Puzzle pieces starting to fit as Ko eyes victory

By Randall MellOctober 26, 2017, 3:07 pm

Lydia Ko’s finding something in her fall run to the LPGA’s finish line.

All the pieces of her game that she dismantled in a bid to improve this season appear to be coming back together as she seeks to end her 15-month winless spell.

Ko’s 7-under-par 64 in Thursday’s start to the Sime Darby Malaysia is more evidence she’s closing in on that goal. She’s one shot ahead of Su Oh and two ahead of Eun-Hee Ji, who is looking for back-to-back victories after winning in Taiwan last week. Shanshan Feng and Madelene Sagstrom are also two back.

Ko’s challenge in Malaysia now is to find the consistency she has been looking for through four rounds and to re-engage the confidence that made her such a strong closer winning 14 LPGA events as one of the game’s greatest teen phenoms.

Ko, who turned 20 in April, has made significant statistical strides since appearing to regress in August, when she was struggling to make cuts. She missed two missed cuts in three starts back then, barely avoiding a run of three consecutive missed cuts by making it on the number at the Women’s British Open.

Full-field scores from the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia

Since missing the cut at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open at the end of August, Ko has finished solo second or third in three of her last five starts. She closed with a 65 in Taiwan last Sunday to finish solo second. That’s four rounds now of 65 or better in her last six events.

“I think golf is such a confidence and mental game,” Ko said. “I was struggling a little bit during the middle of my season.”

Ko, who reigned as Rolex world No. 1 for 85 consecutive weeks before losing the top spot in June, is looking for her first victory since winning the Marathon Classic in July of last year. She is No. 8 in this week’s world rankings.

Ko said she gained much needed momentum at the Indy Women in Tech Championship at the start of September. She was tied for the lead going into the final round but was overtaken by Lexi Thompson.

“I played great in Indianapolis, obviously didn’t end up winning, but my second-place finish gave me confidence going forward,” Ko said.

Ko followed that up the next week by getting into contention at the Evian Championship, where she finished solo third.

“The person that's more confident and more comfortable and positive, they are the players that are going to keep consistently playing well,” Ko said. “I think the more I see putts go in, or the more under par rounds I have, the more confident I get going into the next round or the next tournament.

“It's just about confidence. So hopefully I'm going to play with confidence the next few days.”

Ko’s short game, one of the best in the women’s game, seemed to suffer with all the changes she made, after beginning the year with new equipment, a new coach and a new caddie. But it’s coming back.

Ko got up and down all five times she missed the green Thursday in Malaysia. 

Going into the year’s first major in April at the ANA Inspiration, Ko was 41st in putting average, after finishing first last year. She added Gareth Raflewski as her new putting coach in June and has climbed to 13th today. Also, she was 23rd on tour in scoring average 10 weeks ago, after finishing second last year. She has climbed to 10th on tour in scoring coming into this week.

Gary Gilchrist, Ko’s swing coach, has been encouraging her to trust the work she’s doing, believing confidence will return as her comfort with all the changes come, and as she thinks less about technique.

“I think it’s just a matter of being more patient, and letting it happen, instead of trying to make it happen,” Gilchrist said this summer. “It’s trusting and believing in what you’re doing, and sticking with it, until you’re comfortable and it feels good.”

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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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."