Top-ranked Ko still trying to improve

By Randall MellMarch 15, 2017, 10:22 pm

PHOENIX – The world No. 1 ranking can be a heavy weight.

It can be an onerous satchel of expectations the longer a player carries it, twisting reality to where winning is more relief than joy.

Lydia Ko carries the No. 1 ranking into the Bank of Hope Founders Cup this week, the 73rd week in a row she has been on top.

Only Lorena Ochoa (158) and Yani Tseng (109) have carried it over more consecutive weeks.

There was wear and tear in that long haul for both Ochoa and Tseng.

Ochoa retired with the No. 1 ranking to start a family, but you could see the effects of all the expectations on her at the end. While she was always a model of grace under pressure, Ochoa fought some growing frustration toward the end that she never really showed before.

Tseng conceded she nearly buckled under the pressure that grew so onerous near the end of her two-year run at No. 1.

“It just drove me crazy,” Tseng said back when she lost the top ranking. “Annika Sorenstam told me that world No. 1 is the loneliest place on the earth. As it becomes longer at No. 1, I feel more and more pressure.”

The men aren’t immune.

“I’ve never been more stressed in my life than right now,” Jason Day said on the eve of last year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont. “It’s just because being No. 1 in the world, having a lot of expectations on you, having to practice so hard to keep that No. 1 spot, trying to win as many tournaments as you can puts a lot of stress and pressure on your shoulders.”

Day carried the top ranking for 51 weeks before relinquishing it to Dustin Johnson a month ago.

Ko’s smile belies the idea that the No. 1 ranking comes with any extra pressure, because though she’s still a teenager at 19, she seems to enjoy the responsibilities that come with the top ranking as much as anyone ever has.

If you ask her about the pressure, Ko will tell you she deals with it by making the No. 1 ranking more a journey than a destination.

“There are expectations because you are the No. 1-ranked player, that you should play well every day, that you should be in contention every week,” Ko said. “I would love that, and I’m working towards being more consistent week in and week out.

“I’ve been thankful and lucky to have such a supportive team that has really helped me to stay in the moment that is coming up, what’s right in front, rather than think about what has happened and what might happen.”

There’s help in that thinking this week, because the pressure on Ko to stay on top is intensifying with her lead in the world rankings shrinking.

When Ko won the Marathon Classic last July, her world-ranking average moved to 15.47 points, which was 7.10 ahead of No. 2 Brooke Henderson.

After eight winless months, Ko’s average has shrunk to 9.69 points, which is just 1.89 ahead of No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn.

The strength of field won’t be finalized until Thursday’s play begins at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but Jutanugarn is within striking distance of finally overtaking Ko.

How does Ko deal with the mounting challenges from players behind her?

“I think more about how I can get better results in a tournament, rather than how can I keep my ranking,” Ko said. “All I can do is try my best. If somebody ends up playing better, that’s totally out of my hands. It’s a good way to think about things.”

Ko said she tries not to focus on the big picture, on winning or the No. 1 ranking. She focuses on the details that fill out the big picture.

“I don’t set how many tournaments I want to win as a goal for the year,” Ko said. “I set how many more fairways I want to hit, and how many more greens I want to hit. If those improve, naturally, my results will improve.”

That might explain why Ko made the sweeping changes in her game coming into this season.

A new coach (Gary Gilchrist), new equipment (PXG) and a new caddie (Gary Matthews) are details she hopes will end her eight-month winless spell.

Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champ and Golf Channel analyst, believes Ko’s changes are a reaction to the pressure other players are applying.

“They want to be No. 1, and they’re improving and getting better all the time,” Stupples said. “It’s hard as a player to sit there and watch the new players coming up, chasing you down, without thinking, `I need to do something to my own game. I need to get better. I need to improve.’”

Ko says her changes are all about improving, regardless where she ranks.

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.