Park wins psychological edge over Ko, Lewis

By Randall MellMarch 8, 2015, 4:42 pm

Inbee Park won the battle royale in Singapore.

She held off 17-year-old sensation Lydia Ko and American star Stacy Lewis in their dynamic final-round grouping Sunday and that made winning the HSBC Women’s Champions all the sweeter.

Make no mistake, for Park, there was special satisfaction looking her toughest foes in the eyes and beating them straight up, deeper meaning in beating her rivals like that, too.

There was new psychological turf claimed, borders re-staked and memories built for future empowerment.

“I think it definitely gives me a little bit more confidence playing with Lydia and Stacy at the same time,” Park said in her news conference afterward. “It's probably like a dream pairing. We get this a lot in the first and second rounds, but it's tough to actually have that in the final round. I had to play better than them in the final round to win.

“It's not the pairing I really look forward to playing in the final round. It’s very difficult and probably the toughest pairing that I probably have all year.”

Ko arrived in Singapore red hot, coming off back-to-back victories at the Women’s Australian Open and New Zealand Women’s Open. Park took Ko’s best shots early Sunday but didn’t rattle, crack or even blink.

Two shots ahead at day’s start, Park watched Ko make birdies at the fourth and fifth holes to tie her for the lead. She watched Lewis get within one shot of her with a birdie at the fourth hole.

“I was kind of expecting Lydia and Stacy to make birdies, and I kind of expected them to play well today,” Park said. “I was just telling myself, I'm not making any birdies but I'm not making any bogeys. I'm not making any mistakes, so that's a good sign.”

Remarkably, Park didn’t make a bogey all week.

With her wire-to-wire victory, and without a dropped shot over the entire 72-hole event, Park was a rock, both an immovable object atop the leaderboard and an irresistible force rolling across the difficult Sentosa Golf Club’s Serapong Course.

“No bogeys around here, on a course where you can hit a good shot and you can get bad luck,” Ko said. “That's pretty phenomenal.”

How phenomenal?

Ko made three bogeys in the final round alone, and Lewis had six through four rounds. Nobody beside Park had fewer than three bogeys all week.

“I don't think I can even believe myself that I didn't make any bogeys for 72 holes,” Park said.

With her final-round 2-under-par 70, Park ended the week at 15 under overall, two shots better than the runner-up Ko and four better than the third-place Lewis. It was Park’s first victory this year, her 11th worldwide title over the last 25 months.

Six weeks ago, Ko took the No. 1 ranking from Park. While Park won’t get it back with Sunday’s victory, she narrows the gap on Ko. She moves to within .95 points of Ko in their average world ranking, which will put the No. 1 spot up for grabs when they tee it up together again in two weeks at the LPGA’s return to the United States, the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix.

Typically, Park makes her largest impression with her putter, but she won in Singapore with superior ball striking. She hit every green but one in regulation over the weekend and all 18 greens in regulation on Sunday.

“I don't think anybody else played better long game than me this week, that's for sure,” Park said.

Park missed just six greens in regulation (66 of 72) the entire week in Singapore. Ko missed five greens on Sunday alone; Lewis missed nine on Sunday.

Hands down, Park is the best putter in the women’s game, having led the LPGA in putts per GIR three times in her career and twice in the last three seasons. What has to be catching the eye of her foes is how much her ball striking has improved under the eye of her coach and husband, Gi Hyeob Nam. Park told us at year’s start she was a little frustrated with her putting last year - even though she ranked third on tour in putts per GIR - because she thought she hit the ball so much better last year than she did in her record-setting 2013 campaign that she gave herself so many more good birdie chances last year.

To be sure, Park’s ball striking made an impression on her peers. Ko uncharacteristically battled her driver Sunday, fighting a pull or hook. She also missed two short putts for par, a 5-footer at the eighth hole and a 3-footer at the 12th hole. If the intensity required winning in back-to-back weeks took something out of Ko, she wasn’t saying so.

“I'm going to work a little bit more over the next week to get a little bit more consistent in my long game,” Ko said. “I think that will give me a little room, so my putter doesn't have to work so hard.”

Lewis battled her driver, too, forcing her to scramble impressively to stay in the hunt. She made a crazy good par at the 12th after her ball wedged in the top of a palm tree, forcing her caddie to climb a cart to go up and identify it.

Given the overall consistency of Ko, Park and Lewis, nobody should be surprised to see these three dueling again soon, though not necessarily all three together in the final Sunday pairing again. That was so unusual, such a treat to fans of the women’s game.

“This is just early, we have so many tournaments to come,” Park said.

So many more trophies and world-ranking points to be won, and so much more psychological turf to be claimed.

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.