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Parity reigns as LPGA gears for finale

By Randall MellNovember 15, 2017, 9:11 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko won five times around the world last year.

So did Ariya Jutanugarn.

They arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship last year looking poised to duel for the world No. 1 ranking, major championships and Player of the Year awards over the next decade, but their unexpected stumbles opened the door to a new order of things.

Blew it wide open. 

Parity’s the new order coming into this year’s season finale.

The year opened with 15 different winners, something the tour hadn’t seen in 26 years.

Five different players won major championships.

And five different players reigned as Rolex world No. 1, the most in a single season since the rankings were created a dozen years ago.

It begs questions.

Is a tour better with a cluster of stars?

Or with one dominant star?

“That’s a tough question,” said So Yeon Ryu, who reigned at No. 1 for 19 weeks this year. “It’s really great to see a lot of players achieve their dream, but at the same time, we might need a rock star.”

There are a half dozen or more players eager to step into that role.

“I want to be a rock star,” Ryu said.

The CME Group Tour Championship offers a nice launching pad for that kind of ambition.

With so many important awards up for grabs this week, somebody could walk away with so much hardware it will look as if they dominated the entire year.

Sung Hyun Park is in position to sweep every major award available this week and also seize back the world No. 1 ranking. She could join Nancy Lopez as the only players in the history of the LPGA to win the Player of the Year Award and the Rookie of the Year Award in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. With a big finish, Park could also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.

Nobody’s ever claimed all of those awards in a single season.

It could launch Park as the next rock star.

The weight of making that much history adds major championship-like pressure, even if the golf course is not set up like a major this week.

“I know I’m not the only one in the chase,” Park said. “I know all the other competitors are feeling the same pressure.

“Once the tournament begins, when I’m inside the ropes, I don’t really worry about winning or chasing titles.”

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Ryu has the opportunity to walk away with the Player of the Year Award, the money-winning title, the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and the world No. 1 ranking. She could add all of that to the major championship title she won at the ANA Inspiration, which helped her win the Rolex Annika Major Award.

That’s a nice start to rock star status.

“This feels like a major,” Ryu said.

Lexi Thompson was close to elevating to rock star status this season. She won twice, with five second-place finishes, three of them in playoff losses, one of those at a major. It was close to being a spectacular year.

Thompson could walk away Sunday with the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the CME Globe. She leads the tour in scoring average and also leads the CME Globe standings.

Thompson’s game has never looked more complete, with improvements in her short game, wedge game and putting. She was asked if she felt dominant at any point this year.

“There are so many players out here that have spectacular games,” Thompson said. “I’ve played well this year. I’ve had a lot of consistent finishes, with second places. You only feel dominant if you’re winning every week.”

Reigning world No. 1 Shanshan Feng can walk away this week holding tight to her ranking, as well as a third consecutive victory, the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the CME Globe.

Feng could make it look like she owned this season, even without a major, with one last push this week.

“I’ve been playing well,” Feng said. “This is the last tournament of the year. I just have four more days to go, and I can enjoy my offseason.”

Maybe with a lot of hardware added to her trophy case.

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Fowler among 5 to skip WGC-Match Play

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 2:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five of the top 64 players in the world will skip next week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka and Adam Scott all will miss the second WGC event of the year, held next week at Austin Country Club.

As a result, the last man into the field is world No. 69 Luke List. Kevin Na, Charles Howell III, Joost Luiten and Keegan Bradley also got into the field.

Julian Suri and Bill Haas are the first two alternates, if anyone else withdraws from the round-robin-style match-play event.

This is the second year in a row that Rose, Fowler, Stenson and Scott will not play in Austin. Koepka reached the quarterfinals each of the past two years, but he is still recovering from a wrist injury.

The final seeding for the event will be determined after this week’s tournaments. The bracket show is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, live on Golf Channel.

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.