Korda, Munoz, Lewis share lead at LPGA opener

By Randall MellJanuary 29, 2015, 1:39 am

OCALA, Fla. – Jessica Korda would like to make a habit of winning the LPGA season opener.

Stacy Lewis would like to prevent that habit from forming after losing to Korda in a dramatic finish at last year’s season opener.

Azahara Munoz would like to take the next step to the elite level in the women’s game.

All three are in position after taking a share of the first-round lead Wednesday at the Coates Golf Championship at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club.

With 6-under-par 66s, they’re one shot ahead of Austin Ernst and Ha Na Jang, and two shots ahead of Lydia Ko and Na Yeon Choi.

Lexi Thompson is three back.

With a cold, blustery morning greeting players for the opening of the LPGA’s 2015 season, the leaders got hot late.

Korda, Lewis and Munoz all barely beat the horn to suspend play with darkness falling at day’s end. Twenty players were still on the course when play was halted. They’ll return at 7:30 a.m. Thursday to finish the first round with the second round planned to begin as scheduled at the same time.

Coates Golf Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Korda birdied two of the last three holes to move to the top of the leaderboard. Munoz birdied the last two holes to move into a tie for the lead. Lewis joined them making birdies at five of the last six holes.

Korda, 21, is looking to win the LPGA’s season opener for the third time in her career. She won the LPGA’s first event last year, outplaying Lewis at the end to win the Pure Silk Bahamas. Korda also won the Women’s Australian Open when it was the LPGA’s season opener in 2012.

“I honestly don’t know what it is,” Korda said. “I’m just happy to be back. It’s so much fun. It’s like the first day of school.”

Korda is seeking her fourth LPGA title.

Lewis, 29, is seeking to build on her success after sweeping the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year Award, Vare Trophy for low scoring average and money-winning title last year. She was the first American to sweep those honors since Betsy King did it in 1993, and yet Lewis ended 2014 lamenting the chances that got away.

Count last year’s season opener among them.

Korda birdied the last hole in the Bahamas last year to beat Lewis by a shot. Though Lewis won three times last season, she left the year kicking herself over six second-place finishes.

Lewis said those second-place finishes were the difference in what could have been “an unbelievable year.”

So Lewis will be looking to take advantage of more of those opportunities to win when she’s in the hunt this year. She liked the way she got this season started with that strong closing kick Wednesday at Golden Ocala.

“On the back nine, I kind of got more comfortable, just back playing again, and just started hitting golf shots,” Lewis said. “Had a couple birdies that were just tap-ins, which helped, and rolled a few putts in. So, it was a good day.”

Munoz, 27, is looking to add to her lone LPGA title, her Sybase Match Play Championship in 2012. She has made terrific runs, including last year’s close calls. She finished fourth or better five times last year, including a pair of runner-up finishes. She lost to Paula Creamer in a playoff at the HSBC Women’s Championship in Singapore, where Creamer beat her with a 75-foot eagle putt.

“I’ve been knocking on the door so many times, but it hasn’t happened, but I know I’m so close,” Munoz said. “Last year was so close to an amazing year for me.

“So when I started to practice in January, I was super focused. I’m ready to have a good year. I know if I play the way I can, improving a few things, I can be pretty good out here.”

Getty Images

McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

Getty Images

Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

Getty Images

Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

Getty Images

Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.