Lexi, Henderson out to narrow gap on Ko at Skirts

By Randall MellApril 20, 2016, 12:46 am

DALY CITY, Calif. – They’re looking for an edge to narrow the gap on Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko.

Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson are making meaningful moves up the world rankings this year, and yet Ko keeps moving farther away from them and everyone else.

Thompson, 21, won the Honda LPGA Thailand seven weeks ago and is coming off top-10 finishes in her last two starts. She moved to No. 3 in the world rankings after winning in Thailand, surpassing Stacy Lewis as the top American. It’s the highest Thompson has climbed in the rankings.

Henderson, 18, arrives for this week’s Swinging Skirts Classic off her seventh consecutive top-10 finish. She broke through to win the Cambia Portland Classic last August, boosting her rocket ride toward the top 10 in the world. Her ride really started here at Lake Merced Golf Club a year ago, when she arrived at No. 207 in the world. She’s No. 7 now.

Both Thompson and Henderson covet that No. 1 ranking, but Ko shows no signs of letting go with three worldwide victories already this year, including the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration.

This, however, is a week Thompson and Henderson could make statements.

Ko, who will turn 19 on Sunday, has thrived at Lake Merced since the Swinging Skirts moved here three years ago. She’s looking to win this event for the third consecutive time. She defeated Morgan Pressel in a playoff last year and beat Lewis in a weekend duel the year before.

“There’s not a bad part of Lydia’s game,” Thompson said. “The parts I would say are the most amazing are her putting and short game. I’ve never seen somebody get up and down from everywhere.”

Henderson watched Ko overtake her as the leader on the weekend at Lake Merced last year.

“She’s an awesome player,” Henderson said.

Thompson and Henderson both made significant adjustments to their games since last season.

Thompson spent the offseason focused on dialing in her wedge play and improving her short game. She says her biggest strides, however, may be in her mental approach, on better dealing with the game’s emotional challenges. That has helped her work through seeing her putter go hot and cold this season.

At the start of the 2015, Thompson began working with John Denney, a “performance coach” based in South Florida, where Thompson lives.

“I knew my attitude was holding me back sometimes, as far as me getting too down on myself, saying negative things to myself after bad shots, things that would carry over to the next shot,” Thompson told GolfChannel.com. “I knew if I changed that, my game could get a lot better.

“I think you’ve seen a difference in the last year and a half.”

Denney told GolfChannel.com specifics of what he and Thompson talk about are confidential, but he did outline how he works with every athlete on “The Harmony Exercise.” Basically, it’s a specific system that uses breathing and positive thoughts to get an athlete into an optimum state to perform a skill.

“When you come to me, the first thing you learn is what a proper breath and proper thought do to the nervous system and to cardiac rhythm,” Denney said.

Denney hooks up his athletes to an EmWave Pro monitor to show them exactly how breathing, thoughts and even visualization affect their body.

“You can completely change heart rhythms,” Denney said.

Thompson said she also has learned from Denney that an attitude of gratefulness for opportunities helps her.

“Don't get me wrong,” Thompson said. “I still get frustrated on the golf course, with some bad shots, but you just have to learn to let it go and go into the next shot or the next hole and just forget about it.”

Henderson substantially boosted her power game in the offseason, going to a 48-inch shaft, the longest the Rules of Golf allow. She used a 47¼ inch shaft on her driver last year, which was already long, about 3 inches longer than the average driver’s shaft in the women’s game. Henderson is averaging 270 yards per drive this season, about 16 yards longer than she averaged last year.

Henderson said the extra length, combined with firmer conditions at Lake Merced, helped her get to places on the course in practice rounds this week that she couldn’t reach last year.

“I think my driver will give me an advantage this week,” Henderson said.

Henderson will be looking to build on memories of getting into contention here last year.

“I love this golf course,” Henderson said. “I think it's definitely a ball-striker's course. You have to hit it straight and pretty long off the tee, which I think really suits my game well.”

Thompson and Henderson know Lake Merced’s a great venue to measure just how their games compare to Ko’s.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.