Thompson outduels Wie to win Kraft Nabisco

By Randall MellApril 7, 2014, 3:15 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Trying to beat the guys was the right idea after all.

Lexi Thompson just took Michelle Wie’s idea and turned it on its head.

Thompson didn’t grow up dreaming of honing a game good enough to play the PGA Tour someday. She grew up trying to keep up with older brothers Nicholas and Curtis in three-way matches in the “Backyard Five,” a regular competition over a loop of five holes that wound around their home at TPC Eagle Trace in Coral Springs, Fla. She’s the baby sister who hated losing to her brothers because it meant she would have to do their chores. There’s no more profound analysis of why the 19-year-old Thompson is rocketing up the ranks of the women’s game.

That’s the irony of Thompson’s breakthrough Sunday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. In becoming the second-youngest player to win a major, Thompson overwhelmed Wie in a head-to-head final-round showdown. Wie made a name for herself as a teen phenom wanting to play the best men in the world, and she got beat Sunday by the one woman in the game who plays most like a man.

Thompson played bomb and gouge around Mission Hills Country Club. She was second in driving distance for the week.

“Everyone I know who sees Lexi up close, who sees her play in person, from caddies to PGA Tour pros, says, `Dude, she doesn’t hit it like a girl. She mashes it,’” Nicholas Thompson, the oldest of Lexi’s two brothers, told “She amazes people with some of the shots she can hit.”

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Nicholas is a PGA Tour pro. He watched Lexi’s victory on television after tying for 24th at the Shell Houston Open. He isn’t alone marveling over how his sister can overpower her competition.

“She can hit more shots than anyone,” said Rolex world No. 3 Stacy Lewis. “Lexi and Michelle are similar. Her and Michelle can hit shots than nobody else can hit, just because of their strength, how steep they can get into the ball. Nobody else can match that.”

As much as Thompson overpowered the Dinah Shore Course Sunday, she closed out her fourth LPGA title, her third in her last 12 starts, with a complete game. Her bogey-free 4-under-par 68 was the best round of the day, leaving her with a three-shot victory over runner-up Wie.

Thompson’s putting, deemed a weakness in her game in the past, never let her down. She rolled in a 15-foot birdie at the first hole and never looked back.

Late last year, Lewis warned folks what might be coming.

“As soon as she figures out her putting, she’s going to be unbelievable,” Lewis said at the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. “She’s hands-down the best ball-striker on tour.”

Lewis was there when Thompson made the traditional champion’s leap into Poppie’s Pond Sunday. She helped douse Thompson with beer in the celebration. Lewis was asked if this is the kind of performance she saw coming when Thompson’s putting came together.

“This is it,” Lewis said. “Her putting is what got her here today,” Lewis said. “Her ball-striking has always been good. It’s something she has relied on for so long, but the putting has been her thing. Over the last six months, though, you could see her starting to trust her stroke, believing in herself.”

That doesn’t portend well for the rest of women’s golf.

“I think this is her time,” Nicholas said. “I think this is just the start of what’s possible because she has so much talent and she’s still so young and she’s really just getting into training and working out.”

Morgan Pressel won the Kraft Nabisco when she was 18. She’s the only player younger than Thompson to win a major.

“This wasn’t unexpected,” Nicholas said. “It was just a matter of time.”

Thompson burst onto the golf scene as a 12-year-old. That’s how old she was when she played in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, when she became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She was just 16 when she won the Navistar Classic, becoming the youngest player at the time to win an LPGA event.

Scott and Judy Thompson, Lexi’s parents, will tell you the success their children enjoy is intertwined. They’ve made each other better. Nicholas is 31, the brother who paved the way into professional golf. Curtis is 21, a standout at LSU.

When Lexi jumped on her bike and raced after her brothers to the golf course as a little girl, she learned a wonderful paradox. She learned sometimes keeping up is the best way to get ahead.

“Lexi plays aggressively because of her brothers,” Scott said. “It’s how she learned to play keeping up with them. She wasn’t aiming away from pins today.”

She couldn’t beat her brothers playing that way, and it’s a large reason she’s becoming so tough to beat.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

Former 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 Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted 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