Surprise! Wie back in the lead at a major

By Randall MellAugust 3, 2017, 5:31 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Somewhere in the cosmos Old Tom Morris must be scratching his head.

Young Tom Morris, too.

Really, aren’t we all?

Michelle Wie is impossible to figure out, but here she is again, sitting atop a major championship leaderboard after blistering Kingsbarns Golf Links with an 8-under-par 64, a course record for women and the third lowest score posted in any Women’s British Open since it became a major in 2001.

Three weeks after withdrawing from the U.S. Women’s Open with a neck injury, Wie looks back on track to a resurgent year as the early leader in Scotland.

Through the years, Wie has taken many detours on that road to greatness we all thought she was navigating as a teen phenom, some of them awful turns where we were sure, “Yeah, this time she is lost for good.”

Yet here she is again, flashing more promise.

Here on the outskirts of St. Andrews, Wie’s efforts leave a special impression. Old Tom and Young Tom are buried at the St. Andrews Cathedral Graveyard just seven miles down the road from Kingsbarns. The Old Course, the Home of Golf, is just eight miles down that same road.

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“The fact that I got the course record today, that’s a huge honor for me,” Wie said.

The American left the morning wave one shot ahead of South Korea’s In-Kyung Kim and two ahead of fellow American Lindy Duncan.

Wie cautioned it’s only Thursday, but she has her eye on the bigger prize, on adding another major championship title to the U.S. Women’s Open she won three years ago.

“Winning the Women's British Open has always been a huge goal of mine,” Wie said. “That's a long way from now. I'm just really proud of myself, for how I set myself up the first day.”

Wie’s 64 is topped in Women’s British Open major history only by Mirim Lee’s 62 in the first round at Woburn last year and by Minea Blomqvist’s 62 in the third round at Sunningdale in 2004.

After a rough start Thursday, Wie was all smiles coming home, making birdies at the last three holes, six of the last eight.

“I skulled a lob wedge on the second hole, which is nice, straight over the green, so started with that bogey,” Wie said. “Kind of got me a little pissed for a little bit. But it was fun out there.”

Wie, 27, has made many of us scratch our heads in the unorthodox ways she navigates her way back from all the detours, from all the injuries and slumps.

Notably, her 64 didn’t come with three different putting grips within the round, something she has been doing quite effectively this summer, rotating among conventional, left-hand low and claw grips during a single round. She stuck with the left-hand low throughout Thursday’s round.

This was as conventional as we’ve seen Wie set up over putts in a long time. No tabletop stance. No quasi-Nicklaus crouch. No potpourri of grips.

Wie said playing the Ladies Scottish Open last week helped her sort out a putting approach.

“I came over to Scotland last week and it was so windy that I couldn't really do the claw,” Wie said. “It just was moving all over the place, so just tried to figure something out that I could putt on links. So I'm glad I came over last week so I could figure all that out.”

That doesn’t mean we might not see other grips before Sunday comes.

“That could change,” she said.

Wie’s ball striking was impressive. She hit 13 of 14 fairways and all but one green in regulation.

“Michelle’s normal ball flight is pretty low,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “She probably has more lag in her swing than anybody on tour except, maybe, Lexi Thompson. By lag, I mean how her hands are leading the club to such a large extent that she is always de-lofting the club. It is perfect for windy conditions.”

While Wie’s new stock fade will be tested in higher winds, Leadbetter said she can hold shots against the wind with straighter ball flights.

“The good thing with Michelle, is she has such an array of shots, and she has a lot of variety with her short game,” Leadbetter said.

Wie has an array of eclectic weapons, too. She put up her 64 with an 11-wood and a 9-wood in her bag.

“The 11-wood replaces my 5-iron, the 9-wood my 4-hybrid,” Wie said.

After breaking through to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst in 2014, Wie lost her way again, with left hip, back and knee injuries preceding a slump. She hasn’t won since.

With a new stock fade this year, with her more upright putting stance, Wie has righted herself again, with form that has launched her into contention more regularly.

Wie had four finishes of T-4 or better in a five-tournament stretch this summer, before the neck injury struck. She withdrew in pain during the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open in Bedminster, N.J., just three weeks ago.

“I just hopped over to New York City, and my doctor is over there, and had an epidural and a block injection,” Wie said. “It went very well, was very successful.”

Wie was asked if she’s finally feeling injury free.

“I am not going to answer that question, because I feel like every time I say I'm good, something happens,” Wie said. “Fingers crossed. Knock on wood.”

Leadbetter says Wie’s improving game is growing her confidence, her ambitions with it.

“People are saying she doesn’t really have the desire to be No. 1, but I can tell you she has a great desire to be No. 1, no two ways about it,” Leadbetter said. “I’ve told her I think her best golf is ahead of her. I really believe that. She has the talent, and with the belief, if she stays healthy, she can be a real factor for the next two or three years.”

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.