Ko back in her comfort zone

By Randall MellNovember 18, 2016, 10:43 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – All of sudden, Lydia Ko is feeling more comfortable over the ball again.

All it took was a tiny adjustment in her move off the ball, a little tweak in her takeaway, to make the earth shift Friday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

All of a sudden, records are falling again.

All of a sudden, the field’s parting again, making room for another one of Ko’s marches to the top of a leaderboard.

All of a sudden, the “slumping” Ko is back in charge, in position to sweep all the LPGA’s major awards this season. Every one of them. Player of the Year, Vare Trophy, the $1 million CME Globe jackpot, the season-long money-winning title.

All of a sudden, if Ko can own another CME weekend at Tiburon Golf Club, she can own this entire season.

“I felt comfortable,” Ko said.

Can Ko keep this going? Can she finish this off?

Even Ko arrived at Tiburon Golf Club confessing she wasn’t in very good form, but she took a sharp turn upward Friday with her 10-under-par 62, which was four shots better than anyone else in the field. It’s a tournament record. It equaled her lowest score in an LPGA event and also equaled the lowest round anyone has shot on tour this season.

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At 12-under overall, Ko is three shots ahead of So Yeon Ryu (68) and Ryann O’Toole (67).

“So much better than I ever could have imagined,” Ko said. “Hopefully, that will give me good momentum going into the weekend.”

To win the Rolex Player of the Year Award, Ko has to win the CME Group Tour Championship. Ariya Jutanugarn (68), who is eight shots behind Ko through Friday’s play, will be the Player of the Year if Ko doesn’t win this tournament. It’s a points-based award.

Ko has thrived on CME weekends. She won the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot in each of the first two seasons it was offered, but she refuses to look beyond Saturday.

“The big key mindset for me is that I've not really been thinking about everything that could happen,” Ko said. “For me to win Player the Year, I know I need to win this championship. A lot of things come with that.”

Ko is looking for her fifth LPGA victory this season, her first since she won the Marathon Classic in July. She arrived at Tiburon having failed to record a top-10 in her last five starts, the longest she has gone without a top-10 since she began playing LPGA events as a 15-year-old amateur. It’s hardly fair to call that a slump, but a reporter asked her about her “slump” after her round.

“When you set the standard Lydia has set, and you get a little off, all of a sudden you get questions about what’s wrong,” said David Leadbetter, Ko’s swing coach.

Leadbetter said Ko needed a little “back-to-basics” work this week.

According to Leadbetter, Ko’s takeaway had gotten too flat. Ko acknowledged as much after Friday’s 62.

“It’s more about the basics and the little things,” Ko said.

After Thursday’s opening round, Leadbetter showed Ko a video in a very short range session. He showed Ko the hole-in-one swing she made at the Olympics, her first ever hole-in-one.

“There was method to the madness, just in reiterating to her what we’ve been working on the last two-and-a-half years,” Leadbetter said. “Essentially, she had been drifting away from some basics. It happens to players. They aren’t playing as well as they like, and they start trying different things. Her plane had gotten a little flat.

“She’s gotten it back to a slightly steeper plane again, which is what we’ve been working on the last three years.”

On Wednesday, Leadbetter gave Ko a drill, where she lifts the club vertically, in front of her, sets her wrists and then turns in to the backswing position. Ko has been using it on the course as part of her pre-shot routine this week.

“That’s the detox drill,” Leadbetter said. “It detoxes a bad move.”

Ko birdied her first three holes Friday, and she birdied five of her last six. She hit 15 greens in regulation, knocking a bunch of irons shots close.

“The thing that most impressed me today were her irons shots,” Leadbetter said. “That’s the thing that’s been lacking. Her iron play is her bread and butter. Lydia looked back to her old self today.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.