Ladies Start Your Engines

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2010, 12:05 am

LPGA Tour _newFor all the hardships the LPGA endured last season, the year ended with so much promise.

In a painful year of transition, with the forced ouster of a commissioner and dreary news of lost title sponsorships, there was hope in the season’s final chapters.

Michelle Wie turned confidence gained in her tour de force performance at the Solheim Cup into a rookie breakthrough with a victory at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in the second-to-last event of the season.

Ochoa fought off Jiyai Shin’s challenge to claim her fourth consecutive Rolex Player of the Year title in a competition that raged until the final hole of the year’s final event.

Anna Nordqvist showed her rookie breakthrough winning the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in June was no fluke with terrific closing skill to win the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship.

Suzann Pettersen returned to winning form claiming the CN Canadian Women’s Open last September.

Michael Whan brought a wave of positive new energy with his hire as the new commissioner.

The 2010 season opens with a focus on building on that upturn in momentum.

Between the ropes, the season begins with one question.

Does Lorena Ochoa still hold dominion over this tour?

Ochoa is the defending champion at the season-opening Honda PTT LPGA event at Siam Country Club’s Old Course in Chonburi, Thailand, but she arrives with a sense of vulnerability.

The fact that Shin came so close to ending Ochoa’s Player-of-the-Year reign only ratchets up the intensity of so many players who would like their shot at being No. 1.

“During the offseason, all we think about is catching Lorena and being No. 1,” said Wie, who turned 20 last October. “I have such great respect for Lorena. You’re always going for the top. There’s a lot of great players out there, and it’s tough. That’s why we work so hard.”

Count Paula Creamer among those eager to challenge Ochoa. Creamer, 23, is finally healthy after 15 months of physical woes that included stomach ailments and a thumb injury that’s just now fully mending.

“Lorena is the No. 1 player in the world, and there are so many people that want to be in that spot,” said Creamer, who is looking to add to her eight LPGA titles after a winless ’09. “She knows that. People are coming after her.”

Ochoa, 28, showed how important her place atop the game is to her holding off Shin in a dramatic duel at the LPGA Tour Championship, and yet she didn’t win the event. She won just three times last year after winning 21 times overall in the three previous seasons.

There were moments of uncharacteristic frustration in Ochoa’s struggles last season, especially at the majors, where she was shut out. She winged a ball in disgust into the bushes at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and fired a ball into the turf coming off a green at the U.S. Women’s Open in July. The outbursts seem mild on their surface, but they were revealing given Ochoa’s even-tempered nature. While there was speculation that the imminent change in her personal life was affecting her emotionally, Ochoa never acknowledged as much last season.

Ochoa’s life changed dramatically in December. She married Aeromexico executive Andres Conesa and moved from her home in Guadalajara to Mexico City. She became an instant mom to three children. She is building a new life with her husband and a 14-year-old son and 12- and 7-year-old daughters.

“They are at a fun age,” Ochoa said. “We go and play, sometimes golf, sometimes tennis. We like to spend some time together.”

With sponsors Ochoa has always tended to so conscientiously, it begs a question of how she’s going to balance it all. She takes all her responsibilities so seriously, how will she handle the new juggling act? Will she remain devoted to being the best in golf, or are her priorities changing?

“I think if you are happy, it's a lot easier to play good golf,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa acknowledges wanting children of her own, but . . .

“I think I still want to wait a little bit,” she said. “I'm going to keep playing for a few years, and then after that we'll make a decision.”

Ochoa can feel the competition pushing her to keep improving.

“I know that the competition is getting tougher and tougher,” she said. “But at the same time, I never pay too much attention to other players. I always try to focus on my game and to see where are the things that I can improve and work on. This has been the case this year, just trying to improve on my short game and my putting. Believe me, I have enough motivation. I want to stay at the top and practice very hard every day to be up there.”

Fellow LPGA pros will see how talented Ochoa is as a juggler of priorities this season. Juli Inkster showed that you can have it all, that you can raise a family and nurture a Hall of Fame game, but Inkster never rose to No. 1 in the world.

Annika Sorenstam, who reigned as No. 1 before Ochoa came along, knows the challenges ahead of Ochoa better than anyone. Sorenstam stepped away from the game to focus on family and her businesses last year. She’s a mom to 5-month-old Ava Madelyn McGee.

Sorenstam isn’t sure she could have been as committed to being No. 1 in golf if she were raising a family.

“I don’t know if I could handle that myself,” she said. “To be the best player in the world, it’s a full time job, especially the way the competition is today. You are traveling around the world more, on top of that you have sponsor obligations and practice. I admire moms on tour because now I can see what they have to go through. It’s not easy. I admire them.”

There’s much admiration for the class Ochoa’s shown in her reign as No. 1. If she can keep her reign going in this new phase of her life, the respect will reach new heights.

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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

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

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”