Compelling storylines abound for Airbus LPGA finale

By Randall MellMay 24, 2014, 10:59 pm

Michelle Wie gave herself a chance to claim her second LPGA title this year.

Stacy Lewis moved within striking distance of seizing back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

England’s Charley Hull maneuvered for a run at her first LPGA title and winning tour membership.

Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and Scotland’s Catriona Matthew positioned themselves to trump them all Saturday in the third round of the Airbus LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala.

Take your pick of compelling storylines going into the final round at the Magnolia Grove Crossings Course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. 

Wow-Wie once more?

Wie will begin Sunday looking to win her fourth LPGA title, her second this season.

At 16-under 200, Nordqvist (66) is one shot ahead of Matthew (70), two in front of Lewis (66) and three ahead of Wie (66), Hull (71) and Jessica Korda (69).

Wie hit 11 of 14 fairways Saturday and missed just one green in regulation in her bogey-free round. Nobody is hitting more greens in regulation this year than Wie. She leads the LPGA in GIR (78.7 percent).

Wie will tee it up Sunday on a run of 30 consecutive bogey-free holes.

“There are a lot of low scores out there, so I was just trying to keep up with everyone else, making birdies,” Wie told reporters after her round. “Hopefully, I can have another low one tomorrow.

Wie, 24, won the Lotte Championship in April, her first title in four seasons. She’s getting herself in the hunt a lot now. She has recorded top-10 finishes in her last four starts.

A change at the top?

Lewis begins Sunday with a chance to overtake Inbee Park as the Rolex No. 1, and she doesn’t even have to win to do so.

Lewis can regain the No. 1 ranking she lost to Park 58 weeks ago with a Sunday finish of solo third-place or better, but she says it won’t be her focus.

“It’s really not, because for me the goal is to win tournaments,” said Lewis, 29. “I know all the scenarios. I know the second, third thing, but that’s not what I came here for this week.”

Park can’t play defense. She missed the cut Friday, her first missed cut in a year.

Lewis hit one more fairway than Wie (12) and equaled Wie hitting 17 greens in regulation.

If Lewis ascends to No. 1, it’s another boost to the resurging American women’s game. U.S. players are going for their third consecutive LPGA title, their fifth in the last six events and their seventh overall this season. Korda's in position to become the first American to win twice this year. She won the season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas Classic.

Though Lewis has just one victory this year, she is dominating the LPGA statistically with her consistency. She leads the tour in official money ($853,617), scoring average (69.5), Rolex Player of the Year points and in the Race to the CME Globe.

England’s next big star is knocking on the LPGA’s door

Hull, who turned 18 in March, is looking to add her first LPGA title to the first Ladies European Tour title she claimed earlier this spring.

Hull is not an LPGA member and is playing the Airbus LPGA Classic on a sponsor’s exemption. If Hull wins Sunday, she can claim LPGA membership for the rest of this year and next year.

Though Hull has plans to play LPGA Q-School in the fall, that might not be necessary for her to gain tour membership, even if she doesn’t win this week. Hull can also claim LPGA membership through non-member equivalent earnings. If by season’s end her money winnings in official LPGA events with a cut are equal to or better than the LPGA member who finishes 40th on the money list, Hull will gain tour membership for next year.

Hull leads the LET’s Order of Merit for 2014. She is playing her fifth LPGA event this year, her third on a sponsor’s exemption. She has three more sponsor invites to use, but based on her LET eligibility Hull will also get LPGA starts at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and Evian Championship. Hull hasn’t qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open because of scheduling conflicts in trying to play qualifier. She can still gain a U.S. Women’s Open exemption, however, with an LPGA victory, or by climbing among the top 25 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings by June 16. She’s No. 43 today.

Three times a Swedish charm?

Nordqvist is seeking her third LPGA title this year. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand in February and the Kia Classic in March.

Nordqvist, 26, is putting on a ball striking clinic in Mobile. She has hit 17 of 18 greens in each of the first three rounds this week. She has missed just two fairways all week.

“I know this golf course,” Nordqvist said. “You can never relax. You always have to keep pushing forward, trying to make birdies, because if you don’t, somebody else will.”

Scottish Sunday school in session?

Matthew has a chance to show the young folks how to close out a victory.

Matthew, 44, showed everyone something about bouncing back on Saturday. After opening with three bogeys over her first five holes, the 36-hole leader looked like she was going to fade away. Instead, Matthew birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to get right back in the hunt.

The Scot is seeking her fifth LPGA title, her 12th worldwide. She won the ’09 Ricoh Women’s British Open.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has three runner-up finishes in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''