Big awards up for grabs at final LPGA major of year

By Randall MellSeptember 13, 2016, 10:50 pm

Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko is vying to defend her title.

Ariya Jutanugarn is trying to win back-to-back major championships.

Brooke Henderson is going for her second major of the year.

Brittany Lang is bidding to become the first American to win two major championships in a year since Juli Inkster won the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open 17 years ago.

And the South Koreans are hoping to avoid getting shut out in the majors for the first time since 2010.

There’s a lot at stake this week at the Evian Championship in France, the final major championship of the season, including the most compelling race yet for the game’s newest prize, the Rolex Annika Major Award. It’s a point-based award that goes to the player with the “most outstanding record” in the year’s five majors.

Michelle Wie won the award named for Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam in its inaugural year in 2014 and Inbee Park claimed it last year.

With world No. 1 Ko, No. 2 Jutanugarn and No. 3 Henderson all in the running for the Annika Award, youth’s dominance of the women’s game continues to build as this season’s most salient theme.

Ko became the youngest winner of a women’s major when she prevailed at Evian last year at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old. Henderson became the second youngest winner of a major back in June taking the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at 18 years and 9 months old. Jutanugarn was the second youngest winner of the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July at 20 years, 8 months and 8 days old.

The average age of this year’s LPGA winners is 21.5 years old.

The average age of the top 10 players in the world is 23.4.

If Ko, Jutanugarn or Henderson win the Annika Award, it’s possible every major LPGA award except for the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award will be won by a player who hasn’t yet reached her 21st birthday.

Evian Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Here’s a closer look at how the races for the game’s big prizes shape up as the LPGA begins its run down the home stretch with nine events left this season:

Rolex Player of the Year

Ko and Jutanugarn are in what looks likely to remain a two-woman battle.

Ko takes 247 Rolex Player of the Year points to the Evian Championship, five more than Jutanugarn, with Henderson a distant third at 131 points. POY points are doubled this week with a victory worth 60 points, second place worth 24 . . . with points awarded down to 2 for a 10th-place finish.

Ko won her first POY title last year.

LPGA Money Title

Ko takes $2,382,167 in earnings to Evian, with Jutanugarn second at $2,132,483 and Henderson third at $1,350,430.

With the Evian purse at $3.25 million, the winner’s check is $487,500.

Ko won her first LPGA money title a year ago.

The Vare Trophy

Ko leads the LPGA with a 69.197 scoring average, more than a half a stroke better than In Gee Chun at 69.789.

Ko is looking to win her first Vare Trophy. She finished second to Inbee Park in a tight race a year ago.

Race to the CME Globe

Ko (4,214), Jutanugarn (3,966) and Henderson (2,676) are 1-2-3 in the standings in the season-long race to the $1 million jackpot.

A victory in this week’s major is worth 625 CME points. A victory in regular tour events is worth 500 points.

Ko is vying to win the $1 million jackpot for a third consecutive year, every year since the season-long competition’s inception in 2014. The points will be re-set at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship with only the top nine in points having a chance to win the jackpot.

Rolex Annika Major Award

Ko, Henderson, Jutanugarn and Lang are the only players who still have a chance to win the award for the “most outstanding record” in the year’s five majors.

Here are the point-based standings:

Ko, 102.

Jutanugarn, 92.

Henderson, 62.

Lang, 60.

A victory is worth 60 points, second place worth 24 points, third place worth 18 . . . with points awarded down to two points for 10th place. It’s the same points allotment given for POY points in majors.

Ko and Jutanugarn are guaranteed to win the Annika Award with victories at Evian this week, but if Henderson or Lang win Evian, they won’t take the award unless Ko finishes third or worse. So, notably, it’s possible Henderson or Lang could win two majors this year and not win the award.

Rolex Rookie of the Year

Chun is running away with the award.

With 923 points, Chun has more than double the total of the next best player, Gaby Lopez (427).

Megan Khang is third with 338 points.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.