Wie, Gretzky in harsh spotlight at Kraft Nabisco

By Randall MellApril 4, 2014, 1:34 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Under clear blue skies, a couple of lightning rods were the story Thursday in the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Paulina Gretzky made the grounds crackle here in the morning, Michelle Wie in the afternoon.

Gretzky stirred a storm over what she isn’t doing on a golf course, Wie for what she is.

Not long after tour pros teed off at Mission Hills, Golf Digest revealed Gretzky is on the cover of its May magazine. Clad in a revealing exercise outfit, Gretzky is featured in an issue devoted to fitness. She’s the daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, the fiancée of PGA Tour pro Dustin Johnson and fairly new to recreational golf.

Given the last three women to grace Golf Digest’s covers aren’t professional golfers – Gretzky, supermodel Kate Upton, Golf Channel’s Holly Sonders – LPGA pros’ reactions were predictable.

“It’s frustrating for female golfers,” said two-time major championship winner Stacy Lewis, who has never been on Golf Digest’s cover. “We don’t get the respect for being the golfers we are.”

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Wie knows what it’s like to be vilified for enjoying what critics believe is undeserved attention. As a teenage phenom with dreams of playing the PGA Tour, she became a lightning rod. Today, at 24, Wie’s story has evolved. Now, for many, she’s the scarred fighter getting up off the mat. She’s the former prodigy who fought through injury, disappointment and burnout to keep the dream alive.

For others, she’s still a cautionary tale.

With a 5-under-par 67 Thursday, Wie did more than move a shot off the lead held by Shanshan Feng. She rekindled some of the excitement she first generated as a teenager making runs at winning the Kraft Nabisco. At 13, in her first major championship, she played in the final Sunday pairing with a chance to win. At 14, she finished fourth here. At 16, she led late in the final round before faltering to a tie for third.

Through the highs and lows, Wie remains the most potent potential game changer for the LPGA. If she wins, she will get on more magazine covers than Golf Digest.

If she’s going to realize all that potential she was trumpeted for, there would be poetry in scripting it here.

“When you're younger you're kind of fearless,” Wie said. “You don't know what failure is. I've definitely had my ups and downs. My downs have been down. But at that, I'm just so grateful. I'm so grateful to have rounds like these. I'm so grateful just to be here. I'm grateful that I can do what I love to do. I had a blast today.”

Wie knows there’s a long way to go this week, but there have been signs pointing to something big. She played in the final Sunday pairing at the Honda Thailand last month and tied for fourth. She has two top 10s in five starts this year. She’s second on tour in hitting greens in regulation. She’s fifth in scoring.

When pressed on her goals, Wie has steadfastly asserted all season that she’s just trying to be more consistent. She believes that will lead to winning.

“I think she has come full circle, to the point where I think this is like a second coming for her, a re-birth,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach.

Wie is seeking her third LPGA title, her first since winning the Canadian Women’s Open almost four years ago. She put a jolt through the galleries here Thursday with a torrid run in the middle of the round. Starting at No. 9, she went birdie, birdie, eagle and birdie. She holed a 40-footer at the 11th for her eagle.

The only hiccup in the round was the 2½-footer she missed for par at the 17th after she had taken a share of the lead. Even that didn’t dampen her satisfaction with the round.

“She’s just very confident right now,” Leadbetter said. “There’s this whole look about her. Her game is definitely coming around. I think she’s going to be a factor out here this year.”

Leadbetter has watched Wie’s swing come back the last nine months or so. Tentative and uncertain with her driver the last few years, she’s ripping it with authority again. Leadbetter says the confidence she has in her driver filters through her entire game. Wie agrees. She says it’s because tempo is so important to her game, and when she’s hitting her driver well, she knows her tempo is spot on.

“Listen, Michelle has something to prove to herself,” Leadbetter said. “She knows she has all the talent in the world.”

Mission Hills is the perfect stage for Wie to prove she’s still a major player in the women’s game.

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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

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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.