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Hana Bank a de facto major for South Koreans

By Randall MellOctober 11, 2017, 5:54 pm

The KEB Hana Bank Championship may not be a major championship, but it feels like one for all the South Koreans teeing it up this week in the lone LPGA event played in their homeland.

It may not be an Olympic event, either, but it also has that kind of feel to it for the Koreans, with so much nationalist honor, pride and responsibility compounding the challenge.

So there you have a summary of what this week means to the Koreans, with the combination of quasi-major championship and Olympic pressure defining the nature of the test at the Sky 72 Golf Club’s Ocean Course in Incheon.

Though it’s a limited field, with 78 players, the strength of the field at the top of the game adds to the prestige of the title.

Fifteeen of the top 16 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are teeing it up and 21 of the top 23. The strength of the field is also enhanced with 12 players from the formidable Korean LPGA Tour exempt into the competition.

Overall, there are 31 Koreans in the field, 10 more than from the United States, the second-most-represented nation.

Notably, there will be at least one Korean in every pairing sent out in Thursday’s first round.

How much pressure is on the Koreans?

This event has been more difficult for them to win than the U.S. Women’s Open over the last decade. They haven’t won the KEB Hana Bank Championship the last two years and have won it just four times over the last 10 years. Conversely, they’ve won seven of the last 10 U.S. Women’s Opens.

Rolex world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park gave a glimpse of the strong sense of responsibility Korean players have to their homeland. She apologized on Tuesday for her performance at the KLPGA’s Pak Invitational a few weeks ago, when she tied for 34th.

“I didn't really get the result I wanted at the time, so I was quite sorry for my Korean fans,” Park said. “I hope this week gives me an opportunity to redeem myself to my fans.”

Two-time major championship winner In Gee Chun provided another look at the stressful dynamic earlier this year.

After Chun was hospitalized this summer with a mysterious esophageal malady, her coach, Won Park, said he believed mounting pressure from back home was a factor. While Chun has recorded five second-place finishes this season, she hasn’t been able to break through for another win.

“In Gee is a superstar in Korea, but people have such high expectations,” Park told at the time. “It’s like second-places finishes weren’t good enough.”

Chun said she was only dealing with pressure common to all top players, but she spoke this week of the frustration that mounted with so many second-place finishes.

“Of course, when you don't win, there is a certain disappointment, and I was slightly depressed at times,” Chun said.

Chun has a large fan club, The Flying Dumbos, who will be following her this week. She says she will judge the week’s success by how much fun she has with them. She got the nickname “Dumbo” because of her excessive curiosity.

“This is my first time in a year since I am playing in Korea, in front of my Korean fans, and so I'm really excited,” Chun said. “I hope I can channel this kind of excitement into positive energy.”

Rolex world No. 1 So Yeon Ryu, who didn’t make the Korean Olympic team last year, said trying to make that team was a gut-wrenching proposition.

“Just makes me crazy,” Ryu said last year. “With the media, it’s like if someone is going to make the team, they’re a great player. Then if somebody cannot make it, they’re a really bad player.”

Ryu ascended to world No. 1 this year while claiming two victories, including the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. This marks her 16th consecutive week atop the rankings, and she leads the Rolex Player of the Year points race, but she says she hasn’t been satisfied with her play of late. She tied for 40th at the Evian Championship in her last start and missed the cut at the Cambia Portland Classic before that.

“To be honest, I think for the last six weeks, or about a month, I haven’t had the same kind of buzz,” Ryu said. “I really hope to be able to feel that again.”

For the Koreans, winning this week will generate a major kind of buzz.

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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

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

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”