A. Jutanugarn smiles all the way to first major title

By Randall MellJuly 31, 2016, 8:26 pm

WOBURN, England – Talk about a winning smile.

Ariya Jutanugarn’s smile embodies the terrific story of how this broken player put herself back together again.

Though she looked like she was going to run away early with the Ricoh Women’s British Open Sunday, it was fitting she had to overcome another dose of adversity on another nerve-wracking back nine, that she had to overcome a final test of her resolve.

It was fitting she smiled through every daunting challenge this crazy day presented.

Jutanugarn started smiling as part of a new pre-shot routine after she collapsed in April at the ANA Inspiration, the season opening major. The smile was a “trigger” Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott gave Jutanugarn to remind her to slow down, calm down and focus when the pressure mounted in big events.

So when all hell started breaking loose on the back nine Sunday, Jutanugarn kept smiling.

“When I get really excited or nervous, I know what I have to do,” Jutanugarn said.

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Jutanugarn shot an even-par 72 to become the first man or woman from Thailand to win a major championship. She finished at 16-under 272, three shots better than Mirim Lee (73) and Mo Martin (70).

“I really wanted to win a major, and I did, so I'm very proud of myself,” Jutanugarn said.

Jutanugarn beat more than the 143 other players in the field this week at Woburn Golf Club. She beat all the demon memories lined up against her.

A year ago, Jutanugarn left the Women’s British Open miserable, frustrated missing the cut. It was her 10th consecutive missed cut. Once a teenage phenom who seemed destined for stardom, she was lost. And when she finally thought she had fought her way back this spring, she blew a two-shot lead over the final three holes at the ANA Inspiration, creating more doubts.

“Ariya shows us all you can go through tough times in life, but you can come back,” said Gary Gilchrist, her swing coach. “She bounced back with her determination, with her self-belief.”

With Nilsson, Marriott and Gilchrist helping, Jutanugarn rebuilt her swing and her confidence. She needed all her gifts Sunday after building a six-shot lead on the front nine and then nearly losing it on the back nine.

With a double bogey at the 13th hole, Jutanugarn watched Mirim Lee move within a shot of her, but Jutanugarn didn’t crack with the pressure mounting.

“I was still nervous, but I’m pretty sure I learned a lot from [ANA],” Jutanugarn said. “Because after I felt nervous, I knew what to do.”

Jutanugarn’s smile reminded her to avoid the pitfalls that cost her at the ANA, to slow down and stay in the moment.

“She was so different than at the ANA,” Nilsson said. “She had the tools to manage herself.”

Jutanugarn rebounded from her double bogey with one solid shot after another and with a clutch 25-foot birdie putt at the 17th to put her back up by two shots with one hole to play.

“Today, she knew she would be more nervous,” Marriott said. “She took more breaths with long exhales and slowed down a little bit.”

Moriya Jutanugarn, Ariya’s older sister and fellow tour pro, saw how down Ariya was after missing her 10th consecutive cut a year ago at the Women’s British Open.

“Her mind wasn’t going right,” Moriya said. “She was everywhere. She had too many worries. She was really stressed, but this year’s completely different. She said this year she was just going to play her game and show everyone her style of golf.”

Jutanugarn’s practiced pre-shot smile embodied the winning plan Ariya put together with her team’s help.

Peter Godfrey, Jutanugarn’s caddie, saw how it worked after the double bogey.

“She never changed her attitude all through the day, whether she made birdie or double bogey,” Godfrey said.

The victory is Jutanugarn’s fourth this season.

Early last year, she was No. 124 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She’s projected to move three spots to No. 3 with this win, behind No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 2 Brooke Henderson. The top three players in the world are now 19, 18 and 20 years old, respectively.

Ariya’s mother, Narumon, was beaming for all of Thailand afterward.

“I’m proud for Thailand,” she said with Moriya translating. “I hope this inspires more young girls in Thailand to take up golf.”

Gilchrist believes Jutanugarn is only beginning to show what she’s capable of achieving.

“Ariya’s confidence is going to go to another level with this victory,” Gilchrist said. “This girl was cruising in fourth gear today. She’s got a fifth gear and a sixth gear.”

Jutanugarn also has a winning smile that won’t quit.

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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