Ko - not that one - atop Women's British leaderboard

By Randall MellAugust 1, 2015, 7:30 pm

TURNBERRY, Scotland – The wind and rain off the Firth of Clyde are blowing in some wild stories this week at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

There’s a Ko atop the leaderboard at Trump Turnberry going into Sunday’s final round, but it isn’t New Zealand’s Lydia Ko.

It’s South Korea’s Jin-Young Ko.

“People think we’re related,” Jin-Young said. “I get asked a lot of if we’re related.”

They aren’t, but they know each other. They met at the HanaBank Championship last fall, the only LPGA event Jin-Young has ever played. They share more than a last name. They share extraordinary abilities.

Jin-Young, who just turned 20 three weeks ago, is playing in her first major championship. She has no true links experience. She never set foot on soil anywhere in the United Kingdom until arriving to play the Ricoh Women’s British Open this week. She played just one practice round at Trump Turnberry, 18 holes on Wednesday, and yet she’s tied for the lead going into the final round.

With a 3-under-par 69 Saturday, Jin-Young Ko moved into a share of the lead with Taiwan’s Teresa Lu.

With three consecutive sub-par rounds in some pretty foul weather, Jin-Young Ko is at 8 under with Lu (69). They’re one shot ahead of Suzann Pettersen (72), two shots ahead of Mika Miyazato (70) and three ahead of Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park (69), Lydia Ko (72) and Minjee Lee (70).

Here’s the crazy thing about Jin-Young’s run up the leaderboard. Her only practice round on Wednesday was in the best weather this week, a rare warm and sunny day at Trump Turnberry. The golf gods cranked up the wind and rain beginning Thursday. They conjured down raking winds and rain through most of the first three days, and Jin-Young got the absolute worst of the draw. She got the early/late draw in the first two rounds, when the intermittent rains hit the hardest.

Jin-Young was asked how she explains this performance.

Because, really, she must possess shot-making genius to defy the odds like this, right? She must have mastered the art of holding draws and fades against the strong cross winds, right? And she must be terrifically skilled at controlling trajectory, able to ohit low bullets into the wind, right?

Wait until you hear her answer.

“I play regular, just like I play on the Korean tour, same tempo,” she said through a translator. “There is no changing at all. I just play normal . . . use more club or less club, hit one-shot pattern, just hit straight ball.”

Jin Young does have some local magic working for her. She hired a Scottish-born caddie who she just met this week. He’s Jeff Brighton, 27, who started caddying at Trump Turnberry when he was 13. He later became a member. Though he now lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he also caddies, he still gets over to Turnberry a lot.

Brighton isn’t a professional tour caddie, but he knows his way around star talent. He used to caddie for Dennis Hopper at the Dunhill Links, the iconic late actor who played alongside James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” and countless other movie classics.

What Brighton knows best, though, is Trump Turnberry.

“I’ve been around this course a thousand times,” Brighton said.

So, basically, he must be coaching her up with some extraordinary direction, right?

“No, basically, she just hits it where I point every time,” Brighton said. “We pick a line, and she’s going to hit it right there. I’m almost taking it for granted now.”

Ko isn’t fluent in English, but she speaks it pretty well, enough for effective player/caddie communication. She didn’t have to say a word, though, for Brighton to see how talented she is. Yet another rising star on the Korean LPGA, she’s No. 28 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, a four-time winner on that tour, with three of those victories this year. She’s trying to become the third KLPGA member to win over the last five majors.

Brighton said Ko really isn’t working the ball to hold shots against the tough winds here.

“No, we’re just sort of focused on using the wind as a friend,” Brighton said. “If it’s blowing left to right, we play it out 10 meters to the left.”

Brighton couldn’t believe how well Ko navigated Turnberry out near the lighthouse, closest to the ocean, on late Friday, when the wind was howling and the rain was blowing sideways. They finished in the dark in a six-hour round. She posted one of the most magical 71s he has ever seen.

“Incredible, really something,” Ko said. “She’s from Korea, and she isn’t used to weather like this. She didn’t complain or get flustered once. We couldn’t reach three of the par 4s, the rain and wind were blowing so hard, but she just hit the shots she needed.”

Brighton shook his head hearing that Ko’s tied for the lead.

“The next sensation,” Brighton said.

Nobody’s had a better view this week.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.)