For Ko, winning breeds confidence

By Randall MellApril 4, 2016, 4:09 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Uh-oh, Lydia Ko’s figuring out how these major championship puzzles go together now, too.

Ko didn’t walk across Poppie’s Pond after winning the ANA Inspiration on Sunday at Mission Hills, but that’s probably just so we wouldn't think she was showing off.

She’s still only 18, but Ko’s already leaving us wondering if there’s anything she won’t be able to do in the women’s game before she’s finished.

With her clutch wedge to a foot for a closing birdie that proved to be the decisive stroke, Ko claimed her second consecutive major championship. Six months after winning the Evian Championship and becoming the youngest major championship winner in the history of women’s golf, she’s now the youngest to win two of them.

At 18 years, 11 months and 10 days old, Ko is an old soul in golf. She has already won 17 professional events around the world, 12 of them LPGA titles. That’s three worldwide this year, with back-to-back titles now on the LPGA tour.

“It was always my dream just to play the LPGA, just being here, being in this position,” Ko said. “For these amazing things to be happening, it's unbelievable, but I think it also motivates me to work harder and try and put myself in good position, and in contention whenever I can.”

Jason Hamilton has toted Ko’s bag as caddie for a year and a half now. Nobody has had a better seat to witness just how historically advanced her young game has been in that time.

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“She has an old head on those young shoulders,” Hamilton said. “We can’t help saying the same things, but I still struggle to get my head around her maturity.

“For someone her age to be so focused, it’s impressive. I never have to push her. She pushes herself so much, and I’m just glad she’s able to see the fruits of her labor.”

Ko didn’t make a bogey over the entire weekend, playing in contention through Saturday and Sunday with the pressure the highest. She didn’t make a bogey over the final 41 holes.

Falling behind on the back nine Sunday, Ko didn’t blink.

“I think Lydia’s patience is always the amazing thing to me,” said Sura, Lydia’s manager and older sister by nine years. “She knows how to wait for things. I don’t know how she does it, but she can wait for the magic out on the course.”

Ko patiently bided her time to make magic at the 18th.

With Ariya Jutanugarn pulling away behind her, Ko knew there was work to do late to give herself a chance. She checked a leaderboard stepping up to a nervy 8-foot putt for par at the 17th. She knew she needed to make that putt just to stay two shots behind Jutanugarn going to the final hole.

“I said, `Hey, I need to make this putt and make a birdie, or eagle, or something fantastic down the last,” Ko said.

Ko made a fantastic birdie after patiently laying up at the 18th. Yes, she flirted with the idea of trying to reach the 18th in two. She had only 202 yards to reach the front of the green after her tee shot, but her ball was sitting on a downhill lie. Still, she was thinking 3-wood, but she was thinking that without knowing Jutanugarn had made another bogey behind her.

But Hamilton knew.

“With a downhill lie like that, I knew we could lose the tournament with one shot,” Hamilton said. “I knew we were one behind and we could still win it with a birdie.”

Hamilton talked Ko out of going for the green.

After laying up to 84 yards, Ko hit the most beautiful sand wedge to a foot. She sent a jolt through the bleachers. It was all but over a few minutes later when Jutanugarn snap hooked her tee shot into the water at the 18th.

“Just after I hit my shot, I looked at the leaderboard, and I saw that we were all tied at 11 under,” Ko said. “Just so many thoughts, but, obviously, hitting it to a foot on the last hole, that makes it a lot easier than having a 3- or 4-footer. I think I'm lucky that Jason kind of talked me [into] not going for the green in two, and that definitely helped having a good yardage with a wedge.”

Hamilton called it the perfect yardage.

Ko was asked how she would rank the shot among the most clutch she has ever hit.

“I mean, it would be up there,” Ko said. “Every shot is special in its own way, like every win is special, because every tournament is so different. But, just playing the 72nd hole, birdieing the last hole, that's always a good feeling. Obviously, for that shot to mean so much that I would win the event, that makes it extra special.”

Ko’s putter was extra special all day.

More erratic than she would have liked with her ball striking, Ko kept herself alive with clutch putting. She holed a 22-foot birdie at the fifth and a 40-foot birdie at the eighth, but her clutch par saves made the difference on the back nine.

Ko’s save at the 11th was classic. She pushed her drive right into the trees, and then she punched out too hard across the fairway and back into deep rough. She chopped to 10 feet, though, and she holed her putt for par. She made a 15-footer for par at the 13th and nervy saves at the 16th and 17th holes.

Ko hit only 12 greens in regulation in the final round, the fewest she hit all week, but she got up and down for par every time.

In three previous tries at the ANA Inspiration, Ko never really looked comfortable. Her best finish was T-25, but then we forget she was 15, 16 and 17 when she played those first three times here. She’s showing now that she can adapt to any venue, major or minor.

“I think, obviously, winning this event is great, but jumping into the Poppie’s Pond, that kind of tradition will definitely be one of the highlights of my career,” Ko said. “I've never really played well at this course before, so just to know that, hey, I can still play well at a course that I haven't really played well before I think gives me the confidence.”


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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry