Lewis, Ko, Park competitively inseparable

By Randall MellMarch 21, 2015, 2:05 am

PHOENIX – Their shadows fall hard on each other.

Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko, No. 2 Inbee Park and No. 3 Stacy Lewis can’t seem to shake one another these days when they’re playing for a trophy.

It’s uncanny how often they’re starting to play their way into each other’s paths.

It’s that way again this week at the JTBC Founders Cup.

Park took this week off, but you almost expect to see her show up unannounced to see if she can play the weekend, too. Really, who wants to be left out of all the fun this burgeoning three-way rivalry is starting to offer?

Just two weeks ago, Park beat Ko and Lewis head to head in a dramatic final Sunday grouping at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. Last November, days after Park took the No. 1 ranking from Lewis, they battled head to head in the final round of the Fubon Taiwan Championship with Park holding off a dynamic late charge by Lewis.

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There’s so much at stake when these players see each other on Sundays, and the Founders Cup is unfolding with that possibility yet again.

There hasn’t been a trio of players this capable of pulling away together at the top of the women’s game since Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak took turns winning majors at the turn of the century.

“Fifteen years ago, I don’t remember it ever feeling as automatic as it seems for Stacy, Inbee and Lydia, where they just put themselves on the leaderboard,” Webb said. “They’re playing with that sort of confidence, where I don’t think they feel they have to press, that the scores are just going to be there, and that’s a great feeling to have.”

Ko, the 17-year-old wunderkind, was the story Thursday, racing into a share of the lead with a 6-under-par 66 in the weather-suspended first round.

Lewis, 30, who could only get six holes in Thursday, answered in a large way Friday with a blitz of early birdies. She made seven of them in a nine-hole stretch closing out a 64.

By day’s end, when the horn blew suspending the second round, Ko and Lewis were figuratively standing in each other’s shadows again. They’re both in contention, in position to turn Sunday into another final-round duel, but they’re mindful that this leaderboard is stacked with possibilities.

This is by no means a two-woman tournament. Not yet, anyway.

Hyo Joo Kim followed up a 65 with a 69 and was the leader in the clubhouse at 10 under overall when darkness suspended play. She was one shot ahead of Lewis, who followed her 64 with a 71, and two shots ahead of Karine Icher (70) Mi Hyang Lee (66) and Ilhee Lee (67).

Ha Na Jang was at 11 under through 29 holes.

Ko made the turn to the back nine within three of the clubhouse leader when play was suspended.

Webb (70), who twice has come from six shots back in the final round to win the Founders Cup, is three behind the clubhouse leaders.

Count Webb among those intrigued by the rise of Ko, Park and Lewis.

“It looks right now like Lydia could take that step where she’s going to dominate, but I really feel like Inbee and Stacy are hungry enough to maybe not let her get too far ahead,” Webb said. “And there’s a bunch of other good players.”

Nobody but Ko, Lewis or Park has held the Rolex No. 1 ranking the last 105 weeks.

They are ranked 1-2-3 in scoring average this year (Ko, Park and Lewis, respectively).

They were 1-2-3 on the final money list last year (Lewis, Park and Ko, respectively).

“This rivalry, that it’s becoming, I think it's really great for us,” Lewis said. “It's fun. I know Lydia is going to be up there every week. I know Inbee, even though she's not here, she would be on the leaderboard if she were. It makes us better, and that's what you're seeing. You’re seeing better golf out of all of us.”

Lewis said she believes a three-way rivalry is better for women’s golf than a single dominant player would be.

“More than anything, I think it's just great to talk about,” Lewis said. “It gives the media something to talk about. It brings attention to the tour. It gives fans something to follow. That's the biggest thing.”

When Lewis woke up early Friday morning, she didn’t need to surf the web to know Ko was holding a share of the lead.

“I wasn’t surprised Lydia shot what she did,” Lewis said. “It just kind of motivated me to get me up there with her, too.”

If Park were here, she might be saying the same thing.

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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.