Chun on verge of making history at Evian

By Randall MellSeptember 17, 2016, 5:56 pm

No player has ever stood taller on the foothills of the French Alps going into the final round of the Evian Championship.

South Korea’s In Gee Chun’s climb atop the leaderboard on the summit overlooking Lake Geneva is becoming historic.

With a 6-under-par 65 Saturday, Chun is on the verge of more than winning the year’s final major. She has a chance to smash the 72-hole scoring records for men’s and women’s major championship golf.

At 19-under 194, Chun leads fellow South Korean Sung Hyun Park (67) by four shots and China’s Shanshan Feng (69) by six.

The 72-hole scoring record in relation to par in men’s golf is 20 under and the record in women’s golf is 19 under.

Jason Day set the mark for men winning the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2015 and Henrik Stenson matched it winning The Open Championship at Royal Troon this year.

Dottie Pepper set the mark for women winning the Kraft Nabisco at Mission Hills in 1999 with Karen Stupples (2004 Women’s British Open), Cristie Kerr (2010 LPGA Championship) and Yani Tseng (2011 LPGA Championship) matching it.

“I just try to focus on my game, because I know all the players [at Evian] are really good,” Chun said.

Chun’s charm, her ability to connect to fans with her easy smile, warmed the galleries on a cold Saturday in the foothills of the French Alps. She goes by the nickname “Dumbo,” a moniker she says she gained because of her natural curiosity, “like the baby elephant.” She has a devoted fan club called “The Flying Dumbos,” who adore the way she connects with galleries during play.

Chun is trying to win wire to wire.

She opened with a 63 to gain a share of the lead with Park and followed that up with a 66 on Friday to take a two-shot lead. She shot that 65 Saturday despite a double bogey at the ninth hole.

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Chun said she isn’t focusing on records.

“It’s a really big honor, but I just have to stick to my game plan,” Chun said. “My game plan’s always the same. I try not to think about leading, because it becomes difficult to enjoy my game.”

Chun, 22, is looking to join South Korean legend Se Ri Pak as the only players to make their first two LPGA victories major championships. Chun won the U.S. Women’s Open last summer. 

Chun’s 194 total at Evian smashed the 54-hole women’s major championship record by five shots. Annika Sorenstam previously held the mark, setting it at the 2004 LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware.

To break the record for low total score in a women’s majors, Chun merely needs to shoot 1-over-par 72 on Sunday. Betsy King holds that mark at 267. She set it at the 1992 LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club in Maryland.

To break the low total score in a men’s or women’s major, Chun needs to shoot 69. Stenson set the mark at 264 at Royal Troon this year.

With low scores aplenty at Evian, Chun is taking nothing for granted. Park pulled within a shot of her Saturday with birdies at the 13th and 14th holes before Chun answered with an eagle at the 15th.

“I expect tomorrow to be exciting,” said Park, 22, a star on the Korean LPGA Tour with seven victories this season. “I’ll stay the course and hope to have a good result.”

Chun was the Korean LPGA Tour’s Player of the Year last year, Park’s a lock to win it this year.

In 15 LPGA starts as a rookie this season, Chun has done everything but win. She has nine top-10 finishes, including three second-place finishes and three third-place finishes. She seems to have a game built for majors. She won five “majors” last year, with two KLPGA majors and two Japan LPGA majors to go with her U.S. Women’s Open. She is second on the American-based LPGA this year in scoring and putts per greens in regulation, trailing Lydia Ko in both categories.

Chun says she likes playing under major championship pressure.

“With all the nervousness and pressure, I play [better],” she said.

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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.