A. Jutanugarn pushing Ko for POY honors

By Randall MellAugust 29, 2016, 1:29 am

Ariya Jutanugarn upped the ante in her bid to challenge Lydia Ko as the year’s best player in women’s golf.

With her victory Sunday at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, Jutanugarn claimed an LPGA best fifth title this season, one more than Ko.

Jutanugarn made a statement winning the Canadian Women’s Open because Ko has asserted herself so thoroughly in the event. Ko arrived in Calgary last week trying to win the championship for the fourth time in the last five years. Jutanugarn stole the thunder from Ko and Canadian favorite Brooke Henderson, the favorites coming into the week.

While Jutanugarn’s victory didn’t enable her to overtake Ko in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings or the Player of the Year and money winning races, it set up a compelling competition for those prizes going into the home stretch of the season. It ought to be a fun final three months for fans of the women’s game.

Jutanugarn and Ko win in contrasting styles.

Jutanugarn can wow the competition with her power.

Even though she doesn’t hit driver much anymore – she hasn’t hit driver since the Kingsmill Championship in May – she still impresses with her powerful lashes. In the third round on Saturday, Jutanugarn reached the 12th green hitting 2-iron and 5-iron to give herself an eagle chance. She hit her 2-iron 296 yards in the thin air in Calgary, then hit the 5-iron 230 yards.

“It’s not a fair fight,” Golf Channel course reporter Jerry Foltz said.

Jutanugarn is 13th on tour this year in driving distance without hitting many drivers. She averages 266 yards per drive using mostly 3-woods and 2-irons. Ko is 118th in driving distance, averaging 247 yards per drive.

They are both strong iron players who hit a lot of greens.

Ko is 13th on tour hitting greens in regulation, Jutanugarn is 15th. Ko is one of the best wedge players in the game, and it’s becoming a strength of Jutanugarn’s.

Ko and Inbee Park have the best short games on tour. Ko is the best putter on tour this year, leading the LPGA in putts per GIR. Park may be the best putter the women’s game has ever seen.

Jutanugarn also owns a strong short game, with a soft touch complementing her power game, and she is becoming a clutch putter. She’s eighth on tour this year in putts per GIR.

“That’s something that’s changed about Ariya this year,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin, a Golf Channel analyst, said during this weekend’s telecast. “She can putt when it counts.”

Ko has been proving herself a prolific winner as a full-time LPGA member for three years now. She has shown her mastery maintaining her winning ways while honing swing changes under David Leadbetter, expanding her repertoire of shots and ball flights under his tutelage.

Jutanugarn’s talent has been there for all to see since she turned pro at 17, but she is taking the tour by storm over the last four months. She has gone to another level with Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott and swing coach Gary Gilchrist helping her harness gifts with an overhauled game plan.

“As a young player, Ariya could just whack it around and still play well,” Rankin said. “She’s learned she needed to develop a disciplined, gifted game.”

Rankin sees Jutanugarn still discovering what is possible.

“If she could hit the driver as well as she hits the 2-iron and 3-wood, maybe she could be unbeatable,” Rankin said.

Ko has been playing with a discipline that confounds veterans since she first won an LPGA event as a 15-year-old. She can wear out opponents with her consistent level of excellence. She’s as mentally tough as they come on tour. She’s also resilient, one of the best bounce-back players in the game.

“Lydia Ko’s greatness is kind of boring, just saying,” said Gail Graham, the two-time LPGA winner who worked as an on-course reporter for Golf Channel at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open. “She’s in the middle of the fairway most of the time, gives herself a lot of [birdie] chances, just great consistency.”

With a 30-point haul in Sunday’s victory, Jutanugarn trimmed Ko’s lead to a mere five points in the Player of the Year race. A second place finish is worth 12 points with Ko claiming four points Sunday for her tie for seventh. Only top-10 finishes earn points.

Here’s the updated POY standings:

1. Ko, 241.

2. Jutanugarn, 236.

3. Brooke Henderson, 131.

Ko’s grip on the Rolex world No. 1 ranking is so strong, Jutanugarn may need two or three more victories this year to catch her.

Still, Ko and Jutanugarn have set up a compelling battle for the game’s biggest prizes the rest of the year. If one of them wins the year’s final major, the Evian Championship, it’s another large statement. Ko vs. Jutanugarn shapes up as a classic confrontation of golfing skills, one that ought to excite fans of the women’s game if they can keep mustering their best on the way to the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.