Park, Lewis are LPGA's best; rivalry still developing

By Randall MellOctober 29, 2014, 7:30 pm

Somebody check the shadow Inbee Park casts as she plays the Fubon Taiwan LPGA Championship this week.

It might look strangely like that of Stacy Lewis.

And somebody check Lewis.

Her shadow may look oddly like that of Park’s.

These two can’t seem to shake each other at the top of the women’s game.

The LPGA event in Taiwan begins Thursday (Wednesday night in the U.S.) with Park back at No. 1, having regained the top ranking from Lewis this past week. They’ve alternated sharing the top ranking for the last 85 weeks, each taking two turns. Park has reigned at No. 1 for 60 weeks overall, Lewis for 25.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone if they swap places again next week, with their ranking averages just .23 points apart.

While there is a load of admiration and respect between these two players, the unrelenting pressure they put on each other in the battle for No. 1 has to be a little aggravating, doesn’t it?

“It is a little bit frustrating, at times,” Lewis said. “Just when you think you can get ahead, Inbee seems to jump out there and win a tournament.”

Lewis and Park aren’t just 1-2 in the world rankings. They’re 1-2 in nearly all of the LPGA’s most meaningful season-long races, with Lewis having the upper hand in those other battles.

Lewis is first in Rolex Player of the Year points, Park is second. Lewis is first in Race to the CME Globe points, Park is second. Lewis is first in official money winnings, Park is second.

Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship leaderboard

The ingredients are there for a terrific rivalry, except for one pivotal ingredient in the best rivalries.

Strangely, as consistently as Park and Lewis contend for titles – they’re also 1-2 in top-10 finishes over the last two years – they almost never sync up their games together to go head-to-head on Sundays.

“You want to play each other when you’re playing your best,” Lewis said. “That is something we haven’t done. We seem to go on runs at different times. It would be fun if we could be playing our best golf as the same time and create some good, dramatic tournaments.”

Maybe this is the week.

Park, Lewis and two-time defending Taiwan LPGA champion Suzann Pettersen are grouped in the first round.

Regaining the No. 1 ranking meant a lot this week to Park, and she would love to hold it for another long run.

“I haven’t won as many tournaments this year as I did last year, but I think I’m playing a lot more consistent golf,” Park said.

Lewis has won three LPGA titles this year to Park’s two with Park coming off a second-place finish in last week’s final major on the Korean LPGA Tour. Park likes the way she has been playing. She took back the No. 1 ranking with these finishes in her last eight starts: 4th, 2nd, Win, 3rd, T-10, T-3, 4th, 2nd.

“I have three tournaments to go, and I feel like a win is not far away,” Park said.

Park and Lewis have combined for a staggering 61 top-10 finishes over the last two seasons, but they’ve only finished top five together in six events.

In Park’s eight victories over the last two seasons, the closest Lewis has come to her was a tie for third at the Honda Thailand last year. Park pulled away from Lewis early on her way to overtaking Ariya Jutanugarn in that Sunday finish. Park came from two shots behind Lewis to win in the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship last year, but with so many players in the mix there was no real sense of that these two were pitted against each other.

In Lewis’ six victories the last two seasons, Park has finished top 10 in just one of them, tying for eighth when Lewis won the ShopRite Classic this year.

While the unrelenting pressure Park and Lewis apply on each other for the game’s big prizes can be exhausting, there’s mutual respect in what the competition brings out of them.

“We have pushed each other, just to be more consistent,” Lewis said. “That’s something I saw in Inbee last year, how well she played under pressure. And she has probably seen the number of top-10s I’ve had, so hers seem to have gone up, too ... We put pressure on each other to get better in general.”

Park says she always checks to see how Lewis is doing in an event.

Lewis keeps an eye on Park, too.

But do they see each other as rivals?

“We’ve definitely been going back and forth,” Lewis said of the fight for No. 1. “Inbee’s played a little better than I have in the majors over the last two years, and, really, I think that’s kind of the difference, but she’s fun to play against. You know she’s always going to be there, so I guess it’s kind of a rivalry, but I don’t really know.”

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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.