Lewis nervous on Day 1 with so much at stake

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2014, 10:55 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Major championships aren’t this tough to win.

Yes, they’re epic, historically important and pressure-packed, but they aren’t nearly as complexly layered as what Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park are trying to win this week at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Lewis acknowledged feeling nerves on the front nine at Tiburon Golf Club Thursday that she doesn’t typically feel that early in a major.

She sensed the same tension in Park playing alongside her in the first round.

Who can blame them?

There’s more to win and more to lose for these two players.

There’s the Tour Championship title, the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the official money title all hanging in the balance.

Only Lewis and Park teed it up Thursday knowing they could leave with all of that in hand.

They played alongside Lydia Ko, who can’t win all the hardware listed above but can walk away with the richest payday in the history of the women’s game if she takes both the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Tour Championship’s $500,000 first-place check.

It’s all enough to blow a fuse in a player’s circuitry if they get to thinking about it too much.

“Mentally is the hardest part,” Lewis said. “You could see it in Inbee. I don't know if Lydia quite understands all that's going on, but you could see it in Inbee and probably in me, too. We both played some tentative golf today, and, hopefully, we can both free it up as we go throughout the week.”

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Lewis said tough early holes added to heightened nerves at the start. She pushed her opening tee shot into the woods.

“You’re worried about making a mistake or a big number,” Lewis said. “That’s the hardest part.”

Julieta Granada seized the first-round lead with a 6-under-par 66, but Lewis moved out front in the mega game within the game with a 69.

Granada can win the Tour Championship and it’s $500,000 first-place check, but she can’t win the $1 million Race to the CME Globe jackpot. Only the top nine in the Globe point standings can win that. 

With that 69, Lewis holds the lead in the battle for the Globe and its jackpot. Park and Lydia Ko are positioned next best after posting 71s.

Basically, all Lewis has to do to become the first American since Betsy King in 1993 to sweep the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy and the money title in the same season is stay in front of Park on the leaderboard this week.

Park may trail Lewis after the first round, but she’s comfortable with her start.

“I’m just happy that I still have a chance to win everything,” Park said. “I’m going to play very hard the next three days.”

Park, Lewis and Ko got a close-up look at the $1 million jackpot on Wednesday. They were pictured with a plexiglass cube containing the jackpot after their pro-am rounds.

Park was asked if she were thinking about the $1 million prize.

“I think everybody is thinking about it,” Park said.

Granada knows the uniquely difficult challenge of taking home a $1 million tournament paycheck. She was the first woman in history to do so when she won the LPGA Playoffs at ADT in 2006.

Granada was asked how all that money will play on the minds of contenders come Sunday.

“They're tough, and they're good players, so they will just keep playing their game,” Granada said. “I expect them to handle it just fine. I know it's a lot of money, but it's just golf, and you just have to hit one shot at a time.”

Lewis might have felt tension early, but she finished strong. She eagled the 17th hole. She hit a hybrid from 217 yards to 25 feet and made the putt.

Waiting to get this big-bang finish in women’s golf started may have been the hardest part of this week.

“It's nice to be playing and not be talking about it or worrying about it all the time,” Lewis said. “I think we were all kind of a little bit nervous, a little bit hesitant there at the beginning, but we seemed to all kind of settle in.”

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.