Ko overcomes rough start to tie Sorenstam's record

By Randall MellApril 3, 2015, 12:40 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Lydia Ko can make the game look like child’s play, but there was nothing easy about the way the 17-year-old phenom reached a historical mark Thursday at the ANA Inspiration.

All that giggling coming from Ko near the end of the round belied just how tough the day was.

Ko had to fight her way to a 1-under-par 71 to equal Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam’s mark of 29 consecutive rounds under par.

The LPGA says it’s the longest streak dating back to 1992, which is as far back as detailed LPGA tournament records go.

Ko battled blustery, early morning winds. She battled out of more ankle-deep rough than she’s used to playing through. She even battled her swing, too, and somehow still reached the mark.

It was all daunting enough to keep Ko from thinking about anything beyond the shots at hand.

“A record was the last thing I was thinking about,” Ko said.

You saw just how maddening the battle was becoming for Ko after she clumsily pitched a shot off a tree and made bogey at her ninth hole of the day.

Ko turned in exasperation leaving that hole and chucked her golf ball into the water behind Poppie’s Pond.

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Rarely does Ko let emotion like that escape for everyone to see, but it was her fourth bogey over six holes.

“I really wasn’t hitting my driver well,” Ko said.

Ko played the first nine in 1 over despite making three birdies.

“What impresses me most is her ability to grind out a good score when she isn’t having a good day,” said Jason Hamilton, Ko’s caddie. “She had her B game today.”

Hamilton was on Ko’s bag for all 29 sub-par rounds. He picked up her bag full time late last fall in Asia. He saw this kind of fight more than once in that streak.

“Even when she has an off day, she still finds a way to post a decent number,” Hamilton said.

Ko said she regrouped at her 10th hole, at the No. 1 tee box. That’s where she pulled out a note her swing coach, David Leadbetter, gave her before the round.

“I don’t want to say exactly what it was,” Leadbetter said. “I told her it was a little psychobabble, just a little something meant to be inspirational. There has been so much talk about her breaking records, you can get really consumed by it, so it was just something to release a little of the pressure, to get her mind off it all.”

Whatever it was, Ko said it helped.

In the end, Ko’s giggling belied just how much the day challenged her. She practically laughed her way through the last two holes with banter between playing partner Lexi Thompson and their caddies leaving her in stitches.

Ko played the back nine in 2 under par, though it was dramatic to the finish.

At her 16th hole, where she was even par for the day, Ko hooked her tee shot behind a stand of trees. She fought a pull hook all day. That’s been her miss of late. From 160 yards out, Ko didn’t have a clear shot at the green. Hamilton told her she didn’t have to get too creative with the shot.

“Look, you don’t have to work it back on to the green,” Hamilton recounted telling her. “If you make it into the bunker up there, you can still make par.”

With a 6-iron, from the rough behind those trees, Ko did better than that. She hit a low hook that curved sharply around the trees, nipping some leaves before running up onto the green, where she was left with a 25-foot birdie putt. She two putted for par.

“That was awesome,” Hamilton said. “She couldn’t have played the shot better if she had a bucket of balls.”

At her 17th hole, Ko sealed the deal. She hit another beautiful 6-iron, this one a pretty, pure draw left of the flag. The ball fed down a slope to 18 inches of the cup. She made an easy birdie to get to red numbers.

If there was any stress building up, it drained away walking to that shot. Ko laughed uncontrollably exchanging banter with Thompson, with Hamilton and with Thompson’s caddie, Benji Thompson (no relation).

“Benji’s a real ham,” Hamilton said. “He and I were talking about how badly we were doing as their caddies, how badly we were reading the greens. I think Benji said, `Yeah, we suck today.’”

The remark set Ko off on a hard belly laugh walking to her last birdie putt. She made an easy par coming home to close out the day.

“Lydia has a great personality, and we definitely stay loose out there,” said Thompson, the defending champion, who shot 72, a solid start.

Thompson was as impressed as everyone else watching Ko match Sorenstam’s mark.

“Lydia might have been a little bit off today, but she has an amazing short game and hit some incredible shots,” Thompson said. “It doesn't surprise me she shot under par again.”

Ko will be looking to do it again Friday to surpass Sorenstam’s mark.

“Annika Sorenstam is legendary,” Ko said.

Ko seems intent on working her way to that lofty status, too.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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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.”