Eight countries battle for national pride in International Crown

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2016, 2:47 pm

GURNEE, Ill. – It’s the Solheim Cup’s alter ego.

Someday soon, however, the UL International Crown might overshadow its other half in women’s golf.

The second rendition of the International Crown begins Thursday at the Merit Club looking to build upon its promising start at Caves Valley outside Baltimore two years ago. The biennial international team event possesses the kind of nationalistic fervor that makes the Solheim Cup successful, but with the potential to make a greater impact. That’s because the Crown’s scale is so much larger as it encompasses the entire world of women’s golf.

With eight nations qualifying, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, where women’s golf is so much more popular than anywhere else in the world, this event’s reach goes far beyond the Solheim Cup’s. The LPGA will announce details this week of its plans to play the 2018 event in South Korea, where it promises to be embraced as a kind of Super Bowl of women’s golf.

With more nationalistic passion than what makes the Solheim Cup work, the Crown is only lacking in history.

Will the No. 1 seeded Koreans battle the second-seeded Americans to the end this year? That’s the kind of showdown that can quickly build a rivalry and escalate this event’s status. There are already roots for that rivalry. The Koreans eliminated the Americans from the inaugural International Crown, knocking the United States out in a playoff to see who advanced to Sunday singles as the wild card out of pool play. It was a big blow to the Americans, who were the top seeds in 2014.

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South Korea, playing under its Olympic designation as the Republic of Korea, joins the United States in the four-day team match-play event once again. Japan, Australia, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, England and China also qualified with four-woman teams.

World No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 2 Brooke Henderson may not be in this week’s event with New Zealand and Canada failing to qualify, but seven of the top 10 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings will be competing, including Lexi Thompson, Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Sei Young Kim, and In Gee Chun.

“We wanted to do something completely different,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said of the Crown’s addition to the schedule two years ago.

Whan, though, didn’t want to create a women’s version of the PGA Tour’s Presidents Cup.

“We wanted players to have a chance to play for country,” Whan said. “Forming a ‘Team Rest of the World’ is just hard to define.”

Whan wanted players competing under their own flags, and that simple concept proved a stroke of genius. It made all the difference in the world in stoking interest in the new event.

While the Presidents Cup feels coldly contrived, the International Crown felt naturally heated.

You saw it and felt it that first year with Hall of Famer Karrie Webb gazing up at the Australian flag with her country’s national anthem being played in the event’s opening.

“Our blood boils when we hear our anthem and when we see the flag,” Beatriz Recari said about the Spaniards winning the inaugural competition. “We feel the flag.”

The Spaniards aren’t back to defend their title. That’s how competitive qualifying was again. Sweden also didn’t qualify to return. England and China beat them out as newcomers.

“I played in the Solheim Cup a few years ago, and it was the best golf experience I’ve ever had,” England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff said. “This is going to be fun to be back in a team environment again.”

Sixteen of the 32 players in this week’s field are scheduled to compete in the Olympic women’s golf competition in Rio de Janeiro next month.

While the UL International Crown may not feature all the women’s stars the Olympics will, the Crown will offer a more compelling format. With fourball team match play for three days and Sunday singles, there’s going to be more daily drama than the standard 72-hole individual stroke play format will feature in the Olympics. With match play at the Crown, there will be winning and losing right from the first hole.

“For fourballs, it's just a birdie-fest,” Lewis said. “You've got to go out there and make as many birdies as you can. With that format, you just never know. You can go out there and make nine or 10 birdies as a team and lose. You’ve just got to play aggressive. It’s a fun week.”

Korea, Australia, Chinese Taipei and China will compete in Pool A.

The United States, Japan, Thailand and England will compete in Pool B.

A match victory is worth two points, a tie worth one point through the entire event.

Over the first three days, each team will play two fourball matches against every other team within its pool. The top two teams from each pool will advance to Sunday’s singles. A fifth team will advance from a Saturday playoff between the third-place teams from each pool. On Sunday, each remaining team will play one singles match against every other team, with 10 total matches.

The champion will be determined by who wins the most cumulative points over the four days of competition.

“I remember walking the range before the matches began [in 2014] and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda telling me she didn’t expect her hands to be shaking,” Whan said. “She wanted to do well for Spain.”

That’s the kind of nationalistic pride that makes these international team events work so well.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry