Lewis motivated to improve this year

By Randall MellJanuary 24, 2015, 7:17 pm

Stacy Lewis is the best American female golfer since Beth Daniel and Betsy King took turns ruling over the women’s game two decades ago.

With 10 LPGA titles over the last three seasons, with a pair of runs at Rolex world No. 1 over the last two seasons, Lewis is coming off what should have been one of her most satisfying years. She swept the LPGA’s major awards in 2014, taking home the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the LPGA money title. She was the first American to do that since King did it 22 years ago.

While Lewis was more than pleased with how rewarding that achievement was, she couldn’t hide a certain disappointment with what she didn’t walk away with among her three victories.

“I’m not saying it was a great year,” Lewis said in assessing her effort at season’s end. “I would have liked to have won a major. That would have made it a great year.”

Photos: Lewis on Feherty

Lewis didn’t walk away with a major championship title last year, and she didn’t walk away with the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. Inbee Park did win a major, and Park also took back the No. 1 ranking from Lewis late in the year.

There was motivation in all of that this offseason for the ultracompetitive Lewis, whose ambition may be without rival on tour. She seems to possess a compulsion to be the best.

With the new season now at hand, Lewis is hearing the buildup begin, and she’s noticing something.

“I think a lot of the talk in the offseason hasn’t been about me and Inbee, it’s been more about Michelle [Wie] and Lydia [Ko],” Lewis told GolfChannel.com. “While that doesn’t bother me, it motivates me. That’s what kind of has driven me this offseason.”

Park and Lewis have taken turns holding the No. 1 world ranking for almost two years now, but Ko’s knocking on the door. In fact, Ko is in position to make a move to No. 1 at the season opener in Ocala, Fla. Wie also wants a part of that action. Wie left the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship with ambitious parting words.

“I worked all year to try to get to No. 1,” Wie said. “I was really close. That kind of gets me going … really motivates me.”

Lace ’em up, LPGA pros. It’s difficult to imagine this year being as exciting as last year, but there’s potential for even more fireworks.

Lewis, Park, Ko and Wie will be part of next week’s star-studded season opener.

“It’s been a good, long break,” said Lewis, who went home to Texas to relax with family in December. “I’m excited about the progress I’ve seen with my swing these last two weeks. I’m excited to get going and to see how it’s going to translate into tournament play.”

Lewis will turn 30 next month. While resting in December, she slipped another spot to No. 3 in the world rankings, behind No. 1 Park and No. 2 Ko. It was a function of divisors and points falling away in the Rolex rankings’ two-year rolling window.

As if Lewis needed more motivation …

Lewis’ peers have gotten to the point where they’re surprised if Lewis isn’t on a leaderboard. She had a tour-best 18 top-10 finishes last year. She had 19 the year before. Her fellow players are expecting more of the same this year.

“She’s so consistent,” Natalie Gulbis said. “It’s her tenacity. She’s in the mix, week in and week out now, the same way Annika [Sorenstam], Karrie [Webb] and Lorena [Ochoa] got into the mix. It’s not easy to be consistent like that in golf.”

Lewis can’t hide the competitive nature that drives here when she’s inside the ropes. Her intensity sometimes radiates as a scowl, her fire inimical, but fellow players have learned this easily misleads. Lewis has become the undisputed leader of the American ranks, respected for more than her game. She’s also appreciated for her straightforwardness and her generosity.

“She’s just a really good person,” said Jessica Korda, a two-time LPGA winner. “She's a great ambassador of the LPGA tour and women's golf. She always will tell you her honest opinion, which is something that I really admire, because a lot of people will tell you the nice things, or the comfortable things, but they'll never tell you the uncomfortable things. Stacy's the type of person that'll just tell you like it is, and you just take it because that's the way it is.”

In preparation for the new year, Lewis and swing coach Joe Hallett have been working on challenges that crept into her swing late in the year. Though she gutted out last year’s finish to the season, sweeping those important awards, she wasn’t happy with her swing at year’s end. She said her putting saved her.

“You go through ups and downs, I realize that,” Lewis said. “I think I got really focused on trying to win those three awards. That was a goal, and I kind of lost track of what made me successful, which was just trying to get better every day. It was pretty much a relief when it was all done, and I was able to accomplish it. Now I can go out there and just play golf again and try to get better.”

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.