No kidding: Ko, 17, thriving as world No. 1

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2015, 12:30 am

PHOENIX – In case you’re wondering, Lydia Ko is having fun as the Rolex world No. 1.

Seven weeks into her reign atop women’s golf, she hasn’t felt the weight of the ranking diminishing her level of play or her love of the game.

Though she’s the youngest No. 1 in the history of professional golf, she hasn’t forgotten she’s basically a kid playing a game.

Ko brought that home Sunday getting ready for the JTBC Founders Cup while hitting balls on the range at Marriott’s Wildfire Golf Club aside her coach, David Leadbetter, and her mother, Tina. She was out there with a bunch of junior golfers who were having a fun day as part of an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf event linked to the Founders Cup.

“They were doing a run around the course,” Ko said. “And they were doing some fun things with music. They said kids that are 17 years old and younger can participate in this game, that you can enter for prizes. I told David, `Can I go up and sign up?’”

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Ko laughed telling the story. She likes to laugh and being No. 1 isn’t changing that. It may be the surest sign she’s doing just fine so far handling all the extra pressure that goes with being the game’s top player.

“One thing we try to do is keep her laughing,” Leadbetter said. “She seems to be handling everything quite well. She isn’t putting any undue pressure on herself.”

In fact, Ko’s thriving as the world No. 1.

Her last three starts have ended: win, win, second place.

Ko won in back-to-back weeks at the Women’s Australian Open and the New Zealand Women’s Open.

She finished second to Inbee Park at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore in her last start.

That’s three consecutive weeks where every shot mattered with a trophy on the line.

“I don’t think people realize how tough it is playing week after week in contention, especially being at home in New Zealand one of those weeks, with all the extra things that go with that,” Leadbetter said. “It’s amazing how she’s able to handle it all.”

Christina Kim turned 31 this week. She remembers what it was like playing professional golf as a teenager. She was 18 when she turned pro. She sees the unaffected manner with which Ko seems to meet challenges and marvels.

“The way she plays golf, it’s like watching somebody walk on water,” Kim said. “She glides through golf.

“She looks like she’s swinging at, like, 40 percent. I know she’s not. Her hands are really, really quick through impact, but it’s just effortless. I don’t know, her whole game, it’s as close to perfect as you’ll find.”

Of course, Ko’s game isn’t perfect. Still, Kim admires how close Ko’s game seems to it compared to everyone else in the women’s game.

Through 46 LPGA starts, dating back to when she was playing the tour as a 14-year-old amateur, Ko has never missed a cut. She logs a first- second- or third-place finish roughly once every three times she plays in an LPGA event. She has the six victories, five second-place finishes and four third-place finishes. She has 26 top-10 finishes.

After Ko won the Women’s Australian Open last month, Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan shot a tweet Ko’s way.

“You know who Kathy Whitworth is, right?” Sheehan tweeted.

Whitworth, of course, is the winningest player in LPGA history. She holds the tour record with 88 career titles.

Ko tees it up Thursday at the JTBC Founders Cup looking to win her 11th professional title, her seventh LPGA title. She will be looking to win for the third time in four starts.

Playing the Founders Cup for the first time last year, Ko tied for second. She had a three-shot lead on the front nine but like all the contenders watched Karrie Webb close hard and win.

“I was a little disappointed with the way that I couldn't pull it off, but Karrie played better,” Ko said. “Sometimes that's the case, but I think it gives me confidence coming into this week, seeing that I played well before here. It’s a course that I know.”

It almost doesn’t seem to matter if Ko knows the course these days. She knows how to get herself in the hunt, no matter where she’s playing. That has all of golf marveling.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.