Olympics drive Webb as HOF career winds down

By Randall MellFebruary 17, 2016, 3:24 pm

Karrie Webb’s quest to make the Olympics intensifies this week with her 2016 LPGA debut at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

Is this push to Rio de Janeiro the beginning of the end to the Hall of Famer’s career?

Even Webb isn’t sure.

“I said I was going to retire when I was 35, and I’m 41 now, so still going,” Webb said Wednesday in a pretournament news conference at The Grange Golf Club outside Adelaide in South Australia. “I think when you’re 18, 30 seems like it’s a long way away, but from experience it comes around pretty quickly. I don’t know what the future holds for me as far as full time playing. I’m concentrating this year on a full schedule and hopefully making the Olympic team and then just re-assessing where things are at the end of the year.”

Whether Webb retires at year’s end, or finds that chasing Olympic gold has fueled ambition to keep on winning trophies, or just decides to scale back her appearances, her journey is worth paying extra attention to this season. The Olympics has kept a fire burning inside her, a fire that has been something special to behold over her two decades as a pro.

There is longevity to Webb’s excellence worth marveling over.

Updated men's and women's Olympic standings

The intensity required to have stayed among the LPGA’s elite for so long, with the women’s game getting so much younger than the men’s game, is what’s worth marveling over. The average age of the top 10 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings is 23.5. The average age of the top 10 men in the Official World Golf Ranking is 29.7.

Annika Sorenstam pushed so hard for so long before retiring at 37. Lorena Ochoa retired at 28.

Webb will tee it up with 18-year-old Brooke Henderson for the first two rounds in Australia this week. Webb said age isn’t something she thinks about when she’s competing.

“I think the only time that I ever have to think about it is when I’m sitting here and you guys ask me those questions,” Webb said in her news conference. “I’ve always said the golf ball doesn’t know how old you are; it’s just about getting it in the hole. As long as I feel fit and healthy to play, I feel like I’m competitive every week.”

If this is Webb’s last hurrah, even if it’s just the last year we see this same kind of ambition driving her, it would be a shame to let it pass without special appreciation for what we’re seeing.

Webb is seeking her sixth Women’s Australian Open title this week. They’re among the more than 50 professional victories she has won around the world, 41 of those LPGA titles, and seven of those major championships. Only legends of the game have won more, only Patty Berg (15), Mickey Wright (13), Louise Suggs (11), Annika Sorenstam (10), Babe Zaharias (10) and Betsy Rawls (8).

“It’s amazing what Karrie is doing,” Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko said. “I said I’d retire at 30. I’m always learning when I get to play alongside her.”

Webb was No. 9 in the world to begin last year. She opens this year No. 34. She was winless a year ago and watched 19-year-old Minjee Lee pass her as the highest ranked Australian woman last year, but that Olympic dream is keeping Webb’s interest at a high level.

“Since golf was announced in the 2016 Olympics, it’s definitely been a focus of mine,” Webb said. “I think it’s what has kept me out here playing full time. It’s important for me to make the team, but, obviously, if something were to happen and I didn’t, it’s not going to tarnish what I’ve already achieved.”

To make the Australian Olympic team, Webb pretty much just has to rank among the top two Australians on July 11, the deadline for Olympic qualifying. The next highest ranked Australian behind Lee and Webb today is Rebecca Artis at No. 129.

“That would be icing on a very nice cake, but firstly I have to make the team,” Webb said. “I love that everyone is penciling or penning it in. Hopefully, just the feeling of the Olympics and being there will inspire me to play well. A medal would be unbelievable.”

Whether a medal would motivate Webb to walk away from the game or would inspire her to keep chasing excellence is part of the intrigue in her march to Rio.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

Getty Images

Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

Getty Images

Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

Getty Images

Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.