Ko, Park going down to the wire for awards

By Randall MellNovember 21, 2015, 10:56 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko and Inbee Park are threatening to take their battle for the LPGA’s biggest prizes down to the final shot Sunday at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

The tournament trophy, the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking are all still hanging in the balance for these two in a potentially dramatic conclusion at Tiburon Golf Club.

If Ko or Park has a hot round Sunday, it could lead to an epic sweep.

“It’s going to be great TV and theater,” said Stacy Lewis, who remains in the hunt for the Tour Championship and the CME Globe. “That's what you want at the end of the year.

“I love the Globe Race. I love the drama that it creates. It gives media and TV, gives everybody something to talk about. That's what we need with our tour.”

Cristie Kerr shot a 6-under-par 66 Saturday to take a share of the third-round lead of the CME Group Tour Championship with Ha Na Jang (69). They’re at 13 under overall, two shots ahead of Ko (69) and Gerina Piller (67) and three ahead of Lexi Thompson (67), Brittany Lincicome (68) and Karine Icher (68).

Park made a nice move Saturday with her putter heating up. She shot 67 to move four shots off the lead. She finally got comfortable on these Bermuda greens, rolling in 40-foot birdie putts at the 16th and 17th holes.

Ko and Park remain first and second in projected CME points in the battle for the Globe and $1 million jackpot. Thompson jumped to third in projected points to give herself a shot at the big payday with Lewis fourth in projected points.

The battles for Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy, money title and Rolex world No. 1 ranking are narrowed down to Ko and Park.

If Ko or Park win the CME Group Tour Championship, they’ll likely sweep all the big prizes.

Ko won both the Tour Championship and the Globe’s $1 million payout last year. The $1.5 million payday was the richest in the history of women’s golf. How would she like to repeat the feat?

“It would be awesome,” Ko said. “When you defend something or do something back to back, it's always cool to do that.

“There's still a lot of golf to be played. Inbee is playing great, so are the other girls. You can't take anyone out of it. I’ve just got to focus on my game. I think that's all I can do from here.”

How close are these battles for the season-long awards? The scenarios are dizzying.

Ko is just three points ahead of Park in Rolex Player of the Year points (276-273) and Park entered the week just .016 average strokes ahead of Ko in scoring average.

The races are so close, Ko and Park could actually end up in a playoff for the CME Group Tour Championship that would also decide the CME Globe winner. Or, they could end up in a playoff just for the CME Globe after the CME Tour Championship winner is crowned.

If separate playoffs are required for the CME Group Tour Championship and the CME Globe, the Tour Championship playoff would begin first with a return to the 18th tee. The CME Globe playoff would follow.

Ko and Park could also end up tied for Rolex Player of the Year and share the award. There’s no playing off if they tie for that.

“We both had really, really good seasons and somebody is going to be No. 1 and somebody is going to become No. 2,” Park said. “That's just the way it is. I'm just trying to tell myself I had a really good enough season this year. I've earned what I wanted to earn, what I wanted to achieve. The rest is just a bonus.”

Ko was asked if this big Sunday finale is fun, or if it is agonizing.

“You can kind of look at it two ways,” Ko said. “The positive way is I'm glad, and I should be proud, that I'm in this position. Anything can happen. If I play well, it might end up being a good day where I'm holding a couple trophies.  At the same time, because everything is on the line, there is more added pressure.

“I think it's more kind of those first couple holes where you do get nervous anyway, but to know at the end of the 18th hole, there could be a lot of things on the line, a little bit more added pressure ... that's why I'm not going to not think about all that. I think that's what I did today. I wasn't thinking about what might be happening tomorrow.”

The possibilities are dizzying.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.