U.S. suffers another team play setback at Crown

By Randall MellJuly 27, 2014, 2:00 am

OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The United States vs. the Republic of Korea.

Nobody should have been surprised to see the International Crown come down to a battle between these titans in the women’s game. It was shocking, though, to see them in a desperate battle Saturday just to stay alive in the event.

It was even more shocking to see the No. 1-seeded Americans sent packing after being eliminated in a sudden-death playoff for the fifth and final qualifying spot into Sunday singles.

With Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu making birdies on the first hole of the fourball sudden-death playoff, the No. 2-seeded Koreans dispatched the United States to remain alive in their bid to win the international team event at Caves Valley Golf Club.

The inaugural event will conclude without the Americans there for local fans to cheer.

The idea the Americans wouldn’t be here Sunday didn’t seem possible going into Saturday’s fourballs.

“The first time I thought about that was on our cart ride up into the media center [after the playoff],” Lewis said. “I never thought that we wouldn't be playing tomorrow. It never really even crossed my mind until we were driving up here.”

Even the Koreans seemed dismayed seeing the Americans eliminated before Sunday’s finale.

“It is very unfortunate that we had to play against the United States, because that was something that nobody really expected to be seeing,” Park said. “I think that it was really tough, because they're great competitors and they had a lot of fans that are coming out and watching them. They're great players.  And losing is always tough to accept.”

Five teams survived for Sunday singles.

Thailand and Spain advanced from Pool A with seven points each. Japan advanced from Pool B with eight points and Sweden with seven points. Korea advanced with six points.

The points carry over, with a singles victory worth two points on Sunday and a halved match worth one point.

For the Americans, it’s hard to figure. They’re on a resurgent march on tour this year. They’ve won 11 LPGA titles already, more than they’ve won in any year since the turn of the century. They’ve won the first three major championships of the year, but they’re momentum is all the other way in international team events. There have back-to-back Solheim Cup losses, including their first loss on home soil last year in the biggest rout in that event’s history.

And now this.

What isn’t translating for the Americans in these team events?

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“I don't think I have the answer,” Cristie Kerr said. “I think you have to look at the overall body of work and what the Americans have done the last couple years on tour, especially this year. You have to look at that, but match play’s a different animal.”

The Americans and Koreans met in a playoff for the final Sunday berth by virtue of finishing third in their respective pools.

For the United States, pool play came down to Rolex No. 1 Stacy Lewis and No. 12 Paula Creamer in a fourballs match against Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum and Onnarin Sattayabanphot. The Americans needed to win or halve the match to advance, but the Thais defeated them, 1 up. Phatlum rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt at the 14th to give Thailand a lead it didn’t relinquish.

“Pornanong just went crazy there on the back nine on us,” Lewis said. “If she wasn't hitting it to gimme range, she was making a 20 footer. We had plenty of opportunities, though.

“It's certainly disappointing, because we played a lot better than that outcome.”

Lewis and Creamer combined for a best-ball score of 7-under-par 64. Phatlum and Sattayabonphot shot 63.

With that loss, the Americans sent Kerr and Lexi Thompson out in the playoff against the Koreans. They were the American hot hands. They beat Thailand’s Jutanugarn sisters, 3 and 2, earlier in the afternoon. Thompson caught fire on the back nine. She made birdie-eagle-birdie starting at the 11th hole to turn the match into a rout.

Thompson got some hard luck in the playoff, though. After bombing her drive at the first playoff hole, the par-5 16th, she followed with a nearly brilliant approach, trying to reach the green in two. Her iron shot bounced to the front edge of the green, but then it checked up and rolled backward, down a slope back into the fairway, where the ball came to rest in a divot. Thompson tried to putt it out and up the slope, but it came up short, stopping just at the fringe, 15 feet from the hole. Kerr birdied, but Thompson missed her own birdie chance. It was over with Ryu and Park making birdie and the second ball acting as a tiebreaker.

“She hit two great golf shots there, and she did exactly as she was supposed to do,” Lewis said.

Kerr had Thompson’s back, too.

“She was the best player,” Kerr said. “I think she was the best player the last couple days. I mean, it was so much fun to watch her play.”

The Americans probably lost their chance on Thursday, when they were the only team to get shut out, losing both their fourball matches to Chinese Taipei.

“The format's hard,” Lewis said. “It's only two matches a day, so there's only opportunity for four points a day. It's best ball, which with best ball, you can throw rankings and all that kind of stuff out the window. It's just crazy to think that we're two points out of the lead in this thing, and we're not able to play tomorrow. So, that's really what's the most disappointing part about the format.

“It’s the first year of this event. Nobody really knew how it was going to fall.  We just wish we had an opportunity tomorrow, because I think that we really could win tomorrow if we had an opportunity to play.”

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.