Compelling subplots abound as Asian swing begins

By Randall MellOctober 6, 2015, 6:53 pm

The LPGA turns for the home stretch with some compelling subplots in play as the tour’s fall Asian swing begins this week in Malaysia.

Will the Americans key to the U.S. Sollheim Cup victory in Germany two weeks ago experience a positive bounce in their return to competition?

How will Suzann Pettersen fare in her return to action after finding herself at the heart of a Solheim Cup controversy?

Can Lydia Ko win her third consecutive LPGA start?

Can Inbee Park hold off Ko in the ongoing battle for the Rolex No. 1 ranking and the Rolex Player of the Year race?

Will Shanshan Feng successfully defend her title?

There’s a lot on the line with the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia beginning Thursday at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club. It’s the first of five consecutive Asian events before the tour returns to North America for the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.

Kuala Lumpur is a familiar Asian venue for more than the women. The course has been home to the LPGA event since 2010 but also has been host to the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic and the European Tour’s Maybank Malaysian Open.

Nine of the top 10 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are in the field this week. South Korea’s In Gee Chun, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, is the only player among the top 10 who isn’t there.

Ten American Solheim Cup players are scheduled to tee it up as they look to enjoy a positive bounce from their record-setting come-from-behind victory in Germany. The Americans have won just four LPGA titles this year but will be looking to ride some winning momentum into the fall finish.

Gerina Piller, Angela Stanford and Paula Creamer should take special satisfaction from the American victory into this week’s event.

Piller won a vital singles match in the American comeback. She made a pressure-packed 8-foot putt at the final hole in Sunday singles to defeat Caroline Masson, 1 up. While the putt didn’t clinch the American victory, it was the most important putt in the comeback. If Piller had missed, the Europeans would have gained the half point they needed to retain the cup.

Angela Stanford broke out of a Solheim Cup slump defeating Pettersen, 2 and 1, in a singles match. It was a brilliant effort, giving the Americans an important point in the Sunday match they arguably most wanted to win.

Creamer, who was heavily scrutinized as a captain’s pick, defeated Germany’s Sandra Gal, 4 and 3, in the anchor singles match to deliver the point that clinched the victory. She went out with Morgan Pressel in the Solheim Cup’s leadoff foursomes match to win a point from the formidable European tandem of Pettersen and Anna Nordqvist.

Park and Ko enter this week amid tight battles for special prizes in the women’s game.

Park is the Rolex world No. 1, but Ko can take back the top ranking with a victory or second-place finish this week, depending upon what Park does. Park has reigned atop the world rankings for the last 16 weeks. Ko took it from Park on Feb. 2 and held it for 19 weeks.

Ko is coming off a victory in her last start at the Evian Championship, where the 18-year-old became the youngest winner of a women’s major championship. She won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in her start before that.

Park leads the POY race with 243 points, Ko is second with 224. An LPGA victory is worth 30 points.

Ko and Park each have a tour-leading four victories this season. Ko was asked Tuesday in Malaysia if she was up to winning a third consecutive start.

“This tournament, it's a top field,” Ko said. “It doesn't get much better than that. Coming and saying, `Hey, I'm going to win every week’ is kind of unrealistic. I just got to play some good golf out there and just have fun. There's a lot of great things to look forward to, and, personally, I think I play better when I have fun and I've got a smile on my face. If the win comes, great, but that's kind of the last thing I'm thinking about.”

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Rahm (62) takes early lead at CareerBuilder

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 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.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.


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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.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."