Plenty of drama, surprises at LPGA finale

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2016, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The drama unfolded in layers in a breakthrough Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Charley Hull won her first LPGA title.

Ariya Jutanugarn won her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first CME Globe $1 million jackpot.

In Gee Chun joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award and Vare Trophy for low scoring average in the same season.

This day of plenty – with so many big prizes handed out – totaled up to one large upset, though.

Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko left without any of the important season-long prizes that were up for grabs.

With her brilliant tournament-record 62 Friday, Ko shot to the top of the leaderboard, opening the possibility she could sweep all the prizes Sunday, but it wasn’t meant to be. Ko’s hopes were down to the Vare Trophy late in the final round, but even that was dashed at the very end.

Ko’s scoring average was .001 ahead of Chun until Ko missed a 15-foot birdie chance at the 72nd hole and Chun followed by holing a 9-foot birdie putt.

“It may hurt right now about what happened, but I still feel like it’s been an awesome season,” said Ko, who won five times around the world and maintained her grip on the Rolex world No. 1 ranking from year’s start to finish. “Just so many highs.”

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Ko could have been speaking for all the winners at Tiburon Golf Club.

The day belonged to Hull, but ultimately the season belonged to Jutanugarn.

Hull, the 20-year-old from England, closed with a bogey-free 6-under-par 66, claiming her first LPGA title in her 52nd tour start. At 19-under 269, Hull beat So Yeon Ryu (67) by two shots, securing the victory after Ryu’s approach at the 71st hole thumped to a stop at the base of a 4-foot bunker wall, leading to a bogey.

“Feels great to be a winner on the LPGA tour,” Hull said. “It’s wicked to do it at 20.”

Jutanugarn, who is also just 20 years old, closed with a 69 and tied for fourth.

That was more than good enough to hold off Ko for the CME Globe $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the LPGA money-winning title. Ko, who had to win Sunday to take Player of the Year from Jutanugarn, shot 72 and tied for 10th.

Jutanugarn said she would enjoy spending some of the $1 million she won with her family at Disney World next week, but the Rolex Player of the Year Award is the prize she craved most.

“My dream come true,” Jutanugarn said. “I never think my name can be on this trophy, and, right now, I’m really proud of myself.”

Jutanugarn fashioned a remarkable comeback this season with a tour-best five LPGA victories. As a teen phenom in Thailand, Jutanugarn was labeled a can’t miss star, but she tore up her shoulder in a fall chasing her sister off a tee box at the LPGA Championship in the summer of 2013. She missed eight months healing from shoulder surgery and then struggled in her return. She missed 10 consecutive cuts last year, and just when she looked as if she might be on the rise again this spring, she blew a three-shot lead coming home in the final round of the ANA Inspiration.

Jutanugarn’s five titles included her first major, the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July.

“Even like last year, when I miss 10 cuts in a row, I really appreciate it,” Jutanugarn said. “Because if that not happen, I’m not going to win all this stuff this year.”

Jutanugarn was named the winner of this year’s LPGA’s Heather Farr Award for perseverance.

Chun closed hard Sunday to overtake Ko for the Vare Trophy, finishing with three consecutive birdies.

The battle was so close, Ko walked to the 18th hole with a scoring average that was .001 better than Chun’s.

Chun, 22, who won the Evian Championship in September to join Se Ri Pak as the only players to claim majors as their first two LPGA titles, suspected her last putt might be to win the Vare Trophy.

“It was pressure for me, but I just try to enjoy my last putt,” Chun said. “Just amazing.”

Ko, still 19, was gracious as ever in the end. She hugged and congratulated Chun, then sought out Jutanugarn, hugging Ariya and her sister, Moriya, and their mother, Narumon.

“It’s been a really fun season, but Ariya played better,” Ko said. “When you play good and somebody plays better, you can’t do much about it. I think there are so many positives. I know that even though I’m not the one holding the trophy, Ariya is such a deserving winner, both of the Player of the Year and the Globe.”

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."