LPGA swings into Bay Area on a high note

By Randall MellApril 21, 2015, 6:30 pm

DALY CITY, Calif. – This sweeping saga they call the LPGA keeps making twists and turns that seem destined to define it as the new golden era in women’s golf.

Give these players credit - they are continuing to deliver one dramatic chapter after another this year in an attempt to break out of their little niche in the sports landscape.

Sei Young Kim’s victory at the Lotte Championship on Saturday, with her wild finish of chipping in to force a playoff and then holing out from 154 yards for eagle at the first sudden-death hole, couldn’t have been more spectacular if it had been punctuated with a crack of thunder.

Kim is a 22-year-old rookie from South Korea who now tops the Rolex Player of the Year and Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year point races. How rare is that? Only Nancy Lopez has won the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. She did it 37 years ago.

With the tour moving to San Francisco this week for the Swinging Skirts Classic, another strong field will vie to keep the magical storylines going. There’s almost a major championship feel to the event with 19 of the top 20 in the world rankings teeing it up on a strong test at Lake Merced Golf Club. Jessica Korda is the only player among the top 20 not scheduled to play.

Photo gallery: 2015 LPGA winners

The women gathering here are making this a special time in their game. You could argue we’re already in the midst of a golden era in their sport. While history always has final say in such matters, there’s evidence in assessing just what today’s players are achieving.

The extraordinary nature of this collection of talent can be seen in the records they’re setting.

Lydia Ko is the defending champion this week. At 17, she is the youngest No. 1 in the history of men’s or women’s golf. At 15, she was the youngest winner of an LPGA event. Earlier this month, she equaled a modern record in the women’s game, tying Annika Sorenstam’s mark of 29 consecutive rounds under par. Though she turns 18 in three days, Ko will have four chances this year to become the youngest woman to win a major.

Last year, Stacy Lewis became the first American in two decades to sweep the Player of the Year, Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the money title in the same season.

The year before that, Inbee Park won the first three major championships of the year, something no woman had achieved since Babe Zaharias in 1950. Her run didn’t end until Lewis won the Ricoh Women’s British Open, taking the title at St. Andrews, where she closed hitting one of the best shots in major championship history to make birdie at the famed Road Hole.

You want great shots in majors? These women are practically making a habit of them. Brittany Lincicome is still aglow after making eagle at the 72nd hole to force a playoff that ended with her winning the ANA Inspiration three weeks ago. Mo Martin rattled a 3-wood off the flagstick at the final hole of the Ricoh Women’s British Open last summer, almost closing out her victory at Royal Birkdale with an albatross. She won, instead, with an eagle.

These women have been unrelenting delivering compelling theater for three seasons now, from Park’s historic run of major championship victories, to Suzann Pettersen’s leading the Euros to new Solheim Cup glory to Kim’s amazing finish last weekend.

A year ago, Paula Creamer’s emotional celebration winning the HSBC Women’s in a playoff with a 75-foot eagle putt went viral on the web . . . Michelle Wie broke through to claim her first major on the largest stage a women’s event had ever been played upon, winning the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst a week after the men played there. She did so holding off then-world No. 1 Lewis . . . At 31, after toiling six years to make it to the LPGA, Martin fashioned a Cinderella story winning the Women’s British Open in her third season on tour . . .  Big-hitting Lexi Thompson beat Wie in a final-round dream pairing to win the Kraft Nabisco for her first major . . . Hall of Famer Karrie Webb won twice . . . Christina Kim fought her way back from injury and depression to win again . . . Spain’s dynamic quartet of Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, Carlota Ciganda and Belen Mozo won the intriguing new International Crown team event and Ko ended the year taking home the largest payday in the history of women’s golf ($1.5 million) as winner of the CME Group Tour Championship and CME Globe.

There hasn’t been any let-up so far this year.

Na Yeon Choi won a dramatic season opener at the Coates Golf Championship in a back-nine duel that saw Ko endure a rare collapse and still vault to No. 1 in the world with her second-place finish. Ko proved she was more than worthy of her lofty new ranking, winning the Women’s Australian Open and LET’s New Zealand Women’s Open in back-to-back starts. There was more riveting action to follow in Singapore as the HSBC Women’s Champions gave us a rare treat with the Rolex world Nos. 1-2-3 players battling in the final grouping of the final round with Park winning. There was more theater when the LPGA returned to the United States, with rookie Hyo Joo Kim taking just about everything Lewis could throw at her in a final-round duel to win the JTBC Founders Cup. Cristie Kerr followed that up at the Kia Classic, winning for the first time as a mother, with her 1-year-old son Mason there to hug at the end. Lincicome’s dramatics came directly after at the ANA, with Sei Young Kim’s fireworks following last week.

With an extraordinary rookie class, maybe the LPGA’s best ever, the women’s game has never been deeper . . . or looked so golden for a while.

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”

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Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 7:45 pm

Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:

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Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:59 pm

The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:

1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.

2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.

3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.

4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.

5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.

6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.

7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.

8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.

9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.

10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.

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Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:28 pm

It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.

Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.

"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."

Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.

That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.

"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.

"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."