CME Tour Championship delivers three big winners

By Randall MellNovember 23, 2015, 1:04 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko was in tears afterward over her triumphs.

Inbee Park breathed a sigh of relief knowing she qualified for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Cristie Kerr was doused in champagne by some of her American Solheim Cup teammates in a joyous celebration.

Emotions burst forth like fireworks around the 18th green Sunday after a pressure-packed finish at the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club, where winning never seemed so wonderfully abundant in the women’s game.

Ko won the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Rolex Player of the Year Award in agonizingly tight battles with Park that came down to the 72nd hole. Ko also won the money-winning title.

Park won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, a prize intensified in meaning because it delivered her the one point she needed to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Kerr claimed her 18th LPGA title, her second this year, and a $500,000 winner’s check.

“For it to come down to the last hole, the last group, the last putt, it’s been a great season for the LPGA,” Ko said.

Ko and Park are known for their unflappable demeanors, but they both betrayed emotions in ways we rarely see from them. They revealed just how much pressure had built on them over the week.

Ko three-putted the 72nd hole and marched to the scoring area uncertain whether the last 4-footer she missed cost her everything hanging in the balance. She ended up tying for seventh, one shot worse than Park, who finished sixth.

When Ko was informed leaving scoring that she had, in fact, become the youngest winner of the Rolex Player of the Year Award and that once again she had claimed the CME Globe’s $1 million prize as winner of the season-long points race, she broke into tears.

“It’s probably the most I’ll cry on TV, ever,” Ko said.

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Ko’s sister, Sura, wiped her eyes with a towel.

“I think what triggered it was what kind of tough day it was,” Ko said.

And what kind of joy there was in knowing that just about everyone on her “team” was there to enjoy her success. Her mother, Tina, her father, Gil Hong, her sister Sura, her swing coach David Leadbetter and her agents Michael Yim and Jay Burton were there.

“I know for sure I couldn’t be here without my team,” Ko said. “They have definitely helped keep me grounded.”

How close were the battles with Park? Ko finished two points ahead of Park in the Rolex Player of the Year points race. Park finished three hundredths of a point (69.41 to 69.44) ahead of Ko winning the Vare Trophy.

Ko continues to stockpile “youngest ever” successes this year. She became the youngest man or woman in professional golf to rise to No. 1 in the world rankings in February. She became the youngest winner of a major championship in women’s golf claiming the Evian Championship in September. Now she can add youngest Rolex Player of the Year winner and youngest winner of the money title to her many youthful triumphs.

Park, 27, was also reminded how young she remains after claiming the Vare Trophy to meet the points requirement needed to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

“I thought the youngest at everything was Lydia,” Park cracked.

Park will become eligible for the LPGA Hall of Fame after completing 10 full seasons on tour. She’ll reach that after next year.

It seemed fitting that Ko and Park should both leave Sunday with meaningful prizes. They pushed each other to such heights this year. They both won five LPGA titles, with Park claiming a pair of majors and Ko breaking through to win her first major in such spectacular fashion, shooting a final-round 63 to win the Evian.

A year ago, Park watched a similar battle for big prizes end with Stacy Lewis sweeping the Rolex POY Award, Vare Trophy and money title at CME.

“If  we were to walk away from this year being just beaten at the post again after what happened last year, that would have been a bitter pill to swallow, because Inbee has been playing such good golf,” said Brad Beecher, Park’s caddie.

Beecher believes Park makes Ko better and vice versa.

“They both push each other,” he said. “No matter what week it is, one of them is playing outstanding golf. It inspires the other one to play better. I don't know that it’s rivalry where they feel like, `I must beat her.” I think it’s more like, `I want to be as good as her. I want to do what she's doing.’”

Jason Hamilton, Ko’s caddie, said Park brings out the best in Ko.

“Inbee’s a great player,” Hamilton said. “Whenever you see you are in a pairing with Inbee, it’s a plus. She drags you up. She has that effect on people.”

Like Ko, Park wasn’t immune to pressure Sunday. She showed how much stress was building when she thumped the turf with a club after pulling a shot at the 11th hole. It was a brief display of mild frustration that would have gone unnoticed with any other player other than the normally stoic Park.

“I think it’s probably the most pressure I’ve ever felt,” Park said.

Park said the $1 million jackpot wasn’t foremost on her mind. She wanted that point the Vare Trophy, Rolex Player of the Year or CME Group Tour Championship title would bring her.

“The Hall of Fame was really on my mind all week,” Park said. “Going into the Hall of Fame is something I've been dreaming of all my life.”

Park didn’t want to go into next year knowing she needed one point to qualify for the Hall of Fame.

“If I don’t do it this year, I have to put so much pressure on myself to get one point next year,” Park said. “Maybe wait all year. This definitely takes a lot of pressure off me. I can really enjoy golf even more.”

At 38, Kerr topped a terrific year. After the birth of her son, Mason, late in 2013, Kerr was winless last year while adjusting to a new life as mother. She reminded her peers this year she isn’t done making her mark yet. She also won the Kia Classic in March and was a force at the Solheim Cup in September.

“I love what I do,” said Kerr, who now has 20 of the 27 points needed to qualify for the Hall of Fame. “I certainly love days like today.”

Kerr beat Ha Na Jang and Gerina Piller by one shot with Lexi Thompson finishing two back. Kerr pulled away holing a 40-foot birdie at 15th hole and a 12-foot eagle at the 17th.

“Everybody played good golf,” Kerr said. “I think CME is the winner.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.