Turning back the clock: Ai Miyazato leads ANA Inspiration

By Randall MellMarch 31, 2016, 11:29 pm

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Ai Miyazato buried a 12-foot birdie putt at the 18th to close out her round Thursday at the ANA Inspiration and for a moment it felt like the clocks in the Coachella Valley rolled back.

With Miyazato’s name atop that giant wooden scoreboard at Mission Hills’ Country Club’s Dinah Shore Course, it felt like 2010 again.

With a 5-under-par 67, Miyazato walked off the course as the sole leader in the year’s first major championship.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Miyazato’s name was practically a fixture atop LPGA leaderboards.

She won five times in 2010 and rose to No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings.

Of course, the clocks didn’t roll back. Miyazato isn’t 24 years old anymore. It’s hard to believe, but she’s 30 now. She isn’t No. 1 anymore, either. In fact, before her third-place finish at the Kia Classic last week, she wasn’t among the top 100 in the world. She was No. 157.

Coming off the 18th green Thursday, walking the bridge over Poppy’s Pond, Miyazato showed us all something that hasn’t changed. Her smile. It still lights up a gallery the way it always did.

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With a round of five birdies and no bogeys, Miyazato was the early story at Mission Hills from the morning wave, but she wasn’t about to get ahead of herself thinking about how her still legion of fans would like to see her name atop the leaderboard at week’s end. She wasn’t thinking about winning her first LPGA title in almost four years.

“I'm definitely happy to see my name on the board,” Miyazato said. “But it's just the first day, and there’s a long way to go ... So, I just want to keep it going. I’m just going to say to myself, `Just be patient, just have fun.”’

From back at their Vision54 base at Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott cheered Miyazato’s patient approach. They’ve been working with Miyazato since she joined the LPGA as a Japanese sensation 10 years ago.

“Ai’s had such incredible patience for such a long time,” Nilsson said.

Miyazato has needed it working through challenges to her game in her long slide away from No. 1. There have been injuries and struggles to stay motivated, and there have been surprising putting woes, the loss of the magic that once made her the best putter in the women’s game.

What happened?

“It kind of became one thing after another,” Marriott said. “And as we’ve seen with so many No. 1s, where they’ve reached that goal, there’s the motivation you need to keep going. She had to re-evaluate. She had to figure that out.”

The putting’s coming back for Miyazato. Back at the Founders Cup in Phoenix two weeks ago, where Miyazato missed the cut, Marriott and Nilsson helped correct something. Marriott noticed the ball skipping off Miyazato’s putter face.

“Ai likes to use that forward press, so Lynn asked her to check the loft on her putter,” Nilsson did.

Miyazato did, and she added 2 degrees of loft to her putter, taking her up to 4 degrees to compensate for the forward press. Miyazato finished third at the Kia Classic after making the change, recording her first top-10 finish in an LPGA event since 2013, when she tied for sixth at the Lotte Championship.

Marriott and Nilsson are happy to hear Miyazato focusing on patience, because they believed at year’s start that her game and mindset were back in a good place. They didn’t want to see Miyazato get frustrated with her sluggish start and then her missed cut in Phoenix.

“We said there’s nothing wrong with your game,” Marriott said. “You’re on a plateau. You’re doing all the right things. Just hang in there.”

Even in her struggles, Miyazato remains a superstar in Japan, where she doesn’t play that often. When she does, though, she’s still the largest draw in women’s golf.

“It’s amazing how much she’s adored and looked up to,” Nilsson said.

As much as all Miyazato’s fans would love to see her ascend back to the top of the game, Miyazato says she doesn’t think about that as much as she does trying to win again. She has won nine LPGA titles but is still seeking her first major.

“I know how hard it is to be No. 1 in the world, because I've experienced it before,” Miyazato said. “That's actually not my goal anymore, because I’ve been there before. But still I want to win. That's my motivation, especially this week. It has been my dream since I was a kid. So that, I think, pushes me so much.”

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.