Ko leaves no doubt with Evian win

By Randall MellSeptember 13, 2015, 7:42 pm

Lydia Ko is golf’s ultimate prodigy.

If there were a Grand Slam of record-setting youthful triumphs, Ko would have completed it Sunday by winning the Evian Championship in France.

And she would have done so with an exclamation point.

That’s what shooting a final-round 63 to become the youngest woman to win a major championship felt like.

Yes, Evian Golf Resort might not be St. Andrews or Oakmont, but this was her masterpiece, regardless of the canvas. Ko’s bogey-free 63 was ridiculously good under final-round pressure. She was seven shots better than anyone else in contention, seven shots better than anyone else among the final 18 players off the first tee on Sunday.

Though Ko started two shots behind at day’s start, she won by six. She hit every green in regulation but one. 

“It’s kind of hard to beat somebody who shoots 63,” said Lexi Thompson, who shot 70 and still got lapped finishing second. “She played amazing. She deserves it. She ball-struck the heck out of this golf course and putted really well. You can't get much better than that.” 

Evian Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Ko sets the new mark as youngest woman to win a major at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old.  Really, though, Ko’s feat feels even more historic than that. Yeah, sure, Young Tom Morris was 17 when he won the Open Championship in 1868, but he was among just a dozen players in the field.

Even Ko was dazzled by her feat. 

“It’s amazing, I guess, a little bit, that I can leave my name in the history books,” Ko said.

Here’s a slam that’s grand: At 14, Ko won the NSW Open on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour, becoming the youngest player at the time to win a professional event. At 15, she won the Canadian Women’s Open, becoming the youngest player to win an LPGA event. At 17, she ascended to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, becoming the youngest man or woman to rank No. 1 in professional golf.

And now there’s this, breaking through to win the Evian Championship, her best triumph and toughest test.

Ko delivered under pressure Sunday, under constant reminders that if she was going to surpass Morgan Pressel as the youngest winner of major, this was her last chance. Pressel was 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old when she won the Kraft Nabisco in 2007. Ko will be a full month older than that when women’s golf’s next major arrives at Mission Hills next spring.

Ko got a full year of this hype from us folks in the media, a countdown of her last five chances to surpass Pressel. The pressure seemed to be getting to Ko, too, right from the start. She tied for 51st in the spring at the ANA Inspiration, her worst finish in a major until she missed the cut in her very next major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. That was the first cut she missed as an amateur or pro playing the LPGA. She got some major momentum going at the U.S. Women’s Open, tying for 12th, and then made a good run at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, tying for third.

By the time Ko arrived at Evian, she didn’t have to be asked about the clock ticking on her major quest.

She knew.

Walking on to the 18th green Sunday, Ko knew it was finally over. Her caddie, Jason Hamilton, told her to enjoy the moment. Ko said she felt her eyes well up with tears thinking about what the victory meant.

“I didn't totally cry-cry,” Ko said. “But I kind of got a little overwhelmed, and I could kind of felt tears coming when Jason said, `Enjoy the moment.’

“I kind of felt back over the whole week and all the questions I've been asked. But in a way, I was relieved.”

It was Ko’s fourth victory this year, the 13th professional title worldwide in her career.

Her coaches should get their due, too. The team of David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan got some grief taking over Ko’s game at the end of 2013 when they started changing her swing. There was criticism changing her fade to a draw, remaking her swing to give her more distance, but look what they’ve done together. Four wins this year alone, rising to No. 1 back in January, ranking No. 2 on the cusp of No. 1 again now, and winning this major.

“Pretty amazing,” Ko said.

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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.