Wie, Thompson make up dream final pairing at Kraft

By Randall MellApril 6, 2014, 2:34 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Who needs the cover of Golf Digest?

Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie didn’t have to dress provocatively Saturday to give women’s golf a jolt of attention.

Wie and Thompson put on a shot-making clinic in the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship to give the women’s game a dream final pairing for Sunday’s finish at Mission Hills Country Club.

In a week where Golf Digest’s decision to put Paulina Gretzky on the cover of its May issue frustrated so many of the pros playing here, Wie and Thompson delivered style and substance in bids to win their first major championships. They’re a pair of 6-footers with dynamic games and stories.

Thompson vs. Wie?

This is golf theater at its best for the women. It’s Wie, 24, the former phenom who pulled her battle-scarred mind and body off the mat to fight for a second chance at her dreams. And it’s Thompson, still the phenom at 19, the player so many believe will become the dominant force Wie hasn’t yet become.

Thompson and Wie pulled away from the pack Saturday with stellar shot making.

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With a 4-under-par 68, Wie moved into a tie for the lead with Thompson (69). At 10-under 206, they’re two shots ahead of Charley Hull (66) and Se Ri Pak (71).

Thompson and Wie said they’re looking forward to their pairing together.

“We both have very similar games,” Thompson said. “We’ll be bombing it off the tee, I’m sure. I don’t know how much talking there will be, but it’s going to be a great day.”

Actually, Wie isn’t bombing it around Mission Hills. She’s dissecting the Dinah Shore Course with precision play off the tees, gearing down with 3-woods and stinger shots. How good is Wie playing? She was bogey free on Saturday. She hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation. The effort gives her a share of the lead through 54 holes in a major for the first time since the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open at Newport Country Club.

“I'm nervous,” Wie said. “I probably won't sleep that well tonight. You want something so badly. I’ve dreamed about this all my life, so I'm just trying to not think about it so much.  I'm just trying to think it's a normal Sunday.”

Thompson is relishing this chance as much as Wie is.

“It’s something I’ve worked for my whole life,” Thompson

Yeah, Thompson is only 19, but she’s been playing in majors since she was 12. That’s how old she was when she played in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, becoming the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She was just 16 when she won the Navistar Classic, becoming the youngest player at the time to win an LPGA event.

As good as Thompson’s ball-striking was Saturday, her round could have been so much better. She missed three putts of four feet or less. She missed a 3-footer for birdie at the fourth and a 4-footer for birdie at the seventh. The miss that hurt the most came at the 18th. She three putted for bogey, missing a 4–footer for par. It ended her run of 36 consecutive holes without a bogey.

“I missed a few short putts for birdie, and it wasn’t the ending I wanted,” Thompson said. “But, overall, I played pretty solid.”

Thompson is shrinking the course with her big drives. She’s playing a bomb and gouge game you usually only see in the men’s game. She hit 15 greens in regulation on Saturday.

Wie’s run this week is part of what David Leadbetter believes is her “second coming,” or her re-birth.

A victory Sunday will make it feel as if Wie has come full circle. Wie’s first major was the Kraft Nabisco. As a 13-year-old, she played her way into the final Sunday pairing before tying for ninth. At 14, she finished fourth here. At 16, she led late in the final round before faltering to a tie for third.

A two-time LPGA winner, Wie’s career didn’t soar the way so many expected. She endured through injuries, slumps and burnout before putting her game back together the last six months or so. She insists she doesn’t regret the swoon. She says it’s part of who she is today.

“I’m definitely a lot more appreciative of where I am, going in with a lead,” Wie said.

A shot behind at Saturday’s start, Wie came out determined. She birdied the first hole to pull into a tie for the lead.

Wie isn’t hitting a lot of drivers around Mission Hills this week, but she’s hitting a lot of fairways and greens. Her ball striking looks as good as it has in a long time. She hit the first 12 greens she looked at, giving herself a lot of good birdie chances.

Wie, Thompson and Pak took turns atop the leaderboard in the third round.  

Shortly after making the turn, Wie took sole possession of the lead with a birdie at the 11th. She got that lead when Pak missed a 4-footer behind her to bogey the 10th.

Thompson is one of the longest hitters on tour, and she likes that she can hit her driver hard around Mission Hills, especially with the rough down this year. Thompson was third in driving distance for the week at Kraft going into the third round. She used her power early to take the solo lead with a birdie at the second hole. After crushing her drive there, Thompson reached that par 5 in two.

At the fourth hole, though, Thompson watched Se Ri Pak hole a 6-footer for birdie to tie her atop the leaderboard. Thompson got the benefit of seeing Pak’s line, but she still pushed her 3-foot birdie chance right, allowing Pak to tie her for the lead.

At the seventh, Thompson missed a 4-footer for birdie that would have given her back sole possession of the lead. Pak, again, converted where Thompson couldn’t, making birdie to give Pak a one-shot lead.

At the ninth, Thompson couldn’t take advantage of her power. After hitting her second shot into the front, right greenside bunker, Thompson blasted 25 feet past the hole. She left her birdie chance short and watched Pak hole out for yet another birdie.

Thompson got it going on the back nine, reeling off birdies at the 11th, 12th and 15th holes before closing with that bogey.

The fireworks set up what ought to be an entertaining Sunday finish at Mission Hills.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry