A. Jutanugarn overcomes demons for first LPGA win

By Randall MellMay 9, 2016, 1:11 am

If there are golf demons, they’re just memories posing as something more sinister.

They’re bad memories.

They’re echoes of failure that sit on a player’s shoulder whispering destructive reminders.

That’s what made Ariya Jutanugarn’s victory Sunday at the Yokohama Tire Classic such a special triumph. She didn’t just hold off Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel and Amy Yang coming home on the back nine of the Senator Course in Prattville, Ala.

With all due respect to those formidable competitors, Jutanugarn beat a tougher pair of foes. She beat the memories of two epic collapses.

And Jutanugarn, 20, didn’t just beat those golf demons. She beat all the doubts that followed her after she tore the labrum in her right shoulder three years ago, an injury that robbed her of the strength and confidence many thought would take her to the top of the game.

Jutanugarn triumphed over all of that Sunday in Alabama.

“It’s great because she was really struggling with her confidence,” Gary Gilchrist, her new swing coach, told GolfChannel.com. “It’s great how she’s turned her game around.”

A little more than a month ago, Jutanugarn was two shots ahead with three holes to go at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship. She blew the lead bogeying all three of those holes and lost to Lydia Ko. The championship ended with Jutanugarn snap hooking her final drive into the water.

“The last three holes, I really get nervous,” Jutanugarn said.

The collapse added to the weight on Jutanugarn’s shoulders, because three years before that she blew a chance to win her first LPGA title at the Honda LPGA Thailand in equally heartbreaking fashion. She took a two-shot lead to the final hole there, looking to become the first player from Thailand to win an LPGA event, but she watched her homeland wince and groan, instead. She made triple bogey and lost to Inbee Park.

Yes, Jutanugarn was only 17 when she lost to Park, but when she collapsed at the ANA, people wondered if the dots were connected.

Was this once immensely gifted player lacking something internal necessary to close out?

Jutanugarn answered on Sunday with strength of heart and mind.

After a bogey at the 17th reopened a door of doubt, she slammed it shut getting up and down for par at the end.

“Last putt, my hands shake, my legs shake,” Jutanugarn said. “I not have it this bad before, my putter shaking.”

This time Jutanugarn beat those nerves and became the first Thai to win an LPGA title. She did so on Mother’s Day, with her mother, Narumon, and her sister, Moriya, watching greenside.

“Good thing in my life, my mom and my sister always trust in me,” Ariya said.

When Jutanugarn turned pro three years ago, she looked as if she were on the fast track to stardom. She looked ready to challenge Ko and Lexi Thompson as the best young players in the game. She won a Ladies European Tour event in one of her first starts as a rookie on that tour and didn’t finish worse than a tie for fourth in five starts playing LPGA events via sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifying. Still 17, she rocketed to No. 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

And then Jutanugarn hurt herself.

In a practice round at the 2013 LPGA Championship, Jutanugarn playfully chased her sister off a tee box and stumbled down a steep slope. That’s how she tore up her shoulder. She underwent corrective surgery and was out for eight months. But when Jutanugarn returned in 2014, she still wasn’t right. Her shoulder still hurt, forcing her to change her swing to a more over-the-top move. It nearly robbed her of the strength of her game – her power.

“When you go through an injury as an athlete, and you aren’t playing, your mind takes over, and your mind takes you in all different directions,” Gilchrist said.

Jutanugarn made it through LPGA Q School at the end of 2014, and she showed a few flashes of her former self last year, but she had plummeted to No. 124 in the world. She also missed 10 consecutive cuts. Ariya and Moriya sought out Gilchrist together at the start of this year, and they’ve been working together ever since. Ariya came to Gilchrist with no confidence in her driver, the best weapon in her bag when she was at her best. She was hitting it all over the place.

“I think Ariya started losing trust in what she was doing,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist went to work on improving both Ariya’s and Moriya’s transition, on their move into the ball and impact position. Gilchrist also said they worked on changing their focus to what was working instead of what wasn’t working.

Slowly, confidence began to return.

“At one point, Ariya told me, `I’m going to win this year,’” Gilchrist said.

That was before the ANA collapse, but Gilchrist said Jutanugarn was more emboldened than discouraged finishing solo fourth at the ANA Inspiration.

“She walked away saying `I can do this, I can win,’” Gilchrist said. “If she didn’t believe she had what it takes to win, she wouldn’t have won this one.”

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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