H.J. Kim out-duels Lewis to win Founders Cup

By Randall MellMarch 23, 2015, 2:16 am

PHOENIX – The LPGA ought to think about setting up a satellite office in Seoul.

South Koreans are looking determined to own this year in women’s golf.

Hyo Joo Kim kept the South Korean flag firmly planted in this LPGA season Sunday holding off Stacy Lewis to win the JTBC Founders Cup.

With a 5-under-par 67 in the final round, Kim fended off bold early charges from one challenger after another on a leaderboard that was tightly bunched on the front nine at Wildfire Golf Club. Her 21-under 267 total ended up being three shots better than Lewis (68) and five better than Ilhee Lee (66), Mi Hyang Lee (68) and Pornanong Phatlum (67).

South Korean or South Korean-born players have won all six LPGA events staged this year.

Na Yeon Choi won the Coates Golf Championship in the season opener. Sei Young Kim won the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic,  Lydia Ko the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, Amy Yang the Honda LPGA Thailand and Inbee Park the HSBC Women’s Champions. Choi, Kim, Yang and Park are South Korean. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Kim, 19, is part of a gifted wave of young South Koreans making up what may be the strongest rookie class the tour has ever seen.

“They’re fearless,” Lewis said.

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Hyo Joo Kim was a major championship winner before even taking up LPGA membership. She won the Evian Championship last year while playing the Korean LPGA Tour, where she was the Rookie of the Year in 2013. She claimed LPGA membership at the start of this season by virtue of that Evian victory. Though she’s considered a rookie, Kim started this week No. 8 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She will move up to No. 4 this week.

“She put a lot of pressure on and was just solid all day,” Lewis said.

Kim wasn’t alone among South Koreans taking a lofty world ranking into their LPGA rookie season.

Remarkably, four rookies from South Korea started this year ranked higher than major championship winner Paula Creamer.

Ha Na Jang, who just missed a putt to force a playoff with fellow countrywoman Na Yeon Choi at the season opening Coates Golf Championship, is No. 21 in the world. Sei Young Kim is No. 22. Q Baek, who many South Koreans expect to make a big impact this year, is No. 12. They’re all proven winners in their homeland.

“I have known these players since we played the Korean ladies tour,” Kim said through a translator. “I know how good they can be. In fact, everyone on the LPGA is really good, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. I’m just trying to find my place.”

At one point on the front nine, six players were within a shot of Kim. The back nine turned into a duel between Kim and Lewis.

Kim was two shots ahead of Lewis stepping to the 10th tee, but she looked like she might open a door to Lewis there. After hitting her drive under a tree to start the back nine, Kim asked for relief from a “dangerous situation.” A large beehive hung near the top of the tree. Kim was denied relief. She appealed, but she was denied again. After punching out, Kim made bogey, allowing Lewis to move within a shot of her.

“I wasn’t frustrated,” Kim said of the ruling. “If anything, I was just scared of the bees.”

Sensing an opening, Lewis picked up her game, but Kim kept answering all the good shots Lewis made. Lewis birdied the 12th, 13th and 15th holes and didn’t pick up a shot.

“I fought like crazy,” Lewis said. “That back nine was pretty cool, the way we made birdies back and forth and on top of each other.”

Finally, at the 16th hole, Lewis narrowed the gap, but she had to hit a stellar shot to do so. After watching Kim carve her approach shot there to 7 feet, Lewis hit hers to 4 feet, making her birdie putt after Kim missed.

Kim wouldn’t waver again. In fact, she slammed the door on Lewis with a birdie at the very difficult 18th, where a tough hole location yielded just six birdies all day. Lewis made a good play from a divot in the fairway to give herself a 30-foot birdie chance, but she three-putted for bogey, giving Kim her three-shot margin of victory.

Lewis made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine.

Kim made five birdies over the final eight holes.

“In the morning, I wasn't concentrating on winning, because I was playing with Stacy Lewis,” Kim said. “I’m a rookie. I just felt that by playing with her, I would learn a lot from her. So, I was just trying to make a good impression.”

Kim did more than that.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x