In contention, Ko won't change routine

By Randall MellJuly 10, 2016, 1:56 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Lydia Ko remembers her hands shaking so badly she could barely set her ball on her putting line after marking it on the first hole in her first start in a U.S. Women’s Open.

That was back at Blackwolf Run when Ko was 15, but she doesn’t think being nervous really had much to do with her age.

“I said, `Man, why am I so nervous? Why am I not able to control my hands?’” Ko said. “When I look back, it's because it meant a lot. I was super excited to be there playing the championship.

“It just shows how much this championship means to me and means to the women's game and how important it is.”

Ko will tee it up Sunday at CordeValle Golf Club with her first real chance to win the U.S. Women’s Open.

With a 2-under-par 70 Saturday, Ko grabbed the 54-hole lead.

Rolling in a 9-foot birdie putt at the last, Ko moved to 7 under overall, one shot better than Eun Hee Ji (70) and Sung Hyun Park (74). She’s two ahead of Amy Yang (73) and Brittany Lang (68).

Ko says she will be nervous again Sunday trying to win, but she jolted the media center with laughter after being asked how she has learned to handle sleeping on 54-hole leads.

“I go partying,” the strait-laced Ko cracked. “Partying all night, then come straight to the course.

U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, photos and videos

“No, I think the best thing is to not get out of your routines. I love my sleep, so I know that I'll have a good night's sleep. But nothing different. Nothing special to eat. I want my mom's cooking, and that's it. And that's what I look to do.”

Ko is looking to add to her long list of "youngest ever" achievements.

If she wins, Ko will become the youngest winner of a U.S. Women’s Open at 19 years, 2 months and 16 days old. She would surpass Inbee Park as the youngest by 11 months and 1 day. A victory would also make Ko the youngest man or woman to win three majors, surpassing Young Tom Morris, who was almost 19 years and 5 months old when he won The Open for a third time in 1870.

Ko is going for her third major championship in the last four played.

Yes, Ko’s still so young, playing the U.S. Women’s Open for just the fifth time, but she concedes there has been some frustration trying to claim this prize. Her tie for 12th last year is her best finish in the championship.

“I've always come off after a U.S. Open and said, `Hey, I could have done a little better,’” Ko said. “I always felt like something was missing.

Ko may be only 19, but, remarkably, she is the most seasoned and experienced player on the leaderboard. She has won more majors (2) than the other top seven players on the leaderboard combined (1). She also has won more LPGA titles (13) than those players combined (10).

“I look a lot calmer than what goes on in the inside,” Ko said. “I definitely do get nervous, but I think that's part of it. I think nerves are good because it means you're excited. You're ready. It means a lot to you. Obviously, nerves, you've got to be able to control them.”

In Ko’s first two major championship victories, she came from behind to win in the final round. She didn’t have to sleep on the 54-hole lead. She came from two shots back when she won the Evian Championship last fall to become the youngest winner of a woman’s major. She came from one shot down when she won the ANA Inspiration in April.

Ko’s 0 for 1 trying to hold on to a 54-hole lead.

She took a one-shot lead into the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last month but was overtaken when Brooke Henderson closed brilliantly and beat her in a playoff.

In Ji and Park, there’s experience and much talent chasing her. Ji, 30, won the U.S. Women’s Open in ’09. Park, 22, is a rising star on the Korean LPGA Tour, winner of last year’s Korean Women’s Open. Park is No. 18 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and may be the longest hitter in women’s golf.

“You just never know what's going to happen,” Ko said. “To me, in Seattle, I thought I played great, but there was a very low number that Brooke shot. Those things can happen. All I can do is focus on the shot I have in front of me, try my best. What somebody else does is definitely out of my hands. It's hard enough trying to control where my ball ends up. I'm just going to enjoy it.”

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)