Ko gives herself belated birthday gift with 'Skirts' win

By Randall MellApril 27, 2015, 3:29 am

DALY CITY, Calif. – This won’t count as Lydia Ko’s first major championship victory, but it sure felt like it should.

With Lake Merced offering a brutish test that played a lot like a U.S. Women’s Open, with a strong, deep field to beat, Ko won a war of attrition Sunday at the Swinging Skirts Classic.

She was the last woman standing with long shadows falling over a long, hard day.

While Ko won’t go into the record books as the youngest woman to win a major championship claiming this title, she had to beat the youngest woman ever to win a major. Ko defeated Morgan Pressel in a playoff with a birdie at the second hole of sudden death. Pressel became the youngest winner of a major when she took the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2007 at 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old. Pressel was trying to win her third LPGA title Sunday, her first since taking the Kapalua Classic in ’08.

Ko once more turned the 18th at Lake Merced into her personal stage, creating some terrific theater for the second year in a row. Last year, she ended this event by making birdie at the 72nd hole to beat Stacy Lewis by a shot. She set up this year’s victory by hitting a wedge to 8 feet at the final hole of regulation, then making a birdie to force the playoff. She hit a wedge to 5 feet at the same finishing hole on the second playoff hole. She won by making that last birdie chance after watching Pressel’s 10-foot chance slip left of the hole.

“It’s always a very close one here,” Ko said. “This tournament always makes my heart clench. I always get so nervous.”

It marks Ko’s first victory as a legal adult. She counts it as a belated birthday present, her first victory since turning 18 on Friday. It’s the third worldwide victory this season for the Rolex world No. 1, her second LPGA title of the year. She’s now 2-0 in playoffs in her LPGA career.

Though Ko insists she feels pressure, she looked her typically unflappable self with the intensity ratcheting up. She was chuckling good naturedly stepping to the tee to begin the playoff. She laughed and shook her head after hitting her last wedge close to set up her winning putt.

Ko was asked if she really does feel nerves.

“I do get nervous,” Ko said. “You have to take my word on that. My 17th-hole shot at Ocala definitely proves it, doesn't it?  That was a pretty bad shot.”

Ko shanked a shot at Golden Ocala at the end of this year’s season opener, losing out on a chance to win there. It was a rare failure for this young star.

Pressel didn’t see any nerves in Ko on Sunday.

“She's very, very impressive, and she’s always there [in contention],” Pressel said. “At her age, she plays with so much poise and calmness that I don't think you see from other kids her age.”

Pressel caught herself with the last comment.

“I guess she's not a kid anymore, sorry,” Pressel said.

Ko started the day three shots back, then dug herself a bigger hole with a bogey-bogey start to fall four behind.

“I said `Man, this is an awful start,’” Ko said.

But she battled to the end. She felt like the long birdie putt she holed at the 15th was a difference maker. She ignited a roar dropping a birdie from 40 feet that got her within a shot of Pressel.

“I thought it was going to stop in front of the hole,” Ko said. “But it went in and definitely gave me a lot of confidence.”

For Pressel, there was disappointment in the end, but she has come so far so quickly since overhauling her swing before the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix six weeks ago. She said she was lost with her swing on the Asian swing at season’s start, but she found a spark reuniting with swing coach Ron Stockton. She tied for third at the ANA Inspiration three weeks ago, missing out on a playoff by one shot.

“I definitely feel like there are so many positives,” Pressel said. “If you would've told me before I left Phoenix that I would finish third at ANA and then second, I don't think I would've believed you.

A shot behind at Sunday’s start, Pressel took charge early. She holed a 55-foot eagle at the sixth hole that gave her a two-shot lead. She left Lake Merced kicking herself over missed chances, including a missed 5-foot birdie putt at the fifth hole and a missed 4-foot birdie chance at the ninth that would have given her a three-shot lead going to the back nine.

“Nothing was really sharp,” Pressel said. “I definitely missed some putts that I could have made.  It was a very strange day. Missed a 4-footer for birdie, make a 50-footer for eagle on the next hole, and then three-putt. I was kind of all over the place.

“But I gave myself a chance, and that's what I came here to do.”

Ko won changing her strategy at the 18th. After laying up to 108 yards at the end of regulation and then 111 yards on the first playoff hole to hit pitching wedge in, she hit a longer hybrid as her layup at the second playoff hole. She laid up to 96 yards so she could hit sand wedge, instead. She hit it so hard she couldn’t believe the divot she took and thought she might have hit it too heavy.

It was nearly a perfect shot, though, spinning to 5 feet to help her close out.

“We were both hitting the ball good, so in the end I knew it would come down to somebody making a putt,” Ko said.

Golf is getting accustomed to seeing Ko make those putts.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.