Lexi-Lydia: An 'L' of a matchup

By Randall MellOctober 16, 2015, 3:43 pm

Lexi Thompson is on a nice little roll.

Now if she can just get past Lydia Ko ...

Thompson is turning up her game in this second half of the season, showing off the hard work she has put into her wedge game and putting. She won the Meijer Classic at the end of July, finished second at the Evian Championship a month ago. She has posted four top-10 finishes in her last six starts, and then there was her undefeated Solheim Cup performance.

Thompson’s game is in a good place, and that’s where it needs to be with another weekend date with Ko set up.

Ko is the hottest player in the women’s game, poised to return to Rolex world No. 1 with a strong finish this weekend at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea. Ko won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in late August and then won her next start, the Evian Championship, in September, becoming the youngest woman to win a major. In her next start after that, she tied for second in Malaysia last week. Ko has finished T-3 or better in five of her last six starts.

With a big finish this weekend, Ko could leave South Korea with the No. 1 ranking and as the LPGA’s leader in the race for Rolex Player of the Year points, for the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, money winnings and CME Globe points.

Scores: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship

“If there is a switch, the media is going to talk about it,” Ko said. “But, you know, I'm sorry, but I'm going to try and ignore you guys. I think that's the best way. Because when I'm out there, I'm just trying to hit a good shot and put myself in good position. If I thought about the rankings, the awards, it's just way too much. It's hard enough just trying to hit the ball straight out there.”

That brings us to this weekend and Thompson.

This young dynamic duo appears on another collision course, and that’s a good deal for women’s golf.

Ko, 18, and Thompson, 20, dueled head to head in the final round at Evian, but Ko was otherworldly. Two behind Thompson on that Sunday morning in France, Ko closed with a awe-inspiring 63. She hit every green in regulation but one. She posted a score seven shots better than anyone among the final 18 players teeing off in the final round. While it isn’t the lowest score a woman has ever shot in a major, it has to be the greatest round a woman’s ever played in one.

If you’re a late bird who likes women’s golf, you’ve got a treat in store tonight. Ko and Thompson are paired together in the final group off at the Sky 72 Ocean Course in Incheon. Ko’s 7-under-par 65 Friday moved her to the top of the leaderboard, a shot ahead of Thompson, who posted 67. Ko made her move playing alongside Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park.

Ko and Thompson are scheduled to tee off the third round at 10:42 p.m. ET with Golf Channel picking up live coverage at 11:30 p.m.

“Every time you have to go up against any top player out here, Inbee, Lydia, Stacy [Lewis], you know you have to bring your A-game,” Thompson said. “You know you have to top them with birdies and make more birdies when they make pars. They are not going to make mistakes so you just have to keep on making birdies on them.”

Ko and Thompson know each other well. When Ko won the Canadian Women’s Open at 15 to become the youngest winner of an LPGA event, she broke the mark set by Thompson, who won when she was 16.

“I’ve played with Lydia a lot on the LPGA tour, and when she was younger in the Australian Masters and Australian Open,” Thompson said. “I knew she was going to be a great talent coming up the first time I ever played with her. She has an overall, very strong game. Not many weaknesses, great ball-striker, kind of sneaky long and putts it and chips it like God.”

Ko is first in scoring average on tour this year. Thompson is fourth. Ko is first in hitting greens in regulation, Thompson is third.

Of course, Ko and Thompson play different games. Ko is a tactical master, charting her way around golf courses so precisely. Thompson is a big hitter who can play bomb and gouge better than just about any other woman in the game. She has put a lot of work into her wedge game, and it’s showing in all those greens she’s hitting in regulation.

Saturday in Incheon could be fun.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x