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Jutanugarn sisters heading in different directions

By Randall MellSeptember 16, 2017, 5:23 pm

The Jutanugarn sisters are moving in different directions this summer.

While Moriya’s upward climb continues at the Evian Championship in her bid to make her first LPGA title a major, Ariya missed another cut.

With a 3-under-par 68 Saturday, Moriya took sole possession of the lead. At 9 under overall, she is one shot ahead of Ayako Uehara (66) and two ahead of Katherine Kirk (69).

In-Kyung Kim (69) sits just three shots back, in position to win back-to-back majors.

Lydia Ko (68) and Sung Hyun Park (73) are also three back. Ko is looking to win her third major and end a 13-month winless spell. Park, the first-round leader, is looking to win back-to-back starts and add to the U.S. Women’s Open title she won two months ago.

Ariya, on the other hand, continues to struggle to find the form that helped her ascend to Rolex world No. 1 after winning the Manulife Classic in June. She has slipped to No. 4 and looks to drop again after missing the cut at Evian. She followed up a 77 in the first round with a 74 on Saturday.

This marks the seventh time Ariya has missed a cut or withdrawn in her last eight starts.

After tying for eighth at the ANA Inspiration in the spring, she has now missed the cut in the last four majors.


Evian Championship: Articles, video and photos

Full-field scores from the Evian Championship


Moriya, 23, who is two years older than Ariya, has been pointing to something big this year. She has been knocking at the door to her first victory for some time now.

“That's actually what I'm trying to do, just keep knocking on the door,” Moriya said. “And when it's time, it's time.”

If Moriya wins, the Jutanugarns will become the first sisters in history to win majors. Ariya won the Ricoh Women’s British Open last year.

Moriya has been a regular contender all summer. She tied for second at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, tied for third at the Cambia Portland Classic and tied for fourth at the Meijer Classic. She has eight top-10 finishes this year, including her last two starts.

No LPGA player has made more birdies this season than Moriya (363). Her velvet putting stroke is considered one of the best on tour. She’s fifth in putts per greens in regulation for the year. She’s eighth in scoring (69.75). Also, she has gotten longer under swing coach Gary Gilchrist, improving her average driving distance by 12 yards this season, to 256.8 yards per drive. That’s taken her from 144th in driving distance last year to 52nd this year.

“Mo has gotten sneaky long,” said Lynn Marriott, who teams with Pia Nilsson as the Jutanugarn sisters’ Vision 54 performance coaches.

Gilchrist says a club-throwing drill that Marriott and Nilsson taught Moriya is a large factor in her swinging more freely. Moriya uses old clubs and flings them down the practice range as she follows through while hitting shots in the drill.

“Sometimes, we could see Moriya swinging defensively, where there was no energy to the finish in her swing,” Nilsson said. “Gary was seeing it, too. We wanted her to feel what it means to be free with her swing. So, we told her to let go of the club and let it fly. There’s instant feedback. She could see how she was holding off or hold on.”

It’s a drill that Marriott and Nilsson learned from Fred Shoemaker.

Really, though, the Vision 54 coaches say there isn’t one change that has led to Moriya’s improvements.

“Moriya is a little like Annika Sorenstam in that she just keeps adding skills, keeps improving, whether it’s technical, physical or human skills, she just keeps adding to them,” said Nilsson, who coached Sorenstam. “There are a lot of things she has been building on since last year.”

Though Moriya proved herself coming out of Thailand, tying for medalist honors at LPGA Q-School in 2012 and winning LPGA Rolex Rookie of the Year honors in ’13, she has played in her younger sister’s shadow.

Still, with Ariya winning five times last year and claiming Rolex Player of the Year honors, Moriya was her biggest cheerleader.

“Ariya is proud of what Moriya is doing now,” Nilsson said. “They’ve been able to figure out how to separate who they are as family, as sisters, and who they are as players. It’s a beautiful thing.”

It’s been a challenging summer for Ariya. She has posted scores of 76 or worse in eight of her last 15 rounds.

While Ariya has acknowledged her surgically repaired right shoulder has bothered her at times this year, she didn’t appear to favor the shoulder missing the cut this week.

“Ariya is always going to have trouble with that shoulder,” Marriott said. “It’s going to kind of come and go, but the main thing is that she gets comfortable with her game right now. She’s working through things.”

Even gearing down without her driver, Ariya has been struggling to hit fairways. She hit just 14 of 26 fairways through the first two rounds of Evian.

Marriott and Nilsson acknowledge the sisters are different personalities, and that affects how they react to the game’s challenges.

“Ariya’s highs are really high and her lows are really low,” Marriott said. “Mo is so different, not too high and not too low, not as extreme, but we really feel Ariya is going to come out of this just fine.”

Ariya has been through worse swoons than this. Once a teen phenom, she endured some epic failure struggling to come back from surgery in 2013 to repair a torn labrum in her right shoulder. She missed 10 cuts in a row in the middle of the 2015 season, the year before she was the LPGA’s Player of the Year.

“We have good communication,” Nilsson said. “Every player, no matter who you are, there are times when things go really well, times when nothing happens and times when you have some kind of dip in performance. It happens with every player, but when you are a top, top player, it gets more attention.”

Ariya’s rebound from previous struggles gives her perspective.

“We look at it through the long-term lens of mastery,” Marriott said. “Some players panic, or go into fix-it mode, and start changing a lot of things. Ariya isn’t doing that. She’s dealing with it, and we’re helping her deal with it. We see adversity as an opportunity to learn skills you’ll need in the future.”

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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.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


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