Wie, Thompson both in search of second major

By Randall MellApril 1, 2015, 8:16 pm

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – They arrived at the ANA Inspiration this week searching for the powers that made their major championship breakthroughs so magical last year.

Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie will tee it up at Mission Hills looking to put the hocus pocus back in their games.

Thompson overpowered the Dinah Shore Course in winning her first major last year, electrifying women’s golf with the kind of performance so many insiders believed would make this young dynamo a dominant force. She won the Kraft Nabisco, now the ANA Inspiration, launching mammoth drives in a game of bomb-and-gouge usually only witnessed in the men’s game.

“Everyone I know who sees Lexi up close, who sees her play in person, from caddies to PGA Tour pros, says, `Dude, she doesn’t hit it like a girl. She mashes it,’” Nicholas Thompson, the oldest of Lexi’s two brothers, said of the show his sister put on last year. “She amazes people with some of the shots she can hit.”

Stacy Lewis, the best American in the game, knew what was possible when Thompson put it all together.

“As soon as she figures out her putting, she’s going to be unbelievable,” Lewis said before Thompson’s Kraft victory. “She’s hands down the best ball striker on tour.”

Thompson put it all together at Mission Hills, combining power and one of the best putting performances of her career. She needed the virtuoso effort to hold off Wie in a head-to-head Sunday duel with Wie beginning to show she was ready to realize the vast potential in her game. Thompson closed with a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 to win by three shots.

With that major championship title in hand, Thompson looked poised to launch a dominant run, but it didn’t happen. She arrives this week looking for her first victory since last year’s triumph. Though she hasn’t played poorly, picking up seven top-10 finishes over the past year, even Thompson expected more.

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“I would say I’m definitely a little surprised that I haven’t won,” Thompson said. “I know my game is very close. I’ve been working really hard on every aspect of my game. My short game, I’ve been practicing hours a day trying to improve.”

Expectations have followed Thompson since she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open as a 12-year-old and then won her first LPGA title as a 16-year-old. Now 20, she’s a four-time LPGA winner who climbed as high as No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She’s No. 9 this week.

“Golf is all about being patient,” Thompson said. “You can’t win every week. You just have to go with the same positive mindset. All you can do is try your best.”

Wie, 25, turned the disappointment of losing to Thompson into the best run of her career. In her very next start after the Kraft Nabisco, Wie won the Lotte Championship. Two months later, she broke through to win her first major, putting together every component of her game to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.

After that Kraft Nabisco loss, Wie’s game came together brilliantly, with the return of her command with her driver and the development of her unusual “table-top” putting stroke. In eight starts after the Kraft, she finished top-10 in seven of them, winning twice and finishing third twice. But a deep bone bruise to the index finger of her right hand derailed most of the rest of her season. She also battled a bad knee last year. She missed almost two months recovering from the finger injury.

“Injuries suck,” Wie said.

With strep throat and a sinus infection impacting the start of this season, Wie hasn’t been the same formidable presence.

In six starts this year, Wie’s best finish is a tie for 24th in the season opener at the Coates Golf Championship.

“I'm a strong believer, and always been a strong believer, that everything happens for a reason,” Wie said. “I learned a lot. I think I learned a lot from last year, just how I approached it. Just from winning and losing, I think you learn from both, equally as much. Definitely, I was fired up after this event last year.”

Wie has been working hard to get the same feeling in her swing that she had at Pinehurst last summer. As part of her pre-shot routine lately, she has been thrusting her left hip outward, in an exaggerated motion, and pumping her downswing from the top. Her swing coach, David Leadbetter, says she’s looking to feel the “lag” that worked so well last year.

“I think that every week it's definitely getting better,” Wie said. “I think just from how I played in Phoenix, and how I played at Kia, just getting back to feeling comfortable. That's really what I've been working on. I just felt like I played a lot better than what my score showed, especially last week. But it's just every week feeling more comfortable and trying to work on things for the long-term, not just for that week.”

Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open winner and Golf Channel analyst, can see how Mission Hills could reawaken Wie’s game. This is where Wie first emerged in a large way in the women’s game. As a 13-year-old, Wie played in the final Sunday pairing of the Kraft Nabisco with a chance to win. She tied for ninth, one of her five top-10 finishes here. As a 14-year-old, she finished fourth.

“Michelle Wie would dearly love to win this,” Stupples said. “She's been so close in the past. I think she's just waiting for her game to turn the corner. She hasn't played great this year, but it's going back to familiar ground and a course that she feels comfortable on and she loves. I think that could be the turnaround for her game.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin isn’t sure what to expect from Wie this week.

“I have no idea when she's going to play well,” Rankin said. “She might be 25 under at Mission Hills, and I'd be glad to see it, but I don't have a feel for when she'll play well and when she won't. It's somewhat mysterious.”

The ANA Inspiration begins with Thompson and Wie both looking to find the answers that will put them back in position to win their second major. They’re both suited to win at Mission Hills, if they can just find the magic that made last year successful for them.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.