Ko will face Korea's U.S. Women's Open dominance

By Randall MellJuly 9, 2016, 3:13 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Lydia Ko is chasing the favorites this weekend.

She was chasing the moment she set foot at CordeValle Golf Club, long before she hit her first tee shot.

As the Rolex world No. 1, Ko may be the favorite just about every time she tees it up, but not this week, not at a U.S. Women’s Open.

The South Koreans have become the players to beat at this event, and so it’s no surprise that it's setting up that way yet again going into this weekend.

Ko rebounded Friday from her sluggish start with a 6-under-par 66, vaulting her up the leaderboard. She went from T-52 at day’s start to a tie for fourth place, three shots back.

All three players ahead of Ko are South Koreans.

Sung Hyun Park went out Friday and shot 66 to move into the lead at 8-under overall.

She’s two shots ahead of both Amy Yang (71) - twice a runner up in this championship, including last year, when she lost out to In Gee Chun - and Mirim Lee (74), who was the first round leader after opening with a 64.

The South Koreans are the most dominant force in women’s golf, and there’s something about the U.S. Women’s Open that brings out the very best in them.

The Koreans are in weekend position to win this championship for the fifth time in the last six years, for the seventh time in the last nine.

Se Ri Pak - who bid farewell Friday, playing her 19th and final U.S. Women’s Open - is responsible for turning this championship into the stage Koreans have best used to introduce themselves to the world. Pak missed the cut but left this stage in good hands with young stars continuing through the door she opened.

Americans didn’t know much about Chun, already a star in South Korea, until she won last year. Like Chun, So Yeon Ryu won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011 before she was even an LPGA member. Inbee Park won her first LPGA title at the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen in 2008.

And now here comes Sung Hyun Park, a budding star on the Korean LPGA Tour who Americans don’t know much about.

U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, photos and videos

Ko knows her, though. So does Lexi Thompson.

Park, 22, got their attention at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall when she shot 62 in the first round of her first LPGA event. She did so in spectacular fashion, striping tee shots past the big-hitting Thompson, who won the event but left with a lasting impression of the young Korean star.

“Amazing putter, great ball striker, and she hits it long,” Thompson said.

Ko tied for fourth that week, two shots behind Thompson and a shot behind Park.

“This is my first time in a USGA tournament,” Park said through a translator. “Coming to the tournament, I didn't even think about winning. I would like more experience with the USGA and LPGA, but I'm trying to enjoy this tournament. That's why I am just more comfortable, don't even think about the winning. I just enjoy the play.”

Ko won honors in the week’s marquee grouping, outplaying world No. 2 Brooke Henderson and No. 4 Thompson on both days. Henderson (71) and Thompson (73) both made the cut by a shot. Ko is eight shots better than each of them through two days.

“It was a really cool group,” Ko said. “I was super excited for this pairing.

“Brooke has been playing great and coming off a win in Portland, and Lexi has been playing great this year, the highest ranked American player. So we were expecting big fans, and fans came out to watch.”

Ko, 19, is seeking to win a tour-best fourth title this year and to her third major in the last four played. She won the Evian Championship at the end of last year to become the youngest winner of a major at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old and then took this year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration.

“This would be one of the highest tournaments to win,” Ko said. “This is the biggest championship in the U.S. It would be a tournament that I would love to win. It takes a lot of great golf, a lot of patience to win this championship, but there’s a lot of golf to be played. So I don't really want to get ahead of myself.”

Henderson, 18, said she relished playing in a marquee grouping but she had to remind herself there were a lot of other strong players to beat this week.

“It’s a lot of fun, to be in that position,” Henderson said. “It was really cool, playing with two of the best players in the world, the No. 1 player in the world. It’s always a lot of fun to be in that position, to have the cameras, to have the attention. It always makes golf a lot more fun when you have a lot of people cheering for you and following along, but you definitely have to remember there are 155 other players good enough to be here, quality players. Maybe I thought I was a little too good. I don’t know what happened the last couple of days. I kind of got a reality check.”

Henderson wasn’t sure she would make the cut when she signed her scorecard but like Thompson was optimistic.

“Hopefully, I’ll have two more rounds of golf to redeem myself.”

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Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.

Full-field scores from the Joburg Open

Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Sharma among three Open qualifiers at Joburg Open

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:16 pm

Shubhankar Sharma earned his first career European Tour win at the rain-delayed Joburg Open and punched his ticket to The Open in the process.

Sharma returned to Randpark Golf Club Monday morning after storms washed out much of the scheduled final day of play. Beginning the re-start with a four-shot lead, he hung on to win by three over South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen.

Both men can make travel plans for Carnoustie next summer, as this was the second event in the Open Qualifying Series with three spots available for players not otherwise exempt who finished inside the top 10. The final spot went to Shaun Norris, who tied for third with Finland's Tapio Pulkkanen but had a higher world ranking (No. 192) than Pulkkanen (No. 197) entering the week.

The Joburg Open was the final official European Tour event of the year. The next tournament in the Open Qualifying Series will be the SMBC Singapore Open in January, where four spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 6, Dustin Johnson

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:00 pm

Only Dustin Johnson could win four times in 2017 and it still feels as though he underachieved.

That’s unfair, perhaps, but it’s a testament to Johnson’s awesome ability – and his incredible run of form last spring – that observers can’t help but shake the feeling that his year could have been even better.

In February, he rose to the top of the world rankings for the first time, the culmination of a long, bizarre journey in which he often battled himself (through major blunders and, reportedly, drug-related suspensions) as much as his peers. Johnson’s blowout victory at Riviera was his first of three consecutive titles (including two WGCs), as he achieved Tiger-like levels of dominance and rolled into the Masters as the prohibitive favorite.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

Expectations for this star-crossed talent are always different, and so the surprise wasn’t that he blew that major but that he didn’t even give himself a chance. In one of the biggest stunners of the year, Johnson’s manager announced on the eve of the first round that his client had suffered a back injury while slipping on a set of stairs in his rental house. Just like that, the year’s first major was thrown into chaos, with Johnson unable to play – the line of demarcation in his good-but-not-great year.

Though he added a playoff victory at the end of the season, Johnson failed to factor in any of the remaining three majors and was surprisingly inconsistent, perhaps because of swing compensations after the injury.

Would DJ have denied Sergio Garcia a green jacket? Would he have created even more separation at the top of the world rankings? Would he have defended his Player of the Year title? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

In typical DJ fashion, he left us to ponder what could have been.

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