Pak's back, ahead of schedule

By Randall MellJune 8, 2012, 12:41 am

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Se Ri Pak made an inspiring return.

Cristie Kerr played as if she is determined to seize back her status as top American as quickly as she can.

Paula Creamer moved into early position to win her second major championship.

The LPGA’s Spanish women are hot. We’re talking about golf now with Beatriz Recari getting in the early hunt just two events after fellow countrywoman Azahara Munoz won the Sybase Match Play Championship. No Spaniard has ever won a women’s major championship.

And Ryann O’Toole and Giulia Sergas made surprising runs to the top of the leaderboard.

The Wegmans LPGA Championship percolated with storylines in the first round Thursday at Locust Hill Country Club.

With world No. 1 Yani Tseng off to a sluggish start with a 76 a year after she routed the field here, the tournament’s up for grabs early.

Recari, O’Toole and Sergas led the way with 3-under-par 69s. Pak, Kerr and Creamer were all in a group of seven players just a shot behind.

A look at some of the top storylines:

Pak is back

Pak, 34, wasn’t supposed to be here. After slightly tearing the labrum in her left shoulder slipping on clubhouse steps at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic six weeks ago, the Hall of Famer wondered if she would miss the rest of the season.

Her reaction upon first hearing the diagnosis was fear she would miss the U.S. Women’s Open this summer in its return to Blackwolf Run, which is practically sacred ground in South Korean golf history. It’s where Pak’s victory in 1998 inspired the birth of a generation of dominant South Korean golfers.

When Pak stepped onto the course Monday to practice, she got double takes.

“Players, caddies, they’re looking at me like, `What are you doing here?’” Pak said.

Well, she’s here to win, as improbable as that sounds just 10 days after she began hitting full shots as part of her whirlwind rehab.

“She’s obviously a quick healer,” said Mark Wuersching, her caddie. “The doctors cleared her, but let’s put it this way, nobody was going to stop her from playing here.”

Pak says her shoulder feels “100 percent,” and it looked that way as she navigated her way around Locust Hill with four birdies and two bogeys. She is a 25-time LPGA winner with three of her five major championship titles coming at the LPGA Championship. Her last title came at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic two years ago.

“Se Ri wants to win now more than she ever has,” Wuersching said.

Pak showed it outplaying young South Korean stars Sun Young Yoo (72) and So Yeon Ryu (73) in a pairing together. They are the reigning Kraft Nabisco and U.S. Women’s Open champs, respectively.

Wuersching knows how determined Pak is to have her game ready for Blackwolf Run.

“Before last year was over, Se Ri was talking about returning to Blackwolf Run,” Wuersching said. “This is the year she has been looking to step up.”

Pak started her ascent Thursday.

Kerr eyes the prize

Kerr didn’t like being passed by Stacy Lewis as the top American in the Rolex World Rankings this week.

She also doesn’t like the fact that she hasn’t won anything since running away with the LPGA Championship title here two years ago.

Lewis jumped to No. 3 in the world on Monday, but Kerr, now at No. 7, wants her spot back. Locust Hill is a place she knows she can make a statement. She made a large one winning by 12 shots here two years ago.

“I was really great mentally,” said Kerr, 34. “I didn’t put too much pressure on myself today. I just tried to go out there and do my thing like I did a couple years ago.”

Creamer loves Locust Hill

Creamer has special feelings for Locust Hill. This is where her grandfather, Tom Creamer, saw her play most of her golf on the tour. He would drive over from his Ithaca, N.Y., home to root for her. She relished their time together before his death earlier this year.

With a quick start, Creamer, 25, is in early position to claim the victory she always wanted here.

“I feel pretty good sitting at 2 under,” Creamer said.

Recari rolling

Recari, 25, broke through to win the CVS/pharmacy Challenge two years ago for her first and only LPGA title. She’s looking to make it two wins in three events for the Spaniards and follow up Munoz’s victory at the Sybase Match Play Championship.

“It feels almost like relief because I’ve been playing well for a long time, the scores just haven’t happened,” Recari said.

O’Toole off to fast start

The surprising rookie American captain’s pick at last fall’s Solheim Cup found her best form in another big event.

O’Toole, 25, got American captain Rosie Jones’ attention finishing ninth at the U.S. Women’s Open last year. O’Toole tied for fifth at the Safeway Classic a few weeks later and was named to the USA team.

O’Toole hasn’t been a factor in an LPGA event since, but she’s back.

She said sports psychologist Bob Rotella is helping bring out her strengths.

“His biggest thing with me is to try to get me to play in the same way I do everything else, like surfing and snowboarding, don’t hold back,” O’Toole said. “He tries to bring out the arrogant side of me.”

Sergas surges

The 11-year veteran from Italy is seeking to make her first LPGA title a major.

Sergas, 32, playing in the day’s final pairing, birdied the 18th hole to take a share of the first-round lead. It was her sixth birdie against three bogeys for the day.

Sergas was the 1998 European Amateur champ, but as an LPGA pro her best finish was second place, back in 2004.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.