Korea, U.S. could play way into rivals at Crown

By Randall MellJuly 20, 2016, 9:35 pm

GURNEE, Ill. – When the South Koreans knocked the Americans out of the inaugural UL International Crown two years ago, television sets were practically overheating in Korea.

It was around 7:00 on a Sunday morning in Seoul when So Yeon Ryu made birdie on the first playoff hole to eliminate the Americans and grab the wild-card berth into the final round of singles play.

“It was the highest rated LPGA telecast of that year in Korea, by far,” said Sean Pyun, the LPGA’s managing director of international business affairs. “And that window when the Koreans and Americans were in the playoff, that was the peak moment of the ratings.”

That’s saying something, because LPGA TV ratings in Korea are through the roof anyway. They average more than twice the ratings PGA Tour events get in Korea, according to the LPGA’s Nielsen Repucom reports.

A not-so-funny thing happened, though, in the middle of the Korean-American playoff.

The International Crown’s special television feed to South Korea failed after all the players had struck their second shots in the playoff. It caused a furor among the legion of women’s golf fans in Korea burning to see how the playoff would end. JTBC Golf, the home of the LPGA in Korea, was inundated with queries from frustrated fans.

“There were so many complaints coming through the JTBC Golf website, the site crashed,” Pyun said.

The feed didn’t go back up until the playoff was over.

The Korean-American playoff showdown wasn’t even for the International Crown title. It was just to see who advanced from pool play, and yet it still drew the largest LPGA ratings of the year in Korea. It was no coincidence the peak came with the Koreans taking on the Americans, the No. 1 seed in that inaugural year.

The Koreans are the dominant force in women’s golf today, but the Americans are the Americans. They owned the women’s game once, and the LPGA is still American based, still rotating on an American axis. The Americans are the next strongest women’s golfing nation, and there’s nobody else close to either, yet.

UL International Crown: Articles, photos and videos

With the UL International Crown fueled by nationalistic passions, the Koreans and Americans seem like natural rivals in this format. They’re No. 1-2 seeds again this year, with the Koreans displacing the Americans as the top seed this time.

The Koreans and Americans seem most capable of driving interest in this new event to another level with yet another showdown, this time for the title, but those storylines can’t be forced. It will take more to build the history rivalries require. It will take more head-to-head drama to create a legitimate rivalry in an eight-team event where match play makes everyone dangerous.

And here’s the thing, the Koreans and Americans don’t even see themselves as rivals.

“I don't think there's a rivalry there, no,” said American Stacy Lewis. “I don't feel like we're trying to keep up with them or do anything. What they're doing is pretty amazing. To have so many players in the top 15 in the world that even with Inbee [Park] out, the next option is really pretty good. It's amazing what the Korean team is doing and how well they play.”

Five of the top 10 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are Koreans, two are Americans. Nine of the top 20 are Koreans, four are Americans.

Cristie Kerr says she doesn’t see Korea as rivals, either.

“It’s more like we’re just trying to keep up with the numbers they have if you look at the world rankings,” Kerr said.

There are 70 American LPGA members this year to 34 South Koreans. But the interest in those 34 Koreans is intense back in Korea.

Ryu said when she checked her cell phone after that playoff victory against the Americans at the International Crown two years ago, she had about 100 text messages, many of them from friends and family wondering what happened after the TV feed failed.

“People were wondering if maybe we lost and they just didn’t want to show the loss on TV back in Korea,” Ryu said.

Korean fans got to see what happened, though, in a replay of the event. Pyun said LPGA events are replayed several times every week in Korea.

“The replays get really strong ratings, too” Pyun said.

The LPGA announced Wednesday that the next UL International Crown will be played at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon in 2018.

“I think the UL International Crown has already been lifted significantly in its second playing,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said. “I'm pretty sure in 2018 we're going to hit the hyper-speed button, and it's really going to go crazy.”

If the Koreans and Americans are in the hunt in the end, it could be crazy good for the International Crown.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)