Last chance for Ko to become youngest major winner

By Randall MellSeptember 12, 2015, 7:05 pm

Lydia Ko moved into position Saturday to make one last bid to claim the ultimate prize for a teen prodigy in golf.

With a 4-under-par 67, Ko climbed into a tie for third at the Evian Championship in France, two shots behind the leader, Mi Hyang Lee.

Sunday will mark Ko’s last chance to become the youngest woman to win a major championship. She will be 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old. Notably, Ko is tied for third with Morgan Pressel at Evian. Pressel became the youngest winner of a women’s major in 2007 when she won the Kraft Nabisco (now ANA Inspiration) at 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old. By the time the final day of the next major - the ANA - rolls around next April, Ko will be 18 years, 11 months and 1 week old.

The drama promised to be heightened Sunday at Evian with the golf gods appearing to shine their favor on the storyline. By virtue of their performances Saturday, Ko and Pressel were set to be paired together in the final round, a dynamic matchup with history hanging in the balance. It won’t happen, though. With a lot of rain in the forecast Saturday night and into Sunday, championship officials decided to revamp tee times and send players off early, in threesomes instead of twosomes, off the first and 10th tees.

Now, Ko will join Lee and Lexi Thompson in the final threesome off at 4:35 a.m. ET. Pressel will go off with Amy Yang and Shanshan Feng in the second-to-last group off at 4:24 a.m. ET.

Ko is already the most accomplished teen prodigy in women’s golf. At 14, she became the youngest player at the time to win a professional event, taking the NSW Open in Australia on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour. At 15, she became the youngest winner of an LPGA event, taking the Canadian Women’s Open. At 16, she won the Canadian Women’s Open again. At 17, she became the youngest man or woman to rise to world No. 1 in professional golf.


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Ko, who has already won 12 professional titles worldwide, will be eyeing the coup de grace trying to win Evian.

“Morgan's record is pretty amazing,” Ko said. “For her to do it at 18 years old, I don't know exactly how old, but it's really hard to do. Winning a major at any age is pretty hard. For her to do that at the ANA, I think is pretty amazing. So, yeah, obviously this is my last chance.

“I’m just going to take it as a good experience and just give myself a good chance tomorrow.”

On a wild Saturday, where five players shared the lead late in the round, Lee closed out a 70 in the rain to take sole possession of the lead, leaving her one shot ahead of Thompson. Lee buried a clutch 10-foot putt for par at the last to retain that lead.

Lee will have to hold off a formidable cast Sunday with Thompson, Ko and Pressel bunched behind her and nine players grouped within four of the lead. Lee, 22, is seeking he first major championship title. She broke through to win her first LPGA title in Japan at the Mizuno Classic late last year.

Thompson, 20, seeking her second major championship title, made a big move Saturday shooting 66. Pressel had a share of the lead going to the 18th tee, but she couldn’t muscle a 4-hybrid out of the rough at the last hole, knocking it short and into the water. She made double bogey to close.

“It's just the grass was so wet that it didn't get up in the air,” Pressel said. “Looking back, obviously, it was a mistake, but I thought I could hit the shot. It just didn't work out.

“I hit it great today, some of the best ball striking I've had in a long time. So that was encouraging. I can't tell you the number of 10-footers that I missed. So I've got to go tomorrow morning and practice my putting.”

Ko, Thompson and Pressel share remarkable teen prodigy stories.

Thompson was 12 when she qualified to play in her first U.S. Women’s Open. She won her first LPGA title at 16.

Pressel, now 27, was 12 when she qualified to play in her first U.S. Women’s Open, turning 13 just before playing at Pine Needles. As a 17-year-old amateur, she tied for second at the U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills, losing out when Birdie Kim holed out from a greenside bunker at the 72nd hole. At 18, Pressel won the Kraft Nabisco.

Ko knows it’s more than a four-woman race to the finish, especially if the tees are up again, as they were in the third round.

“It’s a pretty packed leaderboard,” Ko said. “I don't know how the course setup is going to be tomorrow, but I think the course setup will play a huge factor, because, personally, with them putting some tees forward, it doesn't mean that only the long hitters are going to get on in two. Average distance players like me are reaching the par 5s as well.”

With more rain expected, the course could play longer, but the greens will be softer, holding shots better.

Ko has proven she has the game for any kind of course or setup. She has proven she has the game to make history.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.