Ko-Henderson could turn into historic rivalry

By Randall MellJuly 6, 2016, 9:00 pm

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – It’s tempting to expect too much too fast in their budding rivalry, but . . . 

Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson are delivering more than golf fans can fairly expect faster than they can ask for it.

They’re delivering great moments earlier than any players in the history of the game.

Ko became the youngest owner of a major championship title when she won the Evian Championship last fall at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old. Henderson became the second youngest winner when she took the title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last month at 18 years, 9 months and 2 days old. If either wins the U.S. Women’s Open this week to keep the teenager sweep of this year’s majors going, she will be the youngest winner in the history of this championship.

“I always say things are going so much faster than I would ever have dreamed or imagined,” Ko said.

Together, Ko and Henderson delivered one of the greatest finishes in the history of the women’s game when Henderson chased down Ko at the Women’s PGA and then beat her in a playoff.

So now that Ko is No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and Henderson is No. 2, are they ready to begin delivering women’s golf its best rivalry since Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb began battling for the game’s biggest prizes back in the ‘90s?

Are Ko and Henderson good enough together to reprise their Women’s PGA Championship duel at CordeValle Golf Club this week?

Though they are grouped together with Lexi Thompson in the first two rounds this week, neither is biting on projecting anything beyond the first tee shot that awaits them Thursday morning.

“I'm definitely a lot more confident coming into this week at World No. 2 and knowing that I've won a major championship,” Henderson said. “But that doesn't really mean anything when I tee it up on Thursday. I have to have two solid rounds to make the cut, and then to climb up the leaderboard on the weekend.”


U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, photos and videos


Yes, it’s too early to begin calling Ko and Henderson rivals, but the show they put on at the Women’s PGA makes for a nice foundation to launch one. Of course, these things can’t be forced or manufactured. They evolve with intensifying competition for the game’s biggest prizes.

Ko’s record is already so impressive, with 13 LPGA titles before her 20th birthday, two of them majors. Henderson seems in a hurry to catch up. Her victory at the Cambia Portland Classic last weekend was her third LPGA title. She turns 19 in September.

Henderson was asked if she looks at Ko as a rival.

“Lydia is an inspiration to all of us girls out here, and I think everyone in the world, basically,” Henderson said. “She has done amazing things in her career and she's only a couple months older than I am. We're just trying to kind of chase after her. She showed us a lot of things that are possible.

“She will always have a lot of respect from me, but that doesn't mean I don't want to beat her. That doesn't mean I don't want to go out there and have four solid rounds of golf. And I hope we do have a lot of playoffs together for Major Championship wins, like we did a couple of weeks ago, that means I'm playing really well and that means she's playing really well. So that's what I'm kind of hoping for.”

Henderson is making her fourth start in a U.S. Women’s Open. She tied for 10th two years ago and tied for fifth last year.

Ko is making her fifth start in a U.S. Women’s Open. Her tie for 12th last year was her best finish in the event.

What does Ko think of Henderson?

“Brooke is a really great player,” Ko said. “We all know what an amazing talent she has. But the thing is that she has such great personality and she's super nice. That's why we always love watching somebody like her play well. And our age gap, we were both born in 1997, so it's not like I'm miles older than she is.

“She’s an aggressive player, but at the same time she's smart. I think she's one of the most confident putters out there, too.”

Henderson, who jumped to No. 2 in the world with her victory at Sahalee, is still almost six whopping points behind Ko in the world ranking average. She won’t be overtaking Ko for No. 1 even with a victory this week. Nobody’s going to be overtaking Ko anytime soon, but Ko knows she’s the target.

“I don't necessarily think about it when I'm out there practicing, thinking, `Hey, I need to hit one more ball to beat Brooke,’” Ko said. “At the end of the day, all I can do is try my best, work on my own golf. And I think that's all you can do.”

If golf’s fortunate, Ko and Henderson will be asked a lot about each other in the coming years.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)