarn eyes a major

By Randall MellMay 30, 2016, 2:23 am

Ariya Jutanugarn is radiating with confidence she seemed to have completely lost just a year ago.

With her victory Sunday at the Volvik Championship, Jutanugarn made history, becoming the first player to make her first three LPGA titles consecutive victories.

Jutanugarn, 20, blew away the field on the back nine at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich., to win in a five-shot rout.

“Ariya is very difficult to describe,” said Christina Kim, who finished second. “There really hasn't been a player like her, honestly, in my generation. The way that she just powers the ball, it's remarkable. She's got such imagination around the golf course and incredible touch. It’s really, really cool to see how far she's come.”

Jutanugarn is the first player to win three LPGA titles in a row since Inbee Park did so in 2013.

“She’s going to be unstoppable,” Kim said.

At this time a year ago, Jutanugarn was mired in a rookie slump that would see her miss 10 consecutive cuts. With Sunday’s victory, she climbed to No. 10 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Just a little more than a month ago, Jutanugarn was two shots ahead with three holes to go at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship. She blew the lead, bogeying all three holes to lose to Lydia Ko. The championship ended with Jutanugarn snap-hooking her final drive into the water.

Now Jutanugarn’s aiming to make her fourth consecutive victory a major.

After taking this next week off, Jutanugarn will head to Seattle to tee it up at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee.

“I badly want to win my first major,” Jutanugarn said.

Oddsmakers just may make Jutanugarn the betting favorite with Ko there. On Sunday in Michigan, Jutanugarn closed out with a bogey-free 5-under-par 67. She pulled away on the back nine making four birdies over a five-hole stretch.

“I’m speechless,” said Jessica Korda, who trailed Jutanugarn by just one shot starting the final round. “That was amazing.”

Jutanugarn was a teen phenom from Thailand who struggled to return from surgery after tearing the labrum in her right shoulder in the summer of 2013, but there’s more to her rebound than that the return of physical skill.

“Getting more and more confident,” Jutanugarn said.

Kim remembers talking to Jutanugarn amid the rookie’s run of 10 consecutive missed cuts last year.

“She was really, really distraught,” Kim said. “I was like, `If you had any idea how good of a golfer you are . . . It’s unbelievable.”

Jutanugarn admitted fighting nerves losing the ANA Inspiration. Her collapse at Mission Hills added to questions about her ability to close out leads. Three years before that she blew a chance to win her first LPGA title at the Honda event in Thailand in equally heartbreaking fashion. She took a two-shot lead to the final hole there, but she watched her homeland wince and groan, instead. She made triple bogey and lost to Inbee Park.

While Jutanugarn battled nerves closing out the Yokohama Classic and Kingsmill Championship earlier this month, she didn’t betray any Sunday in Michigan.

“She looked bored,” Korda said. “She sat down on the 16th tee and 18th tee, chilling in the shade, told me to come sit down next to her, like we were having a picnic.”

Gary Gilchrist, who began coaching Jutanugarn early this year, said he was most impressed with Jutanugarn’s demeanor.

“It was watching how composed she was,” Gilchrist said. “We talked this week about how everyone gets nervous, and I told her if she started feeling stress today, she should just smile and get on with it. A smile relaxes the body.”

Jutanugarn has struggled with her driver this year, but it wasn’t an issue. She hit 3-woods and 2-irons off the tee boxes all week at Travis Pointe. She kept the ball low in the wind Sunday, hitting stingers.

“She was hitting that three-quarter shot,” Gilchrist said. “She has a strong 3-wood and can hit shots with such a penetrating trajectory, where the ball runs 30 yards. It helps to have a shot to go to like that under pressure.”

Jutanugarn joins a growing cast of young stars. With the LPGA calendar turning to June, nobody older than 23 has won a tour title this year.

“It’s an exciting time for the LPGA,” Kim said. 

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

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.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

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.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''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.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

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.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.