Wie 1 back; contention 'feels like home to me'

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2017, 1:42 am

PHOENIX – Michelle Wie can’t wait to test her nerves and resolve in yet another weekend chance to win.

If there are doubts lurking after all her struggles the last two seasons, and after failing to close out a victory in her last start at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, she is eager to face them down.

Wie said she is feeling good about being in the hunt halfway through the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Being in contention is definitely a spot where I feel comfortable,” Wie said. “Feels like home to me. It's nice being in this position again.”

After a 5-under-par 67 at Wildfire Golf Club on Friday, Wie is in position to make a run at her fifth LPGA title, her first since she won the U.S. Women’s Open three seasons ago. At 12 under, Wie is just one shot behind Ariya Jutanugarn (67) and Stacy Lewis (67).

“I'm really proud of the way I've played the last two days,” Wie said. “To give myself an opportunity, that's all I can ask for at this point. I'm really excited.”

Wie is part of a star-studded leaderboard with Hall of Famer Inbee Park (66) joining two-time major championship winner In Gee Chun (69), rising South Korean star Sung Hyun Park (66) and four-time LPGA winner Jessica Korda (66) among players just two shots behind Jutanugarn and Lewis.

Wie got off to another strong start Friday, making birdies at five of her first 10 holes. She rolled in a 40-footer at the ninth hole to move within a shot of the lead and then rolled in a 6-footer at the 11th to grab a share of the lead.

Wie, however, couldn’t get up and down at the 13th and bogeyed, falling a shot back.

“I’m just going to go out there and have fun and play my hardest and see where it takes me,” Wie said.

After missing the cut at the Pure Silk Bahamas in the season opener, Wie looked as if her woes might continue deep into 2017. Injuries robbed her of a chance to build on her U.S. Women’s Open in ’14 and followed her into ’15. She continued to struggle with lost form and confidence in ’16 and slipped to 105th on the LPGA money last year, losing full status. She’s competing in a former champions category on the LPGA priority list this year.

But something came together with Wie going to the Women’s Australian Open last month to make her second start of 2017. Her swing is better this year. She has found a dependable stock fade, a shot she’s hitting with renewed confidence. She’s also finding a putting stroke, having ditched her unorthodox “table-top” stance for a more upright posture and a stroke that her swing coach David Leadbetter calls a “claw setup” and “claw stroke” without the claw grip. She’s got a conventional grip working now.

Wie needed just 11 putts through the first nine holes on Friday. She took just 26 putts overall for the second consecutive day and ranks T-12 in putting through two rounds.

If Wie pulls this off and wins the Founders Cup, it’s a particularly strong message. The Founders Cup is turning into yet another putting contest with so many players enjoying so many birdie chances. Wie’s putting has long been considered the central weakness in her game, but she said she worked hard to change that since the end of last season.

“I’ve been spending so much time on the greens,” Wie said. “I’ve spent hours just putting and putting and putting. Practice makes perfect, I guess, because it feels comfortable.”

That’s giving her a fighting chance.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

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