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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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.