Struggling picks Creamer, Hedwall under microscope

By Randall MellSeptember 17, 2015, 5:49 pm

ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – American Paula Creamer and European Caroline Hedwall made reputations thriving in the Solheim Cup, but they know recent struggles raise questions about how they will respond this week to the most intense spotlight in women’s golf.

Will Solheim Cup pressure draw out the best in them?

Or will it widen cracks in their armor?

Creamer is 12-6-5 in five Solheim Cups. She has put up more points in this competition than any other American here this week, but she enters having missed her last four cuts in a row. She enters having slid to No. 48 in the Rolex world rankings, the lowest ranking of her 11-year career.

Hedwall won all five matches she played helping the Europeans rout the Americans two years ago in Colorado, becoming the first player in Solheim Cup history to go 5-0. She also was a vital part of the European victory in Ireland four years ago, when she turned around her match to claim an integral half point late in the Euros’ dramatic comeback.

She hasn't done much since Colorado, though.

Creamer, 29, knows there are doubts to slay this week, but she says she’s relishing the challenge.

“This week is so much fun for me,” Creamer said. “I love having partners. I love match play. It’s that format that brings out the fighter, that grinder that I have inside me. Getting here, wearing these colors, it’s motivating. There’s nothing better than that.”

Hedwall, 26, faces similar scrutiny heading into Friday’s start of the matches at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club.



“I’m not scared of the nervous feeling,” Hedwall said. “I really enjoy it, and I think that's the challenge.”

American Stacy Lewis, a two-time major championship winner, was asked this week how Solheim Cup pressure differs from anything else in golf.

“I think it's like playing the 18th hole of a major over and over again,” Lewis said. “That's the kind of pressure you feel on every single shot, on every single hole.”

American and European golf fans will be tuning in to see how Solheim Cup stars like Creamer and Hedwall react.

“I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Creamer said. “No matter what, I’m not going out and putting extra pressure on myself.”

U.S. captain Juli Inkster showed a lot of confidence in Creamer making her one of her two captain’s picks. She showed even more confidence in her on Thursday when she announced she was sending Creamer out in her leadoff match in foursomes for the start of the Solheim Cup. She’s teaming Creamer with Morgan Pressel Friday morning against what may be Europe’s strongest team, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and Sweden's Anna Nordqvist.

“I have faith in Paula,” Inkster said. “I have all the confidence in the world in her. It was a no-brainer for me.”

Foursomes is the toughest and truest team format because it’s alternate shot. There’s more pressure in those matches because a player’s wayward shot can put her partner in bad spots.

Creamer and Pressel are best friends. They’ve partnered together in the Solheim Cup twice before and haven’t been beaten (1-0-1), but they’ve never played foursomes together in this event.

“I watched Paula practice for three days,” Inkster said. “She’s hitting it great. She’s excited. I wanted to get her out there and get her feet wet, so to speak.”

Cristie Kerr has played practice rounds with Creamer all week and likes what she’s seeing.

“Paula loves this event,” Kerr said. “She just loves playing for her country. She rises to the occasion, and you’ll see that. I’ve never seen her make so many putts in practice and hit so many hybrids close to the hole. It was pretty amazing. I’m excited to see how she plays.”

Creamer has won 10 LPGA titles in her career. She won her last at year’s start in 2014, taking the HSBC Champions in a playoff, but she still slipped to 22nd on the LPGA’s money list at year’s end, the lowest finish of her career. Always one of the game’s best iron players, Creamer’s struggles are evident in her stats. She finished 51st in hitting greens in regulation last year. She led the LPGA in GIR in ’09 and never finished worse than seventh in that category in her first eight years on tour. She’s 69th in GIR this year.

“It’s really the first time in her career that she’s gone through a tough stretch,” Kerr said. “I think it’s humbling. Given the opportunity to shine here, I think she’ll do it.”

Creamer’s struggles date back to her attempt to find more distance three seasons ago, when she tried to change her swing with her driver, to get more of an upward, sweeping motion. She also struggled through some equipment issues while making swing changes, where her affinity for bending her irons to get more loft affected the bounce on them.

“I think Paula will rise to the occasion,” Lewis said. “I think all players, even great players, have bad streaks, good streaks, ups and downs, it happens. I think she'll rise to the occasion and she'll be just fine.”

Hedwall, 26, faces similar challenges finding form in a Solheim Cup. In the victory at Colorado Golf Club two years ago, European captain Liselotte Neumann called Hedwall one of her “Swedish Vikings.” Hedwall has played nine Solheim Cup matches and been beaten just once. She’s 7-1-1, but she’s also coming into this week having missed the cut in five of her last seven starts worldwide.

Riding that Solheim Cup boost late in 2013, Hedwall rose to No. 22 in the world. She has slid to No. 117.

“I'm hitting the ball really well, but I just haven't putted that well,” Hedwall said. “It kind of was the same situation when I came into Solheim in 2013. I didn't make many putts and all of a sudden it all worked. I'm kind of hoping for some magic this week, too.”

European captain Carin Koch believes match play will spark some fire in Hedwall this week. Unlike Inkster, however, Koch left Hedwall out of Friday’s opening session.

“Caroline is quite spectacular, usually, when it comes to match play,” Koch said. “And the times I watched her play this year, she was hitting the ball very well. So I'm not too worried. I think she can take care of herself. But it will be exciting to see what she can do this week."

For better or worse, Creamer and Hedwall both promise to be storylines given what they’ve meant to the Solheim Cup.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x